Do you know people who like to watch horror movies? It’s puzzling why people want to have the bejeezus scared out of them, but to each his own. When it comes to politics, however, fear is a useful thing. In fact, there’s no better way to divert the attention of people away from, for example, the fact that you’re about to take health coverage from their family than by telling them a scary story that preys on their pre-existing fears. That’s the Trump campaign and presidency in a nutshell. Recently, the Daily Caller—founded by Bill O’Reilly’s replacement, Tucker Carlson—offered a textbook example of how it’s done.
Canadians Could Face Hate Crimes Over Using The Wrong Gender Pronouns Canada passed a law Thursday making it illegal to use the wrong gender pronouns. Critics say that Canadians who do not subscribe to progressive gender theory could be accused of hate crimes, jailed, fined, and made to take anti-bias training.
That panic-inducing headline and introduction appeared atop a Daily Caller article. Big, bad, trans bullies—and their mollycoddling progressive allies—are going to police language and throw people in the clink if they fail to use “they” when they are supposed to. At least that’s what this right-wing website is peddling to its readers. It’s a mad, mad world out there, and the only way to stop our cultural decline is to vote against liberals and for the party led by a man who believes he can put his short fingers up any short skirt he likes, with or without the consent of the person wearing it.
The article in question cites a University of Toronto professor of psychology, Jordan Peterson, who solemnly intoned that, as a result of the passage of the aforementioned law, Bill C-16: “Compelled speech has come to Canada. We will seriously regret this.” He objects to the law because, he claims, it not only bans discrimination but commands people to use specific words in order to avoid punishment. If this were really true, I’d object as well. Even though I am generally happy to refer to people the way they ask me to, I don’t want the government telling me I must. Here’s the good news: that’s not what the law does.
Brenda Cossman is a professor of law and heads the Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at the very same University of Toronto. She explained that the law does three things: First, it adds gender identity to the list of categories—like race, religion, etc.—on which the federal Canadian government and “businesses within federal jurisdiction – like banks” cannot discriminate. This might, depending on how courts interpret the statute, mean that citizens have a right to ask their government or their employer to address them by their chosen pronoun, and seek compensation if they don’t. However, no one’s going to jail, and using the wrong pronoun has not been defined as a hate crime. Second, the law adds gender identity to the list of groups—like race, religion, etc., against whom one cannot advocate genocide or incite public hatred. Finally, it adds gender identity to the list of categories—like race, religion, etc.—that affects sentencing for a hate crime.
In other words, the law is essentially about banning discrimination based on being transgender or otherwise gender non-conforming, and about putting gender identity on a par with forms of identity like race and religion when it comes to other aspects of Canadian law. It’s not about freedom of speech any more than laws that, for example, prevent harassment in the workplace.
In 2016, critics raised somewhat similar objections to a law in New York City. For example, Breitbart blared: “Did you call a transsexual person “he” or “she” when they preferred to be called “zhe?” According to a newly updated anti-discrimination law in New York City, you could be fined an eye-watering $250,000.” This ridiculous and false fear-mongering was quickly debunked, and a municipal official corrected the record:
Accidentally misusing a transgender person’s preferred pronoun is not a violation of the law and will not result in a fine...In fact, our guidance encourages people to ask transgender and gender non-conforming individuals how they would like to be addressed. The law is meant to address situations in which individuals intentionally and repeatedly target transgender and gender non-conforming people with this type of harassment.
As important as these kinds of laws are on their own, it’s equally vital to understand how right-wing media voices use them to scare people. They employ that fear as misdirection, to distract middle- and working-class Americans from the reality that, as we speak, the Republican Party of Donald Trump is working to rob them of health insurance—through a historically secretive process designed to blunt opposition until it’s too late—so that they can pay for tax cuts that will send billions of dollars trickling up the economic ladder.
If Republicans succeed, they will create a nightmare from which millions of Americans won’t wake up.
P.S.—Not for the first time, this is an issue I heard about thanks to appearing on a conservative cable TV show. Below is video of the discussion of the issue.