JENKINS: Feds try to mandate 'preferred pronouns'

Those driving this agenda, especially within the federal government, don’t have as much power as they think they do.

Rob Jenkins is a Higher Education Fellow with Campus Reform and a tenured associate professor of English at Georgia State University - Perimeter College. In a career spanning more than three decades at five different institutions, he has served as a head men’s basketball coach, an athletic director, a department chair, and an academic dean, as well as a faculty member. Jenkins’ opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer.

Each Spring, the “queer” agenda appears ascendant, with “elite” institutions like Hofstra University and the University of Pennsylvania hosting “Lavender Graduations” even as “Pride Month” looms—pride apparently being the only one of the Seven Deadly Sins that warrants its own celebration.  

However, conservatives and other freedom-lovers should take heart. Those driving this agenda, especially within the federal government, don’t have as much power as they think they do.

 That might come as a shock to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which recently added “misgendering” to its list of potential offenses. As John Murawski reported last week in Unherd, “Failing to respect a queer person’s non-binary pronouns is the newest form of workplace discrimination.” 

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The rule, if valid, would certainly apply to college campuses, which are among others things “workplaces”—not just for faculty and staff but also for students who hold campus jobs. Fortunately for all of us, it’s not valid.

 The news prompted Will Jones of The Daily Sceptic to pen an op/ed titled, “Preferred pronouns are now mandatory”—to which my immediate response was, “Um, no.” Neither the EEOC nor any other government agency can force us to use “preferred pronouns” against our will.

I’ve already outlined my objections to the pronoun nonsense, and I won’t rehearse those here. Suffice it to say, perpetuating the lie that people can change their sex isn’t good for society. Nor is it “kind” to reinforce someone’s potentially dangerous delusions or enable self-destructive behavior, like cutting off healthy body parts or tampering with the body’s natural hormones, in pursuit of a fantasy.

In that regard, Will and I are on the same page. And to be clear, I’m a big fan of his and of The Daily Sceptic. However, Will is a Brit and can therefore be excused for not fully comprehending how our Constitution works or how Americans typically react to being told what we’re “required” to say or think.

The main problem with the EEOC’s new “mandate” is that, based on long-standing legal precedent, the agency lacks the ability to enforce it. As the Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), the government cannot compel speech. Forcing someone to affirm that a man is a woman is thus clearly unconstitutional.

Furthermore, SCOTUS has recently started reigning in the power of federal bureaucrats. For instance, the Court ruled in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (2022) that the EPA did not have the authority to change emissions standards, willy-nilly.

Since then, the Justices have taken up two other cases relating to administrative overreach, Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce. In so doing, the conservative-leaning Court may have signaled its willingness to overturn Chevron v. Natural Defense Resource Council (1984), which for decades has allowed the administrative state essentially to make law.

Short of new Congressional legislation, then, government agencies cannot “mandate” use of “preferred pronouns.” That would overstep their authority and infringe upon our First Amendment rights.

Even if Congress did pass such a law—which seems unlikely—I believe it would quickly be struck down. And if it weren’t, I’m confident Red State governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Brian Kemp of Georgia would fight back, just as they have in regard to illegal immigration and the recent changes to Title IX.

[RELATED: PROF JENKINS: The ‘sex and gender are different’ canard]

 Of course, in the worst-case scenario, we as individuals can and should simply refuse to comply, as Jordan Peterson has done in Canada, at some personal and professional cost. There could be consequences for us, too, but if enough take a stand, it will be difficult to prosecute us all. There truly is strength in numbers.

Meanwhile, the consequences for our nation—indeed, for Western civilization—of capitulating to this blatant attack on truth, reality, and freedom would be much greater. We would find ourselves living in the society Orwell prophesied, where two plus two equals five—or whatever the government says it equals.

As Peterson so succinctly put it, “The individual willingness to swallow the lie…enables the totalitarian mob. If you allow yourself to assent to something you know to be false, no matter how small, not only do you put your own soul in mortal peril, but you also destabilize the entire polity.”