In 2017, let’s try to have a little more empathy

Without a doubt, one of the most misused words in the English language is ’empathy.’

Too often, it’s amalgamated with another commonly used word — sympathy — when, in reality, the two terms are very different from one another.

And I’m not faulting anyone for it. I’ve made the same mistake. I studied English in college and it’s only recently that I really got a firm grasp on how to properly utilize the word ’empathy.’

Whenever something bad happens, we tell people to empathize for the victims. During this presidential election, we often heard about a lack of empathy for certain subgroups of our population.

But what does that really mean?

To sympathize is to have a visceral, emotional reaction. When you hear about a shooting at an Orlando night club, you sympathize for the mothers who lost their children. When you hear about refugees crossing the Mediterranean in shoddy boats, you sympathize for the infants who must make that dangerous trek, too young to process the chaos that’s even causing it.

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Having sympathy is understanding that something unfortunate happened, and feeling bad about it.

But to empathize is to have a real human connection. When you hear about a tragedy, and instead of just “feeling bad,” you put yourself in the shoes of the victim, and try to imagine how they are feeling. Not how you are feeling about it, but how they are feeling.

And that’s a concept that too many people are unable to grasp.

You saw it time and time again during the election. When certain minority groups were marginalized, it was the majority that told them how they should feel.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my nearly 30 years of living, it’s that we have no right to pass judgment on anybody unless we’ve lived in their shoes and fully understand what they are going through.

I know what it is like to be a white man in the U.S.A. It’s all I’ve ever known. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. To be black. To be Latino. To be gay.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a Muslim living in the U.S. during a time when our president-elect once suggested banning all adherents of that religion from entering our borders.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a transgender, living at a time when states are diminishing their rights.

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And that certainly doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion on women’s rights, or on Black Lives Matter, or on Islam. But that opinion should be forged when taking into account the thoughts and feelings of those who would be most affected by a certain issue.

When people were rioting in St. Louis and Baltimore, after the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, we decried them as savages and animals.

What we didn’t do is try to see the world through their eyes. Understand why they were mad.

When there were no black Oscar nominees for a second straight year, and a backlash ensued, we laughed it off as a ridiculous complaint.

What we didn’t do is understand that what the frustration was really about was that the omission represented the lack of opportunity that exists in Hollywood for black actors, in comparison to their white counterparts.

We react based on our own life experiences, without trying to understand the other.

And I think that’s the true mark of a thoughtful, cultured person. To understand that there are a lot of viewpoints in any given issue, and to try and see the world outside of your own bubble.

Once we see where they’re coming from, then we can form an educated viewpoint, rather than speaking from ignorance.

It’s certainly not easy. But just trying to have more empathy will go a long way towards bringing the people in this world closer together.

I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful.

Let’s all try to be better.

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Go home, North Carolina, you’re drunk

Up until about two months ago, whenever the state of North Carolina was mentioned, the first thought that popped into people’s heads was, well … nothing.

Absolutely nothing. There’s really not many more unmemorable states than North Carolina. Sure, you’ve got a couple good college basketball teams there, and it’s along the route when people want to travel southward to Myrtle Beach or Florida.

And that’s fine! There’s nothing wrong with being under the radar. It means you’re doing you’re own thing, and more importantly, you haven’t done anything stupid to bring negative attention to yourself.

Well that all changed in late March, when the state’s legislature and governor passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, which has been described as the most anti-LGBT legislation in the United States.

Since then, the backlash against North Carolina has been well documented.

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But it looked like this whole situation would finally come to a head when the U.S. Justice Department gave North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory a deadline to assure them that he will not enforce this law, stating that it is in direct violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

So that ended it, right? When the DOJ comes down hard on you, there’s really not much else you can do. North Carolina tried to pass a law, failed, and we move on to the next story. What else is happening in the news?

Wait, hold on a second. North Carolina did what?

Seriously? Ugh. Alright, let’s keep going.

On Monday, McCrory responded to that deadline by filing a lawsuit against the United States government, calling the Justice Department’s position a “radical interpretation” of the Voting Rights Act.

This prompted a counter suit by the DOJ, coupled with a dramatic press conference by newly appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch — a North Carolina native — as she voiced her assurance that the Obama administration will do everything in its power to protect transgender rights.

At this point, it’s shocking how invested North Carolina is to go out of their way to inconvenience the lives of transgenders.

So what can us common folk do to stick it to North Carolina? (Other than blog about it). Well, we can go to their college basketball games and heckle their teams … when the college basketball season begins in November. Or we can drive around the state when traveling along the eastern coast, adding several hours to our commute.

Yeah, there’s not really much we can do. Boaty McBoatface2.jpg

Unless …. maybe I do have an idea.

Remember when I told you about the social media campaign to name a polar research vessel Boaty McBoatface?

Well, unfortunately it failed. Popular consensus did not prevail, and the environmental group that organized the contest will instead name the boat RRS Sir David Attenborough, all but guaranteeing that no one will ever care about this boat ever again.

How about we kill two birds with one stone?

Somebody design a massive boat (I’m talking Titanic 2.0 here), and let’s turn it into not a gay cruise ship, but a transgender cruise ship, and call it Boaty McBoatface. And where will it traverse?

