The Daily Nebraskan is an independent news publication committed to fostering more inclusive coverage and a more diverse newsroom. It is also a news publication that is building an opinion section back from the verge of extinction.
I am the opinion editor at The Daily Nebraskan. I’m also non-binary, which made my decision to publish a column stating transgender women should not participate in women’s sports even more difficult.
When I took over as editor in May 2020, the opinion section was practically nonexistent. I had one dedicated writer. There were no set guidelines or protocols in place. But I’m an ambitious person, and I truly believe that a vibrant opinion desk is a crucial part of a healthy news publication.
So, I set about rebuilding the opinion section. In the process, I hired a handful of writers with varying beliefs and viewpoints. I’ve edited and published many columns that I personally don’t agree with. But I’ve also edited and published many columns that made me see things in a new light.
The column we published on March 17 was not one of those pieces. When the writer first pitched the idea, I tried not to let my inner feelings show. But I’m human, and I had — and have — many feelings about this topic.
As a member of the LGBTQA+ community, a column debating the rights of transgender individuals made me anxious and uncomfortable.
I don’t agree with the thesis of the column. I had to take several breaks to collect myself while editing the outline alone. My impulse was to metaphorically shred the column and make sure no one else would see it.
I should have gone to other editors. I should have admitted that I wasn’t capable of making the best decisions about this piece.
But I was scared. I was scared of playing into the stereotype of the sensitive snowflake. I was scared that people wouldn’t take me seriously as an opinion editor if I couldn’t toughen up and do my job, even if it made me a bit uncomfortable.
More than that, I know that this issue isn’t as cut and dry as I wish it was. When you search “transgender sports” or “trans women,” Google suggests autofill searches with words like “testosterone,” “advantage” and “unfair.” According to a YouGov survey, 55% of Americans agree that transgender women should not be allowed to take part in sporting events with cisgender women.
This opinion isn’t as far out of left field as I wish it was. And because there is some inkling of biological argument in this, I felt I had to publish the column.
I know that 55% of the country believing something doesn’t make it right. Trust me, I know. But if 55% of Americans agreed with this opinion, what did that say about my discomfort with the column?
As the opinion editor in charge of managing a diverse and robust opinion section, revising columns so they align with my beliefs isn’t my role. So, I sat in the discomfort, and subsequent shame, that stemmed from the column.
From the perspective of an outside observer, I can see how this looks. The Daily Nebraskan published a piece with a thesis hingeing on the idea that transgender women’s rights and cisgender women’s rights were seperate — therefore, transgender women are not “women.”
Publishing this article was not a decision I took lightly. Looking back, there are things I would do differently. I would have tightened up the language. I would have held the piece until we had a counterpoint column to run at the same time.
I didn’t want to ask someone to write the counterpoint for me. I was already embarrassed that I had such a hard time dealing with the story pitch, and the idea of pleading with a writer to defend transgender people felt a step above what I was capable of.
I thought about writing my own counterpoint; I made some feeble drafts. But when it comes right down to it, I didn’t want to write a logical response to an issue I felt so personally about.
Above all, I didn’t want to have to defend a core part of my identity against someone who was just writing about what, to them, was an abstract idea. So, I didn’t.
From the beginning, not publishing the column was not a possibility for me. I know the opinion section is full of conflicting and complex opinions, and that’s what I love about it. It opens up room for discourse and debate. It opens the door to a conversation that may never begin if we don’t take that first step.
We need to talk more about transgender rights and issues. We need to talk about what the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's policy is in regard to transgender athletes. And, frankly, no one was talking about it before this column was published.
But I acknowledge that this column hurt people. That’s why The Daily Nebraskan is taking the time to have conversations about how the opinion section can make better choices on the viewpoints elevated in our publication.
I don’t agree with everything my writers say, but I believe in their right to say it. I believe in a diverse environment, even if some parts of that environment come with discomfort.
I hope that the standards we develop will help us to balance the importance of diverse opinions with the importance of recognizing the hurt these opinions can have on marginalized groups.
Sydney Miller is a junior psychology major. Reach them at email@example.com.