November 20, 2018

A Mile In Someone Else’s Boots

A response from Up North Pride
Oct. 20, 2018

On October 13, Northern Express ran a guest opinion column written by Thomas Kachadurian entitled “Get Your Boots On.” The piece alleges that the political left in the U.S. uses tools like political correctness, “safe zones,” and media campaigns to repress free speech and censor truth.
 
As examples of the types of truths that are being repressed, Mr. Kachadurian pointed to the “true, scientific description of biological sex assignment” and that “male humans have both different plumbing and different genetic composition than female humans.” He called transgender individuals a “cultural trend” that will soon die off, and said when it does, “the truth of male and female will be right here waiting.” In the same op-ed, Mr. Kachadurian dismissed the female survivors who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault as political pawns, the “weakest boondoggles” who “looked and sounded like teenagers trying to talk their way out of coming home drunk.”
 
Dressing up hateful rhetoric in the flattering trappings of “straight talk” to vilify entire groups of vulnerable peoples with impunity isn’t a new tactic – but it’s one disappointing to see still being embraced in 2018. Mr. Kachadurian said defenders of truth should be judged on the “substance of their arguments.” Yet he provided zero scientific backing for his conclusions about gender identity. Perhaps that’s because he couldn’t find such research: Numerous scientific studies back the commonality of gender fluidity and the diversity of sexuality throughout nature. The October 2016 Harvard University article “Between the (Gender) Lines: The Science of Transgender Identity” summarizes the research of several studies on this topic. It concludes:
 
“So, where do we stand on transgender issues? Science tells us that gender is certainly not binary; it may not even be a linear spectrum. Like many other facets of identity, it can operate on a broad range of levels and operate outside of many definitions. And it also appears that gender may not be as static as we assume. At the forefront of this, transgender identity is complex…we know now that several of (its) causes are biological. These individuals are not suffering a mental illness, or capriciously ‘choosing’ a different identity. The transgender identity is multi-dimensional – but it deserves no less recognition or respect than any other facet of humankind.”
 
Here is another truth about transgender individuals backed by scientific research: Members of this group are far more likely to be the victims of violence and discrimination, and to attempt suicide, than their heteronormative peers. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, which interviewed 27,715 transgender respondents from all 50 states, found pervasive “levels of mistreatment, harassment, and violence in every aspect of life…the majority of respondents who were out or perceived as transgender while in school (K-12)” experienced abuse including verbal harassment, physical violence, and sexual assault.
 
Thirty percent of respondents had been fired, denied a promotion, or were mistreated in the workplace because of their gender expression. Nearly half – 47 percent – had been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. A “staggering 39 percent of respondents experienced serious psychological distress in the month prior to completing the survey, compared with only five percent of the U.S. population. Among the starkest findings is that 40 percent of respondents have attempted suicide in their lifetime – nearly nine times the attempted suicide rate in the U.S. population.”
 
We agree with Mr. Kachadurian on one front: Truth is important. Spreading denigrating statements about entire communities without offering a shred of evidence to back one’s claims under the guise of free speech isn’t championing truth. It’s perpetuating dangerous stereotypes that directly contribute to the harm of individuals already experiencing elevated risks of suffering in our society.
 
If Mr. Kachadurian laments the increased creation of “safe zones,” he might do well to pause and consider why such zones are on the rise. What are the forces in our country – in politics, on school campuses, in public gathering places, in the op-ed sections of newspapers – that are facilitating the spread of hate speech and allowing individuals to feel attacked to such a degree they need to seek refuge in protected places? Why would there be a need for safe zones, other than a widespread climate that perpetually makes vulnerable populations feel threatened and unsafe?
 
At Up North Pride, one of our core missions is to foster welcoming, inclusive spaces. To the transgender individuals in our northern Michigan communities — many of whom may still be closeted, or fearful of living as their authentic selves because of the reaction of neighbors like Mr. Kachadurian — we see you. We welcome you, and we love you. 

To the sexual assault survivors in northern Michigan — many of whom have never shared their stories, or have tried to share their stories and were met with the same sneering dismissal expressed by Mr. Kachadurian — we see you. We welcome you, and we love you.
 
We will never stop fighting to provide you a safe place — a place that embraces truth, including your own.

Up North Pride is an organization that works to foster inclusive spaces that provide education, inspire activism, and celebrate community through the production of LGBTQ+ events in northern Michigan. For more information, visit www.upnorthpride.com.

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