Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A case against dwarf tossing

As most everyone knows, on October 3, a Florida State Representative introduced legislation, H.B. 4063, that would undue protections against dwarf tossing in Florida. Reaction to the news from the dwarfism community was spontaneous and immediate. While scores of people took to Facebook to express their pride, joy and empowerment after news of Peter Dinklage’s Emmy Award last month, scores, if not more, launched Facebook posts full of contempt toward the idea of allowing again an activity that is an insult to the dwarf community.

Many people also shot off emails or placed phone calls directly to Representative Workman, the legislation’s sponsor. The media reported that Workman introduced this legislation as a jobs bill, saying something to the affect of “all a ban on dwarf tossing does is prevent some people with dwarfism from finding jobs.” Though this remark was attributed to Workman, he has since narrowed his messaging around the legislation to government intervention, claiming that, although he finds dwarf tossing horrendous, government has no right telling people what they can and can not do. According to Workman, if a dwarf wants to be thrown, he or she has a right to participate in dwarf tossing events.

The personal liberty argument is not easy to address. When news last year surfaced of a theme park in China that features dwarfs on display for the public’s amusement, many people within the short statured community in the United States defended the Chinese dwarfs who participate, saying they had a right to make a decision to participate. But there is a difference between dwarf tossing and the theme park. The difference is safety. It’s been well documented by the Medical Advisory Board of Little People of America that dwarf tossing could result in serious injury, and even death, for the person participating. That is a serious risk. Perhaps a risk serious enough to legislate against. But one could still make a strong argument that government shouldn’t legislate the safety of an individual. After all, boxers, wrestlers and football players risk paralysis and death when they compete.

There is a difference though between dwarf tossing and the other activities that create serious risks to the participants. With dwarf tossing, when one decides to participate, it poses a threat to the entire dwarf community, including those who want nothing to do with dwarf tossing. If an activity creates an environment that threatens those not involved with the activity, then government does have a right to, and should, legislate for the safety of the community. The problem with dwarf tossing, the reason it is a threat to the entire dwarf community, is that it creates a hostile environment for people with dwarfism, all people with dwarfism. Because dwarf tossing projects the dwarf as a mere object, no different than a shot put, a discus or a football, its sends a message that people with dwarfism are inanimate objects and it is acceptable to physically handle them as such. This Washington Post blog entry includes testimony from a dwarf who was a victim of obnoxious physical behavior as a result of messages sent by dwarf tossing. Other, more positive messages of dwarfism do exist today in popular culture and mainstream media. But because the history is so recent of dwarfs presented in popular culture exclusively as punch lines, comic relief, and objects, the reemergence of dwarf tossing, and the endorsement of dwarf tossing, poses a risk.

The timing of the repeal legislation in Florida is particularly atrocious. So much attention has been dedicated recently to anti-bullying initiatives, in the hopes of impacting communities that embrace differences. Dwarf tossing completely contradicts the anti-bullying movement. Rather than embrace differences, dwarf tossing says that it is okay, for the amusement of others, to objectify people because of their differences. A slap in the face to those who are organizing against bullying, dwarf tossing promotes a culture of hostility.

Anyone against dwarf tossing, please sign this petition. The petition urges Representative Workman to withdraw his repeal legislation.

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