Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Anti-trans bullying is deadly

 Anti-trans bullying is deadly

Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird April 20240

Bullying among students has been going on since kids were first put together in classrooms. And those perceived as different are often the target of the most severe and sustained bullying, which studies show can have long-lasting negative impacts on mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Washington State enacted strong anti-bullying legislation in 2003 (The Anti-Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying Act), but bullying is still far too prevalent. And it is particularly a problem for LGBTQ students.

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, or if you are being bullied because of your gender identity or sexual orientation, call or text 988, or reach out to The Trevor Project 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678.

Students in many other states have it even worse. In the past several years, hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures and local governments. Many of those bills are now law, and other anti-LGBTQ policies have been enacted through executive order. School boards are removing gender-inclusive curriculum and banning discussion of LGBTQ history. Students with gay or transgender parents and family members are prevented from seeing their families reflected in books and course materials. Is it any wonder that bullying and violence against the LGBTQ community has gotten worse?

Washington Post analysis of FBI data published March 12 showed that in the 28 states where anti-LGBTQ laws have taken effect, hate crimes on K-12 campuses have more than quadrupled. Calls to the Trevor Project increased from about 230,000 in 2022 to over 500,000 last year. 

Lance Preston of The Rainbow Youth Project told the Post, “Young people will say `My government hates me,’ ‘My school hates me,’ `They don’t want me to exist.’” 

That’s the message these laws send to our most vulnerable children. And when adults refuse to use the pronouns and names that match a student’s gender identity, that child hears that they aren’t accepted for who they are — that who they are is unacceptable.

But as Wrabel says in his beautiful song “The Village”, there’s nothing wrong with being transgender. “There’s nothing wrong with you,” the song’s lyrics say. “There’s something wrong with the village.”

Children repeat what they hear at home and in their community. When they overhear their parents using hateful rhetoric, they often adopt the same attitudes and think it is acceptable to act out on those prejudices against their peers. Schools must take a stronger and more active role in countering the hateful messages that have become so loud in our increasingly polarized culture wars.

The death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student in Oklahoma, was a stark reminder that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric leads to an increase in bullying and violence. Nex lived with their grandmother and guardian, Sue Benedict, in a supportive and loving home. Ms. Benedict said that Nex had been the target of bullying for well over a year before the bathroom altercation during which three girls attacked Nex, causing injuries severe enough to require medical treatment. Nex Benedict’s death the following day was determined to be suicide, but the family is asking for a full investigation into the events surrounding their death, including the school’s actions and inactions before Nex was brutally beaten in the bathroom.

A similar incident could happen in our own community, despite Washington State laws intended to protect students from bullying and harassment. Most bullying happens out of view of adults and school officials, and children are often reluctant to report it.

To make our community safer for our LGBTQ youth, it is essential to acknowledge that bullying is a real problem in our schools. Awareness and advocacy are also essential. Knowing the rights of transgender people will help both you and your loved ones become better advocates. The ACLU publishes information about transgender rights on their website. Get familiar with it. 

And if you witness or experience bullying and harassment in schools, Safe Schools Coalition has resources to help educators, students, and community members. 

My life has been filled with loved ones across the gender spectrum, and I love the uniqueness and joy they bring into my life. I’m thankful for each one of them and I’m in awe of their strength and courage in living their lives as their authentic selves.

Laws can’t change the hearts and minds of those who wish harm to our LGBTQ family, but education, advocacy, and legal protections can make the world a little safer for the most vulnerable among us. 

And make sure the people in your life know you love them just as they are and that you have their back when others wish them harm.

Let’s fix the village.




Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Execution is not justice

 Execution is not justice

Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird March 2024)

On January 25, 2024, Kenneth Eugene Smith was suffocated by the State of Alabama until dead.

Euphemistically called ‘nitrogen hypoxia’, Smith was strapped to a gurney, a mask placed over his face, and forced to breathe pure nitrogen. The state claimed in a court filing that, although untested and never used for an execution, “nitrogen hypoxia is painless because it causes unconsciousness in seconds.” 

But, as the AP reported, Smith convulsed and struggled for several minutes, spasming so violently that the gurney shook, followed by several minutes of gasping for air before he stopped breathing altogether. The process took at least 22 minutes.

“It was the most violent thing I’ve ever seen,” said Reverend Jeff Hood, who was in the death chamber as Smith died.

This was the second attempt to execute Smith. In 2022, on the same gurney, his botched execution was called off when, after several hours of stabs and cuts, the executioners failed to find a suitable vein to administer the lethal injection that he was scheduled to receive.

Kenneth Eugene Smith was not an innocent man. In 1988, he murdered Elizabeth Sennett for $1000. He was convicted in 1996 by a jury that voted 11 to 1 to sentence him to life in prison. The judge overruled the jury and sentenced him to death (which would not have been allowed under Alabama law today).

When I discuss my opposition to the death penalty, the heinousness of the crime is usually brought up as justification for the punishment. I know that evil exists in the world, and there are certainly crimes that turn my stomach and for which the criminal must be held accountable. My opposition to capital punishment doesn’t mean I think such terrible crimes are okay.

In a just society, the rule of law must be upheld in a way that deters crime and ensures our safety through fairness and accountability. By any objective measure, capital punishment is neither fair nor an effective deterrent.

As I wrote in April 2020, the South carries out over 80% of all executions in the United States, yet has the highest murder rate of any U.S. region. The Northeast, with less than 1% of executions, has the lowest murder rate. That doesn’t correlate with deterrence.

The death penalty is expensive, costing taxpayers three to eight times more than similar cases where capital punishment is not sought, even considering the cost of life imprisonment. 

