Somewhere in the course of the storied history of this country — I’m guessing it coincided pretty directly with the rise of social media — civil discourse and intelligent conversation gave way to snark, mean-spiritedness and a pointless game of “I can yell louder than you can.”
In the past week, our normally peaceful town has been divided along gender lines — and, more to the point, one student who has dared to cross those lines. What has resulted has been a series of debates, protests and Internet arguments that have, quite frankly, turned ugly.
Since Troy City School Superintendent Eric Herman announced last Friday that the district would be making allowances for students who identify as transgender to use the bathroom of their choosing, I have not been particularly proud of my community as many — not, all, mind you — residents have rather vocally chosen sides in this battle.
Again, this doesn’t apply to everyone — many have been willing to discus this with at least of modicum of civility and open-mindedness — but I’ve read and heard far too many “debates” that have degenerated into name-calling and insults. This has come from both sides of the fence — those who support the school district’s decision and those who are opposed to the ruling.
I’m not here to take sides in this controversy — while I have a strong opinion on this matter, that’s not the point of this missive, and to reveal my own thoughts would cloud the issue at hand — but rather to plead with both sides to remember one thing: We are dealing with a sensitive issue involving children.
It is children who are at the center of this issue — one who has come out as transgender, with possibly more who have yet to reconcile that within themselves to the point of making a public announcement, along with thousands more who attend our schools alongside them.
These same children will be looking to adults — parents, school officials, authority figures and the public at-large — for cues on how to handle this sensitive issue, which must be confusing to them. What will they see? Do we want them to log onto Facebook or Twitter and see hateful name-calling coming from both sides of the debate? Do we want them to see adults insulting one another’s morals, opinions and world views? Do we want them to see profanity-laced tirades that serve no purpose in terms of advancing the conversation?
Because I know I’ve seen plenty of that coming from both sides since last Friday’s announcement.
We are so concerned with how others educate our children — but what are we teaching them ourselves in the 16 hours per day they are not in school? How to be intolerant of others whose opinions differ from our own?
I’ve lived here my entire life — a little more than four decades and counting — and I’ve always thought my community was better than that. I can’t turn on my computer or go out for a quick bite to eat in my community lately, however, without wondering if I’ve been wrong all these years.
Just as disconcerting in all of this is the fact the eyes of the nation are upon us. I’ve had friends from other states contact me and tell me they’ve seen media coverage of this event where they live. While transgender bathrooms in schools are hardly a new issue, the debate has largely been waged in more metropolitan areas.
Troy is the testing area for small-town, middle-America. We are at ground zero in this debate and others will look to us to see how a small community they’ve likely never heard of before will handle such a touchy subject.
What will they see? Will they see people yelling and screaming at one another over an issue involving children, or will they see people working together toward a solution that is amenable to both parties? The image we choose to portray is the lasting image those who don’t know us — those who have never had the opportunity to visit Troy and see all the wonderful things and people it has to offer — will carry with them for the long haul.
I understand that because this issue involves children, people on both sides are passionate. As the father of two children, I get that. I respect that. I appreciate that. I want people to be passionate about issues that affect their children. Troy’s love for its children is one of the main reasons I’ve stuck around so many years.
But I’ve quickly discovered there’s a fine line between passion and pablum. It is possible to passionately discuss this issue without resorting to cheap shots and outright bullying … and again, I’m looking at supporters of both sides of the issue.
So please, continue to have an open dialogue on this matter — because the second people in this community stop caring about issues that affect their children is the exact same second I no longer want to cast my lot with the city I love so much.
But let’s keep it civil in the process, please.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong