What it’s like to be a Lesbian Ex-Jehovah’s Witness

Briar W. is a 22-year-old lesbian living in Johnson City, Tennessee with her partner. She grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness in a devoutly religious home. Jehovah’s Witnesses is a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity. Like many other denominations of Christianity, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe being gay is a sin and that all those with “homosexual desires” should repent.

Tell me a little bit about what a Jehovah’s Witness believes, what are some of their practices?

Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs have a lot of parallels to other Christian practices, but there are quite a few stark differences. For one, Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the idea of the Holy Trinity: the idea that Jesus, Jehovah (God), and the Holy Spirit are one being. Rather, they view Jesus as the actual son of God, separate from God himself. It is taught that Jesus was not equal to Jehovah, but instead worshipped him, as Jesus was the lesser being. The “Holy Spirit” is not taught as being a person, but an active force of God. Jehovah’s Witnesses also reject the idea of an eternal hellfire, and instead insist the ultimate punishment is non-existence. They also believe that only 144,000 people will go to Heaven (they are called “the Anointed”), and that the “meek will inherit the Earth,” so rather than going to Heaven, the majority of people will be resurrected onto a “paradise Earth,” where there is no sickness, hunger, or pain to worship Jehovah for all eternity.

As for practices, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate holidays, because many (if not all of them) can be traced back to “Pagan” origins (Jehovah’s Witnesses tend to use the word “Pagan” very loosely, but it’s always negative). Jehovah’s Witnesses also refuse to practice the 4th of July, because patriotism is seen as morally wrong and looked down upon. Even birthdays are not to be celebrated, because it shows an “obsession with oneself” and the only thing in life you should be celebrating is Jehovah and the gifts he has given you. A practice Jehovah’s Witnesses are very well known for is the door-to-door preaching; these people are called “pioneers,” they are full-time evangelizers, and you typically have to go through years of training to be recognized as one.

The practice I despise the most though is disfellowshipping. Jehovah’s Witnesses strongly encourage that you only befriend and communicate with other Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the point that many, many of these people are only in regular contact with other Jehovah’s Witnesses. When a “brother or sister” commits a “grievous sin,” they are shunned. This shunning is known as disfellowshipping, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not to interact with those who are disfellowshipped. While the accepted notion is that once a family member is disfellowshipped, normal family contact will continue outside of the Kingdom Hall (the church), but this is not usually the case. People will ignore their disfellowshipped spouse, parents will shun their disfellowshipped children, siblings will stop speaking with you. It’s horrible. Disfellowshipping is punishment via complete isolation. It also carries an unspoken blow of pride to the family, which leads to many families hiding and protecting their abusive, predatory family members. They claim you have to be “unrepentant” of your sins to be disfellowshipped, and that’s true, if you were a man. Women were usually immediately disfellowshipped, whether they were “repentant” or not. Finally, and probably the worst of all, those that do the shunning consider themselves the victims. The website even says, “Few things can hurt us more deeply than the pain we suffer when a relative or a close friend is expelled from the congregation for unrepentant sin.”( “How to Treat A Disfellowshipped Person.” Keep Yourselves in God’s Love. Jw.org )

How long were you a Jehovah’s Witness, and how devout were you?

I was born into a Jehovah’s Witness family. I used to carry a Bible with me at all times, and frequently had publications like the Watchtower on my person. (The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom is an illustrated religious magazine, published monthly by Jehovah’s Witnesses.) I also tended to preach at people a lot, it’s embarrassing to think about. So, it took me a long time to realize I was attracted to girls. I always had trouble accepting that same-sex couples were “an abomination.” I couldn’t see anything wrong with it, I didn’t see why it was a big deal, and I was advised to “examine the weakness in my heart” when I told an Elder (a head preacher) about these feelings. Over time, I was told again and again “it was normal to think girls were pretty, because they are,” and “that’s just how everyone feels around pretty girls.” I misconstrued these feelings for just “really looking up to her,” or “really wanting to be her friend,” and for a long time I thought I just wasn’t interested in anyone. I couldn’t imagine having a future with a man. This was encouraged by my mother and other Jehovah’s Witnesses, because they told me those who didn’t experience attraction could become even closer to God. I took this to heart and I think it drove me deeper under; feeling this way meant I was closer to God! Right? But when I was 15, at the latter part of my freshman year, I found out this girl at school had a crush on me. A note was passed to me, she told me she liked me, and then when I’d see her in the hallway I’d get really nervous and it wasn’t a negative thing. That’s when I went from “devout” to “desperate,” because I’d never even considered being with women in my life, and now that it was presented to me as an option I was forced to recognize this huge confliction between my feelings and beliefs. Plus, I’d been reading up on biology books, geography books, etc. Science made me feel more stable than God, so honestly this was a long time coming.

