Hate and intolerance are masquerading as traditional values

What makes people hate? Is it fear? Is it a sense of self-entitlement? Is it anger? Is it a belief in moral superiority? Why demonize people who don’t share our views?

Knowing the truth should help us to see what is real. But, too often, we pick out just the facts that reinforce the views we’ve always held or the views that those closest to us hold.

In cases of prejudice, seeing a person as an individual rather than a stereotype, a preconceived notion about a group of people, should inform us.

We’ve suffered more than the usual share of hatred and nastiness in covering local elections this year. We wonder if people feel they can unleash inner rage because our president so often encourages it.

Civil discourse based on truth is the way to move forward.

As we confirm letters to the editor, telling writers they are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts, we have of late come across a number of letter writers who want to print what we have shown them is factually inaccurate because they still believe it’s true.

Our opinion pages are an open forum, which we feel is essential to the exchange of ideas necessary to sustain a democracy, but sometimes we struggle personally to print letters filled with hate.

We’re printing one such letter this week from Jacqueline Hallock. She first wrote us after we had written stories about transgender students at Guilderland High School. In this space, we praised the Guilderland district for listening, and urged it follow through with gender-neutral bathrooms.

Hallock feels vindicated in her views by a list of arrests she found on the Liberty Counsel’s website. The Liberty Counsel has been named as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which describes it as “a legal organization advocating for anti-LGBT discrimination under the guise of religious liberty.”

If we look at the list itself — even if we assume the arrests are real and that the suspects were all found guilty — we see it does not show that gender-neutral bathrooms have caused a run of horrible crimes. It was in May 2016 that the Justice and Education Departments issued guidance that, under Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student’s transgender status.

Only a handful of the 79 listed incidents occurred after that date. The vast majority of the listed incidents have nothing to do with gender-neutral bathrooms or with the use of bathrooms corresponding to a person’s gender identity; most of them deal with men who have snuck into women’s bathrooms as “peeping toms” or for assault.

Mind you, we’re not making light of crimes of sexual assault. On the contrary, we are just as upset about such crimes as Hallock is. But, if we want to work toward preventing these crimes, we must recognize the truth.

Transgender people are no more likely to commit crimes than any other population. They are, however, far more likely to be victims of crime.

We wrote in this space in early March, just after President Trump rescinded protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity. We wrote of how proud we were of New York State, which had set up guidelines well before the Obama administration.

Mary Ellen Elia, our state’s education commissioner, had responded quickly to Trump’s rollback, stating, “Transgender youth are valued members of our schools and communities across New York State, yet statistics show that more than half of them will attempt suicide at least once by their 20th birthday.”

We profiled on our pages several courageous transgender students. Our hope was that the haters would no longer see a stereotype, which is easy to make into a boogeyman, but rather see real people — vibrant, worthwhile, distinct individuals. We also wrote of some of the ways these students had suffered and been harassed, in hopes it would elicit empathy and understanding.

One of those students, Ryka Sweeney, told us that she didn’t think she had ever been more excited in her life than the day she helped hang a sign on her school’s new all-gender bathroom.

This week, we reviewed Hallock’s original letters —  “This transgender crap is too, too much” and “Enterprise no longer a traditional-values newspaper” — as well as the three responses we printed from readers. None of them called Hallock the names that she writes made her blood boil. One urged meeting anger with sympathy; another wrote that there was no need for fear and paranoia; and a third took a humorous tack, asking about lavatory neighbors in the next stall, “What if they’re liberals, or, even worse, vegans? Unless you need to know, it might be better to just get on with the job and leave.”

Again, the truth matters. Hallock wasn’t called the things she remembers. We hopes this eases her pain. Vilifying people who disagree with us doesn’t let us move forward.

Faced with the list of incidents referenced by Hallock, we talked to Guilderland Superintendent Marie Wiles to ask how many incidents the school district has had with what it calls its all-gender bathrooms. “None whatsoever,” she said.

Guilderland now has 12 all-gender bathrooms. “They’ve been very well-received,” Wiles said. “It’s a non-issue.”

Five of the all-gender bathrooms are at the high school, six are at the middle school, and one is at Westmere Elementary School.

“We have a student at Westmere who is questioning their gender,” explained Wiles. She noted that the all-gender bathrooms, which are single use, can be used by anyone.

Wiles went on, “The response from our students is it helps them feel safe. They feel safe and that they belong. It’s been all positive.” She repeated, “All positive.”

It is good to hear something positive in this era of negativity. It’s also good to help people — all people, not just students — feel safe and like they belong. That may be the best way to stop the hate. We need to focus on what we, as human beings, share rather than building walls to differentiate others from ourselves.
— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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