By Sarah Elmquist Squires
Sandwiched between a cartoon about climate change and one poking fun of America’s involvement — or lack thereof — in the war on Ukraine, the weekend newspaper also included a spiff on “The Twilight Zone,” suggesting a world in which transgender people being recognized for who they are was something as mystifying and backward as science fiction.
The cartoon generated backlash. It’s not the first time something on the opinion page has stirred angst and anger, nor will it be the last.
Was it worth the soy ink? Well that depends on who you ask. Supporters of the LGBTQ+ community saw it as a slap in the face, while people who don’t understand the issues those folks deal with agreed.
The Lander community produced the most reaction, but while many took offense, just as many agreed. For a newspaper, that’s just about where we should sit … down the middle. Be a place that creates dialogue and invites opinions while providing you the unadulterated facts you need to make up your own mind on nearly any issue. No topic should be off limits, we’re all adults here.
Let’s take a moment to consider the realm of political cartoons. There are very few such cartoonists left in the U.S., so the ones you see are syndicated. Some newspapers only subscribe to right- or left-leaning artists, but we include a well-rounded mix of artists who, undoubtedly, generate their fair share of consternation. There’s a whole lot of history to newspaper cartoons causing outrage, political dialogue, action. Even violence.
The role of those illustrations on the opinion page is to spark dialogue. It’s something that’s needed in a place as diverse as Fremont County. We really need to talk about this issue. A lot of other ones, too.
It’s hard to fathom that a cartoon prompted more outrage than the presence of Patriot Front protestors at Wind River Pride in Lander, who chanted, “You’re proud to be gay? We’re proud to be white!” and, “My dog’s pissing on your ancestor’s grave, just like I’m going to piss on yours!”
Apparently, it took a cartoon.
The First Amendment is a fiery topic in Lander at the moment, with the book “Let’s Talk About It,” and its cartoon genitalia and frank messages about sex and sexuality igniting many to opine about what’s best for kids, what constitutes “book banning,” and who should be the one who decides what’s decent, what’s best, and what is Free Speech.
As a newspaper editor for 20 years, I know I shouldn’t ban opinions on my opinion page, I should invite them, because that’s what the First Amendment calls for. We can’t be the independent voice of Fremont County unless every voice can be heard. It’s the newspaper’s role in a free society.
I didn’t agree with the cartoon, either, but frankly, I’m glad we’re talking.