First Amendment is not an excuse for misgendering

By: Jasper Scelsi, Columnist

A Religious Philosophy professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio claimed it was his first amendment right to misgender transgender students, which has recently made the news. The student asked him to call her “she,” “her,” and “ma’am,” but the professor refused and only called her by her last name.

This actually happened to me on campus – I had a professor that refused to use my name and pronouns and just called me by my last name, and would get in my face and yell at me and graded me more harshly than other students. I never went to anyone about that, but luckily this student did.

Professor Meriwether got an informal warning and a written warning for violating the non-discrimination policy of the school. But he argued that as “a Christian” it was his “sincerely held religious belief, based on the Bible’s teachings, that God created human beings as either male or female, that this gender is fixed in each person from the moment of conception, and that it cannot be changed.”

So he sued the school with help from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It supports recriminalization of homosexuality and state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people. They claimed his free speech, freedom of religion, equal protection, and due process rights were violated. However, a federal trial court dismissed his claim, claiming misgendering is not free speech, and denied the other claims on precedent.

The president of the school’s LGBTQ organization, Jae Keniston, said “Since this lawsuit began, transgender students have been worried that they would have to start skipping classes or avoid particular professors because Shawnee State would no longer be able to effectively address bullying, harassment, and mistreatment of transgender students,” on the matter.

The fact that the misgendering was not allowed is a sign of society’s improved views on transgender people. Before, the suit may have gone through. But because Meriwether is a government employee, his free speech rights are limited. If this was another job, what would happen? Could an I.T. repair person misgendering customers sue their boss if they were reprimanded? That remains to be seen. But the outlook is hopeful. Hopefully people will see that being gendered correctly is a human right.

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