Are you religious in any way now?

Not really. I wasn’t at all by the time I was a Junior in high school. The most religious or spiritual thing I do now is just try to vibe with the universe or something. Go on walks outside, look at trees, collect rocks, try to better myself as a person.

Did you ever experience homophobia from your parents because of their beliefs?

Oh yes, once I told them. It started out with what I expected: my family members flipping back and forth between making snide comments and then oh so humbly offering me targeted literature about how to stay in Jehovah’s love and how to resist the temptations of Satan. It got significantly worse once I entered a committed relationship with my partner. They kicked me out, told me not to come back, and cut off contact with me for some time. Since then they’ve been speaking to me (I cannot be disfellowshipped because I was not baptized) but usually only for short amounts of time or for business. I don’t bring it up around any of them, at all. I can’t. For example, once, my mom asked me what I did the day before, and when I said I went to the park with my partner, she asked if I was trying to start a fight. My stepfather’s parents accused me of being a pedophile when they found out, that I must have “done something” to my younger sisters. I am forbidden from bringing my partner around my family and overall my relationship with them has been very strained since they can’t decide if they should treat me with hostility or pity. That being said, it’s not always completely bad, as long as I don’t talk about most aspects of my life or ambitions, we can hold a conversation.

What about from other Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Honestly, not really. I spent a while pulling myself away from them before I came out, so at that point the only Jehovah’s Witnesses I was in contact with was my immediate family or close family friends. I do know that other Witnesses know, but I never sought out what they have to say.

Thank you for reading! If you are interested in learning more about homophobia and Jehovah’s Witnesses, watch this anti-gay marriage advertisement from JW.org.


Liberal. Feminist. Rapist.

How long have abusive men hid behind leftist views and progressive politics? How long have feminist men used their labels as “feminists” as defense against rape and sexual assault accusations?

Ironically, my rapist was wearing a “Sober Sex” t-shirt the first time he assaulted me. A t-shirt he got from an on-campus consent education workshop. What Consent Ed really taught him was not just how to get consent, but how to ignore it and get away with it. It taught him how far he could go without doing anything that would put him in jail for rape, how to tip-toe the line, and what buzzwords to use when he got called out for it.

A long-standing joke is that college men only take courses on feminism in order to get laid, and sometimes it’s not that far from the truth. My rapist majored in Women’s Studies and English, and what it did was protect his reputation and allow him to be violent and abusive. He knew that if he were accused of rape or sexual assault, that he could tout his major and extensive knowledge of Sylvia Plath as some kind of proof that he wasn’t like other men. Why would anyone take my word over his when he won a “Feminist Activist” award from my university?

In public, he boasted about how terrible it is for men to cat-call, and how terrible republicans are for denying abortions or birth control, but in private he viewed people as sexual objects. There was no more talk about Bell Hooks or Simone de Beauvoir, it was only what sexual favors can he get, and how he could use his charisma to relentlessly coerce me into complying. Take Harvey Weinstein and Aziz Ansari, for example. Both men claimed to be feminists. Both sexually assaulted women. In fact, Ansari was celebrated for his “woke” views, he’s not new to feminism and he certainly should have known better.

We, as an evolving society, need to stop placing so much faith in “feminist” men, because they might just be using it as a weapon against the very people feminism strives to protect. To quote writer and feminist Jessa Crispin, “men will continue to be surprised to discover that under their feminist T-shirt beats the heart of a predator.”

4 Original Poems About Love and Homosexuality

“I love gay bars,” he says,

His intoxicated voice mumbling in my ear,

As he admired the cabaret

He longed to be a part of.

