Correction, 12:30 p.m., 3/5/2021: This column has been corrected. It wrongly stated that in 2013, 72% of victims of violent homicides were transgender women. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program’s 2013 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-affected Hate Violence Report, 72% of homicides targeting LGBTQ and HIV-affected victims were transgender women. This statistic does not apply to all 2013 homicides
JP Hasson’s recent article in The University News, “Free speech for me—but not for thee,” discussed the controversy surrounding Dr. David Upham’s Facebook remarks on the transgender woman appointed to be the assistant health secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Rachel Levine.
Levine is extremely qualified for this position. She graduated from Harvard College, attended medical school at Tulane University, and completed her residency in pediatric medicine and her fellowship in adolescent medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center. As Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health, Levine led the state’s public health response to the coronavirus pandemic.
With such qualifications and experience, it is difficult to see why bringing Levine’s gender identity into the discussion of her possible confirmation is relevant to her job performance. However, Upham and Hasson have begun the discussion, and it must be continued.
Upham is, of course, entitled to his own opinions and may express them. Regardless, we (the authors) wholeheartedly agree with Bethany Beeler’s call in her open letter to UD’s administration to admonish the hatred that was spread by Upham.
Upham criticized Levine’s appointment on the grounds that she would force “dissenters” to identify her with feminine pronouns, even if they do not personally believe that she is a female. However, we fail to see why calling someone by their preferred pronouns is such an infringement on one’s belief.
At UD, we are taught about the dignity of human life; all people have a right to life and all people deserve respect. Choosing to refer to someone as “a biological male” or “a biological female” instead of their preferred pronouns does nothing to promote truth and bring others closer to God. As shown in Matthew 7:1-5, God never wants us to judge other people, even if it may seem like the right thing to do. Treating people with kindness and charity are the best ways to honor God and all his children.
Levine is more than aware that she was born a biological male, and insisting upon recognizing a gender identity that she rejects is only childish and disrespectful. It doesn’t hurt anyone to use someone’s preferred pronouns. It may feel strange to those who disagree with the idea of preferred pronouns, but in the long run it is a simple and polite sign of basic human respect and dignity–and isn’t that what we are striving for at the end of the day?
To post online for the sole purpose of insulting an entire community of people is contrary to the Catholic mission. Upham argued that being transgender is a “violence to truth.” His post blatantly spewed disrespect at an entire group of people simply because they have differing beliefs.
Beeler implored the University to hold its professors accountable for spreading opinions that contradict the University’s mission in the pursuit of Truth and that do not reflect the love of Christ. Her appeal is by no means an infringement on Upham’s right to free speech. Free speech does not equate to speech without consequences, especially in the workplace.
Some students, ourselves included, are worried by the University’s willingness to look the other way when marginalized groups, such as transgender people, become targets of harassment and bullying in the UD community. We should not work to exclude anyone in the LGBTQ+ community, or any other minorities, and label them as the “other.”
Instead, we should extend our welcome, our charity and our love to them as Christ would. Criticizing and ostracizing people leads to division, which is not something we as Catholics should work to foster.
Transgender people are not harming anyone by living their preferred gender identity or asking that others treat them with love and respect. They do not cultivate negativity or violence toward anyone, so there is no reason to attack them simply for existing the way that they are.
Hasson characterizes Beeler’s refusal to engage with and argue against Upham’s position as unreasonable. Levine, Beeler and the entire transgender community know what conservative and traditionally-minded people think of their lifestyle.
They have heard it their entire lives. It is not unreasonable for one to decide not to engage with bullies. There is no need to continually harass transgender people or call into question their professional abilities that are unaffected by their gender identity or preferred pronouns.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, transgender people are seven times more likely to be victims of violence. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program, in 2013, 72% of victims of violent homicides targeting LGBTQ+ and HIV-affected persons were transgender women. As Beeler pointed out, in 2020, 44 transgender people were murdered, and the transgender community faces significantly nationally higher-than-average suicide rates.
The transgender community does not need more people adding fuel to an already-raging fire. Posts like Upham’s do nothing to help heal the transgender community from these abhorrent acts of violence. Rather, it is charity, love and understanding that are the first steps to definitively putting a stop to violence and hatred.
We are all a product of our culture and upbringing, and we should respect those who disagree with us rather than disparage, mock or vilify them online. Beeler asked in her letter, “Is this the kind of behavior and person UD wants to place in front of children growing into young adults?”
We hope it isn’t.