Andrew Shirvell Ordered to Pay $4.5 Million for Anti-Gay Attack Blog

Do you remember Andrew Shirvell, the former Michigan assistant attorney general who made an anti-gay blog that targeted the openly gay former University of Michigan student body president, Chris Armstrong? Armstrong sued Shirvell in April 2011, “alleging Shirvell defamed him, invaded his privacy and stalked him,” according to the Detroit Free Press, and it all finally culminated in a trial that took place last week. The outcome? Armstrong won the case and Shirvell was ordered to pay $4.5 million.

According to the Huffington Post, this all could have been avoided if Shirvell had apologized. “Armstrong’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, had said she would drop the lawsuit if Shirvell apologized and retracted his comments … Gordon said the jury couldn’t make him apologize so money was the only answer.”

It’s an odd case ­— a former government official publicly bullying and defaming a college student. On his anti-gay blog, “Chris Armstrong Watch,” Shirvell posted photos of Armstrong’s face covered in a rainbow flag and swastika. Among other things, Shirvell called Armstrong a “racist elitist liar, ” and a “viciously militant homosexual activist,” and accused him of “liquor[ing]-up underage freshmen and promot[ing] homosexual activity in an effort to recruit them to the homosexual lifestyle.”

From Shirvell’s Chris Armstrong Watch blog. via jezebel.com

But why was Shirvell railing against this college student? The main policies Armstrong pushed for as president of the University’s student body were gender-neutral housing and gender-neutral bathrooms, policies that Shirvell thought were “too radical.” Shirvell alleges that his blog was “political speech” and protected under the first amendment — “I viewed my blog as a movement to get Mr. Armstrong to resign,” Shirvell said in court, according to the Free Press.

Shirvell, an ex-government official and fully grown man, displayed a bizarre fixation with Armstrong, who was then a 21-year-old college student. In an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN in 2010, Shirvell kept insisting that the public defamation he was doing to Armstrong through his blog was “just another tactic” that happens in  “political campaigns.” Cooper responded quickly: “This is not some national figure. This is a guy who’s running a student council.”

While Shirvell continues to insist that his comments about Armstrong were political jabs, the language of those comments was invasively personal. Shirvell posted pictures taken outside of Armstrong’s house at 1:30 a.m., wrote about “Armstrong’s already soiled reputation as an underage binge-drinker who hosts ‘gay orgies,'” and used personal Facebook photos of both Armstrong and his friends as “evidence” of wrongdoing. Though Shirvell resided in a completely different political and social sphere than Armstrong, he seemed to view Armstrong’s personal life as fair game for his obsessive examination.

Andrew Shirvell, in an undated photo, holds a poster denouncing UM’s then-student body president, Chris Armstrong. via CNN.com

This is an extreme case of public bullying. While Shirvell maintains that all of the nasty things he wrote about Armstrong are protected under freedom of speech, the recent ruling says otherwise. The line between first amendment rights and hate speech can be a blurry one, but this case sets an encouraging precedent for what is tolerated in terms of the bullying of LGBT individuals.

“It’s not just a victory for me, but for so many others,” Armstrong said last week, according to the Detroit Free Press. “I think of all of the people who are bullied outside of a strong supportive environment like I had at [UMich]. I think it’s a strong statement about what will be tolerated.”

Last year Armstrong set up a scholarship fund at the University of Michigan called the Chris Armstrong Scholarship Fund. “My parents and I decided to start a scholarship for students who’ve been bullied, to come to the University of Michigan … and show students how it gets better,” Armstrong said, according to University of Michigan’s student newspaper, the Michigan Daily.

Former Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong (left) is joined by his mother, Cynthia, and father, Steve, at the 40th anniversary gala of the Spectrum Center to announce the creation of a scholarship fund that will help students who face bullying attend U-M. via http://www.ur.umich.edu/

In this case, the media and the court have taken Armstrong’s side, portraying him as vulnerable and in need of protection — an average kid who happens to be gay.  Even as Shirvell tries to present Armstrong as some kind of “privileged pervert” and “Satan’s representative,” according to his blog, the public and the media seem to understand that this case is an extreme version of the bullying against LGBT youth that has become a major public issue.

Shirvell commented in the Free Press that Armstrong winning the case was an example of “the radical homosexual lobby trying to make an example out of me. Every conservative Christian in the nation should know that they are going to come after you if you object to their lifestyle, that they are going to crucify you in the public arena.”

Deborah Gordon, Armstrong’s attorney replied: “Who is this radical homosexual lobby? Is it me? This man had to be held accountable. It was the wrong thing to do. He lives in a delusional world. There were some conservative Christians on the jury, and they spoke very forcefully about why they had to issue this judgment.”

Word.

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Whitney is a lover of food, books, comic books and journals made for left-handed people. She is a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University, where she studies video games and new media. She is also a graphic designer, writer and editor who has worked for places like Opium Magazine, Literary Death Match, Publishers Weekly and The Feminist Press. Check out her blog at whitneypow.com and follow her on Twitter @whitneypow.

