Maybe you have encountered hostile comments on a LGBTQ-related post in your online community and you want to step up to challenge the transphobic/homophobic sentiments.
Your goal is NOT to persuade the negative poster to change their mind. Don’t give them the attention that they seek.
Any response that you post is for the silent readership, including:
- LGBTQ+ readers who see hateful comments directed against their identities. Let them know that they have allies in the community who stand with them. If other community members remain silent in the face of hate, community members from marginalized groups will feel even more isolated and unsafe.
- Cishet readers who are neutral or undecided with regards to their own attitudes towards fellow community members who are LGBTQ+. These readers’ attitudes may be swayed by the number of positive comments vs the number of negative comments about community members who are LGBTQ+.
The most successful messages are aspirational messages that encourage people to choose a moral positive, e.g. unity and respect, over a negative, hateful message. Some tips and examples are provided below.
Tips for Engagement
- Do NOT reply to the negative comment. If a troll left a negative comment on a LGBTQ+-affirming post, replying to the negative comment only gives it more visibility. Instead, leave a new positive comment on the post.
- Do NOT get side-tracked into arguments that repeat negative stereotypes. For example, if someone leaves xenophobic comments on a news article about immigrants, don’t reply with a “not all immigrants are [negative stereotype]“ argument. While this is well-intentioned, it inadvertently repeats the negative stereotype. Instead, make a new comment with a positive story about immigrants.
“Directly trying to correct misinformation sometimes reinforces it and makes it stickier – for example, when X is called a thief, saying that X is not a thief is less effective than simply saying that X is a kind, generous person. If you do repeat the false claims, warn the audience first to lessen the chance of unintentionally reinforcing those false beliefs.”
[Source: “Dignity, Fairness, and Respect: Messaging to advance Muslim, Arab, and South Asian Rights.” ReThink Media]
- Share positive stories about LGBTQ people contributing to the larger community. Here are some lists of stories that you can share:
a) LGBTQ+ Americans whose work benefited the nation
b) Transgender and nonbinary heroes helping our larger society
- Switch from using terms like “our LGBTQIA+ neighbors” or “LGBTQIA+ Americans” , to terms like “our community members who are LGBTQIA+” or “Americans who are LGBTQIA+” in your posts and comments. This may seem like a superficial change, but it literally puts the shared identity of the marginalized group and the larger community ahead of the “otherness” of the marginalized group.
[Research on responses to how the identities of other minority communities are framed has shown the use of an “Americans who are XYZ” phrasing is more likely to cause respondents to perceive the marginalized group as sharing common values than other phrasings such as “XYZ Americans”, “people who are XYZ” or “XYZ people”.]
- Avoid using words like “diversity”, “inclusiveness”, “tolerance” and “understanding” in your response because these terms may be perceived as “left-leaning” and are less effective with broader audiences. Use words like “dignity”, “unity”, “fairness” and “respect” instead.
- Do not tag individuals in public posts without first checking with them, especially if they are from vulnerable communities. Not everyone is comfortable being public about their identity.
- Do not hesitate to ban people from your page. Don’t waste your energy on people who are not there to listen.
- If you leave positive comments on a news story about our community members who are LGBTQIA+ or from another minority group, trolls might follow you back to your personal page or organization page.
- Any engagement with the trolls’ comments increases their visibility.
- You do NOT want responses, even from your defenders, to elevate the trolls’ comments due to increased engagement.
Typical attacks and sample responses
The following samples are just suggestions. They may or may not be appropriate for your audience. Your response should be tailored to your online community and the specifics of the conversation that you are engaged in. Remember that your goal is to affirm community unity and inspire people to do better.
Anti-LGBTQ+ comments often fall under one of these categories of false claims:
False claim: “LGBTQ+ people don’t deserve to take up space”
This sentiment may be expressed in comments like the following, all variations of “don’t ask don’t tell”:
- Prejudiced statement: “Oh gross! More LGBTQ+ stuff.”
