In wake of attack, a call for productive discussion about transphobia

A transgender Geneseo student was assaulted on Court Street on Sept. 26. Witnesses say that assailant Roric Brown was yelling homophobic slurs at the student. Despite defenses from Brown claiming that it was merely drunken stupidity, this does not preclude the incident from being considered a hate crime. It is unsurprising that people who would otherwise be quick to condemn a hate crime are just as quick to defend the assailant when it is their friend. Much of the conversation, however, has revolved around the fact that a transgender student was attacked. Many are claiming that it is silly, even “politically correct,” to cry hate crime while bar fights happen all the time.

Many students have taken to social media to show pity for or even disagree with Brown’s arrest, with unfortunate consequences. If the conversation turns to questioning Brown’s guilt, it turns away from the much more important issue at hand: violence against transgender people.

Silence on this topic proves dangerous––or even deadly––for the transgender community, who are 28 percent more likely to experience physical violence than cisgender people—people whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth.

According to a report released by the Anti-Violence Project, 78 percent of transgender people have experienced harassment and 35 percent have experienced sexual assault. They also suffer higher rates of unemployment, lower salary and harassment in homeless shelters, doctor’s offices and public transportation.

Why then, considering these circumstances, do so many students continue to question Brown’s guilt? People are defending his transphobic actions on the basis that he was drunk, that bar fights happen all the time or that the gender identity of the victim was not a related factor.

Some students cannot seem to grasp that Brown committed second-degree harassment on the basis of the student’s gender identity. Now is not the time to derail the conversation by proclaiming that “we’re all equal” when this is a clear example of pervasive inequality. Perhaps the defensive responses are in part due to misconceptions, but the larger social issue cannot be ignored.

It is important to note that some of the most hateful comments are coming from Yik Yak, an app that allows users to make anonymous posts and displays them by geographical location. The coinciding of the app’s popularity with the incident is perhaps an unfortunate one—it raises important questions about how much such an app contributes to campus culture and in this case, how anonymity can be conducive to further bullying, ignorance and toxicity.

If any good can come of this incident, it is perhaps in the dialogue it can start among students about LGBTQ-plus issues in our community, and moreover, how our campus can move forward in creating a safe space for honest and open discussion and education.