“What if Christian parents of children reading comic books don’t want their kids exposed to bisexual characters?”
Sophia Nelson thought it was a reasonable question in the wake of DC Comics’ announcement that Superman’s son, Jon Kent, would have a pink-haired boyfriend in an upcoming comic.
Nelson, a scholar-in-residence at Christopher Newport University in Virginia and a bestselling author, never expected her Oct. 11 tweet to ignite her own ordeal with cancel culture.
Students petitioned, professors protested, and the university’s president—a former Republican U.S. senator from Virginia—acquiesced to the pressure rather than defending Nelson.
Today, Nelson joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share her concerns about cancel culture, fear of returning to campus, and what she has planned next. You can read a transcript of our interview below or listen to the podcast.
Rob Bluey: The Daily Signal recently highlighted your story. But for those listeners who are not familiar with it, I’d like to just start by having you tell us what happened and how you became the target of this angry mob at Christopher Newport.
Sophia Nelson: Well, again, thank you for having me, because I think what you do in the world through this podcast and your stories are important to highlight that there are things going on in our great country that we need to really pay attention to as Americans and as citizens, most of all.
I am a professor normally at the university and this year I had the honor and distinction of becoming Christopher Newport University’s first black female scholar-in-residence in the history of the school, so a great honor, and everything was going well. I’m there to build a women’s institute of politics, policy, and gender.
Next thing you know, I sent off a tweet. A tweet. You guys, be mindful of what you’re tweeting. I sent off a tweet on Coming Out Day, which I had no idea that it was National Coming Out Day. I wouldn’t. But anyway, I tweeted.
There was a story from DC comic books that in honor of this day, they were going to make Superman and Lois Lane’s son bisexual. And in the graphic that they tweeted out, there was an image of the young boy, Superman’s son, in a Superman costume and grabbing another boy and kissing him.
Well, I reacted to it, as did, by the way, millions of people on Twitter had the same reaction I did, which is, first, “Wait a minute. What?” Then the second thing I asked was, “OK, how do Christian parents tell their kids about this?” Because the truth is most of them don’t know how to talk about this. That was my question. I asked the question.
I got a lot of thoughtful responses back, some unkind responses. That’s what you expect with these things when you banter back and forth on social media.
But what I didn’t expect was that a group of LGBTQ+ professors, and one professor in particular who really declares herself as bisexual, took offense at this and they brought my tweet in the public domain, my free speech, my protected speech into the university sphere, and began an assault like nothing I’ve ever been through.
They’ve got a petition with over a thousand signatures to have me removed from my position. They want me out. I’ve gotten hate mail. I’ve gotten threats, so much that I made a decision that I was not going to return back to the school to have a meeting with students, which is what I always intended to do.
After I apologized, by the way, publicly and took the tweet down, and it wasn’t enough, and so we’re at a stalemate now, is what I call it, where both sides are kind of retreated to their corners, and it’s just an awful experience I’ve been through. It’s just awful. I have no words.
Bluey: I think that for people who are Christian or conservative and see this, and as a parent myself, seeing this in a comic strip, it didn’t seem to me like it was an unreasonable thing for you to ask, so tell us about what prompted you to even do the tweet in the first place and some context around it.
Nelson: Well, as I mentioned, it was on National Coming Out Day, so I probably didn’t pick my timing right because I can get that for the LGBTQ+ community.
Look, you and I are Christians, we’re conservatives, that doesn’t mean we don’t love and care about people, because we do. I get that this community has a hard time. I get that. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve heard from students. I get that they deal with self-esteem issues and all those things and representation matters.
Look, Rob, when “Black Panther” came out, we loved it, the black community was excited, but not just the black community, “Black Panther” was the biggest superhero billion-dollar blockbuster they’ve ever had. The whole world was excited for this character, and so I get it.
But let me say that the context of what I was talking about, Rob, you can’t cherry-pick a tweet because there were 10 of them, and if you read all 10 in the thread, and they’re all still there, except for the first one I deleted with the Superman response, [there] was oversexualization of children.
I made it clear that I was talking about kids, preteens, teens being exposed to this type of sexualization with one young boy grabbing another and kissing him. I don’t think that’s appropriate. I don’t think it’s appropriate for heterosexuals. I don’t think it’s appropriate for—I wouldn’t want to see a character with a big cross around his neck flying through the air as Super Christian.
At the end of the day, I was talking about the sexualization of our young people and how much they are exposed.
Now, Rob, you’re a dad. I’m an aunt. Two things that you and I were not exposed to, they can get pornography on their phones, they can get things that you have to be very careful, and for me, I just don’t want kids to be sexualized. I want them to be kids. I want them to be happy.
