Kansas License to Discriminate…Against Women Drivers

Kansas Representative Charles Macheers (R), Right-wing Extremist

Kansas Representative Charles Macheers (R), Right-wing Extremist

The Kansas House of Representatives just passed Rep. Charles Macheer’s HB 2453 on Tuesday, by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. This bill, as has been widely reported, is basically an attempt to allow discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, as long as the person doing the discrimination feels it their religious duty to be an ass. Secular discrimination would remain illegal. Seriously. So the lesson here is, if you want to be an ass, it’s best to be a religious ass. Rep. Charles Macheers – and in fact the Kansas House of Representatives – has your back. But that’s not all. Like the State of Oklahoma, Kansas can’t even do the wrong thing right. In 2010, one house of the Oklahoma legislature, in attempting to prevent hate-crime laws from being applied in cases of LGBT victims screwed up – they passed a bill that left gays protected, but stripped rights from victims of religiously and racially motivated hate crimes. Kansas, meanwhile, apparently means explicitly legalize religiously motivated hate, albeit not in the context of violent crime (as the hate crime law applied), but “just” in things like employment and government services. Jesus is pleased, I’m sure. For instance, HB 2453 reads, in part:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender:

(a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement;

(b) solemnize any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement; or

(c) treat any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement as valid.

While parts (b) and (c) are pretty awful, (a) is astonishing. Let me make this a bit more clear, because (a) has the clarity we have grown to expect from the anti-LGBT lobby.  Here’s what (a) allows, at least when there isn’t a Federal law that would trump it:

  • A DMV worker who feels that their religion doesn’t allow women to drive (like some in Saudi Arabia) could refuse to help the 50% of DMV “customers” who enter the local DMV.  In small towns, this person might be the only one on-staff at times. Besides lightening their own workload, the person would receive protection from the State taking any personnel action against them.
  • A woman showing up at a male doctor’s office could be refused care by the male doctor if a woman doctor is available or if she isn’t accompanied by the appropriate male relative. After all, again, some in Saudi Arabia believe this for religious reasons. All it takes is a sincere belief…
  • A Christian who believes “women should always be under the authority of a man” could refuse to hire women into any supervisory role.

It’s a lot broader than these examples but that should be sufficient. Note that I don’t believe all Muslims or Christians are anti-woman, but, sadly, some are. Others are decent human beings. Sadly the decent human beings don’t seem to be making the laws in Kansas.

Of course one could also believe that the anti-woman provisions of this law just might not be an accident. After all, the religious right (by all accounts the true sponsor of this law) doesn’t just think homosexuality is wrong or that transgender people are “living in sin,” but they also believe something very interesting:

Every child needs a mom and a dad” (warning: that link contains a lot of B.S., but demonstrates the view of those who use this argument in opposing marriage equality).

What exactly does “every child needs a mom and a dad” mean if it doesn’t mean that there are some things which are either only done, or only should be done, by one sex or the other? I suspect dad is to be the leader, while mom is to be homemaker. This proposed Kansas law would help accomplish that.

 

Facebook…got it wrong.

A sample of Facebook's 50+ gender options

A sample of Facebook’s 50+ gender options

Facebook, today, added 50-some new gender options, for your profile (although left “man” and “woman” as the only partner options for seeking a relationship). While this is a welcome move, it’s not the right approach.  They made a mistake here.

They left people out.

Quite possibly, this was intentional – I imagine they allow advertisers to target people on the basis of gender, so having checkboxes the advertiser can select to determine who sees their products is probably a good selling feature for Facebook.

But it leaves people out.

Not everyone identifies with the same gender markers.  While Facebook added 50+ new options – certainly a welcome addition by anyone who identifies by one of those 50 options, no matter how many options they add, they are going to leave some people out.

For instance, they have genderqueer, but not queer.  They have neutrois, but not neuter. I know people that identify as queer and people who identify as neuter.  They don’t really matter to Facebook, at least not that much. They should be happy with a different term, since they have non male/female options (hint to Facebook: male = sex, not gender).  Concerning, I suspect they asked some US-based organizations what to put in the options list – they are missing the obvious Hijra – quite possibly the identity that has the largest number of people who identify as something other than man or woman. Someone thought they knew more than they do. This is where these things always fail.

They also fail on recognizing that people may have different genders in different environments. For instance, at college, a student might be genderqueer or bi-gender at school, and around people who accept that. But at home, their conservative family doesn’t accept that. To save family strife, they identify as a binary gender at home. Why can’t we do the same thing on Facebook that we can do in real space?

Equally concerning, they give three pronoun choices: “he”, “she”, and “they” in general. What about xe and ze? And can you come up with every possible identity pronoun?

Here’s my advice to Facebook and anyone else making a form: Unless you have a really strong external mandate that requires you to collect sex or gender from among 2 or 50 selections, either don’t collect it or collect it in a way that allows a “fill-in-the-blank” answer. Don’t do “male”, “female”, and “other” for gender (or “custom” when you mean “other”, as Facebook did). Besides “male” and “female” being sexes, not genders, this is othering – males and females get a box, but you don’t.  You have to go through a different process.