- Prejudiced statement: “I don’t go around telling people that I am heterosexual so why should gay people go around telling people that they are gay?”
- Prejudiced statement: “I tolerate transgender people as long as they don’t let me know that they are transgender.”
Response 1: Make a moral appeal to the reader’s sense of fairness
Thank you for sharing this [LGBTQ+ affirming event / article]. Our community members who are LGBTQ+ deserve to be as visible as the rest of us.
Those of us who are heterosexual and cisgender take for granted that other community members will generally make correct assumptions about our orientation or gender. We have the privilege of being seen the way we want to be seen in these aspects of our identities. We are weaker as a community when we deny the same dignity to our community members who are LGBTQ+.
If you have a personal story or one that is specific to your local community, consider sharing it. Or share an article about a public figure or historical figure.
Dr Alan L. Hart, a national tuberculosis expert who was transgender, worked in Washington state in the late 1920s and the 1930s. He saved many American lives through his tireless patient advocacy. He could very well have saved some of our great-grandparents’ lives. Some of us would not be here today if not for the work of this American doctor who was a trans man.
Before working at Tacoma General Hospital, Dr Hart started practices in one town after another, abandoning his practice and leaving town each time he was outed or in danger of being outed. No one should have to live like that, especially not someone who has so much to contribute to our society.
When we make it unsafe for community members who are LGBTQ+ to be their full selves in public, we lose access to their full talent and creativity. As a community, we benefit when all of our members, including our members who are LGBTQ+, can realize their full potential.
Response 3: Promote unity by pointing out how anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice harms the larger community
Show your cishet readers that they have skin in the game when it comes to rejecting transphobia and homophobia. Homophobia and transphobia intersect with other forms of prejudice that negatively impact demographic groups that some cisgender heterosexual readers belong to.
- “We all thrive when our community members who are LGBTQ+ thrive with us. “
Discrimination … has a negative impact on society at large. Discrimination can limit people’s career opportunities, which can in turn lead to lower wages for the people affected and lower tax revenue for the government…Transphobia: How it Affects People and Why You Should Care (by Amari ‘Mari’ McGee)
- “We are stronger as a community/country when we come together to support each other and weaker when we let fear and lack of understanding divide us.”
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries everyone understood that the targeting of white women / LGBTQ people was “in the service of white supremacy,” only subsequently has this link “become obscured”…Alok D. Menon’s review of Dr Ladelle McWhorter’s book “Racism and Sexual Oppression in Anglo America”
- “We are all in this together. Homophobia, transphobia and racism work together to harm all of us regardless of our actual orientation or gender identity, as seen in this 2022 Christmas Eve incident in which a Colorado man used homophobic slurs with racist slurs when threatening Asian American students:
Man in homophobic, racist In-N-Out TikTok video is arrested on hate crime charges (nbcnews.com)
All of us, straight or gay, cisgender or transgender, have more dignity when LGBTQ+ people are treated with dignity.”
False claim: “LGBTQ Pride events are discriminatory because they celebrate a specific group”
Events that celebrate a specific group are also organized by other communities. Like ethnic heritage celebrations in our communities, LGBTQ Pride celebrations are open to the larger community.
Response 1: Uplift community unity
Thank you for [organizing/sharing this LGBTQ+ Pride event]. The residents of our beautiful region have a history of celebrating together with the different communities that our neighbors belong to. Through celebrations like Holi in Redmond and Lunar New Year in Sammamish, we share joy with our neighbors who are of Asian heritage, and learn more about their experiences. Likewise, we look forward to celebrating [Pride event] with our neighbors who are LGBTQ+ and learning about their experiences.
You may choose to refer to other local heritage/pride festivals in your response, reflecting your own/your audience’s heritage, such as Cinco De Mayo in Redmond, Irish Week in Seattle and Northwest Ukrainian Festival in Bellevue.
