Death by 1,000 Words

Ryan Bounds, a judicial nominee for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, recently shared this exchange with Sen. Coons regarding violence targeting LGBTQ people:

Sen. Coons: Do you believe that LGBTQ people experience discrimination today. Do you believe that people of color experience discrimination today?
Ryan Bounds: …I had friends in the LGBTQ community who have told me about physical assaults they have suffered after leaving places where we were together.
Sen. Coons: and how did that effect you?
Ryan Bounds: (holding back tears) It was very upsetting.
Sen. Coons: Mr. Bounds, I appreciate the sincerity and the emotion that you bring to this exchange.

I, however, am unpersuaded. In a series of inflammatory articles written while serving as the opinions editor at the Stanford Review, Mr. Bounds used his bully pulpit to ridicule students of color, sexual assault victims, and the LGBTQ community. While Mr. Bounds has apologized that, at times, his rhetoric was “overheated,” these writings show a fundamental misunderstanding of — and even hostility toward — people like his friends who were members of communities that have long been subjected to discrimination.

In one piece, Mr. Bounds criticized LGBTQ students for being “overly-sensitive” and chastised non-white students for “divid[ing] up by race for their feel-good ethnic hoedowns.” Following an incident involving the vandalism of an on-campus statute celebrating “gay pride” (a term Mr. Bounds felt needed to be placed in quotes for some reason), Mr. Bounds was quick to defend the individuals who vandalized the statue, without any recognition of the trauma inflicted on LGBTQ students.

While it is not my place to judge Mr. Bounds’ sincerity, it is unclear whether Mr. Bounds accepts or understands the role he has played in the oppression and harassment of the same groups he sought to exalt during his testimony. On the very same day that Mr. Bounds appeared at his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a lifetime appointment to the Ninth Circuit court of Appeals, 18-year-old Carla Patricia Flores-Pavon, a transgender woman of color, was murdered in Dallas, Texas. She was one of eleven transgender woman to have been murdered so far in 2018.

Words have consequences. That Mr. Bounds recognizes this fundamental truth can be intuited from his effort to hide his writings from public scrutiny when he chose not to disclose them to an Oregon judicial selection committee. His lack of candor makes it harder to believe the sincerity of Mr. Bounds emotional reaction when Bounds himself has stoked the flames of intolerance.

The type of harassment and violence experienced by Mr. Bounds’ friends is still a reality for many LGBTQ Americans. In fact, 2017 was the deadliest year for our community, with an 86 percent increase in murders of LGBTQ people. In addition, for the first time in four years, a survey has found that Americans are less accepting of LGBTQ people. As we try to understand and address this epidemic of violence toward the LGBTQ community, it would be foolish to ignore the connection between these haunting statistics and the bully behind the pulpit.

President Trump is known for publically denigrating disabled people, women, Muslims, immigrants and many other marginalized groups. For the last 18 months, his administration has repeatedly demonstrated their belief that LGBTQ people are not protected under the law by emboldening those who would use religion to justify denying our community access to healthcare, housing, and public accommodations. One of Trump’s judicial nominees referred to transgender children as “part of Satan’s plan,” while another received an unqualified rating from the American Bar Association because their peers felt that his animosity towards LGBTQ people made him temperamentally unfit to serve on the federal bench. And despite bipartisan opposition, the Trump administration still proclaims that transgender people are unfit to serve in our nation’s military.

Like President Trump, Mr. Bounds failure to fully disavow his words reveals a stunning lack of compassion and concern for violence against LGBTQ people, especially transgender women of color. Whether or not Mr. Bounds actually regrets what he said, or simply regrets having to answer for it, the fact is that his words, and the words coming from this administration, are being used to incite and divide. Bounds’ words reveal all that we need to know about what kind of a judge he will be if confirmed, and it’s not the kind of judge that the American people want or deserve.

So forgive me if I’m not moved by Mr. Bounds’ weepy invocation of his gay friends. Whether you’re Ryan Bounds or Neil Gorsuch, simply having gay friends isn’t good enough to give you a pass. Too many lives are at stake.

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