You know gender-identity issues are getting lots of attention when it prompts one gay-rights activist to start a campaign called "Drop the T." Its goal: to kick transgender out of the standard LGBT acronym for being "ultimately regressive and actually hostile to the goals of women and gay men."
Whatever happens within the LGBT community, one thing is clear: Government should not take sides in the transgender debate. Neither federal lawmakers nor courts should have the power to redefine what it is to be a man or a woman for all Americans
Yet, the Obama administration is forcing its transgender policies on the entire nation.
Last month it decreed that a 1972 law meant to eliminate discrimination against women and girls - Title IX - actually contains special protections for "gender identity." The Departments of Justice and Education declared that all public schools must give biological boys who identify as girls unfettered access to girls' bathrooms, locker rooms, dorm rooms, and hotel rooms for field trips. Schools that don't comply risk lawsuits and the loss of federal funding.
The lawsuits aren't an empty threat. Just days before the Title IX directive, the Obama administration sued the State of North Carolina and the University of North Carolina after the state clarified its public shower, bathroom, and locker-room policies.
The Department of Health and Human Services also got in on the act. Last month it issued a new regulation that redefines Obamacare's ban on sex discrimination in health care so that it also applies to gender identity. This requires doctors to participate in gender-reassignment therapies and surgeries even when doing so would go against their considered medical judgment, their consciences, or their religious beliefs. It also requires nearly all health-care plans to cover the treatments.
And it's not just the Obama administration. Progressive cities, states, and courts have also been advancing a transgender agenda.
The New York City Commission on Human Rights recently issued official legal guidance saying that employers can be fined as much as $250,000 for not addressing employees by the pronoun of their choice - including pronouns such as ze and hir. As UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh explains, this would require "employers and businesses to prevent [the use of 'wrong' pronouns] by coworkers and patrons and not just by themselves or their own employees."
Such "gender-identity" lawsuits aren't just a theoretical possibility. A public school district in Oregon paid a teacher $60,000 because colleagues declined to refer to Leo Soell as "they." A classroom teacher, Soell does "not identify as male or female but rather transmasculine and genderqueer, or androgynous." As Volokh explains: "Soell wants people to call Soell 'they,' and submitted a complaint to the school district objecting [in part] that other schoolteachers engaged in 'harassment' by, among other things, 'refusing to call me by my correct name and gender to me or among themselves' " (emphasis added).
Meanwhile, over in the Fourth Circuit Court, two progressive judges ruled that a Virginia school district must allow bathroom access based on "gender identity," not biology. The district's policy allowed only biological girls in the girls' room, only biological boys in the boys' room, and any student in one of three single-occupancy bathrooms the school had created specifically to accommodate transgender students. But the court said this commonsense policy was "discrimination" on the basis of "gender identity."
Americans should respect the dignity of their neighbors. How to do so in situations related to transgender students, sex-reassignment surgeries, and bathrooms is just emerging as a matter of public concern.
Across America, people are now considering how best to accommodate the privacy and safety concerns of transgender persons while also addressing the privacy and safety concerns of others, especially children and students. Left free to work things out, parents, teachers, and local leaders have been able to reach solutions, such as opening new single-occupancy restrooms and changing facilities for transgender students. But just as these conversations are getting underway, the Obama administration is trying to shut them down by imposing a top-down solution on the entire country.
In response, Congress should act to preserve the right of the American people to have these conversations, consider all the relevant concerns, and make policies that will best serve all members of their community.
The administration has no business forcing its transgender beliefs on Americans and their institutions. And it certainly shouldn't use the bludgeon of state power to coerce compliance - suing those who don't share its views, stripping them of funding, or driving them out of business. Lawmakers must prevent this abuse of power and block the administration from redefining what it is to be a man or a woman for all Americans.
Originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer