Bilerico Project was launched with the knowledge that vast swaths of the LGBT community had no interactions with each other. As much as we love to embrace our rainbows, our color stripes tend to have hard edges like the flag we wave instead of melding gracefully like nature's beauty. The idea behind Bilerico Project is to encourage dialogue among different areas of the LGBT community that might never interact normally.
Ronald Gold's post about gender fluidity yesterday afternoon offended many of our readers. As the site owner, I'd like to apologize to everyone who wrote in to express your displeasure with the post. The editors who reviewed Mr. Gold's op-ed were divided over whether or not we should publish it and I made the final decision; it's my responsibility. I'm sorry that I've let down so many Projectors with my judgment call.
After the jump, I'd like to explain my reasoning, point out the positives, and ask your advice on how to prevent episodes like this in the future. We are unique among LGBT blogs for our level of contributor diversity. As we go forward into unexplored terrain, we need some guideposts from Projectors so we can stay on track.
The Purpose of the Project
We've deliberately sought out the most diverse roster of contributors we can find who we think will add to the discussion. I'm proud to say that we have the highest percentage of transgender bloggers of any LGBT sites - and not just token people either; we regularly feature content from some of the brightest and most articulate trans writers possible.
We're not a "news site" dedicated to bringing our readers the latest and fastest breaking news; we're the queer opinion pages of cyberspace. With so many facets of LGBT life possible, the potential for both conflict and resolution are as unlimited as the number of participants. Many times our community doesn't march in lockstep - nor does it need to.
Bilerico Project is not a "safe space." We intend to challenge our readers and contributors to reach beyond their usual expectations and engage on some topics that might be outside of their comfort zone. We have published a guest post from an ex-gay proponent, two Congressmen who wanted to explain why they thought hate crimes legislation was a bad idea and voted against it, columns on why gay marriage is a bad idea, and a whole host of other controversial issues that the editors don't necessarily agree with but felt deserved a full, civil and open debate.
While Bilerico might not be a "safe space," it should also be a spot where our community can visit without feeling personally vilified and condemned. In my zeal to protect our goal of free speech and frank conversations, I neglected to realize exactly how hurtful Mr. Gold's language would be to many of our readers.
Going Beyond the Contributor
One of the reasons I gave Mr. Gold's post the green light was because of my mother. She has said some of the most homophobic and transphobic things to me while trying to be supportive. Like Mr. Gold, my mother is elderly and her views have been shaped by the times she's lived through. Her own long-held prejudices and opinions influence how she thinks even while she tries to shrug them off now that her boundaries have expanded.
Whether we like it or not, Mr. Gold's notions about gender identity are shared by quite a few of our queer elders and many of our contemporaries. Outmoded notions of gender identity and sexuality don't melt away as quickly as we'd like - whether or not someone comes out of the closet, is politically active, or has a long and storied history of leadership in our shared movement. Ronald Gold has a rich and significant history within our movement, but that doesn't mean he's perfect or doesn't make mistakes.
For most of our controversial posts, the comment threads provide the best reading possible. Projectors tend to be some of the smartest and most thoughtful commenters I've seen in the blogosphere. They really shape the community and help influence our thinking on LGBT issues.
The positive that this post has spawned though cannot be ignored. As I said in the comments section of his post, I believe that Mr. Gold's op-ed was well intended but the language choices he made diminished his point so incredibly that many of the reactions have focused on that glaring aspect.
Still, 99.9% of the comments made to Mr. Gold in response to his post have been passionate without being personal, compassionate more than condemning. It seems that the author's intent is also being considered by Projectors who are really moving the discussion. I'm proud of those who have commented for their restraint and courtesy when it's so easy to automatically reach for a verbal flamethrower.
How to Move Forward
The Bilerico community has done a great job of pushing Mr. Gold to re-evaluate his language choices, stereotypes, assumptions and conclusions about trans people. Several people have said the pain the op-ed caused some of our readers is too high of a price to pay. Is it?
To quote Zoe Brain from her comment on Mr. Gold's post, "Just because the ideas are unpopular doesn't mean they should not have been expressed. Monocultures where everyone thinks alike are prone to go astray. Our most cherished ideas should be able to withstand a little challenging if they're so very correct."
We won't be removing the post from the site and would instead encourage readers to join the conversation there to ensure that we make clear this one point: Transgender people are not mutilated or deluded; they are not damaged in any way. Instead, all of our friends, family, and internet acquaintances are beautiful and worthy of respect just as they are.
As the Editorial Team works together to shape a more concrete decision making process on posts we know could be controversial, how would you advise us? At what point does a post go from "challenging" to "offensive?" What made this post stand out over other controversial posts?
It was my decision that this post would challenge our readers more than it would offend them. It was my responsibility and I made a not-fully-considered decision. I'm sorry.