“If you can’t freely speak out, how do you change anything?”
We spoke with Andy Humm, journalist, activist, and co-host of the TV news program Gay USA
Andy talks to us about free speech, including how his community found their voice to stand up for LGBTQ+ rights.
ANDY HUMM: People have to find a way where all sides can be heard.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Hi, my name is Maxwell Nosbisch, Manager of Visitor Experiences here at the First Amendment Museum located in Augusta, Maine. Thank you for joining us again for our One on 1 series.
Today, I’m joined by Andy Humm. Andy, I’ll give you the opportunity to introduce
ANDY HUMM: Well, I’m a 68 year old gay activist basically. So I’ve worked in the movement and the movement
for other civil rights for all my adult life. I’ve also been the host, co host of the Gay USA national cable television
So, every week for the last 36 years, we’ve been talking about these kinds of issues all over the world.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Why do you think the First Amendment is important? What is its purpose and goal?
ANDY HUMM: The First Amendment is just, mean, absolutely key to advancing so many things. If you can’t freely speak out about the issues and petition for redress of grievances and those kinds of things, how do you change anything?
And you see in many countries that don’t have a First Amendment, what happens? Everything gets suppressed and they say, what’s the problem? You know, we’re just abiding by the law.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Why is freedom of speech so important?
ANDY HUMM: That’s how we advance things.
Now, you know, people misunderstand it in man ways. It gives you the right to speak out, to say what you believe. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have consequences when you speak out and say what you believe.
I’m a gay man. If I had spoken out in the 1950s well into the 1960s about who I am and that we should have rights – there were very few places that would likely employ me, and of course you would also be subject to a lot of violence as many people are elsewhere in the world about these issues.
So, it gives you the right to speak out but that doesn’t mean there are consequences. You know, people express their opinions and say, well, that’s my right. Yeah, it’s your right but you know, if you express an opinion like, Hitler was a great guy or something, I’m not gonna have anything to do with you.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Do you think there are ever times where freedom of speech should be restricted?
ANDY HUMM: Well, of course, you can’t say fire in a crowded theater. If you work for an employer, if they don’t like what you say, they can fire you as long as it’s not discriminating against you on the basis of race, religion,
sexual orientation, all those kinds of things. Very few human rights laws protect you on the basis of political beliefs.
On the other hand, if you have a government job, the First Amendment stops the state from discriminating against you. You’re allowed to say what you want, off the job.
So, there are people who hold public jobs, and off the job, they may be saying things that are unpopular things. They’re allowed to do that and the government can’t come down on them for that but if you’re at work at a private employer, for the most part, they can.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: How do you exercise your First Amendment rights on a daily basis?
ANDY HUMM: I’m a reporter. I’m a journalist. The freedom to write and speak and weekly commentate on these things is a cherished right.
And again, you know, in my community, we found our voice. We were a silent group for millennia basically. I’m not saying we didn’t exist and it wasn’t some kind of a movement but only after Stonewall, really, exploded on the scene where people started finding their voices and standing up for themselves and speaking out – and boy did it feel good.
Getting rid of the mental illness designation by the American Psychiatric Association, that was in 1973 that they did that. It was a very early triumph of the movement but they went to the meetings of the American Psychiatric Association. They grabbed the microphones and they spoke and then eventually, they were invited.
And these acts of speech swayed people enough that they changed the designation. They said, okay, you’re not sick anymore. So that was a tremendous triumph and they used the First Amendment.
Now, this does get into conflict sometimes. Yes. I mean, at one point, are you acting like stormtroopers for stopping them from speaking? I can remember going to a meeting of anti-gay psychiatrists in 1976. Long after they changed the designation. They had a room full of 300 psychiatrists who still felt these people are sick and then we were not
invited to participate.
So we went to the meeting, we stood up, and we used our voices. Eventually, they just shut the meeting down. Our intention was not to stop the meeting but to say, you can’t talk about us without us. You know, have to include us in the discussion. So, that gets into conflict sometimes.
You know, you see meetings where people are shouted down and that’s not good. I mean, people have to find a way where all sides can be heard.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Again, thank you so much. Good luck with your work.
ANDY HUMM: Good luck to us all.