I want them to see Superman rescuing buildings and rescuing Earth and saving people and something positive and affirming in their lives. I don’t think we should be injecting sexuality and all that kind of stuff, again, whether it’s heterosexual or homosexual.
That was the context and it was a great debate and people had thoughtful comments and there were people from the LGBTQ+ community who wrote back and said, “Well, let me tell you how you should talk about it with your kids, if you’re inclined to do so. Here’s some tips.” They were thoughtful. They weren’t being nasty, mean, or unkind.
Nobody thought my tweet was bad. Nobody thought my tweet was evil. I did not get put in the jail by Twitter. I did not get my tweet flagged.
Hello, if I had said something homophobic or whatever, I would’ve been shut down pretty quickly by Twitter, because as you know, Congressman [Jim] Banks got thrown off of Twitter, what, a few weeks ago over a transgender issue tweet, and they shut him down immediately because his speech was deemed hate speech.
Again, we can talk about that on another podcast, but you get my point. That’s really the context I was talking about, protecting our kids, all kids, from being exposed to sexuality too early. That’s all. That’s really what it was about.
Bluey: It’s a concern that I think a lot of parents share, particularly in today’s media environment. Parents need to be more vigilant than ever. And as we apparently now know, even with our comic books, it’s creeping in.
Sophia, you are somebody who has been in the public spotlight as an author, as a commentator, as somebody who is a prolific tweeter. I mean, in this experience that you’ve had, what was your first reaction when you heard about the petition and saw some of your colleagues at Christopher Newport making the kinds of statements that they did?
Nelson: Well, my reaction was, candidly, shock, horror, but then it became outrage because then the Sophia Nelson you know and the one that I am at my core—which is the lover of the Constitution, the attorney, the scholar—kicked in and said, “Wait a minute, hold up. They can’t do this. They can’t kill my speech. My speech, it had nothing to do with the university. My speech, it had nothing to do with the students. I asked a question.”
I think most egregious of all of this, and it’s been pointed out in many media articles about this situation at CNU, is that President Paul Trible—who by the way, I respect, I admire, and considered a mentor, he used to be a Republican senator from the Commonwealth of Virginia, a U.S. senator, a congressman, family, long, deep roots in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
And for Paul Trible to send out the letter that he did to students, which you have a copy of and it was in your story, basically throwing me under the bus and saying how bad what I said was and I caused damage and I caused pain and no balance in the note to say, “Hey, guys, yes, we’re going to gather to talk about this because that’s what universities do. We dialogue, we discuss, we debate, we engage.” Instead, it was, “She’s going to come here. She’s going to talk, we’re going to listen. You’re going to talk, she’s going to listen.”
That was back on Oct. 18, before things had really escalated, and they just ignored that. That wasn’t good enough for them, either, that I got thrown under the bus and said how bad of a person and being that I am. They just ratcheted it up.
They had protests. I was silenced for three weeks. I wasn’t allowed to speak. I tried. Trust me, I tried to call in, I tried to attend some of these forums. I asked for a virtual meeting. Everything I suggested was denied.
The student paper had made a deal with me to have an open letter so that I could address the student body, also a Q&A with students and faculty. That all of a sudden disappeared for reasons beyond their control, but they gave the aggrieved angry professor who identifies as bisexual a platform over and over and over again, as did the school.
So I’ve gone from being upset, hurt, and disappointed to really outraged, and I’m going to do something about this and I’m not going to let this stand.
This is happening at the University of Florida, it’s happened at MIT, it’s happened at Yale, at Princeton. It’s happened at schools all over the country. And it’s happening a lot because when people don’t like your speech, they don’t just say, “I don’t like what you said,” or, “I’m offended by what you said. Let’s talk about it.”
They say, “We’re going to wreck you. We’re going to throw you out. We’re going to harass you, intimidate you. We’re going to make sure you never work again. We’re going to make sure your reputation is damaged on the internet,” so that when people now Google me, Rob, what they see is “homophobic,” “anti-gay,” “transphobic,” “racist.”
That’s one of the labels I got. Yes, me, a black woman, I’m a racist, and then they added “antisemitic.” I don’t know if the Superman character maybe was Jewish. I don’t know. I’m being very serious. I don’t know where that comes from. Or maybe because the professor who leveled these ridiculous charges and brought this into the university is Jewish. I have no idea, but now “antisemitic” has been added.
This is what happens to you when you’re conservative or you’re a person of faith or you have a different opinion or point of view. This is what they do to you.
Bluey: Some people would simply shut down their Twitter account, resign their position, never be heard from again. You’re obviously not backing down. You are still actively tweeting. You’re trying to engage people to explain to them why you posted what you did, even after the fact. You’re not intimidated, and I think that that’s a great example. But what gives you the courage to be able to do that and what advice do you have for others as they may find themselves in a similar situation?
