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Speaking ill of the dead

This Magazine Staff

I know I’m not the only one who started singing “ding-dong the witch is dead” when I heard yesterday that gay-hating televangelist Jerry Falwell had kicked the bucket. I felt not a second of hesitation before letting out a little cheer, imagining an afterlife for Mr. Falwell filled with teletubbies, feminists and sodomites.
Does this make me a mean, terrible person? Should I be filled with grief for his family, and do the charitable thing and forgive Falwell for his transgressions against black people, women, queers and anyone else he judged to be immoral?
Well, let’s look at the evidence. To quote Maisonneuve MediaScout’s analysis:
– Falwell “was known to call the civil rights movement ‘the civil wrongs movement;
– He supported South African apartheid;
– He said that the prophet Mohamed was a terrorist and the Antichrist was a Jewish man;
– He warned of the deleterious moral effects of watching the children’s program Teletubbies, as one of the characters seemed to him to be a gay role model;
– And, in a move that finally alienated him from mainstream America, he laid part of the blame for the 9/11 attacks on ‘… the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians … all of them who have tried to secularize America’ – all this, and much more of the same, while wielding considerable influence in Washington.”
GLAAD in the U.S. is urging the mainstream media to avoid glossing over Falwell’s legacy of discrimination against queer people, and had posted a series of video clips of him making some of his more outrageous statements.
And today in the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson has no qualms about speaking truth to Falwell’s legacy, calling him a “big, booming, bigoted man.”
Michelangelo Signorile also doesn’t mince words about Falwell, saying,:

I don’t really buy the “don’t speak ill of the dead” argument, not with 24-hour news cycles that throw out pre-fabricated obituaries and are done with the story by the end of the cycle. And no, I don’t have any sympathy for his family nor care about respecting them: They didn’t respect me, nor the many others who lost loved ones to AIDS, suicide or gay-bashing, enough to stand up and speak out against their monster of a relative. Let’s never forget that this man is directly responsible for the deaths of thousands due to AIDS because of the stranglehold he and his “mobilized” Christians had on our government as the health crisis emerged in the 80s within the gay community. The grotesque negligence of the Reagan administration was dictated by Jerry Falwell, who would then go on to hatch many dozens of little Falwells over the past several decades who inspire the hatred against gays — and the violent gay-bashing and teen suicides — that we still live with today.

And blogger sabotabby dismisses the notion that Falwell’s critics are being uncharitable during his family’s time of mourning, writing:

I suppose what I’m saying here is that I don’t think it’s wrong to speak ill of the dead. I mean, it’s wrong to denounce them to their grieving friends and families, but it’s not inherently wrong. And what I’m also saying is that it’s okay to be intolerant .. Gloves off, kids. Reagan wanted most of you dead. Falwell wanted even more of you dead. These men consider you, your friends, your families, and most of the world, subhuman. It’s fine to hate them – they hated you too -if your personal moral code allows for hate. It’s fine to be relieved that they’re gone.

What do you think? Do we have a responsibility to express remorse when a truly hateful person dies? Does it detract from our cause when we speak ill of the dead?
– Cross-posted to Dykes Against Harper

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