Joe Messina is poison.
Over the last week, Messina has spent time on his radio show, The Real Side, mocking Caitlyn Jenner and a trans student at Wellesley College. He’s called National Coming Out Day and other events celebrating the LGBTQ community “garbage” and he’s given his seal of approval to a radio guest who called homosexuality “really harmful”. Messina’s also been getting chummy with an anti-gay hate group.
None of this is surprising, of course. Disparaging the LGBTQ community is part and parcel with the CONSERVATIVE BRAND Joe Messina has for years been cultivating on The Real Side, SCVNews and other local outlets that have happily offered Messina a platform to voice his toxic opinions on gender identity and sexuality.
It would be easy to dismiss Joe Messina as a gauche nuisance because Lord knows he’s far from the only person in the Santa Clarita Valley who dismisses the LBGTQ community. Unfortunately for the SCV, Joe Messina wears two hats: aside from running a right-wing radio show, Messina first and foremost is an elected board member for the William S. Hart Union High School District. Messina is perched atop a school district that encompasses six high schools and approximately 23,000 Santa Clarita Valley students.
It’s an uncomfortable arrangement that breeds tension between Messina’s obligations as a public school official and his quest to fashion himself the SCV’s Glenn Beck. Though members of the Hart School District may try their damnedest to ignore it, Joe Messina the conservative talking head is inescapably intertwined with Joe Messina the Hart School Board member.
When Joe Messina denies the prevalence of gun violence in the U.S., he’s doing so as a representative of the Hart School District. When he gives credence to thoroughly-debunked birther conspiracy theories, he’s doing so as a representative of the Hart School District. When he denigrates Syrian refugees, he’s doing so as a representative of the Hart School District.
When Joe Messina makes fun of transgender people, when he spreads his special Brand of homophobia over the airwaves, he’s doing so as a representative of the Hart School District. And when the Hart School District does nothing to reign him in, the district sends a message that it’s okay to insult LGBTQ students and staff. This is all particularly problematic when you consider that Messina, at least ostensibly, is tasked with evaluating policies to protect students from harassment, bullying and abuse.
High Schools have long been hostile to LGBTQ students and teens that are gay or transgender are more likely than their peers to be subjected to harassment and abuse. According to a 2011 survey by The National Center for Transgender Equality, 78 percent of K-12 students who identified as either transgender or gender non-conforming reported they had been harassed—35 percent reported they had been assaulted.
The Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s 2013 school safety report found that 69 percent of LGBT students felt unsafe at school and 85 percent reported that they had been verbally harassed at school in the last year.
Enter Joe Messina. Over the last few months, Messina has repeatedly mocked Caitlyn Jenner. On an episode of The Real Side from October 19, Messina brought on Tami Jackson, senior editor at a website called BarbWire.com, a site the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as “virulently anti-LGBT.” And wouldn’t you know it? Joe Messina has his own author’s page on BarbWire! Way to network, Joe.
BarbWire was founded by Matt Barber who is a prominent member of The Liberty Council, an organization the SPLC has classified as an anti-gay hate group. Barber, who has called same-sex marriage “a crime against nature” and voiced support for anti-gay legislation in Russian and Nigeria, has amassed a lengthy dossier at both GLAAD and Human Rights Campaign.
Unsurprisingly, BarbWire is filled with stories degrading Caitlyn Jenner, including “BRUCE JENNER A MUTILATED, MALADJUSTED MAN!”, “JENNER, TRANSGENDER AND TRANS-LUNACY” (as well as this gem: “TIME TO PRAY FOR GOD’S MERCIFUL JUDGMENT ON AMERICA”)
Well, you can probably guess how a conversation between Messina and BarbWire’s senior editor went. Messina kicked things off talking about a meme that jokes that the Kardashian’s turned Caitlyn Jenner into a woman. It all went down hill from there. (Note: the transcription has been lightly edited for clarity)
Messina: There was a hilarious meme going around with all the Kardashian girls and who they dated and what they were like before they dated them and what they’re like afterward, you know? And they were making fun of Mr. Jenner there…where he was [laughter] 10 years ago, he spent all those years with those women and now where he is today.
Jackson: Maybe there was a little bit of jealousy going on, he thought all those lady parts got them to be so famous, I want some of that. I don’t know.
