Iridescent Riffel: Transgender Kansans face energized enemies. The words you use can make a difference. (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. Occasionally, we’ll also pick up columns from other nearby news outlets. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Iridescent Riffel is a graduate student studying higher education administration at the University of Kansas, where she serves as both an academic adviser and assistant complex director.

Words matter. The moment you let something out of your mouth, you can’t take it back. Those words have been sent into the ether.

Will those words uplift someone or tear through their flesh and leave them wounded?

Words are tools. They are used to convey what we need, what we want, what we hope, what we desire, what we fear, our ambitions, and our humor. Words are just one way that we let our souls reach out and touch someone else’s.

Will you hold someone’s hand in support or rip a hole through their heart?

I’m tired of this senseless violence. Transgender Awareness Week should be a time of education, a time to appreciate, and a time to reflect and remember those we lost. Perhaps one day it won’t be so full of names lost to hate.

We learned far too quickly how the hateful words we’ve warned about ripped through our queer family. They ended lives and devastated countless more. The bullets shot last month in Colorado weren’t from a single person, even if only one individual shot that gun.

Anderson Lee Aldrich is a killer, and he will face the consequences of pulling that trigger.

However, right-wing politicians and media personalities should face the consequences of spewing hate. The voices of Matt Walsh and Chaya Raichik not only demonize the queer community, but they pave the way for grievous harm. Their words are echoed by their followers and by people in places of power. Chaya refers to herself as a stochastic terrorist and Walsh proudly identifies as a theocratic fascist.

Hours after the Club Q shooting, Raichik posted on Twitter, using her rhetoric to incite violence toward children’s hospitals.

They want people like me dead. They want to scare us into hiding. They want us to live in fear.

They rationalize debating the existence of queer and trans people. They take our identities and turn them into philosophical debates. Once our identities are shoved into that frame, we are dehumanized. From there, they justify their hate through any means.

Words are powerful. Words are not necessarily true, either.

Anti-trans activists take our identities and use them to sow fear and hate into people’s hearts. They say that our rights are taking away theirs. They say that we are hurting kids or that we seek to take their children away from them. There is no bottom of the barrel. The faster and more frequently they take shots at us, the more scared and enraged they make their audience.

No matter what we do or say to prove we are just people trying to live our lives in peace, we find no respite.

Instead, we open our phones to the news of yet another queer family member being mowed down. We lay down in bed, put our arm around our beloved and open our phones to news of mass shootings or domestic terrorism.

We cry. We cry for those lost and those hurt. We cry for those traumatized that night and so many other nights. We cry because someday we know that could be us. We hold one another, determined to be ourselves, but terrified of the future. And then we hold our partner’s hand and ask them to make a plan: a plan for if we make it out and a plan for if we don’t.

Hate speech leads to hate crimes.

I want to live in peace, but it seems that when we aren’t being shot, we are being attacked by legislators across the country. As I began writing this column, I found out about Oklahoma House Bill 1011, which aims to forcibly detransition anyone under the age of 21.

In April, Missouri legislators considered banning anyone under the age of 21 from receiving gender affirming care. The legislative session in Kansas gave rise to many anti-LGBTQ bills: House Bill 2210, Senate Bill 160, Senate Bill 208, Senate Bill 214, Senate Bill 484, House Bill 2662, Senate Bill 58, Senate Bill 496 and Senate Bill 515.

Most of those who sponsored and voted in favor of these bills maintain their positions within the Statehouse.

So, what can we do?

We must be as strong-willed as they are incessant. We must hold others accountable and correct behavior when we see it. Show up to local meetings. Protest. Let officials know that we aren’t fading into the dark.

Don’t leave all this work to queer and trans folks, either. We need your support. I need your support.

Activism starts small. We need a societal change in attitude. That won’t happen overnight, but it’s why small actions matter so much. We can be activists in our own different ways.

If you have connections, use those. Frame queer and trans identities into conversations with family, coworkers and friends. Legitimize our existence.

Words matter. Words are powerful. For this reason alone, I’ll keep putting ink to the paper. It may be difficult to believe right now, but kindness will win the day.

— Iridescent Riffel is a graduate student studying higher education administration at the University of Kansas, where she serves as both an academic advisor and assistant complex director. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Kansas State University and is passionate about supporting kids and their dreams. She lives in Lawrence and upon graduating plans to remain in the Kansas City area.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here. Find how to submit your own commentary to The Lawrence Times here.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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