Evansville, Wisconsin residents are accusing a small newspaper, The Evansville Review, of spreading hate speech by publishing ads, editorials, and letters that refer to LGBTQ+ people as perverts who are “grooming” children for sexual abuse.
The paper’s editor has proclaimed freedom of speech and said the publication prints content that doesn’t necessarily reflect any single viewpoint.
“It’s disgusting,” said Liz Gillitzer, a lifelong Evansville resident and LGBTQ+ community member. “It is irresponsible for them to send this flyer to every household within the city limits,” she told WKOW-TV, adding that the paper’s recent anti-LGBTQ+ content has made her question whether to remain in the city. Anonymous individuals told the news station that some LGBTQ+ individuals have left town or experienced school bullying since the hateful content appeared.
Ronald Gay, the pastor at Grace Independent Baptist Church, authored the content. “If I’m telling the truth and it hurts someone, I have no intention of hurting people,” he said. “I intend to help them. I also know that it is good when conscience speaks to a person, even if it hurts.”
A petition against the paper, started by Evansville City Council member Cory Neeley, has called for the partially taxpayer-funded newspaper to stop sending such “hate mail” to Evansville subscribers, especially since the newspaper otherwise remains a widely read resource of city, school, and other community information.
Neeley’s petition accused the publication of “printing anti-LGBTQ+ and racist hate speech for years.” The petition states, “Important community information [is] being published right next to an article that says parents of transgender kids are pedophiles or that raising the pride flag over our town hall is an abomination.”
Similar claims of pedophilia have led to death threats against teachers and medical professionals.
“Publishing hate speech is no longer acceptable in our community,” the petition adds. “This speech is dangerous to LGTBQ youth and can create hate crimes later because those who hate feel emboldened when their views are being represented in mass media.”
Reverend David Hart — who leads a Methodist church in Madison, Wisconsin — has criticized Pastor Gay for publishing hateful content that is “not rooted in the scriptures or in the teachings of Christ.”
“Your ads make unfounded claims about the LGBTQ+ community which are not supported by either the holy scriptures or secular imperial data,” Hart’s open letter to Gay states. “Members of the LGBTQ+ community do not inherently engage in any of the conduct you allege, and to make those unsupported assertions is not ‘telling the truth’ as you suggest, but rather wrong-headed and irresponsible.”
“We believe that God loves members of the LGBTQ+ community, sees the humanity in them and holds them in esteem. In the gospels, in all of Jesus’ pronouncements, sermons, and teachings, he never once condemned queerness or called it a sin,” Hart’s letter continues. “What we do see, however, are Jesus’ frequent calls to love everyone, and to be radically inclusive of those who are on the margins of society and are oppressed.”
The paper’s editor Kelly Gildner responded to criticisms in a statement to WKOW-TV. Gildner wrote, “NEVER have I ever said or printed anything personally attacking any member of the LBGT community.”
“This publication does not print only one side/one angle/one type of ad…. I print articles and columns from all political sides, am friends with many of them — from all sides,” Gildner’s statement continued. “Many of those…claiming to be the ones who ‘don’t agree’ in order to get your attention — do not know the difference between paid-for ads, copy/articles.”
Citizens opposed to the paper’s anti-LGBTQ+ content may not have any legal standing to stop it from being published due to First Amendment rights, journalistic ethics professor Kathleen Culver told the news station.
“You can call the newspaper. You can request by e-mail that you stop distribution. But it’s very hard to end that,” she said.