With each slur of his words,

I hear a knock at the closet door,

“No no,” he says, “I only go for the dancing.”

“I’ll take you to one, someday.” I say,

“We’ll dress up in our best clothes

And I’ll promise not to tell your father

When you try to kiss me on the way home.”

We don’t have to tell anyone.

Tonight, we can be performers.

Let life be the stage

And our love be the spotlight.

Even as my heart breaks,

I can do nothing but love.

I will wear it on my sleeve,

And carry it with me

Through every storm,

Its light with me always.

I spent the summer falling down,

Collecting band-aids and scars,

Skinning my knees over a boy

Who held my heart

Like a bruised peach in his hands.

If only he never let go of it.

The ink in your pen is the blood that flows through your words and gives them life.

The blank white pages of your journal, smooth as silk in your hands,

Are the wings on which your words take flight.

These, and the heart and soul of a complete madman,

Are all you need to turn simple phrases into masterpieces.

So, why then, do you try so hard to be Poe or Hemingway,

when all you have ever been is poetry?

When, in the humdrum of an everyday conservation over coffee,

Is hidden the effortless prose of a master?

I doubt you would even know,

If not for my keen ear and relentless longing for the sound of your voice,

The skill contained within each phrase.

Does anyone truly have a voice

If there is no one around to listen to it the way someone in love,

Or someone completely insane, listens to it?

3 Poems by Gay/Bisexual Poet Walt Whitman

Walter “Walt” Whitman (1819-1892) was an American poet, essayist and journalist. He is often referred to as the “father of free verse” and his poetry, namely in Leaves of Grass, stirred up controversy for its overt sexuality. Historians believe that Whitman was either gay or bisexual, and he had many male partners during his lifetime.

That music always around me

That music always round me, unceasing, unbeginning, yet long

untaught I did not hear,

But now the chorus I hear and am elated,

A tenor, strong, ascending with power and health, with glad notes

of daybreak I hear,

A soprano at intervals sailing buoyantly over the tops of immense


A transparent base shuddering lusciously under and through the


The triumphant tutti, the funeral wailings with sweet flutes and

violins, all of these I fill myself with,

I hear not the volumes of sound merely, I am moved by the

exquisite meanings,

I listen to the different voices winding in and out, striving,

contending with fiery vehemence to excel each other in


I do not think the performers know themselves—but now I think I

begin to know them.

To a stranger

Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,

You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me as of a dream,)

I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,

All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,

You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,

I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not yours only nor left my body mine only,

You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,

I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or wake at night alone,

I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,

I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

Sometimes with one I love

Sometimes with one I love I fill myself with rage for fear I effuse

unreturn’d love,

But now I think there is no unreturn’d love, the pay is certain

one way or another,

(I loved a certain person ardently and my love was not return’d,

Yet out of that I have written these songs.)

To you

Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of


I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your

feet and hands,

Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners,

troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you,

Your true soul and body appear before me,

They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops,

work, farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating,

drinking, suffering, dying.

Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you

be my poem,

I whisper with my lips close to your ear,

I have loved many women and men, but I love none better

than you.

O I have been dilatory and dumb,

I should have made my way straight to you long ago,

I should have blabb’d nothing but you, I should have chanted

nothing but you.

I will leave all and come and make the hymns of you,

None has understood you, but I understand you,

None has done justice to you, you have not done justice to


None but has found you imperfect, I only find no

imperfection in you,

None but would subordinate you, I only am he who will

never consent to subordinate you,

I only am he who places over you no master, owner, better,

God, beyond what waits intrinsically in yourself.

Painters have painted their swarming groups and the centre-

figure of all,

From the head of the centre-figure spreading a nimbus of

gold-color’d light,

But I paint myriads of heads, but paint no head without its

nimbus of gold-color’d light,

From my hand from the brain of every man and woman it

streams, effulgently flowing forever.

O I could sing such grandeurs and glories about you!

You have not known what you are, you have slumber’d upon

yourself all your life,

Your eyelids have been the same as closed most of the time,

What you have done returns already in mockeries,

(Your thrift, knowledge, prayers, if they do not return in

mockeries, what is their return?)