The entire coast of North Carolina.

If that’s not the ultimate way to grandstand against discrimination, then I don’t know what is.

North Carolina, paving the way for discrimination

Things had been going too well for the LGBT community lately.

A few weeks ago it was the South Dakota Republican governor who vetoed legislation that would have prevented transgendered people from using the public bathroom of the gender that they align with. A similar bill in Tennessee died in committee just last week.

At the time of the South Dakota veto, I pondered what would have happened if the bill was passed into law, and what the public backlash would be? Since it never happened, it never really made it to mainstream news. Remember, it takes anger for most people to really become aroused enough to start caring about a particular topic.

Well, this week we found out what that backlash would look like.

On one hand, Georgia’s Republican Governor Nathan Deal pledged to veto a bill that would have threatened the civil rights of the LGBT community and likely would have opened the door for discrimination.

But there always has to be one state that just doesn’t get the memo. And this time, it was North Carolina. In a week that should have been headlined by the state’s predominant college basketball team making the Final Four, the nation’s focus was instead pointed towards the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature and governor, Pat McCrory.

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In a hastily called session that cost taxpayers $42,000, the Senate approved a bill that not only disallows transgenders from using the bathroom of the gender they align with, but which also, for good measure, overturned all local non-discrimination ordinances.

There’s so many despicable things that happened here. The first thing was the rapid, secretive method in which it was passed without public input. The state’s Democratic legislators were so against this bill that they actually walked out of the Senate chamber while it was being voted on.

But worst of all, it was done in response to a law recently passed in Charlotte that would have protected transgender rights. This new law was essentially created to undo the Charlotte one.

Oh boy. It’s been a rough few days for North Carolina since this law was passed last Thursday. Not only have major corporations and sports leagues like the NBA spoken out against it, but there was this amazing Tweet, as well as this equally amazing video North Carolina law2.jpgproduced by the comic website Funny or Die.

Finally, a coalition of individuals and organizations filed a federal lawsuit against the law, arguing that it violates the Constitution and federal anti-discrimination laws.

It just boggled my mind because, most of all, it just makes North Carolina seem like a hateful place. By virtue of one law, they’re obstructing social progress and advocating discrimination.

Supporters of the law say that women are in danger because they’ll be in the same bathroom as men (as in, people who have transgendered from man to woman).

First of all, this implies that all transgenders are sexual predators.

Second of all, sexual assault is illegal in all circumstances, regardless of what local laws there are.

Transgendered individuals are among the most vulnerable and discriminated people in our society. They deal with prejudice and inequality on a daily basis.

So yeah, North Carolina, go ahead and make their lives even worse. Good job. And Governor McCrory, good luck in your reelection this November. 

You know this is especially sad when, after spending time on this topic, I have to think about the presidential race in order to cheer myself up.

What a time we’re living in.

The time to start caring about transgender rights is now

It often takes one landmark decision for people to start rallying around a certain issue.

For example, it was last summer when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a Constitutional right, effectively legalizing it and thus ordering all states to acknowledge gay couples who request marriage licenses (although, don’t tell that to one deplorable Kentucky clerk).

On the eve of that decision, and in the days following, people were voicing their overwhelming support for same-sex couples, even going as far to overlay their Facebook pictures with the colors associated with gay pride.

I’m not saying that most people never cared about the issue before the Supreme Court ruling, but it shows it takes a major event to really galvanize the average person into advocacy.

Although if you ask any homosexual in America, they’ll tell you that there’s still a long way to go until they truly are on equal footing under the law.

And now, as we approach the summer of 2016, eyes are turning towards another group of people who, while gradually gaining more and more support, still face severe oppression in our country: transgenders.

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The story of Einar Wegener, dramatized in the recent film The Danish Girl, shows us that people have been surgically altering their bodies for 100 years to switch genders, and yet, it’s not until now that they’re really being accepted into the mainstream. There is estimated to be about 700,000 transgenders in the U.S., or 0.3 percent of the adult population.

While there’s no major Supreme Court ruling upcoming regarding transgenders, people forget that there are lots of decisions made on the local and state level that set early precedents and can create significant burdens on the lives of many people.

Which is what made what happened in South Dakota earlier this week that much more encouraging.

Many states right now are crafting legislation to disallow transgenders, and Transgenders2particularly transgender youths, from being able to use the bathroom of the gender that they identify with. In South Dakota, the first such bill was passed by the state’s Republican-majority Senate and House and sent to the governor for approval.

After a week’s worth of deliberation, Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed it, citing that it did “not address any pressing issue” facing the state, and could cause legal problems moving forward, since it would contradict the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX.

Anyway, this was really important because it’s the first major decision of its kind. Had it been passed, it might have streamlined similar laws in other states. Which can still happen, by the way, but at least there is now a standard that has been set.

So if you’re fan of equality, and would like to see the privileges our nation offers applied to everyone, you may want to start following this issue now, long before it ever becomes a Supreme Court case.

Indeed, for transgenders, the battle has just begun. In that same state, the South Dakota House recently passed a bill that would restrict transgender students’ participation in high school sports.

Sadly, people might not start caring until Facebook offers them a transgender-related color in which they could overlay their profile picture.