People attend a rally as part of a Transgender Day of Visibility, Friday, March 31, 2023, by the Capitol in Washington. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

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It’s a great day to be alive. That’s the message from an early 2000s country hit sung by Travis Tritt. Even with all the dispiriting news these days, we have to agree with Tritt’s message there.

Where we don’t agree with Tritt’s message, however, is his recent response to Bud Light partnering with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Somehow, this has turned into a scandal in some people’s eyes. Bud Light’s advertising decision was supposedly so egregious that Tritt proclaimed he “will be deleting all Anheuser-Busch products from my tour hospitality rider.” Fellow musician and actor Kid Rock filmed himself shooting cases of Bud Light in protest.

Another musician, Zach Bryan, encapsulated a lot of our feelings in one tweet about this puzzling Bud Light backlash.

“I mean no disrespect towards anyone specifically, I don’t even mind   @Travistritt. I just think insulting transgender people is completely wrong because we live in a country where we can all just be who we want to be,” Bryan tweeted. “It’s a great day to be alive I thought.”

We thought so too. So why, here in the land of the free, is there so much hysteria around trans people just trying to be who they are? What happened to individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Shouldn’t we want all of our fellow Americans to be their happiest, fullest, most productive selves?

Because the truth is, it’s not always a great day to be alive for trans people — not when other people are spreading fear and trying to legislate their very existence. As Utah’s Republican Gov. Spencer Cox emphasized during his principled and ultimately unsuccessful stand against his state’s effort to limit trans inclusion in sports, trans youth report alarmingly high rates of suicidality.

“I don’t understand what they are going through or why they feel the way they do. But I want them to live,” Cox wrote in a veto message last year.” And all the research shows that even a little acceptance and connection can reduce suicidality significantly. For that reason, as much as any other, I have taken this action in the hope that we can continue to work together and find a better way.”

Unfortunately, Cox’s approach based in compassion and reality has not been winning out in conservative-leaning states across the country. Many Republican-led state legislatures have dangerously worked to restrict the rights of trans people,  limiting their access to health care, limiting their inclusion in athletics and generally making it harder for them to be part of society.

Some people treat our trans neighbors as punchlines or as threats, casting their existence as some sort of problem. The problem isn’t trans people using bathrooms that match their gender identity, the problem is people who assault other people in the bathroom. Policymakers should work to prevent and further criminalize that, not punish law-abiding individuals just trying to go about their days as themselves.

The solution to the supposed problem of trans inclusion in sports seems to have already been addressed in policies like here in Maine, where the default is for student athletes to participate in a way that matches their gender identity, unless there are issues of an unfair advantage or risk of injury to other athletes.

Why then is this balanced approach so hard for other places to adopt? Why are we spending so much of our collective time and energy on this debate? Can’t we just agree to let people be who they are here in the land of the free? Is that such a radical notion?

The simplest, and saddest, explanation is that some people agree with the Florida state lawmaker who recently referred to trans people as “demons” and “mutants” before apologizing. Danielle McLean, a journalist who previously worked at the BDN, provided a powerful response explaining how trans people are just people trying to live their lives.

“Important fact-check: I’m not a mutant and I’m not evil,” McLean tweeted on Monday. “I’m a friendly daughter, sister, girlfriend and American who owns a dog. I play ice hockey and am trying to be a good person and neighbor while navigating this crazy world the best way I can.”

What could be more American than that?

It remains confusing for us to see the supposedly pro-freedom crowd do everything it can to limit the freedom of people it doesn’t like or understand. Freedom for me but not for thee is quite the worldview. American political and cultural leaders should be worried about countering authoritarianism around the world, not mimicking it at home by limiting freedom and devaluing the existence of our fellow Americans who happen to be trans.

As Zach Bryan so succinctly expressed, this is a country where people can be who they want to be. That’s how it’s supposed to work, at least. So if we truly value freedom here in America, let’s make sure we preserve it for everyone, not just guard it for ourselves.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...