Response 2: Remind the reader that the playing field is not level
Celebrations affirming marginalized communities are needed because inequalities still exist.
Straight, cis-gendered members of society have nothing to fear when it comes to expressing their sexuality or acting proud of who they are… straight people do not need a community, a club, message-board … to feel safe, accepted and well-rendered in the media.Opinion: Why there is gay pride, not straight pride – The Utah Statesman (usustatesman.com)
“Straight people can travel without fear of being straight… Straight people have always been able to legally marry… Life is a straight pride for all my fellow straight cis people.”Reasons Why there’s a “Gay Pride” and not a “Straight Pride” (theodysseyonline.com)
False claim: “It is unfair to cisgender athletes to let transgender athletes compete with them”
Many people hold opinions on this subject based on misconceptions and stereotypes. They may not be aware that there is scientific evidence showing that transgender athletes who have undergone hormone therapy and surgery do not have an unfair advantage over their cisgender peers. Here are some resources to help you approach conversations with community members.
False claim: Nonbinary and transgender identities are “not real”
This condescending misconception can be expressed in opinions such as:
- Prejudiced statement: “People who claim to be non-binary are just following a fad. ”
- Prejudiced statement: “I heard of one person who regretted their gender transition, which somehow means that transgender identities are all unstable and transgender people will all turn into cisgender people at some point.”
Response 1: Point out that many traditional societies recognized nonbinary children and supported their development into nonbinary adults
You can share the following article, which contains a list of traditional cultures which had a long history of affirming the existence of non-binary individuals, even recognizing their nonbinary nature while they were still children.
Response 2: One individual’s choice to detransition does not invalidate the experiences of the many more transgender people whose lives were saved by their choice to transition
Many cisgender (non-transgender) people undergo surgery such as breast augmentation to feel more like the ideal for their gender, and some of these cisgender people do regret their surgeries. But individual cisgender women’s stories of breast augmentation regret have never been used to try to ban breast implants for all cisgender women or invalidate the choices of other cisgender women who undergo the same procedure. It is not fair to apply a different approach – one that distorts reality and further marginalizes a vulnerable group – to framing individual stories about transgender transition regret.
Share human stories about how gender transition improved an individual’s life. If you are comfortable, share your own story or a story from your local community. Examples:
- I am a libertarian woman who completed a gender transition, and it saved my life | Mikayla Novak | The Guardian
- My Husband Became My Wife, and We’re Happier Than Ever (insider.com)
False claim: “Children could be persuaded to think of themselves as transgender just by being exposed to transgender people”
This irrational belief can be expressed in opinions such as:
- Prejudiced statement: “Transgender people are out to convert children and children do not have the mental capacity to know if they are transgender. ”
- Prejudiced statement: “Any performance that has a transgender performer is automatically not family friendly, regardless of the content of the performance or how modestly the performers are dressed.”
Response 1: Point out that there are many traditional societies that saw transgender children as natural
You can share the following article, which contains a list of traditional cultures in which adults thought it was perfectly natural and age-appropriate for transgender children to be aware of their transgender nature.
Response 2: Tell your own personal story of why it was important to you as a child to see other TGNC people in the community
I am a middle aged person who has known that I was nonbinary since I was four years old. This was something that I realized on my own, without the help of any grown up. My parents were tolerant, but not being LGBT+ themselves, and having no transgender or nonbinary friends, they did not fully understand the impact of prejudice in the larger community on their child’s mental health.
While I saw other trans youth around, there were no adults who were openly transgender/gender non-conforming in my community. If there were adult role models who were trans, it would have shown me that I had a future to look forward to. If my parents had trans/enby friends or access to educational trans-affirming literature, they might have gotten some advice on how to lighten the heaviness that I was carrying from the daily negativity of bigoted adults in the larger community.
This is why it is important for children and parents to see transgender and non-binary people of all ages in our communities.
