How A Homophobic Comment Ruined One Mother's Life
On September 4th, an image began circulating around the web of what appeared to be the Facebook page of Holly Biffle—a midwestern mother of two. It read:
"Caught my son walking home from school with the gay kid from across the street. My hand and his butt are gonna be sore for the rest of the night."
By September 8th, there was a Facebook page entitled, "Holly Biffle: Proud Homophobe and Child Abuser." It has since been deleted, but during its time, the page gained over 1,000 likes with various commenters calling Biffle a bitch, threatening to punch her in the face and posting her home address so people could call Child Protective Services on her.
Biffle soon deleted her Facebook and Twitter accounts, and April Winchell, a writer on the blog Regretsy, asked Facebookers to mitigate their abuse.
Winchell wrote, "...a public beating like this is going to turn her into a martyr, and she will be used as a shining example of 'how intolerant the gay community can really be.'" Instead, Winchell urged her readers to donate to LGBT organizations in Biffle's name.
Here's the problem though: on September 18th, a person from Mrs. Biffle's family contacted Winchell and told her that the Facebook image circulating around the web was a vengeful hoax perpetrated by a long-time personal enemy. Biffle was no Westboro Baptist wacko and would never say such a hateful thing.
Winchell eventually issued an update on Regretsy:
"...after confirming her identity, proceeded to have a lengthy correspondence with [the real Holley Biffle]. She is completely stunned by the events of the last few days."
"'I absolutely did not write this. It never appeared on my page. Itís a complete fabrication,î says Holley. ìI did not beat my son for walking home with the gay boy across the street. I would never beat him. And heís not even old enough to walk home. He isnít even four!'"
Winchell said, "I urge anyone still targeting this woman to think about how easy it would be for someone to do this. They donít need your password, they donít need to set up a fake profile or hack your computer. They just need Photoshop, your picture and a message of hatred."
Following Winchell's update, The Daily Dot blog spoke with Biffle's mother-in-law Kelly Merriman Hettig about Biffle's life since the image hit the web.
"Holley is devestated, getting death threats, had her home address published and is afraid to be in her house... This is a hate crime that has the potential to rip this family apart in more ways than one."
The Daily Dot reports that Biffle has since made her Facebook page public hoping to inform people of the truth, but it all paints a very troubling picture.
While the attack on Biffle's character involves anti-gay sentiment, it is not a hate crime by definition because it doesn't seem that she was targeted for her race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. However, make no mistake, this hoax was a crime and one perpetrated against the gay community as well as Biffle.
When an anti-gay bully harrasses you in public, you can just pepper spray them in the face. But we should handle digital homophobes online with a higher degree of skepticism and caution.
In both instances the local and digital gay communities rightfully expressed outrage, only to end up supporting a self-made victim who unhelpfully casted doubt on every future gay bashing victim. Biffle's case is the opposite, getting gays to attack an innocent person while the real hater has a laugh at everyone's expense.
If someone had reached out to Biffle early on in this fiasco, they might have learned the true complexity of the situation and helped her rather than her enemy. Any comments against Mrs. Biffle should have avoided physical threats and revealing her personal information outright.
Winchell is right—anti-gay evangelicals regularly collect threatening comments levied against homophobes to paint the gay community as violent—Joe Jervis, the blogmaster of Joe.My.God., regularly cautions readers not to make such comments for that very reason.
In exercising restraint and caution with online haters, we do ourselves and our potential allies a huge favor.