The mockeries are not you,

Underneath them and within them I see you lurk,

I pursue you where none else has pursued you,

Silence, the desk, the flippant expression, the night, the

accustom’d routine, if these conceal you from others or

from yourself, they do not conceal you from me,

The shaved face, the unsteady eye, the impure complexion, if

these balk others they do not balk me,

The pert apparel, the deform’d attitude, drunkenness, greed,

premature death, all these I part aside.

There is no endowment in man or woman that is not tallied

in you,

There is no virtue, no beauty in man or woman, but as good

is in you,

No pluck, no endurance in others, but as good is in you,

No pleasure waiting for others, but an equal pleasure waits

for you.

As for me, I give nothing to any one except I give the like

carefully to you,

I sing the songs of the glory of none, not God, sooner than

I sing the songs of the glory of you.

Whoever you are! claim your own at an hazard!

These shows of the East and West are tame compared to you,

These immense meadows, these interminable rivers, you are

immense and interminable as they,

These furies, elements, storms, motions of Nature, throes of

apparent dissolution, you are he or she who is master or

mistress over them,

Master or mistress in your own right over Nature, elements,

pain, passion, dissolution.

The hopples fall from your ankles, you find an unfailing


Old or young, male or female, rude, low, rejected by the rest,

whatever you are promulges itself,

Through birth, life, death, burial, the means are provided,

nothing is scanted,

Through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui, what

you are picks its way.

Conservative Actor Mike Rowe’s Hypocrisy About the Arts: ‘Don’t Follow Your Passion’

Despite the fact that conservative actor and “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe likes to present himself as just another hardworking blue collar American, he is far from it. Let’s get one thing straight: Mike Rowe is an actor. He has been an actor and TV show host his entire life, and his current net worth is $35 million. He is not a middle class factory worker or tradesman who earns $30-$40,000 a year. He’s a rich celebrity, and he has some advice for young people: don’t follow your passion.

In a “commencement” speech he did in 2016 for PragerU, he encouraged grads to not follow their passion, but to follow opportunity. While it is good advice that one should be realistic about goals and job prospects, passion and opportunity are not mutually exclusive, and Rowe seems to think they are. Finding a job opportunity for a career one is also passionate about is not just some liberal fantasy, and Rowe shames and belittles grads for pursuing degrees in the arts, and things they are passionate about.

In the speech, he says, “Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it,” and this, on the surface, sounds like a reasonable statement. However, the example Rowe uses is ignorant and fallacious. Rowe talks about how millions of people audition for shows like American Idol, trying to be famous Hollywood singers, but the majority never fulfill that dream, as they are “passionate”, but not talented enough to have what it takes. Before he became an actor, Rowe was an opera singer. This is why I am confused as to why he would portray the job prospects of millions of untrained amateur singers trying to make it in Hollywood, as being the same as professionally trained classical musicians with multiple degrees and years of training and experience, as being one and the same. Just because amateur and untrained singers trying to become famous celebrities are often not successful, doesn’t mean we should be discouraging graduates from pursuing degrees in liberal arts fields. The two are not even comparable. As a music student myself, I know the amount of work and skill it requires to complete a degree in music, and it is not something that is just handed out to anyone. If there was no talent, there would be no graduates.

Another point Rowe makes is that the actual career one has has very little to do with one’s happiness at work. In essence, career choice doesn’t matter, and anyone can be happy at any job if they choose to be. This is where he cites an anecdote about a man he knew who cleaned septic tanks for a living, and “was passionate about other people’s crap.” I’m sorry, but not being passionate about cleaning up human feces every day for the rest of my life doesn’t make me an out-of-touch-with-reality liberal millennial. Considering the fact that Rowe doesn’t actually work one of these dirty jobs, and only pretends to for television, he seems like the one who isn’t living in reality when it comes to happiness on the job.

I believe I was not just put on this Earth to work, pay taxes, and die. I do not want to clean up crap for a living, even if I make a decent wage. Having a dream for a happy and inspired life of creativity and making the world a better place through the arts is not something I will be ashamed of.