I know where this type of thing comes from – it’s nice to search through a database for people who match a category. And free-form entry means people will typo it, use 5 different spellings for the same word, and all kinds of other messy people things. Well, people are messy! And gender doesn’t fit neatly into any number of boxes, whether that’s 2 boxes or 56 boxes!

Similarly, pronouns and titles should work the same way. So should selection of potential relationship partners.  Yes, this means database work is hard. And Facebook is in the database business – they want to know who you are so they can sell you targeted ads. That requires a database. But I believe Facebook has enough smart people to solve this right. And “right” isn’t picking 50+ terms at random (or from an advocacy group that has a US-centric view of culture), but allowing people to be themselves. However they refer to themselves.

Likewise, they also get a major fail for not allowing either of two methods to be “out” in a limited extent. Many people, particularly early in transition, need to use different gender identifiers around different people – they might use one set of terms for their work, one set of terms for friends, and another set for their family. Their government ID might not match any of these! Recognize people are complex. If this is too hard to do, Facebook could make major progress simply by letting people create two profiles, if they are doing so for gender reasons. That makes it hard for Facebook to track you (they have to figure out these profiles are the same person, but being they report yearly on duplicate profiles, clearly they can do that). But it protects people and allows them to be out with the people of their choosing. It reflects the reality of the double-life that trans people are often forced to live early in transition. It also facilitates a clean break with one’s past if desired.

But it’s against Facebook’s rules to have two profiles. So you can’t do that. Even if you’re trans.

I worked on a government identity management system – basically a common login & password used between different agency computer systems.  So you would have one password to renew your driver’s license, voter ID, pay taxes, apply for unemployment, etc.  One thing that came out early was that each agency might know a person by different names – someone may have changed their name with the DMV, but not the tax agency, so don’t force them to have a single name for all agencies. Likewise, they might want to interface with an agency under a pseudonym (for example, to report child abuse, seek AIDS information, or to comment on a potential policy – things that typically don’t require you to prove your identity, and for which people might not want to give a verifiable identity). The solution? Give people the option. But don’t pass information to the agency without the user’s permission – ask them, “Is it okay if I tell this agency about you?” And accept “NO” for an answer.  If Government can figure this out, why can’t tech companies?  I might want my dad to see me as a different gender than my best friend sees me.

Facebook could show true support for diversity by not only recognizing non-binary genders exist, but could go further, and recognize that they can be a platform for people to experience living as their true selves, without having to be “out” to everyone. That could be tremendously powerful and empowering. Or they can focus on selling database records. I think they’ve chosen the later.

So, in summary, if you are going to ask for gender or sex, here’s  how to do it respectfully:

  • Give a blank to everyone to write their gender. Don’t try to guess possible options.
  • Do the same for titles and pronouns.
  • If your organization might interface with different aspects of a person (their medical identity, their legal identity, their social identity – for instance), recognize this real-life reality and allow a person to have multiple genders as appropriate.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  50+ gender identifiers are better than two. But we shouldn’t be satisfied when people are still left out. Don’t mistake what Facebook did for the right thing. Maybe it’s “more right”, but it isn’t “right”.

Don’t Make it Part of Your Identity

LGBT people are told to keep their orientation and gender private. They are told that what they do in their bedroom is fine, but it shouldn’t be their identity. You’ll hear this primarily in religious circles – the idea is this: you should have an identity as a Christian, not as a gay. Being gay or straight, so it goes, is not important. Being Christian is. And making something else – anything else (but especially homosexuality!) your identity is making that thing a false God. Sure, there are some religious folk that will claim “God Hates Fags” and the like, but this is a slightly more insidious version of the same exact thing: it isn’t okay to be gay. Why can’t you be a Christian instead?

Of course this is wrong on a bunch of levels. It’s clearly a straman – nobody is saying, “My religion is ‘gay’, so I can’t be a Christian.” Well, nobody except the aforementioned Christians. Nor is this standard applied to other things – I can say I’m a teacher or an engineer. I can say I’m a man (provided I’m not trans, in which case I’m only allowed to say I’m the gender they think I am). I can say I’m old or I’m young, depending on which I am. I can say I’m white. I can say I’m an American. Heck, I probably could even say I’m a Democrat or Republican. And nobody thinks I’m supplanting God by doing this (well, maybe if I say I’m a Democrat I am…).

However, when it comes to identifying as gay, it’s supplanting God and is a false idol, because I’d be basing my identity on homosexuality rather than God. The people who promote this nonsense go on to claim that it wouldn’t matter if I did this with something else like my career or even straight orientation. It’s all about putting something in the place of importance to my identity that only God should have. But of course the hypocrisy is clear.

To be honest, I have less of a problem with the God Hates Fags crowd. At least they let you know what they think, and don’t try to find a whitewashed way to present their bigotry. So, my hint to fellow Christians: say what you mean and mean what you say. You don’t get to have it both ways – you don’t get to justify your prejudice by claiming that you just want people to identify as Christian, yet then, through your acts and deeds, make it clear that your problem has nothing to do with that, but rather has everything to do with who someone loves or that someone’s gender isn’t what you think it should be.

If there’s one thing Christ hated, it was hypocracy.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:13)

As for me, I pray to recognize love, wherever it exists.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:13)