Is ‘Nicer In Newtown’ History?
Resident Wendy Leon-Gambetta, Sawmill Ridge Road, submitted the following commentary after an experience that has left her unsure of the niceties in Newtown.
“Nicer in Newtown” was the unofficial town motto seen everywhere on bumper stickers when my husband and I moved our family here almost 26 years ago. Today, beautiful mosaics adorn the entrances of our schools, reminding Newtown’s children to “Be Kind.” In Newtown, “Love Wins.” I embrace those sentiments wholeheartedly, but a recent experience left me questioning whether we are who we think we are.
I was part of a disturbing online “conversation” among fellow Newtowners a few weeks ago. Perhaps I had the misfortune to read an atypically ugly post and its ensuing comments, but the ease with which the name calling and mud slinging occurred suggests that this was par for the course. A local blogger posted a meme on a community Facebook page picturing a girl from the Newtown High School track team racing against a girl from another town. The girl from the other town was in the lead. She was also transgender. The overlaid text was derogatory, and the tone of the attached article was mocking and transphobic. The hostile manner in which fellow Newtowners debated this meme both sickened and saddened me. There are four separate issues which I believe merit discussion:
1) Did the creator of the meme attain permission from the girls’ parents to use their daughters’ image? Why would any adult commenting think it was all right to publicly demean a child? Why did the blogger think it was appropriate to make lewd comments about a child’s genitals? Would any of those involved find it acceptable if their children were part of a meme and a vicious exchange among adults? Would they be comfortable with adults from a neighboring town discussing their child’s genitalia? I would be outraged if I were the parent of either of the children featured in that meme.
2) What is the purpose of Newtown social media forums? Perhaps to exchange thoughts, suggestions, and recommendations? Expected behavior from adults with differing opinions is respectful, civil discourse, yet the language displayed was vulgar, rude, and hostile. I kept thinking, do these people really live in Newtown? Are they the same people with whom I exchange pleasantries in line at the grocery store and post office? Do I pass them at the flagpole? I’m not alone in my feelings. I saw a post on a different Newtown forum from someone who recently moved to town. He left that seemingly friendly group after realizing that the ugly exchanges were causing harm to his psyche and his ability to enjoy living in Newtown. So I ask: Are these forums bringing out the best in us? How might these interactions affect our emotional well-being and that of our town?
3) I am equally concerned with how these forums represent Newtown. Imagine people wanting to learn about our community and searching for Newtown online. They come across a page using our town’s name and a well-known Newtown symbol. It describes itself as a “local service” and displays a beautiful painting of our lovely Main St, featuring Trinity Church and our iconic flagpole. Imagine people reading that derogatory article about transgender student-athletes. Imagine them seeing neighbors throwing insults at one another as easily as marchers throw candy in the Labor Day parade. Intentionally or not, when bloggers or social media groups feature Newtown’s name, beloved symbols, and iconic scenes, they are representing Newtown and either contributing positively or negatively to how we are perceived by others. I believe that the Newtown I saw represented that day would be an embarrassment to most of its residents.
4) Lastly, what kept me awake and nauseated much of that night was the offensive manner in which some of my fellow Newtowners spoke about transgender people. Our society is just beginning to learn and understand gender as more fluid than we previously understood it to be. It is logical that many of us are ignorant about who trans people are and why they are challenging gender norms. Each of us has a choice when confronted with something we know little about: We can choose to learn and understand, or we can remain ignorant about that topic. It may be reasonable to have compassionate and civil discussions about how best to integrate trans kids into sports, but there should be no debate about their value or worthiness as fellow human beings. “I’m entitled to my opinion” doesn’t fly in this case. Transgender people are our children, siblings, neighbors, and friends. Their courage to live as their authentic selves deserves our respect and support.
I appreciate those who spoke out with love for the transgender athlete in the meme. By doing so, you were also supporting my transgender daughter and countless others. I will always believe that love prevails, but my confidence in my adopted hometown was deeply shaken that day. It is with boundless love for Newtown that I suggest to those participating in nasty online exchanges to reflect upon the “Be Kind” murals on our school buildings. Our children will not learn kindness if the adults around them can’t even manage basic civility.