Trump’s Newspeak: The CDC’s Seven Banned Words

Officials of the Trump administration are forbidding officials at the nation’s top public health agency, the Center for Disease Control, from using a list of these seven words and phrases: transgender, diversity, vulnerable, fetus, science-based, evidence-based, and entitlement in official documents being prepared for this year’s budget. Forbidding words, especially ones like diversity and transgender, is a deliberate attempt to erase the identities and existence of transgender people and other minorities. Forbidding words like science-based and evidence-based just shows how regressive and unscientific the Trump administration really is. Banning words at all sets a dangerous precedent for future censorship.

Human beings are so incredibly language reliant, that without the words to express a thought, and to communicate it with others, it’s as if that thought doesn’t really exist. As a child, I had always felt different. I never understood exactly why. It’s as if I couldn’t put into words what I was feeling. However, when I first heard the definition of the word transgender, I immediately knew I was trans. It changed my life. If the word transgender were to be erased from our vocabulary, then it would be as if we were erased. How can we talk about trans issues if there isn’t even a name for those issues? How can anyone describe and have conversations surrounding diversity or other important political topics when the words aren’t allowed to be spoken, or don’t even exist?

This is the precise goal of Newspeak, the fictional language spoken by citizens of Oceania, in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Newspeak is a controlled language created by the oppressive ruling party (Ingsoc), that is increasingly regressive, with a limited and continually diminishing vocabulary. The point of creating Newspeak was so that the government could have the ability to limit free speech, personal identity, free will, and most of all, free thought. By continually erasing vocabulary from the spoken language, Oldspeak, and replacing words with new oversimplified words, the idea is that, eventually, citizens of Oceania won’t even be capable of committing thoughtcrimes against the state, because the words needed to rebel don’t even exist. Any words that threaten the ideology of the Party are erased.

The Trump Administration is restricting the language of the CDC, preventing them from using words such as “transgender”, “fetus”, and “diversity” because they threaten the ideology of the Republican Party, and therefore should be erased. Fortunately, unlike Big Brother, the government cannot prevent citizens from exercising free speech and freedom of thought.

Queer People and the Importance of Chosen Families

For the large percentage of LGBTQ people who have been rejected by their biological or legal families, roughly %39, the concept of the ‘chosen family’ is all too familiar. A chosen family is defined as “a group of people to whom you are emotionally close to and consider ‘family’ even though you are not biologically or legally related.” Chosen families are families held together by heart, rather than blood, and for some queer people, they are the only real families they have. These chosen families can mean the difference between life and death, and during the holiday season, they’re more crucial than ever. This reality rings true for me especially, as I was rejected by my family Christmas Day, one year ago. Let me tell you a little bit about my chosen family, and what it’s like to be a queer person spending christmas away from my biological family.

My chosen family:


A friend I’ve known since I was in elementary school, and as a lesbian, part of the LGBTQ community herself. The only friend I see when I go back home. She was the first person I called after my biological family tossed me out onto the street, and her family took me in for several weeks. Without her, I would have been homeless, as many LGBTQ youth end up. She loves horses, and is an incredible painter and artist. Most often when I see her, her hands are covered in paint and she has a smile on her face from ear to ear. She’s tall, strong, and always ready to fight anyone on my behalf. I love her. To me, she is family.


I met her my first semester of college at a meeting for LGBTQ students, and since then, we’ve been inseparable. She is the smartest, kindest, most amazing girl I’ve ever met. She’s hardworking, brilliant, loves bugs, and anything science related. She likes terrible music, and would do anything in the world for me. She’s the kind of person who would risk her life for a stranger, and be the first to cry at a sad movie. I don’t think I could even do her justice in describing her. I could not imagine life without her so much as I could imagine a color I’d never seen. She is as much a part of my life as the sun coming up each morning. I love her. To me, she is family.


A fellow musician I met my first year of college, who befriended me, and was crazy enough to keep at it until we were close friends. He loves the arts: music, literature, and theatre, but is also passionate about his work as a barista. He is a poet and writer, and never fails to move me with his words, whether they be in a poem or in a conversation over coffee. He is the smartest man I’ve ever met, and it’s because of his occasionally blunt criticisms, I am always learning and growing. To say that he has saved my life would be an understatement. It’s been two years since we met, and to this day, he’s still saves me on multiple occasions. I love him. To me, he is family.

