As if the U.S. needed still more laws legislating political correctness, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Commission on Human Rights now claims city businesses and entities which ‘fail to address customers by their preferred gender pronouns,’ such as Mr. or Mrs., could face fines up to $250,000.
In a “legal enforcement guidance” issued under New York City Human Rights Law, “employers and converted entities” are now required “to use an individual’s preferred name, pronoun and title (e.g., Ms./Mrs.) regardless of the individual’s sex assigned at birth, anatomy, gender, medical history, appearance, or the sex indicated on the individual’s identification,” reported the Washington Times.
Though potentially well-intentioned, the policing of speech — and, in this case, subjective interpretation — represents the slipperiest of slopes, complete with grave financial consequences, particularly for smaller businesses.
Issued in December, the mandate expands human rights law and notes some individuals prefer to be addressed by non gender-specific pronouns and titles, such as “they/them/theirs or ze/hir.” As the Times noted, the “former are plurals being drafted for use in the singular, while the latter are among several alternative pronoun systems developed by academics and/or LGBT communities.”
While such systems certainly deserve respect for more fairly addressing individuals who feel they cannot be described in traditional language, the legislation — with penalty — of such a system is profoundly troubling for a society founded on freedom.
This also marks a departure of the traditional construct that freedom of speech must vehemently defend the right of individuals to offend through language, rather than the right of others not to be offended. Careful consideration of this view isn’t required for understanding its significance. Being offended is an inherently subjective position — and in stripping the right to offend from even a single person, the dominoes of censorship quickly follow.
New York City’s penalties for violation of the law evidence this clearly — including “the intentional and repeated refusal to use an individual’s preferred name, pronoun or title.”
In other words, offending someone could now cost you — severely. “Misgendering” will garner a fine of $125,000, but if it is the “result of willful, wanton, or malicious conduct” — ‘malicious’ and ‘willful’ marking another subjective interpretation — the maximum potential penalty doubles to $250,000.
Even more absurdly, the guide claims businesses could avoid penalties “by creating a policy of asking everyone what their preferred gender pronoun is so that no individual is singled out for such questions and by updating their system to allow all individuals to self-identify their names and genders. They should not limit the options for identification to male and female only.”
Is New York City testing the waters for Orwell’s infamous Thought Police?
As cited by the Times, law professor Eugene Volokh penned in his blog, the Volokh Conspiracy, concerns about reckoning the law with First Amendment guarantees on free speech:
“So people can basically force us — on pain of massive legal liability — to say what they want us to say, whether or not we want to endorse the political message associated with the term, and whether or not we think it’s a lie.”
Beyond explosive current national discussion about the rights of transgendered individuals, it seems we’ve become a nation so concerned with whose feelings are trampled, the government has decided to legislate the controversy. Though the Bill of Rights and Constitution intended to protect us equally, the State clearly isn’t seeing the forest for the trees on the matter of offending various groups.
One quite specific and fundamentally crucial point those who offend should forever maintain in their favor over those feeling offended lies in the ‘hurt’ person’s ability to ignore the offensive speech. And even when that offensive speech intends to harm someone, the individual is under no obligation to continue the exchange.
Aside from ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,’ whatever happened to people’s ability to just walk away?