On the first Wednesday of September, I ventured to Pure Pizza on Central Avenue for what became a rather dramatic rendezvous with the Mecklenburg County chapter of Moms for Liberty, which was holding their monthly meeting there. The ensuing confrontation, part of which was cynically and abusively posted to social media by the couple that runs the chapter, involved accusations of racism, discussions of rape and much claiming of victimhood.
This visit — undertaken simply to see how many people were at the meeting — arose from my concerns over the mounting pressure on Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to conform to a cramped, narrow and bigoted vision of how certain people think the world should function.
These pressures, often part of national campaigns, have targeted books, programs and school policies that address issues that are crucial to our young people’s education and well-being — among them race, sex, sexuality and gender identity.
Here in Charlotte, a variety of groups and individuals have sought to scrub the true history of slavery from school curriculums, to eliminate certain books from classrooms and to strip from transgender children the dignity of being addressed by their preferred pronouns.
For example, the president of the local Moms for Liberty organization has repeatedly posted on Facebook a piece created by the national Moms for Liberty that directly targets transgender students. “Act Now!” it urges, warning that a proposed rewrite of Title IX would result in “mandatory” policies implemented “under the guise of civil rights.” Among them: “Students and teachers will be punished for sexual harassment if they ‘misgender’ or use a pronoun for a boy or girl other than what they prefer.”
My anger at this is personal.
Nearly four decades ago, when he was still a teenager, my brother began his transition from female to male. He went on to have a remarkable life; after earning a BA from Southern Methodist University (SMU) and a PhD from Girton College, Cambridge, he produced many well-regarded works of scholarship and fiction. A few months ago, at a memorial that followed his death from a sudden heart attack, his SMU mentor described him as the most brilliant student she had ever taught.
My parents, to their eternal credit, supported him every step of the way. Back in the 1980s there was little information available on gender transition, and they did not really understand what he was going through. But he was their child, and they loved him unconditionally. Sadly, not all young people are so fortunate.
I think of my brother every time someone treats transgender individuals as less than human — such as by refusing to use their chosen pronouns.
Back in the past, when white so-called Christians (including some of my own ancestors) profited from enslaving Africans, they employed a variety of strategies to dehumanize the people whom they claimed to own. Naming was one of these. Your real name might be Kunta Kinte. But if your enslaver chose to call you Toby instead, there was nothing you could do about it. This dehumanization enabled the violence that was a central component of the slavery system.
Refusing to use a person’s preferred pronouns reflects a similar approach. It contributes to a portrayal of transgender people as less than fully human, undeserving of — as the Founding Fathers put it — the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” (enslaved people, of course, weren’t considered deserving of them either). This attitude has produced appalling levels of violence against transgender people across the country.
Some might say that discussion of such matters distracts from the urgent issue of student achievement. Nothing could be further from the truth. Children learn best in places where they can express their full identities and where they are treated as full human beings. Those of us who truly seek to put students first must put on our full armor to fight this rising tide of bigotry and keep our children safe.
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