In a new poll released Thursday, 45% of transgender and nonbinary youth said they’d been cyberbullied or harassed online because of increased anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies, while 24% said they’d been bullied at school. Nearly 30% said they don’t feel safe going to a doctor if they’re sick or injured.
Now consider that more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, according to The Trevor Project’s 2022 survey on mental health, and that 86% in the new Morning Consult poll said their mental health has been negatively affected by state laws restricting transgender rights.
“It has made me feel increasingly trapped and hopeless,” one person told The Trevor Project.
It’s these kids, these already vulnerable and in-peril kids, who Tony Dungy chose to pile on using his large, national platform. Who Dungy put further in harm’s way with his bigotry and ignorance, under the guise of his “Christian” faith.
In a since-deleted Tweet, the Hall of Fame coach who is now an NBC Sports analyst ridiculed Minnesota’s efforts to treat its most at-risk students with compassion and care by sharing a debunked — and wholly nonsensical – claim that some schools are providing litter boxes because students are identifying as cats.
Dungy is a smart man, the son of educators and a graduate of the University of Minnesota. He should have known right away there was no truth to that tinfoil hat litter box story. Even if he wasn’t sure, determining it wasn’t true would have taken him all of 30 seconds if he’d just searched a reputable news source.
Like, say, his own employer.
Instead, Dungy parroted the hate being used by right-wing extremists and opportunistic politicians to gin up outrage and, ideally, votes, not caring that his tweet to his nearly 1 million followers was putting trans kids in the crosshairs. When he did take it down, he did so without offering an explanation or acknowledgment of why it was wrong or the harm he’d caused.
Not until Thursday night did Dungy apologize, in a statement provided to USA TODAY Sports by his attorney. NBC Sports, asked whether it would address Dungy’s transphobic tweet, did not respond.
“I saw a tweet yesterday and I responded to it in the wrong way,” Dungy said in his statement. “As a Christian I should speak in love and in ways that are caring and helpful. I failed to do that and I am deeply sorry.”
But this is not the first time Dungy has vilified members of the LGBTQ community. He has a long and very public history of it, and it can’t go unchecked simply because he is personable, popular and has been steadfast in holding the NFL to account for its shameful record on diversity and advocating for coaches of color.
As important as his voice is on diversity, it does not excuse his bigotry.
“This is false and cruel,” Cyd Zeigler of Outsports.com said on Twitter.
Yes, it is. And it causes real harm.
Dungy, like so many others, has used his faith as justification for discriminating against LGBTQ people, claiming homosexuality is antithetical to his Christian beliefs. But that’s as much nonsense as kids using litter boxes.
If you are Christian, you are supposed to follow the teachings of Christ. Not the humans who interpret them, or the churches that have taken license with them for their own gain. Christ’s own words – and nowhere in the Gospels does he say anything about homosexuality or gay marriage. What he did say was to love your neighbor as yourself, and to treat the most marginalized and vulnerable among us as you would him.
If you believe in the Gospels – again, Christ’s own teachings, not others’ interpretations of them – can you honestly say he would approve of policies that ostracize and otherize gays, lesbians and, in this case, transgender and nonbinary people? That he would praise making them feel as if they are not worthy of belonging?
If you say yes, then you’ve heard what you’ve wanted to hear, not what Christ actually said. He preached love and acceptance, embracing lepers, prostitutes and the hated tax collectors, and had no use for those who proclaimed their piety while using it to demean and mistreat others.
It is a struggle simply to exist for many transgender kids. That Dungy thought it was OK to make it even harder for them wasn’t cute or clever, and it sure wasn’t Christian.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.