Messina went on to suggest that the real reason Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender was for the publicity. It’s the same argument he made in a column published in June on SCVNews. Next, Messina and Jackson began talking about Jenner’s penis and questioning why Jenner hasn’t undergone a sex change operation:
Messina: Well somebody said the other day he spent 70 or 80 grand on his face and all the other money on everything else and he hasn’t changed the part that you can’t change back. So, it’s like, okay, if he hits the big win for millions of dollars you can always go back to the way it was. You know what I’m saying? But again it’s the whole thing that people hold up Jenner in such high esteem and I’m saying what for? There are so many other people that we can give recognition to and he’s all we got?
Jackson: And when he won the golds way back when, I can understand that people looked up to him for his work and accomplishments and so forth. But since then, it’s been one bad press story after another until the latest permutation where he is supposed to be Caitlyn. But I’m sorry, I won’t call him Caitlyn. He’s still a guy! He’s got the guy parts. In his mind he thinks he’s Caitlyn, and let me tell ya, it ain’t right.
Messina: I’m just going look, if you really feel like you’re a women and if you really feel that you’re trapped in a man’s body and you’ve got the money—and he has the money—where’s the commitment? What are you waiting for?
Jackson: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
Messina: Right? I mean nothing’s changed from the waist down. So what are you waiting for?
The implication is that Caitlyn Jenner is a fraud. Joe Messina is suggesting that any trans person that doesn’t undergo sex reassignment surgery is not really trans at all. It should go without saying, but decisions people make related to their sex organs are nobody’s business–least of all Joe Messina’s. To quote John Oliver: “Some transgender people do undergo hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery as part of their transition, some do not. And interestingly, their decision on this matter is—medically speaking—none of your f—ing business.”
Next, Jackson called Caitlyn Jenner “freakish looking”:
Jackson: And it is funny — because I’ve been flipping the channels and I see Caitlyn and I’m like [gasp] you see him with other women and he towers over them. What is he 6’2”? And he has a lowish voice. And so there’s this freakish looking person that’s got a low voice and towers over the other women and they’re all drinking wine and trying….I just had to turn it. It just…freaks me out, I’m sorry.
At this point, Joe Messina switched gears and started complaining about “Coming Out Month” and other days that are set aside for LGBTQ awareness. (There’s a National Coming Out Day held on May 17 and October is LGBT Pride Month. I couldn’t find information on a Coming Out Month. Please let me know if I missed something.)
Messina: So speaking of which, universities now are actively encouraging students to ‘come out’. And so universities across the nation are encouraging students to openly embrace homosexuality to mark ‘Coming Out Month’ which transpires each October.
Jackson: ‘Coming Out Month’?
Messina: Now, I get that this is really funny. In June the President signed, I think in his first or second year in office, he signed June as Gay Awareness Month. Okay? I got the nasties when I asked a simple question: gay, wow, you don’t know you’re gay?
Messina: I mean, seriously? Is there a test [unintelligible]?
Jackson You know, so where is our heterosexual awareness [month]?
Messina: Oh no, you’ll get a whole bunch of nasties. The one guy was talking about having a heterosexual pride parade and people just came out all, you know, just nasty on the guy.
Jackson: Oh no, how awful is that? Oh goodness!
Messina: Right? But again, it’s homosexuality. So you’ve got the gay awareness month in June and now the coming out month in October. So you let everyone know you’re gay in June but you have to come out again because you didn’t do it right the first time?
Jackson: You have to wait to really come out.
Messina: How many of these do you need, you know?
Jackson: We’re aware, now we’re coming out. Yeah. We don’t need any of them, but those people obviously think we do, unfortunately. Unfortunately.
Messina: I get sick of all this stuff. And the thing about it is the most important things in October—I guess October was breast cancer awareness month
Messina: And that was one of the first things I put up, one of the pink ribbons on our website, on The Real Side. And it gets mired down by all this other garbage.
