News

Should Illinois County Sheriff Resign Over Homophobic Facebook Post?

by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Apr 28, 2011

A homophobic and anti-Semitic Facebook comment referring to a co-worker as "a little fag Jew boy" landed an Illinois county sheriff at the center of an international news story late last week.

Schuyler County Sheriff Don Schieferdecker's comment immediately sparked calls for his resignation and shined a harsh spotlight on the previously little-known west central Illinois county. Schieferdecker, a 30-year-veteran of the force, has apologized for the remark. He described the comment to AOL News as "a harmless joke between friends and colleagues"-one he "wasn't aware" would go out worldwide. EDGE could not reach Schieferdecker for further comment.

The Schuyler County Board earlier this month unanimously approved mandatory diversity training for all county department heads, employees and members of the board. It stopped short, however, of further reprimanding Schieferdecker.

"The times are changing and we just feel it's a good time for everybody to be educated in this," Doug Henninger told the Journal-Courier. Other members declined further comment on the embattled officer.

Anthony Martinez, executive director of the Civil Rights Agenda, applauded the board's decision to institute diversity training; but he stressed his group, which is a newly-formed statewide LGBT advocacy organization, would continue to push for his resignation. More than 250 people have already signed their petition on Change.org.

"I am absolutely thrilled with what [the board] came back with," Martinez told EDGE, while admitting their efforts to force Schieferdecker to resign and the board to issue a statement rebuking his anti-gay, anti-Semitic comment fell short. "Part of the issue is that the sheriff has been in power for 30 years now and a lot of people on that board have a personal connection there that's hard to get around. That said, them coming back with diversity training was an unexpected outcome that we are absolutely thrilled with."

The board reached their decision after Martinez testified that Schieferdecker's comment amounted to the cyber-bullying many LGBT youth are forced to endure. Martinez also read a statement from National Gay and Lesbian Task Force staffer Sue Hyde, who grew up in nearby Beardstown.

Hyde also condemned "language which conveys discrimination or prejudice" in an open letter to Rushville Mayor Scott Thompson. She has put out the call for a town hall event on the issue of hate speech in public discourse sometime in the near future. TCRA will be working on the upcoming event with Thompson.

"Our children, all our children, must know that we have their backs and will protect them from the public expressions of anti-Semitic and anti-gay bigotries," Hyde wrote, imploring on the mayor to support TCRA's call for Schieferdecker's resignation.

Even if Schieferdecker chooses not to step down, Martinez hopes his group will be able to meet with the officer to further discuss his comments. Schieferdecker has yet to respond to TCRA's request.

"For us, his apology rings false," said Martinez. "He said he is sincerely sorry for any harm he caused to others but he is not taking responsibility for his actions and words. This is about him understanding that he is in a leadership role in an elected office, representing his community in turn. We are not going to be going anywhere and we're going to be around for a while [on this issue]."

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.


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