The name Curt Schilling wasn't familiar to me before ESPN decided to fire the sports commentator and former Major League Baseball pitcher for making allegedly "transphobic" comments on Facebook. For the record, I believe an employer has the right to restrict an employee's public speech if the employer believes that it reflects badly on the company. The First Amendment restricts only the power of the government to impose certain limits on free speech, and last I checked, ESPN was a private corporation.
That being said, the Schilling incident raises important questions. Are Americans being intimidated into accepting public behavior that many feel threatens them — namely, allowing biologically male or female individuals to use public bathrooms that are designated for the opposite sex?
Schilling's offense was to comment on a crude, disgusting photograph posted on Facebook showing a supposedly transgender female with this caption: "Let him in! To the restroom with your daughter or else you're a narrow minded, judgmental, unloving, racist bigot who needs to die!!!" In response, Schilling posted, "A man is a man no matter what they call themselves. I don't care what they are, who they sleep with, men's room was designed for the penis, women's not so much. Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic."
The incident only amplifies the furor raised when North Carolina enacted a law restricting public restroom and locker room use to individuals based on their birth sex. The state now faces boycotts by entertainers, sports franchises and state governments.
Let's remember that what is at issue here is public behavior, not private, but behavior that also involves an individual's right to privacy in some of the most intimate acts he or she undertakes.
When I go to the gym, do I have the right to expect that I will only see other female bodies showering and dressing and that only other biological females will see me doing those things? If a man is standing at a public urinal, does he have the right to expect that everyone who enters has the same biology? Isn't there an implicit expectation of privacy in these settings?
At my local YMCA, a sign outside the women's dressing room cautions that boys older than 6 are excluded, and I have never seen an adult male take a female child of any age into the men's dressing room. A family dressing room is available, which presumably offers privacy for those who can't meet the parameters. A similar accommodation could be made for transgender individuals, but the LGBT community has rejected this compromise.
No doubt many Americans' aversion to sharing toilet facilities with people of the opposite sex is cultural. The first time I went to Paris as a young woman, I was astounded when I discovered that men and women shared the same bathroom, albeit with stalls that provided maximum privacy. It was awkward for me as an American woman to stand next to a male stranger while washing my hands after answering nature's call. And most American restrooms aren't set up like unisex European facilities, with only stalls or single toilet rooms and full doors.
It doesn't make anyone a bigot not to want to share bathroom and dressing functions with those who are not of the same sex. The LGBT community insists that "gender" is different from sex and that individuals have the right to choose how they wish to identify in terms of gender. But hormone treatments and plastic surgery do not, in fact, change men into women or women into men.
Transgender individuals should be treated with dignity, as all human beings should. They should be accorded the right to call themselves whatever they wish, and politeness requires that the rest of us should accord them the courtesy of complying. But when their right to self-identification comes up against others' right to privacy, we need to find a resolution that accommodates both interests in the public square.
We can honor the needs of a minority — a very small one indeed — without trampling the privacy rights of the great majority. A few unisex bathrooms and private dressing rooms in big institutions would solve the problem without much fuss. But this is not about problem-solving; it's about abandoning nature in favor of the politics of gender.
Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal." To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Intel Free Press