Letter to the editor: Freedom of expression is bedrock of our democracy

The Addison Independent (June 22, 2023) provided even-handed coverage of the two events held in Vergennes on June 20. I, along with many others (pastors included) from several area churches, including Middlebury’s Congregational Church, attended the 5 p.m. service held at the Vergennes Congregational Church. I chose to attend the Vergennes events in order to help empower members of the Trans community and to show them my support. It was a positive, festive, and uplifting evening.

Those who attended these events and those who read the accounts in the Independent might conclude that there is an irreparable divide between our neighbors who support young people in the Trans community, and those who attended the presentation inside the school building and who believe that transitioning is generally a mistake. I think that this dichotomy is misguided, over-played and unwisely simplistic.

We heard claims that those who attended the presentation by 82-year-old Walt Heyer were spewing hatred for the trans community. Though I was not present at their event, I strongly question that characterization. But I would also challenge any claims made that the demonstrators provide unqualified and weakly-considered support for an adolescent who seeks to change gender. Most of us would urge great caution and thorough consultation with doctors and other health professionals, before concluding that such a step is necessary and wise. The issues around such a decision are complex, and they are unique to each individual.

Those on each side of the issue would do well to hear and reflect on the views from the other side. The superintendent and the board were right to allow the event with the speaker to go forward following existing policies. I commend them for expressing clearly their own values and the values of the school district that run counter to those of the event organizers. They were also right to allow and support a peaceful demonstration in response to take place on school property.

Freedom of expression and discourse is a bedrock principle of democracy — all of us, including students in our public schools, need to uphold this principle.

John Emerson


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