Editorials, Opinion

Transphobic meme just one expression of hate

We originally wanted this editorial to focus on Dr. Rachel Levine and her many qualifications to be the assistant secretary of health. And she is more than qualified: Graduated from Harvard and Tulane Medical School, served as chief resident and taught at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, created a program to address eating disorders at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, wrote scholarly articles on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine and LGBTQ medicine. She was the top health official in Pennsylvania — confirmed by the Republican-controlled senate — before Biden nominated her for a federal office. Dr. Levine’s status as a transgender woman does not invalidate her winning combination of scholarly knowledge and practical, real-life experience.

However, after all the hatred and meanness we have seen over the past week, we knew we needed to turn our focus to that instead.

Last week, we reported on a transphobic meme about Dr. Levine shared publicly on Facebook by former West Virginia delegate Cindy Frich. The Facebook post was brought to our attention by members of the public who shared it with us on social media. Since Frich is a former delegate and continues for run for office, the post was newsworthy.

Why? Because the intolerance on display is a problem when it comes from anyone, but it is especially troubling — even dangerous — when it comes from someone who has held, does hold or will hold public office. When intolerant individuals hold positions of power, particularly the power to make or shape laws, they have the ability to strip others of rights and protections simply because they don’t agree.

Frich’s transphobic post is just one example — albeit a very local one — of the bigotry our nation faces. Members of the LGBTQ+ community live with the reality that their basic human rights are constantly under attack and, as many have pointed out, up for debate in the highest branches of government virtually every four years: The right to marry and have their union and their spouses recognized under the law; the right to be free from discrimination; the right to work; the right to medical care. The foundational and unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Sharing bigoted memes is one expression of hate, but then there are also more direct, more powerful expressions of hate. Remember the Drag Queen Story Time scheduled for November 2019 that was canceled due to threats of violence? Well, the group MassResistance, which came to Frich’s defense over her online post, bragged in a blog that Frich helped them “take on” the story hour. MassResistance has been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group for more than a decade now, and it touts Frich as one of their “activists.”

What perplexes us about organizations and people like that is why they feel so threatened by the existence of non-cisgender and/or non-heterosexual individuals. No one can force you into changing your gender identity or entering a same-sex relationship. A gay couple’s marriage does not nullify the legal union of a straight couple. When one person’s gender identity does not match their biology, it does not undermine the legitimacy of the identity of someone whose sex and gender are the same (cisgender).

In matters of freedom of speech or expression, it comes down to this simple truth: You have the right to disagree or disapprove, but you do not have the right to interfere with other people’s freedoms. You may not like it, but someone’s membership in the LGBTQ+ community does not harm you — so you have no right to harm them. Just as you have the right to exist in public spaces without threats of violence or harassment, so do they.

And yes, people like Frich do have the right to exist without threats of violence or harassment. So what can those of us who stand against bigotry do? We can hold the bigots accountable — with our dollars, when it’s a business; with our votes, when it’s a politician; and with our words, when it’s an individual. We can tell them: Your hatred is not welcome here.