On June 15th, Scout, whose name is legally one word, put his plan in motion, knelt down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Liz Margolies, at the White House's LGBT reception. The surprised attendees cheered them once Liz said, "Yes." The blissful occasion popped up throughout the Internet, covered by various news sites and blogs, allowing many others, including myself, to cheer them on as well. News sites and blogs covered the story positively or, like the Fox Nation site, briefly mentioned it with a snide political remark. Though positive responses overflowed the comment sections of the Huffington Post and other more liberal sites and blogs, the scattered online jeers sparked arguments between readers and fueled hateful, and insulting comments, at times, inciting violence against the happy couple.
Scout and Liz countered the haters by returning to the Internet and recording response videos. The couple also wrote an op-ed for The Advocate explaining their reaction to the hate. In the piece, Scout and Liz wrote, "After the video of the proposal got around, it was like thee curtain of politeness that hides most LGBT stigma was ripped back. People posted hundreds of comments; many were shockingly harsh."
Indeed, many were. Scout addressed some of the blogs on his video, including Weasel Zippers, which titled their post "She-man Proposes to Girlfriend..." On this blog, the readers attacked the couple with indecent and ignorant comments, primarily aimed at Scout. What seemed to incense them the most was the fact that Scout is transgender.
Transphobia remains rampant among mainstream culture due to lack of exposure and ignorance. Many readers cited religious dribble or derided Scout by using a compound "s/he" pronoun. Others referred to them as "freaks." Many of the readers posting negative comments, not only on Weasel Zippers, didn't seem to understand who a transgender person was. Few defended the couple on this site, countering the flood of ignorant and hate-filled comments. Their attempts to start a somewhat reasonable argument, involving facts, science and progressive thought, unraveled into an incoherent repetition of anti-Obama, anti-LGBT, and anti-Liberal talking points. A vicious cycle of ignorance and hate.
Scout's response video, counter-mocking the insults thrown at him and Liz, highlights the ridiculousness of some insults while simply undermines others. He even addresses comments made by Laura Ingraham and Bryan Fischer, who both deplored the news via Twitter, with sassy invites to the wedding and a sensitivity seminar, respectively. By the end of his video and the op-ed he acknowledges the importance of confronting the hate. Scout recognized that, when the comments become violent threats, they ought not to be ignored.
There's a fine line between hate speech/threats and freedom of speech and bloggers and any writer online must be aware of this for not everyone possesses the courage or strength to make videos or even speak up on a site's comment section. The Internet has become another social gathering place and as such we must maintain some civility. If some of the comments written about Scout and Liz were uttered in public, most likely yelled, that person would probably be standing behind police tape or a group of people dressed as angels.
I do not mean to deny anyone's freedom of speech; however, as human beings we are capable of understanding that what we write may lead to harm towards others, even if they're words written on a computer screen. The Huffington Post, for example, recognizes the potential harm and removes comments along a similar principle to what I mentioned. I found many comments from the articles on Scout's proposal and response video removed by monitors, replaced by the following message: "This comment has been removed due to violations of our guidelines." The link lays out the site's guidelines, encouraging "a civil community," "a safe space," and participants to be themselves.
No one means to discourage others from speaking their minds. Many of the sites previously mentioned, except for Fox Nation for some unknown reason, continue to allow comments to be made on these posts, regardless of the audience's political leanings. The Internet allows us to share ideas, viewpoints, and disseminate information instead of attacking folks like Scout and Liz.
As trans folk gain more positive visibility in the media, a dialogue will start and the ignorance and hate will dissipate. In the meantime, we must defy the hate and ignorance, if not for our sake then for those to come. Towards the op-ed's end Scout and Liz write, "As adults it is our job to protect our fragile youth who come upon this vitriol and may wonder if it is true about them, if LGBT people are 'mutants,' if transgender people are 'its,' if they will be hated for being who they are."
Awareness and involvement within this large online social sphere can help counteract the hatred as long as people like Scout and Liz answer back with witty repartee and heartfelt emotion.