A recent American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tweet has ignited intense controversy. The civil liberties watchdog faced widespread criticism for its statement regarding Duane Owen, a man convicted of two horrific crimes in 1984 and recently executed by the state of Florida. The ACLU tweeted that Florida’s failure to provide Owen with gender-affirming care amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment.” However, their stance was met with widespread dissent, and critics quickly reminded the ACLU of the heinous nature of Owen’s crimes.
Owen, one of Florida’s longest-serving death row inmates, was executed on Thursday for the murders of a 14-year-old babysitter and a 38-year-old mother of two. His legal team attempted various defenses, including claims of insanity, schizophrenia and transgender identity, all of which were ultimately dismissed by the courts.
Here’s a local report on the murder from 1984:
The ACLU, nonetheless, chose to defend Owen’s need for “medically necessary gender-affirming care,” a stance that sparked outrage from several corners. Prominent figures such as actor James Woods responded fiercely, stating, “If HE had been executed in a timely manner, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Then the loved ones of HIS murdered victims wouldn’t have been the ones who actually suffered for thirty years.”
If HE had been executed in a timely manner, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Then the loved ones of HIS murdered victims wouldn’t have been the ones who actually suffered for thirty years. https://t.co/AlDN1FhasI
— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) June 17, 2023
This sentiment was echoed by conservative commentator Allie Beth Stuckey, who contended that “the only injustice in Owen’s case is that it took the state 40 years to execute him.”
The ACLU caping for a man who didn’t get a chance to get “gender affirming care” before he was executed for repeatedly raping and murdering a mother and a 14-year-old girl, wasn’t on my 2023 bingo card.
— Right Side of History™️ (@xxclusionary) June 17, 2023
Notably, critics weren’t limited to individuals alone. Gays Against Groomers, a social media-based group, expressed disbelief at the ACLU’s upset over the lack of gender-affirming care for a convicted murderer. Writer Wesley Yang, too, denounced the ACLU’s focus on the perpetrator’s rights over those of his victims, calling it a “delusional echo chamber.”
Despite the significant backlash, the ACLU maintained its stance, underlining its perspective in another tweet: “Owen wrote that she ‘should be accorded the ‘essence of human dignity’ and be allowed to become ‘who she was meant to be’ before her death.”
While the ACLU has consistently advocated for transgender rights, the organization’s defense of a convicted murderer caused many to question their priorities. Critics argued that focusing on Owen’s supposed rights was, at best, an ill-judged distraction from the victims’ enduring trauma and, at worst, an affront to justice itself.
Check out the Community Note on this one. You'll never believe it — the ACLU left out a teensy-weensy detail https://t.co/ifWXoqjBnI
— Tom Woods (@ThomasEWoods) June 18, 2023
Twitter provided a ‘Community Notes’ fact check on the ACLU’s claims, citing a CBS News report which refuted the defense team’s allegations of Owen’s gender dysphoria. According to state psychiatrists, Owen showed no signs of such a condition but was instead diagnosed as violently and wilfully sadistic.
As this controversy unfurls, it presents a complex challenge to the ACLU’s mission, underscoring the need for an ethical balance between defending individual rights and upholding the principles of justice. However, given the swift and vociferous public response, it’s clear that, in this instance, many believe that balance still needs to be met.