Free Speech Showdown in Dixon, California

July is the first “Straight Pride American Month” (SPAM) by proclamation of Ted Hickman, vice mayor of Dixon, California, a town of some 18,000 a short drive down Interstate 80 from Sacramento. In his recent Independent Voice commentary, also available on his website, Hickman wrote, the straight people “have families, (and babies we make) enjoy and love the company (and marriage) of the opposite sex and don’t flaunt our differences dressing up like faries (sic) and prancing by the thousands in a parade.” And gay people have an “inferior (sic) complex.”

Hickman said it was satire, alluding to pieces in which he had confessed “lesbian tendencies.”

Those who failed to see the humor were not content to submit comments and reviews. They wanted to boot Hickman from office.

As the Sacramento Bee reported, “Equality California, the state’s largest nonprofit LGBTQ activist group, on Monday issued a statement calling for Hickman’s resignation.” Equality California boss Rick Zbur went on record that “despite all the progress we’ve made, hate and intolerance are alive and well in fringe politicians like Mr. Hickman.” A “Recall Ted Hickman” page popped up on Facebook and activists planned a rally at the next city council meeting. The “calm protest” would urge mayor Thomas Bogue to demand Hickman’s resignation.

Dixon city council member Devon Minnema called the column “deeply disturbing” and denounced the “ideology of hate” and “venom” that Hickman has “spewed over the years.”

Dixon college student Sophia O’Neal, 20, told reporters the article could incite discrimination toward the LGBTQ community. “A lot of friends my age, as well as their parents, were pissed off and disgusted.”

Hickman welcomes the recall motion and sticks to his First Amendment rights. The crusade to boot him from office has proved instructive on issues of free speech.

Hickman’s critics are not interested in disagreement or debate. They aren’t even interested in meeting satire with satire. Instead, by implication, they charge he has no right to say and write what he did. The only time a claim to believe in free speech has any meaning is in cases of disagreement.

By all indications, Hickman’s critics do not believe in free speech under the U.S. Constitution. On the other hand, they do believe that Hickman should be deprived of his job for something he wrote. Punishing someone for what they say and write is not the action of a free-speech advocate.

The First Amendment protects speech but does not establish protected classes, off-limits to criticism and satire. In effect, Hickman violated the constitution of political correctness, which forbids any discovery of humor in the antics of the LGBTQ crowd. That represents something of a departure from trends in popular culture.

In Robert Townsend’s 1987 “Hollywood Shuffle,” the phone rings in the office of a private investigator. “I thought it might be my lady,” he says, “but it was just some fag.” The 1974 Mel Brooks classic “Blazing Saddles,” co-written by Richard Pryor, features “The French Mistake” dance number. “Throw out your hands, stick out your tush,” the lyrics say, “hands on your hips, give him a push.” Choreographer Buddy Bizarre (Dom Deluise) tells dancers to “watch me, faggots!” In “The Producers” (1967), Brooks wrings some laughs from director Roger De Bris, a dress-wearing “fruit,” and his dazzling partner Carmen Ghia.

Dixon’s vice mayor limited himself to the antics of LGBTQ Pride Month, a big deal in California. He may not be George Carlin or even Andrew Dice Clay, but Tim Hickman understands free speech better than his enraged critics. They may not have an “inferior complex” but observers might say they tend to come up short on the humor side.

About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

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