Gender identity has emerged as a cultural flashpoint on many universities, spawning a new way of thinking and talking about once-taboo topics and igniting passionate advocacy in a generation of young adults.
Many millennials view gender in ways that are unrecognizable or untenable to some people, including religious conservatives.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution decided to take a deeper look at this issue after the shooting death last month of Scout Shultz, the 21-year-old president of the Georgia Tech Pride Alliance, who was killed by a campus police officer during a confrontation Shultz instigated. Investigators said the student left three suicide notes.
Schultz identified as nonbinary, neither male nor female, and was born intersex, which describes someone whose biological or physiological characteristics aren’t fully male or female. The student used the gender-neutral pronoun “they,” rather than he or she, and many news articles — to the consternation of some— followed suit.
“Society is really thinking about this. We are grappling with this in a new way and, unfortunately, it’s punctuated by these tragedies,” said Eric Wright, chair of the sociology department at Georgia State University.
One side derides the youth driving the movement as snowflakes and social justice warriors, too sensitive and too politically correct. They contend the gender shift upends traditional and faith-based values.
Those on the flip side see gender as a deeply personal sense of being that should be respected. Some hurl stinging rebukes for using pronouns that differ from how individuals refer to themselves.
Discussions of gender identity have progressed into mainstream conversations because of a growing acceptance and movements often driven by American college students.
Not everyone understands the reasons why some insist on unconventional pronouns or describe themselves using gender terms that are unfamiliar to many.
Reporter Vanessa McCray talked to those involved in the movement, those who observe it from a distance, and those who have been affected by it from one side or the other. You can read that here.