Politics & Policy

The Equality Act Is about Coercion

A bathroom sign welcomes both genders in Durham, N.C., May 3, 2016. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Conservatives have traditionally been opposed to legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. They have believed that market pressures, changing social views, and sub-federal legislation could adequately address problems of wrongful discrimination, while federal legislation would create potential harms to religious freedom. But the Equality Act now gaining steam in Congress goes considerably further than that, and deserves determined opposition.

The bill, introduced by Representative David Cicilline (D., R.I.) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.), is backed by nearly 300 members of Congress, including a handful of Republicans. Congressional hearings are ongoing, and a vote is scheduled for the summer. It will almost certainly pass the House. No doubt it would be a priority for any future Democratic Senate and White House.

Under the bill, all federally funded entities, from educational programs (college sports teams, school bathrooms) to public accommodations (women’s shelters, locker rooms), would be forced to interpret “sex” to include “gender identity.” In other words, to treat men as women if they identify as such, and vice versa.

Already we are seeing the harmful effects of such policies. In the state of Connecticut, two biologically male students who self-identified as transgender finished first and second in an event in the girls’ high-school track championships. A biological man asked the Massachusetts attorney general’s office to force a women’s spa to wax his genitals. In Palm Springs, Calif., three teenage girls encountered a naked man showering in the women’s locker room. All of these incidents are part of a social and legal revolution that the Equality Act would advance.

Such arrangements could clearly be easily exploited by predators. Sex offenders across the United States have been able to get access to women’s spaces by “identifying as female.” Women at a federal detention center in Texas sued the government on the grounds that being housed with male inmates put them at risk of sexual abuse. In the U.K., the Ministry of Justice confirmed the findings of a women’s-rights group that more than 40 percent of prisoners identifying as transgender are registered sex offenders. The inquiry was conducted after a male rapist who self-identified as transgender sexually assaulted several female inmates.

Another troubling section of the Equality Act is its finding that “conversion therapy” is a form of discrimination. This is worrisome because the term “conversion therapy” (originally used to describe the controversial practice of trying to change a gay person’s sexual orientation) is increasingly misapplied to tried, tested, and ethical treatments for gender-confused youth that range from counseling to watchful waiting. The Equality Act would set a dangerous precedent that could be interpreted to mandate doctors and therapists to pursue “gender affirmation” therapy, under which American girls as young as 13 and 14 have had their healthy breasts removed.

The legislation does not even nod in the direction of respecting religious freedom. It explicitly blocks religious believers from invoking the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993 with overwhelming support, to request exemptions from its provisions.

In the United Kingdom, where activists have attempted to push gender-identity laws with the help of the conservative government, feminists who were opposed to this move led effective grassroots campaigns against them. Some feminists in America, working to foster bipartisan resistance, have nicknamed the bill the “Women’s Erasure Act.”

It is certainly an attempt to erase the reality of biological sex, and to erase the reality of widespread and reasonable opposition to a new transgender orthodoxy. That orthodoxy is dangerously mistaken and should not be given the force of law.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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