One of the debates I’ve gotten into people over the last few years is whether it’s “bigotry” to propose discriminating against people who do not have a legal claim to live in a particular country. I would say “the United States” but one of my biggest sparring partners is Jonathan McLeod, who is talking about Canada. It’s also something I’ve gone around with (I think?) James Hanley.

My view comes down to this: Maybe it is bigotry, but if it’s bigotry it is so universal and ingrained so that it can’t really be rooted out in a meaningful way. It’s true, that at various points in the past you could say that about slavery and straight-up racism. The former has been rooted out in most of the world (to the point that we like to call things slavery that aren’t slavery for effect). The latter hasn’t, but is generally acknowledged as something we should wipe out. With citizenship discrimination, though, we don’t have anything approaching that consensus. Nor is there a roadmap to how to get to a glorious unbigoted state. Even if you let everyone in, you don’t let them vote immediately. Or if you do let anybody move anywhere and immediately vote… good luck with that. Short of that, we’re talking about separate treatment and therefore discrimination

And as such, I find myself uninterested in its bigotry. Or if, by believing in something other than open borders, I should be considered a bigot. The path to being otherwise is simply more than my lowercase-c soul can really bear.

So I’m not really even saying that the Bigotry Card is unfair, or inaccurate, really. I am saying that I consider it to be somewhat beside the point. Uninteresting, except perhaps as an academic discussion.

The City of Houston got some really bad press earlier in the month when their residents overwhelmingly rejected an ordinance – HERO, Houston Equal Rights Ordinance – that would have expanded anti-discrimination law to include, among other groups, gays and transgendered individuals. Though the law was wide-ranging, most of the debate focused on bathrooms. Specifically, the right of transgender women to use men’s restroom and vice-versa.

If I lived in Houston, I would have voted for it. Maybe as much despite the restroom issue as because of it, and despite other imperfections, but mostly because given a binary choice I would consider its presence better than its absence. Houston, however, went the other way. Did I mention it did so overwhelmingly?

There has been the tendency in some of the press to say “Yes. Well. Texas.” and portray Houston as some sort of backwards cow town. What would you expect from Texans? Except that the voters of Houston have already expressed an open-mindedness on the question of homosexuality. They are the largest major city – and one of only two large ones – to have a gay or lesbian mayor. That doesn’t absolve them of having anti-LBGTQ sentiment, but it does suggest that there is something more than a knee-jerk reaction.

Saying “Houston may be okay with gays, but they’re still anti-trans bigots” is, at this juncture, probably more accurate. It may not be total and they may not care out of restrooms, but if you define bigotry in such a way as to include anyone that believes that people with penises need to use the restroom over here and those with vaginas need to use the restroom over there, then it fits. And the anti-HERO forces succeeded largely on this basis.

Supporters of HERO argued, simultaneously, that the notion of women with penises wouldn’t actually get to use the women’s restrooms and that they would be able to and should and thinking otherwise puts you with racists. The latter gets points for being transparent. When the administration is advocating that transgender kids be allowed to use their preferred restroom even when there are unisex options available, it seems unlikely that the law is as modest as Vox proposes. Add to that some of the ancillary consequences of gay marriages and the rapid defense of the notion that simply allowing them to be married isn’t enough, suspicion is somewhat justified.

I think the concerns over bathrooms are overblown, but I am also a male and have less to worry about in terms of harassment. That the right and ability of the transgendered has been acknowledged in large parts of the country and the fears simply haven’t come to fruition. So on this, I remain on the sides of the angelic unbigotted. That is of a small comfort because I am relatively certain that as the debate progresses, I will at some point or another end up on the side of the bigots. The results of gender reassignment surgery seem to be pretty bleak, and while I wouldn’t ban it I am exceptionally critical of minors undergoing it. I’m also uncertain about taking hormones during puberty. These are concerns that can be addressed, maybe, but not with a bigotry tag. And while my views are presently tentative, Just as I have gone from being on the spearhead of gay rights to a defender of bigotry, I am almost certain to be on the wrong side of one of them somewhere along the way, and thus at least a defender of bigotry.

So, if I were concerned about restrooms, I don’t think the bigotry tag would bother me all that much. Even if I think it could be accurate, I would consider it beside the point. Wearing the tag at some point seems an inevitability.


