Woke? Our transgender friends and neighbors are wide awake.

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Let’s get a few things out the way right now.

Transgender rights are human rights. Transgender women are women. Transgender men are men. And children who are coming to terms with their sexual and gender identity, often under the most difficult of circumstances, deserve our love and care.

They should not be ostracized, nor should they be subjected to the hurtful rhetoric that drives these young people to die by suicide at an alarmingly high rate.

In 2023, that shouldn’t be a matter of debate.

Yet it remains one, as events on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh last week provided ample reminder.

There, protesters closed down streets in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, while a debate on transgender rights took place inside the O’Hara Student Center.

The event, hosted by the campus chapter of the College Republicans, featured conservative commentator Michael Knowles, who supports policy that “protects two biological genders.”

He faced off against libertarian journalist Brad Polumbo, who believes that kind of talk flies in the face of conservative thinking that embraces personal freedom and rejects big government, WESA-FM in Pittsburgh reported.

A day or so later, my news organization, the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, ran two columns on our Commentary Page related to this debate.

The first, by frequent opinion contributor John A. Tures, argues, through polling data, that Americans who know someone who is transgender are more likely to be accepting, and also supportive of embedding protections for them in law.

The second, by opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz, who teaches constitutional law at Klein Duquesne Law School in Pittsburgh, argues that, in the face of the distasteful views aired by Knowles, and calls for the event’s cancellation, university officials were correct to let it go forward because the principles of academic freedom demanded nothing less.

We ran Tures’ and Ledewitz’s pieces for the same reason we run all of our commentary pieces: In the earnest hope that they move the conversation forward.

And, in my view, move it to the only place it logically can end: With full acceptance and equality under the law for all Americans, no matter who they are.

And I believe that is the only outcome. Because the fiercest battles always come when society is on the verge of profound change.

Whether it’s the fight over abortion access, gun violence reduction, books in the classroom, or full equality and dignity for people who have always lived among us, those who oppose that progress will employ any means at their disposal to stop it.

But data show that most Americans support abortion access; support reasonable constraints on firearms ownership; support protecting transgender people from discrimination, and reject attempts to remove books from our library shelves.

Though it bends slowly, the arc of the moral universe continues to bend toward justice – even if we sometimes have to help it along.

And God knows, it could use all the help it can get right now.

I also believe that if we try to silence the views of those with whom we disagree, those of us who oppose book bans, or efforts to drive our transgender neighbors into the shadows, surrender the advantage.

You only counter darkness with light. You only beat back hate with love.

Some readers may dismiss this kind of talk as so much “woke” rhetoric. And, after a fashion, it might even be true.

But not in the way you might think.

Our transgender friends and neighbors are wide awake.

They’ve always been here and always lived among us. I don’t have to look any further than a beloved aunt to know that’s true.

If anything, it’s that some among us are now finally waking up to this long-overdue rebalancing of the scales, and to a nation that is haltingly, painfully, and despite itself, on the way to living up to its ideals.

Copyright 2023 John L. Micek, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.