No one is safe from intolerance


First they came for the transgender kids in Florida, Texas, Idaho and more than 20 other states, and I did not speak out — because I am not trans and because I live in a “safe space,” Martha’s Vineyard.

Then they came for the bisexuals, the gays, and the lesbians, and I did not speak out — because I am none of those, and because most of the residents of Martha’s Vineyard are tolerant, accepting people.

Then they came for the same-sex couples, and once again I did not speak out — because I am a man married to a woman, and because we live in Massachusetts, a state which recognizes gay marriage.

Then they came for me and the others who had remained silent — and it was too late to speak out, because by then the puritans, the fascists, and the power-hungry were in complete control.


Of course, that is not what German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller wrote back in the 1930s. What he said was this:


First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.


Hitler’s supporters responded to Pastor Niemoller’s warning by sending him to a concentration camp, where he stayed for eight years, until World War II ended in 1945. His warning is regularly revised to reflect the threats of the times. I’ve rewritten the lines because of what is going on now, here in the U.S. and elsewhere. Do you think I am kidding? Read this:

Robert Foster, a former Mississippi House lawmaker who lost a 2019 bid for governor, is using his social media platform to call for the execution of political foes who support the rights of transgender people. “Some of y’all still want to try and find political compromise with those that want to groom our school aged children and pretend men are women, etc,” the former Republican representative from Hernando, Miss., wrote in a late night tweet. “I think they need to be lined up against [a] wall before a firing squad to be sent to an early judgment.” 

Here’s the full story:

Michael Knowles — right-wing political commentator associated with the Daily Wire — said “for the good of society … transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely” at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference.

As you are reading this, dozens of states have already passed or are considering draconian legislation — more than 120 bills were introduced before the end of January — that threatens the lives of young people struggling with their sexual identity. The ACLU has a good list on its website. 

Another organization, GLSEN, is also keeping watch, and it has a list on its website.

Banning what’s called “gender-affirming care” has been high on the list for politicians like Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Jim Abbott. Florida is one of many states that has passed anti-trans legislation over the past year, including a ban on gender-affirming care for minors.

“Gender-affirming care” sounds drastic, but it’s not, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. “The goal is not treatment, but to listen to the child and build understanding — to create an environment of safety in which emotions, questions, and concerns can be explored,” says Dr. Jason Rafferty, lead author of a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on gender-affirming care.

Florida’s DeSantis is making anti-LGBTQ ideology a central tenet of his gubernatorial tenure as well, passing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and defunding diversity and inclusion efforts in universities. 

But it’s not just Texas and Florida, as that ACLU list makes clear. Consider Indiana: Blogger Steve Hinnifeld, who follows Indiana politics and education, offers a chilling look into the Hoosier state: “They call it a culture war, but it’s not culture that’s under attack. Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly have declared war on real people: teachers, librarians, students and, especially, trans kids and their families. They’re the ones who will be harmed if legislators get their way.”

And several education culture-war bills have advanced at the midpoint of the session. Three are especially egregious: ACLU Indiana calls them part of a “slate of hate.” One would ban medical treatment for transgender children, one promotes book-banning, and another would force schools to “out” children over their gender identity.

To call what’s happening in state legislatures, the House of Representatives, and some schools and churches “culture wars” trivializes what is actually going on. This is most certainly not the equivalent of the “soda wars” between Pepsi and Coke, or the “sneaker wars” between Nike and Adidas. Those were advertising gimmicks, but these “culture wars” are destroying lives. The American Medical Association, hardly a liberal organization, made it clear two years ago that politicians should keep their paws off the issue of transgender care, urging governors “to oppose state legislation that would prohibit medically necessary gender transition–related care for minor patients, calling such efforts ‘a dangerous intrusion into the practice of medicine.’” In a letter to the National Governors Association (NGA), the AMA cited evidence that trans and nonbinary gender identities are normal variations of human identity and expression, and that forgoing gender-affirming care can have tragic health consequences, both mental and physical.

The right-wing Republican politicians paid no attention, and now Republicans in the House of Representatives have passed their own anti-transgender legislation, hoping, at the very least, to put Democrats on the spot with voters.

While it’s easy to get lost in the nuances — like what bathrooms transgender students should use — the central point is what matters, and this is serious. 

You must not remain silent or stand on the sidelines, because no one is safe from intolerance. Even if you are straight, you know people who are not. Even if you are straight, you probably have gay family members and friends. You may also have same-sex couples in your family and circle of friends.

They are all endangered … and so are you, because the anti-transgender people won’t be content with winning the transgender battle. These are the people George Orwell warned us about in “Animal Farm.” They don’t believe in equality, or democracy, or religious freedom, or tolerance, or in the principles of our Constitution. They want power and control.

What to do? You do not have to be a “liberal” to oppose illiberalism. Whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent, you must speak up against anyone who is targeting transgender children. 

Work against politicians whose main platform seems to be the culture wars. Encourage the decent (“old-fashioned”) Republicans you know to speak out. Wherever you find them, across the board. Register, vote, and demand and then support candidates who believe in equity and tolerance.


Two-time George Foster Peabody Award recipient John Merrow lives in Edgartown.


  1. This is complete nonsense. One side puts forth bills that promote and agenda and another side puts out bills that prevent certain things from happening. Intolerance is different from disagreement. I dont tolerate something I do agree with. One could claim this article is intolerant of those who disagree with certain bills. This is all about whose ox is being gored.

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