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39 Comments

  1. Thumb up 2

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    Shirvell got what he deserved, you can’t treat people like that. I remember feeling the same way when I heard about what happened. Personal attacks do not a solid argument make. I also oppose gender neutral bathrooms I just think student government is for students and should be a place where these issues can be discussed in a calm rational manner.

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          Yeah, for sure hobbit. Can’t reply with a legitimate response, resort to retardation. Brilliant.

          Sorry that some of us actually understand freedom. And it consists of not picking and choosing what freedom you can have in regards to speech.

          Move to North Korea and leave the rest of us alone, fascist.

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        Financial Death? Welcome to the 50 Litigious United States. People have been awarded far more for far less because we all have rights, ya know? If this were another student I would say maybe just maybe this is an extreme punishment but Shirvell doesn’t even go here. He is clearly unstable (did you see the Anderson interview?) He had his date in court, and slander and libel exist to protect all Americans from the overextension of free speech. Speech that harms the individual is different from speech that harms a group. For example Westboro at Military funerals harms the person, not necessarily the military.

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      You oppose students having access to housing and bathrooms where they don’t feel in constant danger of assault and ridicule? Opposition to gender neutral housing/bathrooms cannot be discussed rationally because they have no rational basis, only conservative fears of what the straight kids will get up to if they have access to the same bathrooms, and that the trans kids will (gasp) continue existing if we acknowledge and account for their hardships.

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    Armstrong seems like a really smart together guy who will go far in life. I really hope that he has some protection though, because Shirvell is clearly an extremely psychologically unstable person who has an unhealthy and dangerous obsession. People like that often attack or kill the objects of their obsession.

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      This comment is a scathing example of political bias. You have nothing of value to contribute to the discussion. You simply want to promote the divinity of the person you support while demonizing the person you disagree with. You actually went as far as to suggest that Shirvell may KILL someone… do you have any idea how fucking stupid you sound? How exactly are your defamatory comments about Shirvell ANY DIFFERENT than the comments he was making about Armstrong? Your ignorant and ridiculous comment is the very kind of speech that you support criminalizing. Are you sure you don’t want to rethink your opposition to free speech?

  3. Thumb up 7

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    I rather like “radical homosexual” as a descriptor. Maybe I’ll tweak it and put it on business cards: “Sawyer! Occasional writer – hair dye enthusiast – radical pansexual”

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    I’m a U of M student, & was at the 40th anniversary of the Spectrum Center when he & his parents announced the scholarship fund. They are a real class act, and I admire the fact that they turned an awful, inexcusable situation into something really badass. Kudos.

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    Radical Homosexual Lobby sounds like a new method of hotel decorating.

    Also, isn’t standing outside a guy’s house at 1am taking pictures a little junior high school psycho. Did he bring a boombox and play Bon Jovi songs, too?

  6. Thumb up 0

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    Absolutely pathetic. This spits on the right to free speech and shows a massive level of hypocrisy from those who would persecute a person based on a something they say or how they feel about others.

    Protip: Just because you identify with the “minority” does NOT mean you should be granted the right to attack those who have an opinion differing from your own. This sort of disgusting intolerance is no different from that which homosexuals “fight” against.

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    The conservatives on this thread are hilarious.

    An adult spreading lies about a gay kid he has no connection to is DEFINITELY a great example of what our forefathers wanted. Obviously trolls are important contributors to political discussions.

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    First of all, let me be clear that Anthoney what-he’s-face got exactly one was coming to him. Merely creating a blog filled with hostile messages is one thing, but he crossed a line into flat out harassment. He admitted to having followed the student Chris Armstrong to protest outside his house (which constitutes stalking) and that his intention was to make Chris resign. Clearly he wanted his target to either fight or flee and was not trying to merely inform or encourage discussion and thought. That he alleged illegal acts plan by the student that he could not prove true, also seems to validate ground for character defamation.
    That being said, I must admit to finding the sub-title of this article a bit troubling. While I truly believe the court made the right decision in this case, it only reinforced prevailing standard for freedom of speech in doing so. In didn’t seem to find a separate legal standard for determining ‘hate speech’ as there has long been with ‘obscenity’, both terms I find are highly subjective and problematic.
    I do not believe hate speech laws will help the cause of equality for disadvantaged groups. In fact, I believe it will make their currant situation worse. Again, the standards for libel (or deliberately printing something false to defaming someones character) have been well established and were properly applied in ‘this case.’ However, the more idea based and less circumstance defined notions of ‘obscenity’ and ‘hate speech’ are another matter entirely.

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    As I said in my earlier post about the anti-gay comments of actor Kirk Cameron:
    Where I think some of his critics go too far, is when they say he’s guilty of being an accomplice to actual violence. That gives credibility to a lame temporary insanity defense and makes it together to convict those responsible for actually hate crimes. Not to mention it’s make you look like the bully. It’s totally counter productive.
    This is sensitive subject that I’ve had to think about for a long time. Which is why I’m willing to accept anyone having questions as to the logic of my stance.

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