Regarding Transgender Students, a One-Sided View of Rights

In the comments to a Facebook post by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Larry Gillheeney, I’ve been having a conversation about the nature of rights with Rhode Island progressive activist James Kennedy.  Here’s one of the points of his that started the exchange:

I am amazed at the way RICFP is able to frame issues as if people are having their rights taken away when they’re actually having their rights expanded. Children have the right to express their gender however they choose. That’s a freedom. Taking children’s freedom to be whatever gender identity they want to be away is an attack on freedom. But RICFP is practiced in the art of NewSpeak. Shaking my head. . .

Even up to and including the latest points he’s made, it seems clear to me that Kennedy is having difficulty imagining a way in which other people can have a right to fundamentally disagree with him.  The transgender “guidance” that the Rhode Island Department of Education is preparing to transform into mandatory regulations is not most substantially about providing a right to a person to do something; it goes much farther than that and imposes upon others the obligation to do and believe things.  Children must share bathrooms.  Adults must use preferred names and pronouns.  Students who are uncomfortable with other students’ transgenderism will be reeducated to the government’s approved belief system.

Well-meaning advocates’ myopia focuses on just the sympathetic character who is the focus of the advocacy and are blind to the rights of others, including other students. Let’s accept that a student looks at him or her self and sees a person of the opposite gender; other students and faculty look at that person and see somebody of his or her biological sex.  Kennedy is completely blind to their right to see the world as they see it, to the extent that he’ll implicitly dehumanize them as bigots who must be changed, even through government coercion in a school setting.

So, we get a ban on treatments for individuals who want to align their sexual orientation with their biology.  We also get an effective ban on seeing other people in terms of their biology rather than their stated gender.  This is pure and totalitarian theocracy — that is, an elimination of the rights of those who see the world differently than the ruling elite, whose right to meddle ultimately has no boundaries.

In his latest, well-articulated reply, Kennedy illustrates how thoroughly denying the legitimacy of disagreement pervades the thinking of the Left on these matters:

The only other thing I’ll add is going back to the Ted Kennedy example, you use the idea that it’s fine for you to personally demand that I respect your name, but not okay to use the state to demand that I respect your name. And in an adult context I agree. But even though I think there’s some truth to calling public schools “the state”, I think it’s disingenuous to say that because the school is demanding that children act in a respectful way according to the norms of a diverse society that that’s the same as other arms of the state demanding that of adults. The whole point of schools, especially at the elementary level, is to institute norms of behavior. Kids who grew up in a world where the boys were put on sports teams and the girls played with dolls learned that women and men have rigid, uncrossable roles. Children (like me) who grew up with some degree of advocacy that girls and boys can do what they want learned that that’s not the case. Children who grow up with a teacher saying, “Hey, there are people in the world who aren’t going to be comfortable with the gender we’ve assigned them, and that’s okay” are going to learn to be respectful and nonchalant about that reality. The goal of the policy of having trans-friendly schools isn’t to suddenly cause an explosion of transgender students, it’s to make the issue disappear into the background where it belongs, which ironically as conservatives is what it seems people are often asking for. I hear people who are conservative say, “Why do we have to talk about this all the time?” The answer is because we haven’t worked it out yet. But give a generation or two of children being able to name their favorite transgender Sesame Street character and it’ll be like what Maria and Luis on that show were for kids who didn’t have Latino/a people in their lives– a humanizing experience that makes them more well-rounded.

By simply recasting fundamentally religious beliefs as “social norms,” Kennedy gives his fellow believers the authority to use government to establish their religion.  He admits that it would violate adults’ rights to use government to force them to state a belief that they don’t hold, but somehow, he finds it perfectly acceptable to use government to implant that belief in children before they’re old enough to think for themselves.

At least in Rhode Island, we should have little doubt that this understanding of rights pervades our public school system and our government, at least where it matters.  That’s why Rhode Islanders should do everything they can to keep themselves and their children beyond the reach of the progressive evangelizers.

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