Response 3: Remind the audience that gender identity is not so fragile that mere exposure to transgender people can convince a cisgender child that they are really transgender
If gender identity can be picked up simply from exposure to people of a different gender expression, there would be no transgender adults in the world because the vast majority of transgender people were exposed mainly or exclusively to cisgender adult role models while they were children.
Similarly, being exposed to transgender people doesn’t turn cisgender kids into transgender kids.
False claim: “Children should not be exposed to displays of romantic affection between people of the same sex”
This sentiment comes from some of the false beliefs described in 5 Myths About Gay People Debunked | Live Science. It can take the form of comments along the lines of:
- Prejudiced statement: “I don’t want my children exposed to gay teachers/coaches or learning about the existence of gay people until they are adults.”
- Prejudiced statement: “Same-sex kissing on children’s programming is not age-appropriate.”
Response 2: Point out that heterosexual orientation is not so superficial that mere exposure to LGBTQIA+ stories can change a heterosexual person’s orientation
Opposite sex kisses appear in many animated films for children. Many gay adults grew up watching heterosexual couples kiss in Disney movies but watching straight people kiss did not turn these gay kids into straight adults.
If a sexual orientation can be picked up simply from exposure to people of a different orientation, there would be no gay adults in the world because the vast majority of gay kids interact mainly with straight people.
Similarly, being exposed to gay people doesn’t turn straight kids gay.
Straight adults subject LGBTQ+ youth to conversion therapy in the hopes of making them cisgender and heterosexual. These treatments don’t work and can in fact cause harm to the youth. See LGBTQ+ people share their personal conversion therapy stories | Patient.
Response 3: Point out the unfair double standard in the acceptance of opposite sex and same sex romantic relationships
Each community has its own social standards for appropriate public displays of affection, but one thing that all fair-minded people can agree on is that heteroromantic displays of affection and homoromantic displays of affection should be held to the same standard of age-appropriateness.
It is unfair to complain about same-sex kisses in children’s media without complaining about opposite-sex kisses. If we decide as a society to take issue with all romantic kisses in children’s media, many Disney movies would need to have their heterosexual kisses censored. Hercules, Pocahontas, and The Little Mermaid to name a few.
False claim: “Books about gender non-conforming people are not appropriate for children”
This belief is based on the false, unfair and harmful assumption that the very existence of transgender people is somehow more “sexual” than the existence of cisgender people.
Response 1: Point out that there are age-appropriate books about gender non-conforming expression
It is unfair to hold books about cisgender characters and books about gender non-conforming characters to different standards of age-appropriateness.
Parents are free to review books before reading them with their children:
These picture books that celebrate boys celebrate gentle boys, feminine boys, boys that show emotion, boys making caring connections with others, and boys that just do their own thing. No one boy is all this or that, and no one classroom bookshelf should only support specific traits.
- 12 Great Picture Books with Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Characters | The New York Public Library (nypl.org)
Parents do better for their children if they become more aware of their own biases and make conscious choices about whether to pass their prejudices to the next generation.
Response 2: Point out that non-transgender children benefit from less bullying when their peers learn to accept a range of gender expressions
Even cisgender children (children who do not identify as transgender) express a range of valid behaviors across the gender spectrum. Bookish girls are no less valid than sporty tomboys. Gentle, sensitive boys are no less valid than boys whose behavior is more stereotypically “masculine”.
When adults force a strict gender binary on children’s expression and behavior, they may be inadvertently sending messages to children that it is acceptable to reject and bully peers whose behavior does not fit social expectations about their gender. These bullied children may or may not be transgender. Every child benefits when transgender children are free to be who they are.
Not all of the above sample responses may be a fit for your online community. Feel free to adapt the sample responses to the dynamics of your online community or come up with your own.
If you are dealing with an online community in which people are not acting in good faith, expect that your responses may be deliberately misinterpreted or derailed.
Reminder: Do NOT reply to the troll’s comment. Start a new comment/post. Your audience is the silent readership in the community, not the vocal bigots.