This is just not a good news week. Like, not in that there is no news, but in that none of the news is good. I mean, if it’s not suicide, it’s a state official using his influence to stalk, harass and bully a student at his alma mater! Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, a University of Michigan alum, has started a blog called Chris Armstrong Watch to chronicle the every move of Chris Armstrong, the openly gay student body president. Ostensibly to combat Armstrong’s “dangerous homosexual rights extremism,” the blog not only follows Armstrong’s daily life to an extent that pushes it easily into the realm of stalking – it includes videos of the outside of Armstrong’s house – it also follows his family, friends and romantic partners. The first post on the blog features a photo, which I will not repost here, of Armstrong with clip art of a swastika superimposed on a rainbow flag, and the word RESIGN written in MS Paint. (@wapo)
In case you missed it in the first paragraph, the person doing this is not a lonely man in a cabin in North Dakota whose war flashbacks are making him paranoid and angry; this is a state official whose salary you are helping to pay if you live in Michigan. The state Attorney General, Mike Cox, has “scolded” his employee for his actions, but ultimately told the press that what Shirvell does in his free time is his own business and out of the state’s control. Shirvell, for his part, told the press that he has “no problem with the fact that Chris is a homosexual. [He has] a problem with the fact that he’s advancing a radical homosexual agenda.” If that doesn’t sound deranged enough already, know that the person he was saying this to on national television was Anderson Cooper, who happens to also be homosexual. But that’s okay, because really, that’s not what he has the problem with.
Armstrong has stated that “I will not back down. I will not flinch. I will not falter. I will not succumb to any unwarranted attacks. What I will do is I will carry on with the utmost pride and vindication.” Michigan students and faculty have called for Shirvell to be removed from his post, and are reported to be circulating a petition to that effect. A source at University of Michigan has told us that the issue is being discussed heavily, and that a stronger statement from the university and/or campus organizations will likely be released before next week. The Michigan Daily has demanded that Shirvell resign:
Shirvell’s increasingly extreme actions of discrimination aren’t the result of a lapse in judgment. His behavior does not stem from immaturity. It stems from hatred. And this type of hatred makes Shirvell unsuitable to remain a government official. It will affect his ability to objectively interpret laws — which is the job of the attorney general’s office. It’s unacceptable that Cox hasn’t dismissed a member of his staff who is so blatantly bigoted.
This seems to me to be such unassailable logic that it makes me want to scream. In the same way that a person running, say, a white supremacy blog should not be allowed to work as a police officer (although I wouldn’t be surprised by that either), someone whose raging homophobia has clearly tainted their entire understanding of how the world works should not be allowed to work in government or law. Period.
Our thoughts on the entire affair are, put simply, that there’s a thin line between plain old American homophobia and actual mental illness, and this man is at best straddling that line. As Gawker puts it: “It’s a student government, pal. And you’re a major state’s assistant attorney general. This is the very simple point Anderson Cooper could not get Shirvell to understand, probably because Shirvell is deeply stupid. Or has other demons! Terrible, terrible demons.” Even if we for one second take Shirvell at his word and assume that he imagines he is counteracting some actual threat, the fact remains that there is virtually no action Armstrong could ever, ever take that would affect Shirvell in any way; student body presidents don’t even have a level of authority that significantly affects students at their university. It’s true that Armstrong has espoused gender-neutral housing, but this doesn’t really even seem to register with Shirvell. It’s almost as if Armstrong’s actual political agenda isn’t really what’s concerning him at all! (@gawker)
It’s infuriating that this comes in the middle of a week where anyone with a beating heart is grieving over the shocking and totally unnecessary rash of queer teen suicides that we’ve seen recently. But unfortunately, it’s not really a coincidence. This is a little more plainly drawn, a little easier to see, but the fact that an EMPLOYEE OF THE GOVERNMENT whose job is officiating over the laws that, you know, PROTECT PEOPLE FROM THINGS LIKE STALKING, is able to do something like this with no repercussions is a perfect example of the climate that led these young people to their deaths. It’s absolutely unconscionable that children can’t rely on their teachers and educators to protect them or even acknowledge their abuse, and it’s absolutely unacceptable that a person who is charged with defending the right of all citizens to liberty and happiness is in fact using his power to take them away just because he happens to be completely delusional. And that there are apparently no consequences for this, that this is being spun as an unappealing after-work hobby like taxidermy. A lot of us are asking ourselves these days what we can do; what actions can lead us forward and create concrete change for anyone, especially children, who is being hurt by a system that is designed to protect them. And now, looking at this, we have to ask – really, what can we do? When this is the person who’s given an office in the State House and a team of government aides, honestly, what can we even do? I don’t know. Suggestions are welcome.