Around 9pm Friday night, Ronald Gold's first and only post as a Bilerico contributor has been removed from the site and his contributor status has been withdrawn. Gold's post had amassed over 300 comments, virtually all of them negative. In response to the outcry, Bilerico Project Publisher Bil Browning posted to apologize for the trauma and hurt feelings Mr. Gold's transphobic attack on transgender identity has been responsible for, particularly among Bilerico's transgender readership and contributor staff.
This is frankly a really uncomfortable position for me to be in. I'm a Bilerico contributor and former editor, but I'm also a transwoman who found Gold's post to be not only transphobic, but also completely outside the boundaries of good taste, quality discussion, and basic civility and politeness. As one of the transgender contributors who has been posting at Bilerico the longest and cares deeply about the site and about my publisher and friend Bil Browning, I feel the need to say something more coherent on this than the many short comments I've posted and tweeted on this topic since this became an issue.
First, Ron Gold:
Frankly, I think Bil made a bad judgment call in giving Gold's post the green light as it was written. In my opinion, the content and tone of Mr. Gold's post was in direct violation of the Bilerico Project's Terms of Service (TOS) and should not have been allowed to post on the site without revision to ensure that it was in compliance with the TOS. As a former Bilerico Project editor as well as a longtime contributor, I know that I and many other contributors have been asked to rewrite or revise posts from time to time which the editors felt exceeded the boundaries of the TOS, usually due to what was found to be unnecessarily inflammatory language.
In this case, I don't believe Mr. Gold's post was subject to the same level of editorial oversight as other Bilerico contributors usually are. While I certainly cannot and will not speak for him, I suspect that Bil felt that out of respect for Mr. Gold's age, ninety, he should be allowed more latitude in the use of language and opinions that would be seen as controversial than the average Bilerico contributor. I also strongly suspect that Bil seriously underestimated how deeply hurt and offended transgender people and allies would be by Gold's words and opinions.
I'm not going to dissect Ron Gold's post here. Other contributors and Projectors have already done a far better job of that than I ever could. I don't need to pick Mr. Gold's post apart line by line to be able to say that in my opinion the level of hurt and trauma his words have caused our Bilerico family far outweigh the value of his continuing contributions to the site. And yet, as angry and offended as I am by Ron Gold's words, I can't place the blame for this completely on his shoulders.
I believe Bil should have known better than to publish this inflammatory piece without revision, and I am frankly stunned that someone with his level of skill and experience as Bilerico's publisher didn't see the backlash coming. Then again, we'd spoken on the phone earlier that day and we'd talked about Mr. Gold's upcoming post and that it would no doubt be controversial. I hadn't read it at the time, and I too was caught by surprise by the size, speed, and intensity of the response to it. I cannot direct the blame for this toward Bil with full force either because I believe that it was allowing his compassion and respect for Mr. Gold to cloud his better judgment that led to the outrage directed toward Mr. Gold, Bil, and the site as a whole over the last day or so. It's hard to be upset with someone for being too nice and too respectful to their elders.
As far as Mr. Gold himself goes, I'm far less charitable. The man is ninety years old, but that's no excuse for being hurtful and demeaning toward a persecuted minority group. I'm glad the editorial team decided that he and his work are unsuitable for the Bilerico Project and should not be featured on the site. In my opinion, no contributor's participation is worth pain and hurt this post has caused so many, and the damage that may have been done to the Bilerico Project's reputation by featuring it. It just wasn't worth it, not for any of us.
Now, the Bilerico Project:
After Marti Abernathey introduced me to the site in 2007, it didn't take me long as a reader and commenter at the site to decide to get in touch with Bil and ask if I could become a contributor. Some months later, Bil offered me a slot as a contributing editor and I accepted. At that time, the editorial staff had not only gay men, but also lesbians, as well as Marti and I. One of the reasons we were brought on board was because Bil and Alex wanted to increase the level of transgender representation at the site. We hadn't gone to them and demanded more transgender bloggers, they'd come to us and asked that we help them find some. We worked hard to find and nominate top-notch transgender bloggers for contributor and guest contributor slots such as Monica Roberts, Monica Helms, and Donna Rose. I eventually stepped down as an editor while back, but I remain a Bilerico Project contributor to this day.
I've been with the site for almost two and a half years now, and in a very real way I consider it my online home. During that time, I've been thrilled to see the number of transpeople as both contributors and Projectors steadily rise. I'm extraordinarily proud that the Bilerico Project boasts what I believe is probably the single largest and most diverse group of transgender bloggers and site users of any LGBT-relevant blog out there. When I'm asked to describe the Bilerico Project to those who have never visited or heard of it before, I'll often say it's like a Huffington Post for LGBT people and allies. While HuffPo has a much larger number of individual contributors blogging on their site than we do, I think we're definitely in their league as far as diversity of thought on important issues goes, and their equal (and often even their better) in terms of the quality of the discussions that take place on the site.
The Bilerico Project and our online family of editorial staff, contributors, and participants are precious to me, and because of that when I feel that family is threatened, as I have here because of the fallout from Ron Gold's post, my first instinct is to do whatever I can to protect it. I spent much of the last couple of days trying to encourage and plead with angry, offended transpeople not to turn their backs on the Bilerico Project because of this single offensive post. I saw the community we've worked so hard to build starting to fracture and crumble over this, and I feared for the future if it continued.
In the Bilerico Project, LGBT's have a unique and special kind of online community which can be found nowhere else, and I, for one, am not going to give it up without a fight. If you were as offended by Ron Gold's post and as disappointed in Bil's decision to run it as I was, I ask you, I plead with you, please don't leave, but instead join me in helping to ensure that something like this never happens again at our online home. The Bilerico Project is ours too, every bit as much as it belongs in part to each and every one of us who take the time and effort to contribute and participate.
I ask you, especially if you are a transgender or gender-variant person, to join me in pledging our help to Bil, Alex, and the rest of the editorial staff, to make ourselves available to them and ready to assist if there's ever a question again as to whether upcoming postings for the site might be seen as transphobic or otherwise potentially offensive and/or hurtful to transpeople, or to anyone else for that matter. I ask you to join me in pledging to do whatever we can to help the editorial team to ensure that the Bilerico Project, our online home, remains free of content that can be hurtful and traumatizing to anyone, even if that potential damage might not be immediately apparent to the non-transgender eye.
Most of all, I ask you to join me in standing our ground. This is not a time to turn our backs and walk away, this is a time to join together as transpeople, as LGBT's, and as people who care about the Bilerico Project and this amazingly diverse, intelligent, active, fun, crazy, wonderful online family of ours and work together to protect it from something like this ever happening to it again.
No one is perfect, not me, not you, certainly not Ron Gold, and not Bil either. A mistake was made here to be sure, but it was a mistake of too big a heart and too much compassion. Lessons learned, and lessons yet to be learned (and taught) from this experience will serve us all well going forward.
The post is down. The war is over. Let's tend our wounds, have a good cry, and then come home together, as a family, and resolve do whatever we can to make sure something like this never, ever, happens to us again.
Who's with me?