Letter to the Editor: Let’s Have Hard Conversations Without Dehumanizing or Disparaging Others

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Lewis County Lollipop Guild (LCLG) was started for visibility and a way to make people feel seen and welcomed. I think feeling safe and secure in our community and homes is something that we all are entitled to.

Commissioner Sean Swope’s recent transphobic comments hurt a lot of constituents in Lewis County. The community has a right to be angry about disparaging comments. We have a right to express that. We also have an obligation to make space for those most impacted to be able express their own pain in a way that has the potential to create change. We don’t have the right to make others feel unsafe in the process. That does not provide for productive, actionable discourse.

Swope has said that he received threats of violence and death since his transphobic comments. This should be deeply concerning to everyone in our communities. If you are someone who sent something that could be interpreted as such, I personally want to express my extreme disappointment. We all deserve to feel safe and secure in our own homes and towns. Our families deserve the same.

Making someone feel unsafe or unwelcome is the exact behavior that LCLG was created to counteract after the last time an elected official, Sheriff Rob Snaza, used his bully pulpit to compare his constituents to livestock.

As someone who experienced an act of political violence and a subpar investigation within the last year here in Lewis County, I reached out to multiple Lewis County law enforcement agencies this week encouraging them to vigorously investigate these threats made against our elected official. Given the current conversation, I will confess I am hesitant to believe Swope’s account without some receipts. When we had lunch earlier this week to discuss these issues, Swope became emotional when discussing accusations of racism from last year, but not when mentioning these recent purported threats about his home and family. I keep coming back to those details and why he would present as visibly upset about one bygone issue and not the current just as concerning one.

When I saw that Swope’s first public statement was not to apologize for the wound of his original statement but to deflect and center it back on himself, I was saddened. Don’t get me wrong, these concerns should absolutely be taken seriously and actively investigated. No one should feel unsafe. However, to some people, including myself, this does feel like scapegoating, deflection and distraction to avoid accountability. The threats need to be investigated so the community can have definitive answers. I’m sure it will be more thorough than investigations of threats of harm and death routinely sent to members of the LGBTQ community of Lewis County.

LCLG was equated to a terrorist organization within a month of its inception. Recently, the prominent community member who started that incendiary rumor initially has been trying to revive it and stir up the masses. This type of language also leads to real world harm inflicted on members of our community and should be condemned the same as Swope’s. I hope we all can continue to learn and grow together in conversations centered on understanding, compassion and mutual respect.

I feel compelled to repeat that we are just your neighbors, friends and family out here trying to see our own ideals reflected in our communities. We are not terrorists or livestock. As I expressed in a letter to the editor last September, I hope we can continue to have these hard conversations in a productive manner that doesn’t dehumanize or disparage the “other” side in the process.

 

Kyle Wheeler

Toledo

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