More importantly, the death penalty is not fair. Since 1973, more than 195 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. How many more have been executed for crimes they did not commit? 

So, if it is more expensive, ineffective as a deterrent, and risks executing innocent people, I can think of only one reason to call for the death penalty. Revenge.

But vengeance is not justice. If the law were merely to ensure equal punishment for a crime, it would be an eye for an eye, leading to a society in which everyone is blind. If you think a murderer should be killed because the punishment should match the crime, do you then believe a rapist should be raped? If so, by whom?

Violence in response to violence is not justice. Violence in response to a violent crime makes us no better than the criminal.

In an interview after being in the death chamber as Kenneth Smith was suffocated, Reverend Jeff Hood said, “The greatest evil of the death penalty is that it makes us all murderers.”

Referring to the story of the adulterous woman in the bible, Hood quoted Jesus as saying, “You who are without sin cast the first stone.”

“The death penalty is not about the person being executed. It’s about us,” Hood said. “We can call that person unrighteous all we want to. It’s not a question about the righteousness of the person being executed. It’s a question of whether or not we think we are righteous enough to kill someone.”

As Gwen Adshead wrote in The Guardian, “The job of the law is to prevent revenge, not enact it.”

In 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in State v. Gregory that the death penalty in our state is unconstitutional. Last year, Washington officially abolished the death penalty when Governor Inslee signed Senate Bill 5087 into law. 

Twenty-nine states still allow the death penalty. The United States is one of the five countries with the highest number of executions, along with China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

It is long past time to abolish the death penalty. 

Execution is not justice.


Note: Data is from deathpenaltyinfo.org unless otherwise indicated.

Other sources:







Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a radical

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a radical

Ted Miller

(originally published in Tumbleweird February 2024)

Editor’s note: The FBI quote in this essay includes an outdated term that was left unaltered to reflect the tone of the original statement.

I’ve often quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in my essays, usually something he said about love or the importance of nonviolence. 

I don’t remember which specific essay or quote prompted a comment from a reader, but I remember them saying to be careful quoting MLK. Dr. King, they said, was a man of more complexity and nuance than his most popular quotes celebrated him to be. King had pretty radical ideas, they claimed. He was a socialist and endorsed communism. He was against capitalism and was anti-military. The reader called him anti-American. I was told that I should read some of MLK’s later material and perhaps I wouldn’t be so quick to quote him in the future.

I am certainly not an authority on the life and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, but I have followed up on my friend’s suggestion and continue to do so. The more I read, the more I realize that Dr. King understood the evils of the world and what needed to be done to overcome them. And I see how his ideas were (and are) considered truly radical.

Probably the most often-used quote of Dr. King is from his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963: 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

This quote, taken out of context, is used to argue that we are a post-racial society. That we should all be colorblind. That race doesn’t matter. That to consider race is itself racist.

But this insidious view undermines everything Dr. King stood for. If racism had truly been vanquished, then why, after half a century, do we still have such a disparity among racial groups? How do we explain that poverty among Black people is twice that of white people; that the wealth of white families is nearly ten times that of Black families; that Black men are two and half times more likely to be killed by police than white men; that Black men are incarcerated at a rate five times higher than white men; that health outcomes are worse for Black people (especially Black women)? Indeed, by almost every measure, racial inequality persists in America despite laws that were supposed to eliminate racism. 

How else do you explain these disparities if systemic racism isn’t real?

Martin Luther King’s ideas on how to transform the world were radical. More than what we read in his most popular quotes — that love is stronger than hate, and that we should have an unshakeable commitment to nonviolence — he believed that structural change was essential to overcome poverty and racism. On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was killed, Dr. King gave a speech strongly denouncing the Vietnam War. As I read through “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” in my research for this essay, I could easily replace Vietnam with any of the wars since. What was true in 1967 remains true today. The entire speech is worth reading, but this paragraph seems to capture the essence of King’s point:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. …We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Although today we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy with a federal holiday and cherry-picked quotes, his ideas when he was alive were not popular. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI illegally monitored his activities and those of other Black activists. In response to his “I Have a Dream” speech, The head of the FBI’s COINTELPRO wrote: 

“In the light of King's powerful demagogic speech ... we must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.”

The United States Government considered Martin Luther King, Jr. a threat to the status quo and targeted him specifically for his beliefs and activism.

But in spite of the constant threats against him and disagreements on how to bring about change among other civil rights leaders, Dr. King would not be deterred. Speaking to the Southern Christian Leadership Conferencein Atlanta on August 16, 1967, he was even more radical. He spoke in favor of a guaranteed basic income, he continued to call for an end to the Vietnam War, and he gave a scathing indictment of the country’s policies and priorities. 

“And I say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth.”

And in that same speech, he called out the source of injustice.

“What I’m saying to you this morning is communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social. And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now when I say questioning the whole of society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are all interrelated.”

That triplet of evils continues to hold us back from a world of justice and peace today.

When we remember Dr. King, we should remember all he stood for. We should work to achieve his REALdream. Not only that his children wouldn’t be judged by the color of their skin, but that the divisiveness, the human suffering, the poverty, the militarism, and the injustice in the United States and around the world would be abolished. 

Dr. King had seen the power of the nonviolent demand for civil rights. In his speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he gave several examples of how corporations and government had changed policy in response to the power of the boycott, the power of nonviolent protest, and the power of the message. But he cautioned that power must come from a place of love:

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best… is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.”

As we call for radical change, let us remain as hopeful and committed to change as Dr. King. 

Preaching in Memphis the night before he died, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the hopeful future he saw in the words of his final sermon:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop…. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”



To read Dr. King’s words for yourself, I recommend The Radical King, by Martin Luther King, Jr, edited by Cornel West.