n the Jan. 10 issue, two opinion pieces appeared regarding the writings of gay prisoner Joseph Urbaniak. In a guest commentary, reader Kevin Scott argued that Urbaniak’s limited-run column shouldn’t be published by Q-Notes because he was convicted of indecent liberties with a minor. In that issue’s Editor’s Note, I urged readers to look past the messenger and search for the message within.
I wrote, “In life, it is up to the individual to find meaning and value, if any, in the various messages brought to us through our time here. We often find ourselves wading through tough and uncomfortable issues and emotions along the way. In all of history, some of humanity’s most glorious triumphs of the mind and spirit came as the result of often dolorous and excruciating journeys. Nothing worth having comes without pain or discomfort.
“We’d like to challenge our readers to look past the messenger and instead find the value and meaning inside the message he brings. In the coming weeks, I hope you will have the chance to learn about what it means to be gay in prison. I hope you will see value and learn lessons from Urbaniak’s writings.”
The Q-Notes editorial team is standing by our original decision to publish Joseph Urbaniak’s limited-run column. We are well aware that 60 percent of those who participated in the online QPoll regarding the issue say we should stop publishing it. While we’re fortunate to be blessed by a readership unafraid to tell us what they think, we’ll hope our readers believe they’re fortunate to have a media presence that isn’t easily swayed by the ever-changing, volatile and emotionally-reactive whims of public opinion.
A principled news outlet that intends to publish with integrity, accuracy, honesty and responsibility can’t operate by majority vote. If Q-Notes were to stop publishing columns or writing on issues with which a small majority of readers disagreed or found uncomfortable, a lot of our very cherished, important content would disappear overnight.
If we were to publish material based on majority vote through polls or surveys (which we occasionally commission for reader feedback), where would we draw the line? Would we stop writing about gay Republicans? What about drag queens? Transgender people? People of color? What about other minorities within our own minority? If a small majority didn’t want to see political coverage, would we stop that? What if a small majority said we should quit covering news from South Carolina? Raleigh? Asheville?
The answer to all these questions would be a firm and resounding, “No.”
Look in any newspaper or magazine in this world and inevitably you will find a news story, feature or opinion piece with which you disagree. You might even be offended. You might find it utterly distasteful. If you are one of those people, I encourage you to take advantage of your freedoms and simply choose not to read the article. Don’t silence someone else’s voice or take away their freedom of choice. Don’t limit other people’s options, including other readers’ freedom to choose to read the content, simply because you aren’t comfortable.
Treat Q-Notes the way you treat the National Geographic Channel, which highlights highly uncomfortable and distasteful social mores on its show “Taboo.” You have a choice to watch it and be grossed out or amazed or simply switch the channel. If you don’t like a particular article published in one of our issues, simply flip the page.
The editorial staff carefully chooses what and how each piece in our paper is published. Urbaniak has not once defended or lauded sex with minors in our paper. As long as Urbaniak’s writings don’t break the law and as long as they don’t urge others to break the law, then his writings will stay.
The LGBT community says it wants equality. We should have enough conviction to stand by our words. Urbaniak committed a crime, has almost finished paying for that crime and is a member of the LGBT community. We don’t have to endorse his crime in order for him to be a part of our community. I’m constantly surrounded by people whose actions and decisions I don’t like or can’t stand (sometimes even my co-workers and best friends). Being an asshole, immoral degenerate, liar or all-around scumbag doesn’t get you tossed out of the LGBT community. Why does committing a crime automatically mean you no longer matter?
Joseph Urbaniak is a part of our community and our shared struggle for equality. Our fight for equality includes him. We can raise awareness of discrimination and life in North Carolina’s prisons without making an argument for immoral or illegal activities.
Urbaniak’s limited-run column will continue through to the end of its scheduled completion in April.
P.S. — You have a voice too. If you don’t like something, express your disagreement in the comment threads on our website or write a letter to the editor or guest commentary. The answer is never less or censored speech. The answer is always more speech. Thank God we live in America.