Free Speech Bus Hits Boston, Outrage Ensues

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BOSTON — A bright orange bus, emblazoned with slogans its supporters say are intended to convey the biological and anatomical truths about boys and girls, made its way into the Hub on Thursday morning and was promptly greeted outside City Hall with a hot cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.

“Somehow he got it all over the inside of my windshield,” the driver of the bus, Dave, said as he wiped the java off of his steering wheel — and himself. “That’s a ‘welcome to Boston’ moment, I guess.

“It happened so quickly, I missed it.”

Unfortunately for Dave, the cup of Dunkin’s didn’t miss him.

The 50-passenger vessel, dubbed the “Free Speech Bus,” recently underwent repairs following a jaunt through New York City, having been vandalized while parked outside of the United Nations headquarters. Dubbed by its opponents as the “hate wagon,” the bus is a joint venture launched by a collective of socially conservative organizations, including CitizenGO, the National Organization for Marriage and its offshoot, the International Organization for Family.

Just four passengers, including a NewBostonPost reporter, rode the bus on Thursday. The other three were NOM spokesman Joe Grabowski, NOM development director Diego von Stauffenberg and CitizenGO videographer Jaime Hernandez, from Madrid, Spain.

Unfortunately for Hernandez, the city hall coffee-thrower was too quick for his camera — and it was Hernandez who absorbed the brunt of the caffeinated drive-by.

Thursday, Hernandez said, was “going to be interesting.”

“That was a first,” he added. “But Spanish coffee is so much stronger.”

Next Stop: Massachusetts State House

While reporters may have outnumbered protesters outside City Hall, the atmosphere on Beacon Hill featured flags, chants, and more than a few smacks thrown at the side of the bus.

The slogan adorning both sides of the bus is succinct:  “It’s biology: Boys are boys, and always will be. Girls are girls, and always will be. You can’t change sex. Respect all.”

“I’m so perplexed,” von Stauffenberg said at one point as the bus idled outside the State House. “I don’t know how this can get so many people so riled up. I’ve lived in the West Village for 10 years — what’s the problem?”

Grabowski looked to engage several transgender rights activists in a conversation regarding the bus’s message. Grabowski’s strategy appeared simple enough:  exit the bus and field questions from the activists. His attempt at carrying on a conversation with one activist, however, was frequently interrupted by other activists who took to jeering him and screaming in his face.

“Your ideology kills people,” activists chanted at one point.

Another protester, who later tried in vain to block the bus from leaving, led a “down-with-CIS” chant, a reference to the term cisgender, used to denote people whose sense of identity corresponds with their sex at birth.

[Editor’s Note:  Bad language warning for following video.]

Meanwhile, back at City Hall, once Mayor Marty Walsh learned of the bus’s presence in Boston his staff hurried to schedule a symbolic raising of the city’s transgender pride flag:

“When you deny the experience of transgender individuals, you are denying the experience of basic human civil rights,” Walsh reportedly said while delivering remarks at the flag-raising, the Boston Globe reported.

According to the Globe, the group Freedom Massachusetts, an organization formed to promote transgender equality, described the bus’s presence as “downright frightening.”

After the bus finally managed to pull away from the State House — with an assist from police, and accusations from at least one protester that the Boston Police Department’s actions constituted transphobia (see above video) — von Stauffenberg, who met up with the bus outside of the State House, said he wasn’t shocked at all by the scene.  

“I am surprised but at the same time not so much because I saw the footage from New York,” he said, referring the vandalism that took place several days ago. “I’m still sort of wondering why people would get so angry over a biological truth and saying something that’s not offensive to anybody or anything.

“But evidently people get really hot under the collar.”

Asked to respond to accusations that the bus promotes hate, von Stauffenberg said he “doesn’t hate anybody.”

“Nobody I work with hates anybody,” he added. “Actually, the people I work with, the people behind this bus, are some of the most loving people I’ve ever met. There’s not a bone of hate involved on this side of the equation and I was hoping there wouldn’t be any hate on the other side of the equation either. But evidently people are very angry, which makes me sad. People are walking around with a lot of hate inside them and sometimes it comes out.

“I guess the way to deal with that is more through prayer than through anything else.”

Final stop: Cambridge Common

During the slow ride across the Charles River and into the heart of Cambridge, Hernandez sifted through video footage shot during the bus’s encounter with protesters at the State House.

“What is this man saying — ‘down with cis?’” Hernandez asked at one point after repeatedly listening to a video clip of a protester. “I don’t understand, can you translate?”

Grabowski tried to explain the definition of cisgender to Hernandez.

“Cisgender is what you and I are — we are men who feel like we are men, so they call that ‘cis,’” Grabowski explained. “The funny thing is that man shouted in my face something along the lines of ‘cisgender does not exist,’ I was like, ‘I agree.’”

Grabowski later expounded on his experiences dealing with protesters.

“Certainly we can see that emotions are heavily involved in this but high emotions don’t necessarily make for good policy,” Grabowski said, mentioning a discussion he had with a protester over Massachusetts’ new transgender public accommodations law. “This is yet another reason that we’re out here — when people want to share a divergent viewpoint on these contentious issues they should be treated with respect and not met with shouting and intimidation in an effort to be silenced.

“We’re trying to convey the message that we’re willing to have that conversation, we’re willing to respect and hear the other side — we didn’t try to chase the protesters away from our bus who were covering it with their signs — that is their exercise of free speech.

“When they started pounding on the bus with their fists and started screaming in our faces, if nothing else that violates what should be expected in a civil conversation.”

After the bus parked alongside Cambridge Common, just steps away from Harvard University, Grabowski was not met with any offerings for a civil conversation — rather, the bus was met with a hail of cold-cut deli meats, magic markers, and a man wearing a Soviet Union-era communist hat who “keyed” and defaced the bus’s side.

(Evan Lips — NewBostonPost)

Grabowski exited the bus and attempted to spark an inside-voice dialogue with activists, but was quickly shouted down. [Editor’s Note:  Bad language warning.]

Later, other drivers joined in to denounce the bus, some choosing to use colorful language in the process.

The visit to Cambridge ended without further incident, but some damage to the bus — including a shattered tail light — prompted Grabowski to file a police report.

Von Stauffenberg said his first ride on the Free Speech Bus did not feature any surprises.

“I get this crap all the time. I don’t hate anybody. I’m not phobic of anything. I’m still perplexed, it just doesn’t compute to me — I don’t get how people can get so riled up,” he said.

Von Stauffenberg added that he had no problems with a reporter riding inside the bus and documenting the day’s events.

“It’s good to have a journalist on board, because a lot of times when we tell people about what we encountered, they don’t believe us,” he said.