In Joe Messina’s world, days that are intended to raise awareness about LGBTQ are a waste of time, or to use his word, “garbage.” He wrapped up the segment complaining about colleges that offer LGBTQ students lessons in safe sex. The problem, as Messina sees it, is that the LGBTQ establishment—aka BIG GAY—wants any of these holidays to begin with. Also, Messina apparently believes homosexuality is harmful:
Messina: Everything has to be special. I think for me, that’s the thing that bothers me the most is everything has to be a special, above and beyond, what’s the word, equality for these people
Jackson: Yep, yep. It’s not equality that they want. They want everyone to bend over backwards for each of these special, special groups. And you know that we’ve had the professor, or whoever it was who was asked, that got in trouble for remarking—correctly so—that homosexual activity is really harmful.
Messina: Yeah, I know. Yeah. That’s a story for another night, but you’re right.
Well there you have it. A Hart School Board member is giving air time on his radio show to an anti-gay hate group and parroting the same LGBTQ falsehoods spread by organizations like The Liberty Council and The Family Research Council. You can listen to the entire conversation here. It begins at at the 45:20 mark.
But wait, there’s more! On Friday’s episode of The Real Side, Messina mocked Timothy Boatright, a trans student who wanted to run for a student government post at Wellesley College, an all women’s school. Starts at the 2 minute mark. Here’s a representative quote:
“Yes, she is probably vying for her own reality show or something. Now, she has picked Timothy—that’s the name he picked for himself, herself. That’s the name the human has chosen. And he’s also asked them to use male pronouns when speaking about him. But it’s an all girls school, you cannot have it both ways. What a hypocrite.”
Again, Joe Messina believes that trans people are in it to get rich and famous. None of what Joe Messina is saying should come as a shock—disparaging the LGBTQ community is On Brand. In 2007 and 2013, Messina invited anti-gay activists to attend the Mayors Prayer Breakfast. Messina invited noted LBGTQ bigot Brad Dacus in 2013 mere weeks after a 13-year-old teenager from Palmdale, Nigel Hardey, committed suicide. Hardey had been bullied because he loved cheerleading.
It’s obvious why Joe Messina is a problem for the Hart School District. Spend five minutes on Google and you can find stories of SCV students who have been bullied in school for identifying as LGBTQ. Here’s a particularly thoughtful blog post from a Valencia High School graduate who says she “learned very early that being gay in my hometown was not acceptable.”
With all of this in mind, may I be so bold as to suggest that perhaps—perhaps!—it’s unacceptable for a member of the Hart School Board to make fun of transgender men and woman. And perhaps–perhaps!–the Hart School District should express at least a bit of concern that one of its board members is palin’ around with an anti-gay hate group. Perhaps!
But by this point we all know what’s going to happen next: Joe Messina will claim ignorance. He’ll say he’s not homophobic, he’ll say he doesn’t have a problem with gay people and that the stories posted on BarbWire don’t reflect his beliefs, he’ll say I and others are taking his words out of context, he’ll suggest he’s the victim, he’ll say people are unfairly attacking him for expressing his honest beliefs, he’ll say he is only asking questions, he’ll wrap himself in a thick blanket of ignorance to insulate himself from criticism. “I’m just tellin’ it like it is!” he’ll say to whoever will listen, “These PC liberals are the real bigots!”
We know this because he’s said it all before, or some version of it. And then he’ll flip on his microphone and continue his crusade on The Real Side.
There’s only one question worth asking at this point: when will the Hart School District stand up for LGBTQ students and faculty in the SCV? When will the Hart School District finally denounce Joe Messina in public? How can a school district ever claim it’s serious about protecting students from bullying and abuse if it can’t even be bothered to reign in the loudest bully of them all?
When I was a reporter at The Signal I was always amazed how people inside and outside of the newsroom just accepted the notion that there was some sort of invisible firewall between Joe Messina the radio personality–the Joe Messina who frequently says and does objectionable things–and Joe Messina the school board member. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, as long as Joe Messina is a member of the Hart School Board, what Joe Messina says on his radio show matters.
During my two-year run at The Signal, the Hart School District sat on its hands while Joe Messina did what he wanted so I have an educated guess as to what the district will do next. I just hope I’m wrong.
Jonathan Randles is a recovering Signal reporter and former Canyon Country jingoist. He now lives in Brooklyn but keeps tabs on the SCV. You can follow him on Twitter @sparkyrandles and message him at sparkyrandles at gmail dot com.