Category: Newsroom

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5 Responses to If This Be Bigotry

  1. I really like this post, Will. It is a well-written, well-said post.

    It gets at some of the things that have been bothering me re, for example, the debates with Sam Wilkinson on the issue. (And to be clear, I have a lot of personal respect for him even though things got sadly contentious when he visited my response to his “bigots come out of the closet” post.)

    I may have more thoughts later.

  2. Michael Drew says:

    This is pretty close to how I think about (my) nationalism. Which is probably just a subset of the bigotry people have accused you of. I have a hard time believing that everyone who throws around accusations of bigotry based on nationalism have really examined all of their political assumptions and purged themselves of beliefs that depend on nationalist ones. For example, if you think the government had a special obligation not to kill Anwar Al-Awklaki that it didn’t have in killing some other suspected terrorists because he was a citizen, that is a nationalist view, perfectly akin to thinking that U.S. welfare benefits (or residency) should be restricted to citizens.

    I guess I see intra-societal questions of bigotry like trans rights within a society as a bit different from inter-societal ones like restricting benefits to citizens. Favoring those in one’s own nation is certainly (obviously) favoritism for a group of people, but it can also be universal across all the parts of given society. Trans people can be nationalists alongside cis people if thy want. But trans people can;t have equal rights in a society f it won;t given them to them. I see a distinction in attitudes there, but at the same time I can see an argument that you are just being bigoted based on where someone was born. But bigotry is an attitude in the heart. If you;re bigoted against trans people

    I also rather feel that bigotry is a knowing hatred or judgement as lesser. You tihknk you know what someone is (you;re probably wrong), and you dislike it. Ignorance and xenophobia I think are also slightly distinct from bigotry. If you’re aware you don;t understand something, and so fear and dislike it, I’m not sure that necessarily rises to bigotry, though it’s certainly a step on the way. But hopefully learning and acceptance can head off bigotry at the pass in those circumstances. That; kind of the feeling I got about Houston, though followed it extremely. Certainly the campaign against HERO was led by bigots, but my charitable take would be that the campaign won based on ignorance and misunderstanding, not the successful inculcation of confirmed anti-trans bigotry in the population. As you say, there is evidence to suggest that is not the case of mind of the electorate there. Hopefully learning about the misunderstood will lead to acceptance down the road, rather than it being the case that people genuinely think they know what it is to be a tans person and just simply are bigoted about that and wish to deny trans people rights.

    • trumwill says:

      That (intra vs inter) seems like a fair distinction. Not sure if I agree with it or not (hadn’t really thought about it), but I can at least see it and as non-arbitrary.

      My view is more about my increasing disinterest in how we define bigotry. I believe in trying to deal with people (inter and intra) as fairly and generously as possible. Some of the things I myself could consider fair and generous might be considered bigoted – and in a way that I can’t say absolutely that they’re wrong – but that from where I stand, it’s not clear that it’s a bigotry that is wrong.

      Tied into this is a moving target (not dishonestly moving, just moving or at least different for different people) over what the threshold is to avoid the label. And that with any given person I am discussing things with, the threshold may be higher than I can clear (open borders for immigration, minors getting gender reassignment without – maybe with, I’m still feeling it out – parental consent). Leaving me in a position where I am less interested in debating the bigotry of something – including defending whether my own view is bigotry-free – than in whether the potentially disparate treatment can or cannot be justified.

  3. Mike Hunt Sailer says:

    I am a firm believer in LBGTQ rights. In other words, I believe it shouldn’t be illegal to be LBGTQ. However, I feel any “rights” beyond that should merely be privileges.

    Because of this belief, I am generally referred to as a “bigot” on left-leaning websites, while I am not called such things in more reasonable places. Those who want a great expansion of LBGTQ rights tend be very intolerant of those of us who are more reasonable. They also tend to not see the irony of their intolerance of those with a more reasonable opinion.

    Liberals generally don’t believe in free speech as a concept. Since they know how wrong that sounds, they will couch their feelings with such nonsense as “freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences”. In other words, as long as their aren’t advocating for a government imposed punishment of free speech, then they think they believe in free speech. What I don’t understand is how they feel they are defenders of free speech when they only believe in the concept at its very basic minimum, but when it comes to LBGTQ rights, anyone who isn’t with them 100 percent is a “bigot”.

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