A local resident looks at his house destroyed in a Russian air raid Thursday in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Credit: Andrew Marienko / AP

The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine requires continued focus, resolve and unity from the international community in countering Vladimir Putin’s aggression and supporting besieged Ukrainians. Now is not the time for distractions.

We almost don’t want to waste time on the ridiculous suggestion that political correctness, gender pronouns or transgender athletes’ participation in sports is somehow linked to Russia’s lawless invasion of its neighbor. But we’ve seen this offensive notion from several prominent Republicans, so it apparently needs emphasizing: The responsibility for this atrocity rests with Putin, not pronouns or political correctness.

On Feb. 24, after Russia invaded, Donald Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter, “Maybe it’s time we start worrying about real s*** instead of our pronouns?” In her response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds citied “focusing on political correctness rather than military readiness” as part of the “run-up to Putin’s invasion.” And in his recent remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo included a transgender athlete in a list of things he said have gotten worse since the Trump administration.

“We’ve seen a man break swimming records in girls’ swimming races,” Pompeo said. “We’ve seen a Russian dictator now terrorize the Ukrainian people because America didn’t demonstrate the resolve that we did for the four years prior.”

Katelyn Burns, a freelance journalist who was the first openly transgender reporter on Capitol Hill, wrote a Medium post on Feb. 26 dismantling idea that prounouns and transgender people somehow how have weakened and distristacted western society and enabled Putin.

“You see, it’s not ‘the west’ that’s been obsessed with ‘transgenderism,’ it’s not even transgender people that’ve been obsessed with ‘pronouns.’ It’s been the far right all along,” Burns wrote.

It certainly feels like the same people who say we’re spending too much time focusing on issues of inclusion are often the people initiating or requiring this conversation in the first place. As an example, Republicans across the country have spent an awful lot of time this past year talking about, trying to legislate, and now even targeting transgender Americans and their families through executive action.  

The recent directive from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott treating gender-affirming care as child abuse is a prime, and dangerous, example of this. A judge, thankfully, has temporarily blocked the implementation of that order in one case, and the Biden administration has provided a strong response. But none of that would have been necessary if Abbott didn’t take unilateral executive action — not exactly a hallmark of small-government conservatism — against these Texas families.

So we have what should be a simple suggestion: Stop saying and doing terrible things to people who are just trying to live their lives, adopt an actual conservative position that emphasizes individual liberty, and then there will be more time for all of us to focus on other issues. The less time officials spend persecuting and belittling our fellow citizens, the better. And the less time we’ll have to spend pointing out why that’s bad, the more time all of us will have to devote to other things — like countering Putin’s aggression.

We’d like to see an end to the attempts to make it harder for trans Americans to simply exist and participate in society — including by serving this country in the military — and welcome more of a focus on how together we all can confront the rising tide of authoritarianism across the world.

You know who really hates members of the LGBTQ community? Putin. The Chinese Communist Party isn’t exactly a shining beacon of inclusion, either. Does persecuting their people make them stronger? Of course not.

Autocrats are betting that our democratic process, which requires deliberation and allows for differing views, is ultimately a disadvantage — that it prevents us from acting quickly, decisively and from a place of unity. We all need to prove them wrong. That includes maintaining perspective about what is actually fueling Russia’s empire-minded aggression, and recognizing how the continued push for liberty and justice for all in this country is one of the things that ultimately makes us stronger.  

Freedom, including the freedom to be who we are, must win out around the world and here at home.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...