Nelson: Listen, you know this about me, anybody that’s known me and watched me for the last 20 years—and I’ve been in the public sphere, on television and with books, etc., for 20 years—I’m not afraid of anything or anyone. I am a military kid, I’m a working-class kid, I’m a black female, and yeah, I’ll let that just kind of stay there for a moment and just say I’m not afraid of anyone or anything.
I’ve worked for everything I’ve gotten of life. There was no privilege here. Nobody gave me anything, I worked for it. That’s No. 1. So I’m not going to be afraid of some Twitter trolls or some Ivy League smug academics who think that they’re going to tell me or anybody else what to say. That’s No. 1.
No. 2: This is America. And we have not just free speech—and no, all speech is not protected. All speech is something that I think we’re going to have to dialogue about, right? What should we say and what shouldn’t we say in the context of we’re professors or when we’re doctors or when we’re in a position of public trust?
I think we all know that we shouldn’t use racial slurs, we shouldn’t use gender slurs. I don’t think any of us thinks that’s OK. I didn’t do anything of the sort. I asked a question.
It goes to the heart and soul of this, which is, if in America, I cannot ask a question about Christian parents’ rights—I see LGBTQ+ people daily, daily denigrate on Twitter, on Facebook Christian people all the time, and nobody gets their job called up, nobody gets told they need to be removed. People are afraid of this community, I’m going to say it.
I’ve gotten calls from all over the country, emails, encouragement. A good friend of mine—and this is an important story to share quickly—who is in HR at a big oil-and-gas company in Texas, I won’t say which one, called to share a story that they had a similar situation happen at the job where a member of the LGBTQ+ community was upset about something, offended, because they tried to help the person correct their work product.
They’re a smart, good person, but they needed some help, as all young people do in their careers. And when this person went to mentor and to help, offense was taken.
See, we’re in our feelings again, right? Offense was taken. Instead of saying, “Hey, thank you for this. Thank you for coaching me. Thank you for helping me to be better,” this person filed a complaint against the chief human resource officer, who by the way, was a woman of color also, who tried to help. Then she explained how she had to go through this massive investigation. Luckily, she was exonerated, nothing was done. It was found to be frivolous.
But my point is, and this is important, Rob, if we’re raising a generation of young people—whether they be gay, black, white, Latino, Asian, whatever—who are so frail and so fragile that they can’t have discussion, that they can’t have debate, that they can’t express their feelings with their words without calling names and saying, “I want your job and I’m going to wreck you and I’m going to destroy you,” if this is the kind of generation we’re raising, we are in very serious trouble, because folks, you cannot lead with your feelings. You have to lead with facts.
In this case, I asked a question. And the school’s general counsel has been clear from Day One with the university. I know this because it was shared with me by the people who have to keep me apprised of things that the general counsel was clear on two things with Christopher Newport. One, Mrs. Nelson’s speech on her Twitter feed was protected. No. 1. No. 2, she said nothing that had anything to do with this school, its students, its faculty, or anyone.
Now, none of that has been respected, as you know, because clearly they made a decision that they were going to coddle this community. They were going to let them come at me with everything on Earth and run me over like a truck and not let me speak.
Think of the danger of that, that someone who’s had a stellar career as I have for 25-plus years in the public’s sphere, and now my name is associated with “homophobic,” “transphobic.” I can tell you, Rob, that I’ve had speaking engagements canceled already. I will lose work behind this.
This will hurt me when I go to corporate America to talk because they’ll see that I attacked the LGBTQ+ community, and I did nothing of the sort. And then I will take a hit, not just at the school where my name is mud and no one likes me and wants me there, but I’ll take a hit in everything else I try to do in my life because this group has too much power. And if we continue to allow this to happen, today it’s me, Rob, tomorrow it’s you. People need to really think about that.
Bluey: Sophia, you wrote a lengthy open letter, which we’ll make sure to link to in the interview. I’m wondering, first of all, how was that received on campus? Do you think that it helped people understand the issue perhaps more clearly? Secondly, you were supposed to go to campus on Nov. 9 and have an open dialogue. You’ve since said it’s not even safe to do so, given that it’s been publicized, so I wanted to give you an opportunity to talk both about the letter and that appearance.
Nelson: Two things. The letter has sent shockwaves, as you can imagine, not just on campus, because it has been also linked in articles like yours and The Virginian-Pilot, other national media, AP, etc. And I’ve had professors who are afraid—and I’ve been saying this for weeks—contact me, apologize if they signed either the petition or the first protest by this professor, which was on Oct. 15.
