We are two women with some significant religious and ideological differences. Natasha is an agnostic progressive and board chair of the radical feminist organization Women’s Liberation Front. Christen is an evangelical Christian in the Anglican tradition and a former attorney at Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious freedom advocacy group. But we share a political commitment to women’s equality and are united in opposing the ways that gender identity nondiscrimination laws undermine it.
Both measures take aim against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity under federal law. Both forbid the denial of employment, housing, credit and jury service, or denial of service in places of public accommodation and by recipients of federal financial assistance. Both redefine “sex” to include “gender identity” (meaning a person’s “gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or characteristics.”)
Though there are differences between the two. The Equality Act expands the concept of public accommodation to include “any establishment that provides a good, service, or program,” without exemptions for religious conscience, whereas Fairness for All features some narrow exemptions for religious organizations.
As you might guess, Fairness for All was put forward by a handful of religious groups as an alternative to the Equality Act. They promote Fairness for All — whether from exhaustion or despair — as a workable compromise between religious freedom and rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
But simply adding religious exemptions to gender identity nondiscrimination provisions cedes important ethical questions about women’s rights, and suggests that all reasonable opposition to gender identity nondiscrimination laws is narrowly self-interested rather than in the public interest. Most importantly for its chances in Congress, Fairness for All overlooks a large overlap in the concerns of religious and secular voters.
For instance, the law would go beyond preventing anyone from being fired for identifying as transgender; it would likely require that a man who believes himself to be a woman be treated as one by mandating that he have full access to women’s showers and locker rooms. Even though gender identity is inherently subjective and self-diagnosed, it would be enough under both bills to compel the use of “preferred pronouns” in the workplace —as we are already seeing in educational settings — while authorizing men entry into women’s and girls’ sports, women’s shelters and more.
Similar nondiscrimination laws mandate that self-declared gender identity trumps biology for access to sex-specific changing facilities or competitive sports. That’s what allowed a boy to displace state championship titles for 10 different girls in Connecticut sports.
Thus, all women should worry that Fairness for All would end existing customary rights to bodily privacy, whether by sight or by contact, from members of the opposite sex — just as the Equality Act would.
Bona fide occupational qualifications by sex for jobs like medical and personal care attendants are also threatened. We saw this play out with our neighbors to the north. Under Canadian gender identity nondiscrimination laws that parallel the Equality Act and Fairness for All, female beauticians were hauled before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal on charges of discriminating against a man who demanded that women be required to wax his genitals.
Whether the women’s objections were based on safety concerns or religious beliefs, Jessica Yaniv (then also known as Jonathan Yaniv) was able to leverage the legal system to insist on his right to be alone with women and force intimate contact with them.
Fairness for All, in short, would broadly change the societal norm. None of us should have to argue for a special exemption — religious or otherwise — to justify our privacy rights. It’s a longstanding civil rights presumption that people in authority should vigorously defend on behalf of their fellow citizens, who must now fear crushing harassment if they object.
Abandoning this simple principle abandons the most vulnerable women and girls as well: those who need emergency shelter and those in need of long-term care for age or disability.
In Oregon, a women's shelter permitted a man to reside there because he self-identified as a woman. A British Columbia shelter kicked two women out for complaining to the media about the man’s presence. The city of Anchorage attempted to enforce its law against a women’s shelter when it did not admit a drunk, injured man but instead paid for his taxi to the hospital.
Homeless women are often displaced because of domestic abuse, disability, or mental illness, and they are at significant risk from further abuse by their male social peers. Where will they be able to go to get away from men while sleeping or showering if the Equality Act or Fairness for All passes?
Will people who see themselves as representing the interests of the faith community abandon these women and girls? By allowing men to declare themselves women under the law, safeguarding these vulnerable women in single-sex environments becomes impossible, regardless of whether Fairness for All also includes some exemptions for religious groups.
Accordingly, we oppose gender identity laws in all forms and desire that all U.S. laws recognize a sex-based definition of the human person where sex is understood to be biological. The addition of gender identity to civil rights law as a protected class has been misrepresented as affecting only trans-identified individuals, who already enjoy the same rights as the rest of us based on their sex. What gender identity will actually do is allow any man to declare a “right” to be recognized as a woman for any reason, or none at all.
This change would have a huge impact on all women. That’s why we are crossing lines of deep division and disagreement to unite our voices in objecting to this unjust demand, and to request the help of all our fellow citizens in opposing the misnamed Equality Act and Fairness for All Act.
Who will stand with us?
Natasha Chart is board chair for Women’s Liberation Front, and Christen Price is former legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom.