The so-called Equality Act that the House passed (with all Democrats and eight Republicans voting for it) elicited some alternative, mock titles that are at least more accurate.
One commenter said it should be renamed the “George Orwell Told You So” Act, noting that it would prove once again that “all animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Another observer, calling it the “most dangerous bill to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion that has ever been proposed on a national level,” dubs it “The Get-the-Homophobic-and-Transphobic-Bigots ‘(In)Equality Act.’”
These made-up titles point to two aspects of the legislation, in addition to the solid Democratic commitment to pursuing it as a major priority. One is the far-reaching effects and implications for civil society—families, schools, churches, businesses, and voluntary associations of all kinds. The other is the linguistic confusion and contortions that surround gender ideology that is reflected in the title of the bill. Both are essential features of totalitarianism, as George Orwell portrays it in his dystopian novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”
State Control and Suppression of Civil Society
As theologian Robert Gagnon puts it, “It will affect every aspect of human existence from cradle to grave, from use of one’s talents and skills to mandated speech, from home to public venues, from school to employment, from day-care centers to hospitals and nursing homes, from all sources of entertainment to all news outlets, from religious institutions to para-church organizations and even places of worship.”
This all may sound exaggerated. But it reflects a profound change in the power of the state and its relations with the rest of society. It extends specially protected status in federal law (especially the 1964 Civil Rights Act) from categories of race, sex, and disability to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). It changes everything because it makes rights and enforcement of rights by the state on the rest of society contingent upon feelings and desires.
Even the highly changeable feelings of children and adolescents must take precedence over parental rights and the professional judgment of physicians and psychotherapists.
There has been an accelerating pace of change in which parents and professionals, business owners, shelters, schools, and recreation and sporting events must adopt the new orthodoxy, accepting without question and without any objective or scientific basis, the assertion of those of one biological sex of a claim to belong to or identify with another. This has been happening in many U.S. states and localities, as well as in Canada.
The Equality Act aims to impose a large array of prohibitions and requirements, nearly all unthinkable just a few years ago, across the whole nation. Men who claim a female “gender identity,” with or without any prior “sex reassignment” surgery or hormone treatment, will have access to “every woman’s restroom, locker room, and dressing room in the nation” (in the bill’s language). This includes women’s shelters, prisons, and sports.
The bill requires schools to instruct (some would say indoctrinate) students in SOGI beliefs and practices from an early age, without parental notification. There will be mandatory speech laws with fines for “misgendering”—using pronouns appropriate to the person’s biological sex but not to his or her “gender identity”—applied to all schools, businesses, and health care facilities. Small business owners, such as cake artists (remember Jack Phillips in Colorado), wedding photographers, and so on will face severe penalties if they refuse to allow their talents to be used to promote or celebrate practices that they regard as immoral. And on and on.
No nook or cranny of civil society will be safe from the state’s enforcement of the new SOGI ideology, overriding claims of reason and science, conscience and faith.
Newspeak and the Denial of Reality
Orwell coined the term Newspeak in “Nineteen Eighty-Four” to denote the language created by the ruling Party as part of its system of totalitarian control over all aspects of people’s lives. The language has a vocabulary that is continually reduced to control freedom of thought and prevent heterodox thinking as “thoughtcrime.”
As the novel explains, “The greatest difficulty facing the compilers of the Newspeak Dictionary was not to invent new words, but, having invented them, to make sure what they meant: to make sure, that is to say, what ranges of words they canceled by their existence.”
This is a peculiar aspect of SOGI ideology. Sometimes, sex is described as innate and immutable, while gender is fluid and something one can choose. Other times, it is the reverse. Sometimes gender is a social construct, others sex itself. In the latter case, sex is not something that can be discovered in the womb by ultrasound, but is “assigned at birth.” I have not been able to discover if the same is true of other mammals or how this affects the use of medical treatments that are specific to what used to be called biological males or females.
One attempt to indoctrinate young children in the trans ideology, a teaching resource called the “Gingerbread Person,” went through several iterations in quick succession in response to criticisms from trans activists, and was superseded by another, the “Gingerbread Unicorn.” The terminology and images of one version of trans ideology praised by gender activists one day are denounced the next as transphobic and unacceptable.
In the most patient and heroic effort so far to disentangle the ever-changing and seemingly incoherent and contradictory language of gender identity theory, “When Harry Became Sally,” political philosopher Ryan Anderson argues:
“At the heart of the transgender moment are radical ideas about the human person—in particular, that people are what they claim to be, regardless of contrary evidence. A transgender boy is a boy, not merely a girl who identifies as a boy.
“It’s understandable why activists make these claims. An argument about transgender identities will be much more persuasive if it concerns who someone is, not merely how someone identifies. And so the rhetoric of the transgender moment drips with ontological assertions: people are the gender they prefer to be. That’s the claim.”
Anyone who ventures into this linguistic morass will notice that, while the concepts are continually being redefined, often to reverse the sense they had last year, the latest version is advanced and explained to courts and legislatures as the true, “scientific” position. In reality, what is presented is not science but ideology, not empirical reality but ontological assertion, with no basis but the will of gender activists to impose it.
“The original idea,” as writer Michael Liccione says, “was liberation from the oppression of both biology and social constructs; now, gender theorists want government to enforce their ideology, which is but a form of will-to-power.”
The more tortuously absurd the positions that activists seek to advance as the new orthodoxy, the more insistent the demands become for courts and policymakers to bring the full power of the state to bear on heretics.
The Equality Act has nothing to do with science or equality. Its fundamental purpose is to suppress dissent and reasoned discussion while enforcing an incoherent and nonsensical orthodoxy—an Orwellian world where the official line is 2+2=5. Everyone knows at some level that it is nonsense, but no one dares challenge it. The greater the absurdity, as Orwell saw, the greater the level of coercion required to enforce it and to disable the ability to think otherwise.
Paul Adams is a professor emeritus of social work at the University of Hawai‘i and was a professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Case Western Reserve University. He is the co-author of “Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is” and has written extensively on social welfare policy and professional and virtue ethics.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.