I have a confession.
Post-2016 election, my wife and I knew it was time for us to get out of our liberal bubble and do something to change the trajectory of this hotmess we call a political climate, if only on a microscopic basis. But after moving back to our home state of Michigan, I haven’t called my representatives like I said I would. I haven’t run for office, started coaching Pop Warner Football, or baked a single gluten-free, dairy-free vegan brownie for the League of Women Voters.
But, I have been voting, I joined my local Pride board of directors, I demonstrated when a transphobic group came to our campus, we’ve hosted the Black Student Alliance at our house, and I just helped tell the story of the importance of supporting our undocumented students because we need a STEM workforce that resembles the population. And also P.S., we desperately need their talent if we’re going to stay in this thing with China, y’all.
Despite all of these teeny tiny things, I’ve neglected the first rule of wokeness, which is to claim your people. Take the privilege you have to be in dominant spaces and speak up within your family, friends, and community. So today, when a dear friend flagged this little gem of an op-ed in the Northern Express (see also: tiny rural community newspaper), I wrote back to the Editor-In-Chief.
It’s not enough, but it’s something. You should also know that while I did my best to keep calm and write clearly, my inner state was more like…
I'm writing in response to the op-ed the Northern Express published recently from Mr. Thomas Kachadurian. I know that journalism is under many constraints these days and that it is increasingly difficult in our public discourse to illuminate what is truthful.
I also know that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment in the U.S., but I would like the Northern Express to know that when hate speech is given a platform with no counterpoint (as is the case with this article where Mr. Kachadurian calls Justice Kavanaugh's accusers "guilty belligerent teenagers" and transgender people "a cultural trend") it doesn't encourage healthy discourse, it directly harms our community.
2016 was the deadliest year on record for transgender people. When rhetoric like Mr. Kachadurian's is given a voice, it perpetuates hateful beliefs about our trans neighbors and makes things particularly difficult for young people in Traverse City to feel validated about who they are.
There were close family friends of ours as I was coming out 10 years ago that told me homosexuality was "so trendy right now". I was fortunate to have a support network at the time that could protect me from having my identity dismissed and my rights denied. Had I been younger and living in rural Northern Michigan, there's a good chance my self worth would have been crushed. The Trevor Project (a suicide hotline) has seen an uptick in call volumes since 2016 because so many people, especially youth, are in crisis and they are hearing hateful opinions that their lives don't matter. This op-ed is not constructive to the conversation, it is toxic for those in Traverse City struggling with their identity or to anyone who has survived sexual assault.
I had to leave Michigan to become my authentic self, but I moved back home so that I could better understand how the country got to such an intolerant place. I am actively seeking viewpoints different from my own and empathize with the challenges of modern journalism.
However, I would ask that the Northern Express consider publishing a counterpoint to Mr. Kachadurian's piece. Balanced perspectives that offer new insights (not ones that dig up old disproven tropes with no evidence) are what Northern Michigan needs to heal and engage with the issues.
UPDATE: Not only did the Northern Express publish this letter, but there were 3 PAGES of outraged letters from the community, a counterpoint from our Up North Pride board, and a thoughtful response from Lynda Wheatley, the editor, which I’ve reproduced here.
“We applaud those who, rather than seeking to silence the columnists they dislike, instead have written in and/or take action to counter the thinking with which they disagree. We feel strongly that openions we disagree with are far better aired than kept represented in private, only to explode in more dangerous ways later.
Mr. Kachadurian's column has sparked a great deal of debate, and spurred a week of difficult and likely overdue introspection at Northern Express. Following many conversations among our staff of 15; consultations with journalism, free speech, and LGBTQ+ advocates: and frank talks with those who both agree and disagree with Mr. Kachadurian's views, we've concluded that we could have done better.
I could have pushed Mr. Kachadurian on his facts. I should have -- and will -- become more knowlegeavle about the often heart-rending issue facing today's LGBTQ+ individuals. We are deeply sorry for any pain or lost trust caused by these actions.
Please read Up North Pride's thoughtful reaction to Mr. Kachadurian's column. Going forward, we commit to pursuing constructive dialogue with those arguing for themselves and their causes while also fighting for our right to serve up diverse views and be a vehicle for healthy debate.'“
Lynda Wheatley, Editor of Northern Express