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Fight transphobia with education

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Students created hand-written sings to hold during the sit-in on Monday at Lawrence High School

Students created hand-written sings to hold during the sit-in on Monday at Lawrence High School

Emily Kruse

Emily Kruse

Students created hand-written sings to hold during the sit-in on Monday at Lawrence High School

By Gary Schmidt, Newspaper Co-Editor

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On Monday, students piled in by the dozens to begin a sit-in prompted by a dispute that began in the Class of 2018 group message.

During the next six-plus hours, the number of protesters swelled to nearly 200 students, all taking a stand for what they believed in.

The sit-in was specifically aimed at addressing messages posted in the group message that disparaged transgender people.

The statements were not just in bad taste or accidentally offensive. They were unequivocally wrong.

The intentions of the protest were both noble and justified. Messages with clear ill intent toward the transgender community were shared openly in a group of more than 150 students. The protesters rightly demanded an equitable and fair community for all students — a community free of unjustified attacks and the knowledge that transgender classmates are people and not the punchline to a joke.

Our transgender students are important, and they deserve a school full of enthusiastic allies.

But I fear that the public shaming that filled the day risks alienating many students from the cause. Some students were wrongly shamed, which diminishes the real harm others caused.

The tactic even falters with those who brought shame on themselves. With their comments turned into posters and their names called out during the protest and on social media, the real message of the protest was blurred in the eyes of many students.

You can’t fight fire with fire.

Protesters are most successful when they draw attention to an important issue. But they can’t be the ones to hand out punishment. Administrators have the role of taking care of discipline, not the protesters. As students we have a responsibility to report issues to administrators. But the system only works if administrators act in an appropriate and timely manner. Judging from student concerns expressed on Monday, administrators need to work on building that trust.

At the core of the problem remained one clear flaw: a lack of understanding.

Among the deep issues that are present, is the lack of understanding of transgender people. The key to resolving the problems present is not shame but education. Hopefully, a plan for properly educating students arises as an outcome of the sit-in.

I commend the organizers of the protest for taking the difficult and brave steps toward fighting for their own equality. I full heartedly believe that feeling comfortable in your own school is a right that must be honored.

I also believe change is needed, and I fear we will fall short of that change if tactics focus on public shaming. It’s time to change hearts through positive messages of learning and growth, rather than relying on shame as a device to bring about change.

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Fight transphobia with education