A conservative columnist’s writing in the Charleston Mercury that decried an inclusive view of gender identity as the cause of a "moral decay" and "rot" in modern America was called "dangerous" by Charleston LGBTQ leaders last week, criticism that eventually led the newspaper’s publisher to apologize.
The column by retired Mt. Pleasant lawyer Stuart Kaufman in the February issue of the Charleston Mercury, a newspaper that has traditionally served upper crust downtown residents, was titled "LGBT(QRSTUVWXYZ)," a dismissive play on the LGBTQ acronym commonly used to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community. Using his monthly space to "complain loudly and in public," Kaufman described himself as of "masculine, manly, macho, mannish, virile, non-feminine persuasion" as he wrote for six columns about his "latest thorn": gender identity labels other than those strictly based on one’s birth sex.
Specifically, LGBTQ leaders took issue with Kaufman’s use of rhetoric calling for sympathizers to "rise up" against LGBTQ people and allies — "tyrants" and "alphabet pests," as he describes them.
"It disturbs me, more than his writing it, I’m concerned that the Mercury would print it," businesswoman Linda Ketner tells the City Paper. "This is beyond conservative, this is rancor. It’s very dangerous."
"This language fans the flames of hate against a segment of our community that is already at risk for violence," Chase Glenn, the executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA) wrote in a Feb. 5 letter to the newspaper. "The Charleston Mercury needs to take responsibility for what they print and the possibly life-threatening repercussions to giving voice to such hate. Stop unnecessarily targeting LGBTQ people. And stop giving voice to such hate and ignorance."
On Fri. Feb. 7, Mercury publisher and editor Charles Waring posted on Facebook that the newspaper needed to "have better listening ears" going forward. An addition to the post on Wed. Feb. 12 put the apology in no uncertain terms: "Let me be clear: We should not have published what readers saw in our February paper, and we apologize without hesitation for how this offended many."
Waring says the newspaper plans to publish letters from Glenn, Ketner, and others in their March printing. In addition to opinion columns, features in the Mercury often focus on cultural and historical subjects.
Kaufman's column has not been published on the Mercury's website.
"Responsible, tax paying, sensible adults must finally rise up against the tyranny of the LGBTQRSTUV camarilla," Kaufman wrote in his closing paragraph. "These elitist idiots are the collective emperor without clothes. It is up to each of us to screw up our courage and push back. It is up to each of us to isolate the rot that is spreading among us. In writing this , I am hoping that I will infuriate each one of us with a decent moral compass and an ability to tell the difference between right and wrong, to the point where we can reinvigorate this nation with the values that built it and made it a beacon for all other nations."
During an interview with the City Paper on Thurs. Feb. 6, Waring described Kaufman's writing style as "bombastic" at times.
"I would describe it as dangerous and inflammatory," says Ketner. "This kind of thought produces action that can be really dangerous in our community."
Nationwide increases in hate crimes, those motivated by bias, have also been seen in S.C., according to FBI figures. Over 2017-2018, 111 hate crimes were reported in South Carolina, up 27 percent from the previous year. At least four black transgender women have been killed in S.C. since 2018. South Carolina is one of a few states in the U.S. without a hate crime law, but City of Charleston leaders passed their own bias-motivated crime ordinance in 2018.
Ketner, a longtime advocate for the LGBTQ community in Charleston, helped create the Alliance for Full Acceptance in 1998. In 2019, AFFA assisted the Charleston Police Department on sensitivity training to educate officers and staff to understand the dangers and issues facing the LGBTQ community.
"I’m a boomer, OK, and we are undereducated about the new sexual orientation identities and the new gender identities. I was undereducated about it," Ketner says. "It is my responsibility to understand it and then make a reasonable judgment."
"It is understandable," Ketner reiterates. "And he could not have taken any time to understand it and written the vitriol that he did."
It is undecided whether Kaufman will continue as a columnist, Waring says.
The Mercury's distribution agreement with The Post and Courier — which delivers the paper to readers off the peninsula — will continue, Waring says. Email inquiries to P&C's circulation office went unanswered.