We’re used to hearing forecasts of catastrophe in our political discourse, breezy assurances that apocalypse is sure to follow if a particular bill or program is either adopted or spurned. That makes it easy to dismiss such claims out of hand. But in the case of the Equality Act, which the House of Representatives takes up this week, fear is entirely warranted.
If this bill is adopted, the fact that we are male or female is in danger of being replaced with the subjective concept of gender identity. The ramifications of this change, at the center of our universe of knowledge about human beings, would be profound. Making gender identity a protected class in the 1964 Civil Rights Act would discredit the idea that sex is binary, that men and women are different, and that recognition of these differences can be helpful to achieving justice and fairness in a variety of circumstances.
A legal change of this magnitude, based on subjective and transient feelings, is unprecedented. But gender identity is riding on a powerful wave of identity politics that seeks to upend a perceived "power structure" that "privileges" those who are comfortable with their bodies. "Cisgender normativity" might be an easy concept to dismiss along with erasure of mother and father," and the introduction of "chestfeeding." But to think of the gender identity revolution as merely another chapter in "woke" wonderland would be to miss the import of the linguistic, cultural, and political revolution for the integrity of education, medicine, and science.
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Like the heliocentric model, the sex binary was once consistently taught in every academic discipline and at all levels. Sex differences inform everything from our treatment of disease, to the benefits of single-sex education, to our understanding of parenting and leadership styles. But postmodernism, the sexual revolution, and critical gender and queer theory have firmly placed feelings at the center of academia, displacing empirical knowledge. Every discipline has been transformed, not just literature and history, but even the hard sciences. The Medical College Admissions Test now asks about the gender identity of patients. The American Association of Medical Colleges is the major accrediting body for medical schools. Its inclusion of this question signals to aspiring doctors that they must show not just knowledge and skills but ideological conformity.
Every level of education has been affected. Kindergartners are reading "I Am Jazz," the autobiography of TV star Jazz Jennings. The book depicts his delight at transitioning to "being a girl" but fails to mention the painful complications he experienced as a result of "bottom surgery."
To use the 1964 Civil Rights Act to turn a political ideology into a protected class will discredit the sex binary with official force. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County last summer fell prey to what Dr. Ryan T. Anderson has described as "simplistic logic." Treating a male or a female less favorably than a person of the opposite sex simply because of their gender identity is unjust.
However, ignoring differences in males and females also yields unjust results in many cases. Bostock addressed employment in civil rights law, but the Equality Act will reach much further into all public accommodations, education, housing, and all federally funded institutions. In Alaska, a women’s homeless shelter that housed battered women was forced to fend off a lawsuit from a man who sought to gain entry into its sleeping quarters. In Pennsylvania and Georgia, students and parents sued their schools for opening private facilities to the opposite sex. In Connecticut, three brave high school girls are suing the state for allowing two boys to take away their victories in track and field.
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Perhaps most alarming are the stories of regret from a growing number of "detransitioners." Their bodies are scarred, their voices broken, and their fertility lost—casualties of hormones and surgeries that failed to deliver peace. Those who have tried to sound the alarm, such as feminist icon J.K. Rowling, tennis pioneer Martina Navratilova, and leading medical experts Dr. Paul McHugh, are bulldozed. Name, shame, cancel, repeat.
If the Equality Act passes the House this week, it won’t be the result of new scientific discoveries about the sexes or the result of a thoughtful, open political debate. It will be the denial of all that previous generations around the world have learned and observed about sex differences over centuries. It will be the triumph of cancel culture over facts, reason, and empirical knowledge. And if the sex binary can be canceled, who knows what’s next?
This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner on 2/24/21