The moment the last word left my mouth, I had the instant realization that my life was in serious danger. I immediately turned and attempted to run from my dad as he grabbed the back of my pants, preventing my escape. Like I was on a treadmill, my legs continued running, but my torso didn’t move an inch. It was the one and only time my dad spanked me, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. As a 6-year-old, this was the moment I first understood the concept to think before you speak, a lesson I still practice today. I owe you, Dad.

Phil Robertson is a public figure who wants to speak his opinions to the masses, so let the man express himself. His comments weren’t spontaneous, and he had the chance to consider his answers before he spoke. His recent anti-gay remarks are his strongly held beliefs, and if GQ Magazine is willing to publish them, there must be an audience willing to listen.

As the audience, let’s stop looking at Phil’s comments from a legal perspective, but rather glimpse at them from a sociological point of view. Believe it or not, Phil’s anti-gay remarks and others like them are important and benefit us all. When a public figure expresses his or her personal opinions about controversial topics, it brings decisive issues to the forefront and sparks debate, or in the case of homosexuality and religion, revives an important topic. Contemplation and critical thinking allow us all to make progress.

While I support Phil’s right to express himself, I personally believe his message is wrong. Any belief that discriminates against people based on sexual orientation seems preposterous to me. What matters is whether a person is compassionate and treats other people well. It seems outrageous to disregard these qualities and deem someone inferior simply based on sexual preference. Isn’t this type of discrimination eerily similar to the discrimination that led to attempts to purify the Aryan race in the 1930s? Judging a person for what they are rather than who they are is misguided and wrong.

Let’s not confuse the debate over Phil Robertson’s comments as an issue about free speech; this is about acceptance, tolerance and growth. Only when people freely express themselves, whether right or wrong, do we as a society ultimately progress. Thanks for the opportunity, Phil.