Before I was rejected by my family for being gay and trans, I didn’t understand the importance of a family. Call it a silver lining, but spending this holiday season away from the family that rejected me has shown me what it’s like to be surrounded by people who truly love me and accept me for who I am. It has been a difficult year and this Christmas will no doubt still be a rough one for me, as it is also the anniversary of my rejection, but like my LGBTQ comrades, I have been made stronger by my ‘real family’. This is why I believe a family should be defined by love, and not blood. For any disheartened queer folks out there, who are having a difficult holiday season because of homophobic relatives or rejection from family, your chosen family is valid and you are loved.

Happy holidays to all of you, and your true families.

Free Will and Obedience to Authority

Free Will is a philosophical term that references the ability of one to choose their own course of action without impediment. Central to the idea of free will are these questions: what does it mean to choose and act freely? And what does it mean to be morally responsible for one’s own actions? Moral responsibility is the philosophical idea of being morally responsible, deserving of punishment or reward, blame or praise, for one’s actions or failure to act. Many philosophers have developed their own theories on free will and moral responsibility. Philosophers like Galen Strawson, for example, believe that free will and moral responsibility do not exist, regardless of if determinism, the philosophical belief that every event has specific conditions that could be the cause no other event, is true or not. Strawson’s basic argument is centered on moral responsibility. He argues that any action carried out by a person is ultimately the consequence of who that person is, and therefore not entirely up to them. Because one can’t be completely responsible for the person they are, they did not create themselves, nor can they control everything that happens in their life, they can’t be ultimately responsible for their choices and actions. Therefore, one is not ultimately responsible for their actions. The implications of Strawson’s basic argument are that no one is truly free, and no one is completely morally responsible for their actions (Strawson 5).

There are two possible arguments for the case that moral responsibility is not compatible with the concept of determinism. One argument is that by our ordinary standards, if an act is determined by a prior cause that is completely out of the control of the agent, then the agent is not morally responsible and should feel receive no blame or praise. This is called internal skepticism. On the other hand, there is also the external skepticism argument for this incompatibility about moral responsibility, that argues the best possible standards regarding these reactive emotions, which may not be our ordinary standards, entail that these emotions are never warranted in cases where an agents actions are determined by prior causes that the agent had no control over (Strawson 7). An important part of Strawson’s basic argument is that he argues against both internal and external skepticism about moral responsibility and believe that free will is essentially, only an illusion.

Take into consideration the Milgram Experiment on Obedience to Authority Figures, or simply the Milgram Experiment, which was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram at Yale University. They measured how willing the participants of the study, ordinary people with diverse backgrounds, would be to obey an authority figure who instructed them to inflict pain on another participant (actually an actor) by shocking them with increasingly more dangerous and painful voltages (so they were led to believe). The experiment found that a very high number of people would obey the instructions of authority figure even when they were led to believe the person they were shocking might be incapacitated or even dead, though in reality no such punishments were actually taking place (McLeod).

Most would argue that the participants in the study were not under any duress, they were not in fear for their life, there was no one holding a gun to their head and forcing them to seemingly electrocute these people, yet they did so anyway. Most would also argue that their free will was not impeded and that they freely chose to complete the study. There is no doubt that most ordinary people would not freely choose to electrocute someone to the point of being incapacitated or dead, but why was it so easy to convince these ordinary participants? This is the question Milgram was seeking to answer by conducting the Milgram Experiment.

More specifically, Milgram conducted the experiment in response to the Nuremberg Trials, the trials that took place after World War II to punish war criminals who committed genocidal acts under the rule of the Hitler’s Third Reich (McLeod). Their defense: obedience. Most claimed they “were just following orders” and were not to blame for their crimes. Milgram sought to find out whether or not obedience to authority figures could really cause ordinary Germans to commit crimes against humanity. Participants in the study could have chosen at any time to walk away, or could they? Theoretically, they had the choice and physical ability to walk away from the study, but as Strawson hypothesized, free will is only an illusion. The participants could have chosen to stop participating in the study, but all it took was a man in a white lab coat calmly but firmly prodding them to continue. Therefore, Milgram proved that we have less control over our choices than we would like to believe. The consequences of “just following orders” in the case of the Milgram Experiment were only negligible. However, for a real world situation, like the genocide that occurred in Germany during World War II, the implications of just following the orders of an authority figure are devastating.

