I'm a firm believer that people who choose public life or take public actions incur public scrutiny. As a rule that scrutiny should not be applied to the families of those in public life.
But what happens when a polarizing public figure agrees to speak at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at the school where his daughter attends. And what if this public figure has argued in public debate that MLK Jr's civil rights movement for African Americans and the present day civil rights movement for GLBT people are not at all related. What if this public figure opposed every advance in civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people?
Wouldn't you expect that on MLK Jr. Day the focus would be on the ideal of equality and equal treatment for our fellow human beings? Would it be outside the spirit of the day for people to question the choice of a speaker who so completely opposes applying MLK Jr's ideals of equal treatment to GLBT people? Can such hypocrisy be allowed to pass unchallenged?
I think not.
By agreeing to speak at the MLK Jr. event, Hutcherson chose to bring his public positions to his daughter's school.
The result is a public discussion about who are appropriate speakers for such events, what kind of vetting they should be subjected to, and what degree of freedom of speech principals, teachers and students should be allowed at such events. A worthwhile debate, I think.
In a story that has since been removed from their web site, KOMO 4 reported on a Mount Si School Board Meeting but focused more on the family of Reverend Hutcherson than on the welfare of the children attending Mount Si High School. For a more balanced report on the school board meeting, take a look at this article in the Seattle Times.
At the meeting Pat Hutcherson, a stay-at-home mother of four children, complained about the "harassment" that their family is suffering in the wake of her husband's speech at the school assembly:
It was standing room only at the school board meeting as Pat discussed the harassment that has followed the couple and their four children since her husband spoke at an assembly at Mount Si High School on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
“My family is boldly called names like 'bigot', 'homophobe' and we’ve been permanently branded in the valley,” she said.
I don't know whether Pat Hutcherson or her children share the views of her husband, but they are not public figures and it is unfair for them to be called bigots or homophobes because of the views Reverend Hutcherson expresses. If they share his views then they, like all of us, are accountable for their own choices.
It remains perfectly legitimate to call Reverend Hutcherson a bigot and a homophobe for his positions taken as a public figure. Reverend Hutcherson must accept responsibility for agreeing to speak at the assembly - he crossed the line that separated and protected his family from his public positions and actions. Now he has compounded his error by turning the issue into one of his public causes.
At the school board meeting Pat Hutcherson made the observation that:
"In the three weeks since the assembly our life has been anything but back to normal.
It is unfair if they are incorrectly being called "bigots" and "homophobes", but I find it incredibly difficult to feel sorry for their current situation.
What they are experiencing is the smallest taste of what it is like to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in this country - and it is so much worse when you are in high school.
GLBT adults and children don't have to take a controversial position to be called "faggot" or "dyke" or "homo" or "lesbo" or "trannie". We don't have to be connected with a polarizing public figure to be attacked and beaten on the street.
We just have to exist.
To Mrs Hutcherson I say this - if we have to deal with the prejudice that your husband helps create and perpetuate in our lives, then you have to deal with the consequences he creates in yours.
Suck it up.
UPDATE: Reverend and Mrs Hutcherson are pushing hard to have the two teachers who spoke out at the MLK Day assembly removed from the school.