She filed a Title IX complaint against me for discrimination and violating human rights and so when people heard from me and heard how not only did I apologize twice, took the tweet down for people who weren’t on Twitter, but to see the extraordinary efforts I made to talk to students to get there and how my voice was silenced, people were angry.
And students have contacted me. Students have said, “Well, can I call you one-on-one, then? Because I really wanted to see you on campus and I get now why you wouldn’t want to come here.”
I think the second thing is, I think it’s been very positive and I think it’s been revealing to people because for three weeks, I wasn’t doing any talking and the students and the aggrieved faculty were the only ones doing the talking.
I think in the second instance of why I didn’t go to campus—two really important points. I didn’t go to campus because after I saw the petition in a news article, I think it was a Fox News article, and I finally saw the petition against me, and it said, “We want her removed and condemned for her racist and homophobic speech,” that was a deal-breaker for me.
One, you’ve already got a thousand signatures against me to have me removed. You’ve already made a decision before you ever heard me speak a word that you didn’t like me, you didn’t want me there. You’ve called me racist, you’ve called me homophobic. Why would I sit down and dialogue with people who’ve already made their mind up and labeled me and damaged my character and reputation? That’s the first thing.
Secondly, the vile emails and things that I’ve gotten that the university has in their possession and is fully aware of. I’ve talked to the campus police chief, emailed each other, not physically talked, I’ve said that I didn’t feel safe. I’ve asked them what they were going to do to protect me for weeks and I got no response. So why would I go to a school?
It might not be that a student would try to hurt me or do something like that, I don’t believe that’s true, but what about some aggrieved person in the community? What about someone who doesn’t like my stance or doesn’t understand faith and why I ask the question decides, “She should be removed from the face of this Earth”?
I mean, Rob, you and I both know that any journalist, whether you’re on Fox, MSNBC, CNN, wherever you are, if you write opinion pieces, we get death threats routinely now. That is a part of all of our territory now. All of us get it, so being threatened isn’t a new thing, but they publicized the date without asking me and that really upset me, frankly, because there were security concerns raised, not just by my team, but by the university. Dean of students wasn’t sure it was wise to have me come there.
At the end of the day, I made a decision and my family, I had to think about my family, and my 75-year-old mother was in tears and was like, “I don’t want you to go there and they hurt you. It’s not worth it,” so I made a decision to err with caution.
It doesn’t mean I won’t talk to students at some point, but what I know right now is that they’re not interested in dialogue or respect or listening.
What they want me to do, Rob, is come to campus so they can yell at me some more, tell me how bad I am, tell me how wrong I am, and that really bothers me because free thought is the essence of America—free faith, free thought, free speech, free assembly. Freedom is who we are in this country and we are losing that because of progressivism and all these other woke things.
Yeah, I’m saying it out loud because I just don’t care. It has to stop because it’s wrecking the United States of America as we know it. And we’re not setting our kids up for success if what we’re teaching them is, when your feelings get hurt, you say things like, “I’m unsafe, I’m triggered, I’m traumatized.” From a tweet? From a tweeted question about a fictional comic book character? You are traumatized by this?
Bluey: Sophia, as we wrap-up here, if people want to follow your work, what’s the best way for them to be able to do it? I know you’re the author of three books. You’ve got a new book coming out, I think, next year. So what’s the best way that they can stay in touch with you?
Look, Rob, I really enjoy talking to you. You’re such a great host, by the way, and I appreciate the work that you do, but it’s all about engaging and having fun and being respectful and being provocative. That’s how we learn from each other. So folks, engage. Get engaged. Ask the hard questions, ask the provocative questions, and then wait respectfully for a response and engage.
Rob, I just appreciate you, I appreciate [The Heritage Foundation], I appreciate all you’re doing, and I know that we’re going to have more to talk about soon on all of this front, so I’m looking forward to it.
Bluey: Well, that’s great advice for all of our citizens. I think we need more, particularly, parents engaged in their own kids lives, but every citizen should get engaged and I encourage them to follow you and your work. We’ll keep tabs on this story, Sophia. We welcome you back in the future as things develop and wish you all the best and hopefully no more incidents of cancel culture at Christopher Newport.
Nelson: No, but I do know it’s going to be addressed, and I do know that this is not going to go away, and I do know that my constitutional rights are at stake, as well as yours.
So if God has put me in this moment, and I’ve said this on Twitter, if God has put me in this moment, I will stand in this moment, and I will be a freedom fighter for what I call this “New America” that is developing because of our racial and demographic changes, etc.
And I’m going to fight for those founding principles that I believe in, and free thought, not free speech, but free thought is at the essence core of who we are. And I am not going to let this moment pass without me making sure that they know that they should never ever do this to anybody again and that I was the wrong one for them to do this to.
Bluey: Sophia Nelson, thanks so much for being with “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
Nelson: Thank you.
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