Obedience is about power. When the choice is made to obey authority figures, free will of the individual is given up in exchange for a place in a civilized and structured society. I could define free will as, “if no one is holding a gun to my head, then I am free to act as I please.” but while there is no physical gun pointed at my head, there is a metaphorical one, a psychological one. The participants of the Milgram Experiment were not threatened with punishment for not continuing the study, at least not in that instance, but everyone from birth is conditioned to obey authority figures, or risk punishment. Therefore, it can be argued that the participants were not acting with freedom of will when performing the experiment. According to a diary excerpt of Adolf Eichmann, a man who was executed after the Nuremberg trials, “The orders were, for me, the highest thing in my life and I had to obey them without question.”(McLeod.)

Like Strawson, I believe that total free will is an illusion. While we may have some control over our actions and choices, forfeiture of free will is the price we pay to live in a civilized society, and a choice made for us at birth, and ingrained into us our entire lives. While most of us would like to believe we could never torture anyone or commit war crimes, most of us have also never been given the opportunity. I don’t view this as an excuse, but as a warning. Fascism and Nazism could easily become the law of the land, so long as there are ordinary people around to not question authority. We do not need to present the opportunity to everyday Americans to become nazis. Even on a small scale, fascist and white supremacist ideas are dangerous and need to be taken seriously and stamped out immediately.

Works Cited

McLeod, Saul. A. (2007). Obedience to Authority. 1 Jan 1970. http://www.simplypsychology.org/obedience.html

Strawson, Galen. Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 75, No. 1/2, Free Will, Determinism, and Moral Responsibility (Aug.,1994), pp. 5-24

The Purging of Ben Schaller: How the Tri-Cities Queer Community Stood Up to Its Universal Abuser

2017 is the year outing sexual predators and abusive men became a trend. TIME Magazine’s recent Person of the Year, The Silence Breakers, or women of the #MeToo movement, is proof of that. So to continue the great crusade against terrible men, it’s time we put another perpetrator on blast.

Over the last several years, Ben Schaller has been accused of sexually assaulting multiple people, who were all part of the LGBTQ community. Since speaking up about their experiences, alleged victims claim they were the targets of repeated and severe harassment, unwanted contact, and even unwanted letters and gifts. Others say they were stalked and even had their homes broken into by Schaller.

In Fall of 2015, Schaller was in his first semester of his presidency of H.E.R.O.E.S., an LGBTQ organization at East Tennessee State University. Typical of many men like him, this position of power is what gave him a greater opportunity to facilitate abuse and misconduct, and soon after the second and last semester of his presidency, he was banned from the organization for life.

Not willing to accept this fall from grace, he decided, much to the horror and dismay of other organization members, to ignore this ban, resulting in his forced removal from a members meeting by campus police officers. This incident took place in the fall semester of 2016, and did not go unnoticed by University Student Affairs officials, who decided to ban Schaller from campus grounds altogether in September of 2016. Though he was quick to ignore this ban as well, he has since turned his focus to other LGBTQ groups around the tri-cities area.

An attempt was made by Schaller to join a local group called TCATS, a group for transgender people only. Schaller was denied entry to this group as he deliberately attempted to deceive leaders of the organization in order to gain membership. However, the parent organization, Tri-Cities Transgender, has a second group, AllyCats, which is the sister group to TCATS created for allies of transgender people. Schaller was a member of both AllyCATS, and the local chapter of PFLAG, another group for LGBTQ allies, for an extended period of time.

As of early November, about one month ago, a universal decision was made by the leaders of all aforementioned groups to ban Schaller from every group, essentially purging him from the Johnson City queer community. As of now, every active LGBTQ group in the entire tri-cities area has closed their doors on this dangerous, manipulative predator.

In my opinion, which has been echoed by many of his victims, Ben Schaller purposefully and maliciously targets vulnerable populations for sexual exploitation, such as queer women and transgender youth. I believe that it is for this reason that he no longer has access to the spaces he needs to continue victimizing said populations.

Although this is a victory for every member of the Johnson City LGBTQ community, the delay in removing him from queer safe spaces did not come without consequence. Let this be a call to action for every queer space and activist group to continue keeping its members safe and to always take action against those who threaten the safety of us all.

