Lacking in Facebook disputes: Empathy

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Recently, the Townsend Harris administration shut down the Class of 2017 Facebook page due to heated online disputes between Harrisites over transgender issues. Though our students are known for being educated about differences amongst our school population and for fostering a safe environment for everyone, many posted comments that were highly offensive and surprisingly dismissive considering the sensitive nature of the topic.

This isn’t the first time arguments have broken out between students on Facebook—there have also been heated ones about feminism and police brutality, both of which had their share of controversial posts. However, what set this instance apart was that the posts were more likely to emotionally harm a smaller community, including people some of us may know. These posts dehumanized transgender individuals, and the students behind them didn’t stop to consider the harmful effects of such crass comments on other students.

Although the issues transgender people face are being acknowledged more thanks to celebrities like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, and television shows like Transparent and Orange is the New Black, transphobia still seems to be a rampant problem. Many people seek to delegitimize the identities of transgender individuals and do not educate themselves about what being transgender really means. Even if the person making the posts sees belittling transgender people on social media as a trivial act, he is contributing to a massive social problem.

According to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, over 50 percent of transgender youth will attempt suicide before their 20th birthday. The National Center of Transgender Equality reports that 82% of transgender or gender-nonconforming youth say they feel unsafe at school, and that 67% had been bullied online. The Center for American Progress also estimates that 320,000 to 400,000 LGBT teens face homelessness each year and are more likely to abuse alcohol or be sexually assaulted. Being transgender is not a joke and treating it as if it is shifts the dialogue surrounding transgender issues away from actual problems.

Harrisites are known for embracing our diverse school community, but debates like these reveal that homophobia and transphobia still exist in our school and that LGBT students are not as protected and accepted as they should be. We must work together as a community to make sure every single person feels safe with being who they are in school and online; no student should have to live with constant fear of harassment or rejection.

Before posting something online, take into consideration who might be hurt by it. Whether it’s an appropriate debate that moves an issue along, or just a factually unsupported claim, hateful comments  can damage someone’s self-worth. Debating important social topics can be productive, but spending hours locked in meaningless online battles is not only childish and unnecessary, but potentially injurious.