This story’s been running now for almost a fortnight and still seems to be a long way from a satisfactory conclusion. The GLAAD blog has a detailed series of posts (start here; the page contains links to earlier posts) but briefly the sequence of events was as follows:
On 28 May, during the “Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning” radio show on KRXQ-FM in Sacramento, California, hosts Rob Williams and Arnie States made remarks which included advocating child abuse of transgender children.
While discussing a recent story about a transgender child in Omaha, Nebraska and her parents’ decision to support her transition, the two hosts spent more than 30 minutes explicitly promoting child abuse of and making cruel, dehumanizing and defamatory comments toward transgender children.
Among the comments made by the hosts:
ARNIE STATES [13:27]: If my son, God forbid, if my son put on a pair of high heels, I would probably hit him with one of my shoes. I would throw a shoe at him. Because you know what? Boys don’t wear high heels. And in my house, they definitely don’t wear high heels.
ROB WILLIAMS [17:45]: Dawn, they are freaks. They are abnormal. Not because they’re girls trapped in boys bodies but because they have a mental disorder that needs to be somehow gotten out of them. That’s where therapy could help them.
ROB WILLIAMS [18:15]: Or because they were molested. You know a lot of times these transgenders were molested. And you need to work with them on that. The point is you don’t allow the behavior. You cure the cause!
ARNIE STATES [21:30]: You got a boy saying, ‘I wanna wear dresses.’ I’m going to look at him and go, ‘You know what? You’re a little idiot! You little dumbass! Look, you are a boy! Boys don’t wear dresses.’
ARNIE STATES [29:22]: You know, my favorite part about hearing these stories about the kids in high school, who the entire high school caters around, lets the boy wear the dress. I look forward to when they go out into society and society beats them down. And they end up in therapy.
The segment received hundreds of complaints and GLAAD issued a call to action on 2 June. As a result of the outcry, the hosts devoted their entire broadcast (on 3 June) to the subject. However, that follow-up broadcast completely failed to refer to trans children, neither was an apology forthcoming from the presenters. This failure to take into account the comments and complaints added to the controversy which, over the next several days prompted 10 companies to withdraw their advertising.
Conspicuous by its absence in any of the statements of the companies was any specific reference to the matter of the – I can only call it hate speech – which was directed at trans children. As far as I can tell, there was no mention of either ‘children’, ‘trans’ (or ‘transgender’, etc).
There was talk of ‘offensive’ and ‘inappropriate comments’ and the like; ‘diversity’ and even ‘equality’ but no condemnation of the specific language used. In terms of corporate responses, I suppose this was only to be expected. In such a litigious arena, companies will be very conservative in any public statements and it is arguably unrealistic to expect, say, an internationally known fast food company, motivated by profit, to also take on the role of provider of social justice. And even if such a thing was possible, I’m really not sure it would be desirable.
In addition, it’s interesting to note the parallels between the corporate response and an individual’s: if I don’t like the way I’m treated by a particular company, my only real, practical recourse is simply not to spend any more money there. And this, in effect, is what those ten corporations did when they withdrew their advertising.
However, from 4 June onwards companies did begin to withdraw their advertising, and at the same time, the story was picked up by bloggers, various community members and groups as well as mass media outlets, all of which added to the momentum.
Following the withdrawal of the tenth advertiser, a major fast food company, one of the presenters (Rob Williams) issued a 300 word statement on 7 June in which he admits that “WE HAVE SIMPLY FAILED ON ALMOST EVERY LEVEL”. Curiously, the statement has replaced all other material on the show’s website – including the MP3 recordings from the controversial show.
Of his failure even to apologise, Mr Williams adds:
THE WORD APOLOGY APPEARS NO WHERE IN THIS LETTER FOR A REASON. WE ALREADY HID FROM DOING THE RIGHT THING ONCE AND WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE THAT MISTAKE AGAIN. APOLOGIZING IN A WRITTEN, POSTED STATEMENT IS A FORM OF COWARDICE. WE WILL SAY WHAT NEEDS TO BE SAID THIS THURSDAY.
I’m really not sure where Mr Williams gets the idea that a written apology is somehow less valid than a spoken one, but regardless of the preferred format and in the face of this continuing refusal to apologise (why wait until Thursday?), it seems to me about the only thing left that needs to be said by Mr Williams and his co-presenters is, “we quit”.
Til Thursday then.
ETA, 8 June: Two new developments:
- Another company has cancelled their advertising deal with KRXQ
- Arrangements are being made for Kim Pearson (Executive Director of Trans Youth Family Allies) and Autumn Sandeen (trans advocate and regular contributor to Pam’s House Blend) to take part in the broadcast on Thursday