It seems like every other day that I see news of prejudice and discrimination against transgender people. So every other day, I have to hope that maybe, possibly, my best friend will be safe and that maybe, possibly, he’ll never have to make headlines because of a bullet in his heart, or a suicide.

The truth is, I can’t give myself that hope, because I know that it would be misplaced. Because just a month ago, fifty people died in Orlando, Florida. Fifty people died, and I’m scared because I can see this happening even in Exeter, New Hampshire. I’m scared because I cannot imagine a world in which I can walk around downtown holding my girlfriend’s hand and not be worried about harsh words or bottles being thrown at us, because my—and my friends’–experiences doing just that have shown me that, just as in Orlando, the town of Exeter has to work on its ability for acceptance. Exeter students aren’t the problem, but we’re the ones who can help try to fix it as we travel back home.

I’ve seen dozens of cisgender people complain about not feeling safe with transgender or genderqueer people in “their” bathrooms while transgender people don’t even always feel safe enough to go outside. It’s unbelievable that every time anyone in the LGBTQ+ community leaves the house or walks an inch too close to our partner, we have to fear for our lives while those cis people claim that they don’t feel safe.

In what world is that okay? Who are we to say that people are inferior to us when we, the general public, are the problem? How can we possibly say that a person changed entirely when he or she changed preferred pronouns? I saw people treat my best friend as someone completely different once he changed his preferred pronouns to he/him/his, but guess what, society? He hasn’t changed, except for being tremendously more comfortable with himself. The only thing that’s changed is other people’s perceptions of him, and those are societally and culturally based stereotypes that need to change.

When I was young, my parents and teachers and books all told me that I could be anything I wanted, that the world was accepting and loving and caring and worth it. I have since found out, of course, that the world is an ugly place with too much fighting, strife, and hate, and that the world and the town of Exeter love to tell trans/genderqueer people that life cannot be loving or worth it.

I have seen friends break down in their dorm rooms and I have heard them tell me that they are or have been suicidal because of not being accepted for who they are. I have heard stories about, and experienced, harassment in Exeter and I no longer believe that the world is a good place. But there are specific moments in which I realize that maybe, just maybe–with a lot of work and luck, we could get society started on that track.

But we have to start somewhere. Please, Exeter, use people’s preferred pronouns and the name they choose for themselves. Don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable using the bathroom they feel more comfortable in simply because of their appearance, like countless have done to my best friend. Don’t submit to this ideology that our culture and society has grown all too fond of promoting, and remember that transgender and genderqueer people are human, too. They have hopes, dreams, and favorite colors. They know who they are, or maybe they don’t, but with every person behind them, supporting them, it feels a little safer for them to go out into the world and be true to themselves instead of the ugly alternative that’s waiting for their next victim with their finger on the trigger. Let’s make life safe and worthwhile for everyone in our community, Exeter.