How the Sodexo Food Company is Cheating Broke College Students Out of Their Money

Sodexo is a food services and facilities management company recently hired by East Tennessee State University to replace Aramark, the university’s previous food services provider. While students were promised an exciting improvement in their dining experience at ETSU, what they got was worse food at far higher prices.

A new policy for meal plans has begun this fall semester. Previously, only freshmen were required to buy a meal plan. This semester, all freshmen and sophomores on campus must pay for a plan, next year juniors will be added, until finally, everyone who lives on campus must pay for a compulsory meal plan every semester. The minimum price for which is $1,718 (previously $1,675) per semester for a 7-day unlimited meal plan.

“Unlimited” meals actually comes with a finite number: 3,000. 3,000 cafeteria meals a semester is what you’re paying for with the mandatory 7-day unlimited meal plan. I did the math, and with 16 weeks in a semester, roughly 112 days, that’s around 26 meals a day being paid for. Why on Earth would anyone eat 26 cafeteria meals in a day, and how does it makes sense to force students to pay for that much food a semester?

The justification I’ve heard is that, well, if you were to pay for 26 meals a day anywhere else, like a restaurant, it would be more expensive than $1,718. Therefore, the meal plan is a good deal. Well, first of all, as if I had to say this, I don’t eat 26 meals a day, I eat three. So, I end up paying a lot less money for food every semester now paying out of pocket than I did when I had a meal plan.

There’s no denying that it’s a fraction of the cost to skip the meal plan, and the off-campus options are also far higher quality in addition to being cheaper. Within walking distance from the university (5-10 minute walk) is a grocery store, five fast food restaurants, a Mexican restaurant, a Japanese restaurant, and two Italian restaurants. On campus, there are only three fast food places (in addition to a cafeteria), all of which are not included in the meal plan itself that must be paid for with your own money or the very few “dining dollars” given in addition to 3,000 “meal swipes”. With so many options right off of campus, that don’t even require owning a car, there’s no reason to have an on-campus meal plan.

Speaking of off-campus options, there is a gas station that is shorter walk from my dorm room than the “Buc Mart” is, which is basically the on-campus equivalent of a 7-11 market, but smaller, more expensive, and a longer walk. As part of my informal research, I stopped by the Buc Mart to look at prices and talk to employees. I asked one employee, Joann H., who had been with Sodexo for seven years, “ Why is every product here twice as expensive as it is anywhere else in the area? Wouldn’t you think that, since this is a college campus, that charging broke college students so much more for food than anywhere else is a bit ridiculous?”

She agreed, saying, “A lot of have complained to [Sodexo] about how high the prices are here, and we were told, ‘This is not a discount store.’”

Trust me, Sodexo, nobody would ever accuse you of running a discount store. But while students may not be getting discounts on cheap food, I have a pretty good reason to think Sodexo is. It’s time to talk about that cafeteria food.

The cafeteria is the only place on campus you can eat those 3,000 meals you paid for. I will preface this by saying, I’m your average college-age male. I’m broke, not picky about my diet, and my body is pretty much indestructible. I can do almost anything to it, and be up the next morning for my early classes. I can, and will, eat pretty much anything even close to edible, but this food is absolutely disgusting. Imagine sitting down to a meal at a restaurant and having to spit out the food you just paid for because it is just that bad. Before going away to school I had never eaten a meal anywhere, in 18 years, that was just inedible. Burnt food, raw food, stale food, Sodexo serves it all. As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, they’re bleeding broke college students dry making them pay for it every semester. Students living on campus who are forced to pay for this garbage may get stuck paying for it for longer because they can’t save up money to buy a car and move off of campus, where they wouldn’t have to have a meal plan anymore. Additionally, students who normally would be getting a full ride to school might get stuck with student loan debt after they graduate just to pay for food they never ate.

I have a hunch that this recent requirement for universities to instate mandatory enrollment in meal plans is because without forcing students to pay for the food, Sodexo is losing money because of how awful the food is and how ridiculously expensive it is to pay for it. This policy is unfair to all students and Sodexo should either raise their quality of food, lower prices, or students should not be forced to pay for it.