Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson took on a Democratic strategist who supports a California bill that would sentence elder care workers to jail time for addressing transgender residents by the wrong pronoun.
Carlson debated Robin Biro, who supports the bill that was authored by Democratic state Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco. He challenged Biro right out of the gate, starting the interview by saying the bill "doesn't sound very American" because it could send people to jail for saying something others don't want to hear.
"You can be put in jail for saying what you think is true," Carlson said. "This bill criminalizes free speech."
Biro repeatedly skirted around the direct issue of potential imprisonment of employees for the use of a different pronoun than a patient prefers, and instead tried to emphasize other aspects of the bill, such as its prohibition for care providers to deny treatment to someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
When he finally addressed the free speech issues with the bill, he called the intentional misuse of pronouns toward transgender people "abuse" and compared it to former first lady Michelle Obama being called a man.
Carlson asked if the people who referred to Mrs. Obama as a man should go to jail, however, and Biro admitted that they should not. Biro also could not provide an answer to Carlson's repeated direct question of how many instances of pronoun misuse would warrant arrest.
What does the bill say?
Senate Bill 219 would enact what is called the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Long-Term Care Facility Resident’s Bill of Rights. Here is the specific part of the bill Carlson took issue with:
"...would make it unlawful, except as specified, for any long-term care facility to take specified actions wholly or partially on the basis of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status, including, among others, willfully and repeatedly failing to use a resident’s preferred name or pronouns after being clearly informed of the preferred name or pronouns"
The bill also extends protections to LGBT individuals by preventing care providers from "denying admission to a long-term care facility, transferring or refusing to transfer a resident within a facility or to another facility, or discharging or evicting a resident from a facility."
It doesn't appear that Carlson, or most decent people, have any problem with LGBT residents of elder care facilities being protected from eviction or refusal of treatment, but it is a slippery slope when it becomes legal, even in very specified situations, to imprison a citizen for something they have said, regardless of how abusive it is perceived to be.
The reasonable argument against this bill isn't that we should advocate for the intentional use of offensive speech toward LGBT individuals. I personally have no problem referring to a transgender person by the pronoun they have chosen for themselves. At no point would I ever envision myself breaking a law against that type of speech. Not because of my beliefs about transgender people, but because I make an effort to be kind and accommodating to everyone I interact with.
The reasonable argument is that we can't allow rights to be taken away simply because they aren't the ones we care about right now. This bill doesn't affect me, but what about the next one? Because the next level of outlawed speech could attack something personal to me, such as my religious beliefs. I can't be a hypocrite and only care when it hits home.
We must be guided by principles, and remain consistent in those principles, when we are establishing policies and laws. Freedom of speech is not a principle we can afford to dissect into a million exceptions, because eventually it won't exist.
I pray that we can be decent, empathetic enough citizens to fight for free speech even when we disagree with some of it, and also to treat each other well enough that we don't have to try to legislate basic kindness and human interaction.