Gender Identity, Protected Classes, and DiscriminationPosted: May 16, 2016
The hot topic of the day in america is all things gender identity and all things bathroom. Why, after a million years of non-issue this has become a crisis ripping society at the seams is an enigma to me.
But I’d like to focus on a small part of the issue rather than question its contrived genesis altogether. That is, what constitutes “wrongful” discrimination?
It’s difficult to qualify “wrongful”, but that’s the task here and to then decide whether the gender identity-bathroom issue falls into the same thresh hold. Now for sake of scope, I’m not specifically discussing whether a particular side on the issue is reasonable or not, a goo idea or not, safe or not, etc. This isn’t about opinion of whether such situations should be accommodated.
This is about how top-down mandating of such accommodations should be understood through the lens of discrimination based on our current social/political context.
Discriminating at is most broad is not wrongful. It is simply making preferential distinctions. You discriminate between candidates when you hire an employee. It’s generally agreed that if your discriminating is limited to skills and relevant qualification for the job, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s simply picking the best candidate. But there is a line where it starts becoming “wrongful” in people’s minds. Different folks might have different ideas about where that line is. If you didn’t hire a skilled and competent candidate because you found them personally annoying, some might find that perfectly acceptable while others might find your point of discriminating unfair.
Usually the line centers around whether the attribute is “relevant” to the situation. Color of skin is reasonably irrelevant to an engineering job, but reasonably relevant to an acting part. In the bathroom issue citing relevance doesn’t help because it is the entire point of debate. It is similar to questioning whether “Boy” is relevant to “Boy scouts”. It’s ultimately as relevant as you believe it to be. So let’s appeal to the current standard instead of personal opinion.
In america we have this idea of “protected classes”, attributes that can’t be the basis of treating on person favorably or unfavorably in certain situations. I have personal issues with the entire concept, but let’s leave that for another post. Instead let’s use that as a basis for understanding what constitutes “wrongful” discrimination. This is the list of what United States classifies as protected classes (from Wikipedia):
- National origin
- Age (40 and over)
- Familial status
- Disability status
- Veteran status
- Genetic information
Now my question is, what factors make an attribute qualify for this list? And does gender identity meet those qualifications? It seems to me that gender identity would be the only thing on this list that is not particularly empirical. It is by current knowledge, solely a matter of self perception. Nothing else on the list is categorically the same. Religion is a admittedly a bit grey, but it also is not tautologically evidenced and can be qualified with actual attributes. That is, if I say I am of a certain religion, I can articulate to a specific points of belief or practice that I hold that are more than subjectively a part of that belief system.
However, the entire idea that underlines gender identity theory is that no specific attribute or combination of attributes define me as a specific gender. It is solely self-identification. Simply stating that I am Jewish does not make me Jewish and although there is debate about the line, the argument is where that line is, not whether it exists. Nearly everyone would agree that belonging to the a given faith and enjoying it’s protections requires some sort of ascent to a standard of belief or worship. Gender identity, however, is founded on the rejection of any standard. My knee-jerk perspective is that this makes it qualitatively different.
So I open the question. Is a gender identity empirically measured by more than self-perception? And does an attribute of self-perception fit on this list of “wrongful discrimination”? I’m open to hearing perspectives on this because I don’t know. And I think most people on both sides don’t either, yet want to argue a position without examining any underlying principles.