Marginalizing Protected Groups in the Name of Equity and Inclusion Is the "New Normal"
Updated: Jul 23
Why are women’s and lesbian rights minimized in efforts to promote equality for transgender Americans?
As a gay black woman, I'm often taken aback by DEI initiatives that don’t square with my belief in the fair and equal treatment of all human beings.
I’ve always felt that race is just one part, albeit an extremely important one, of our greater human experience. Policies that view human beings primarily through the lens of race don't bring us together; rather, they drive us further apart by compelling us to focus on our immutable differences and characteristics. DEI initiatives often separate us based on the color of our skin instead of allowing us to appreciate our uniqueness while coming together to embrace our deeper, shared values and experiences. They build walls instead of tearing them down.
But now I’m seeing yet another problem with DEI: the same reductive mindset that’s guiding our racial discourse is being used to promote gender equality at the expense of the progress that other historically disenfranchised groups have made. Well-intentioned Americans have become unwitting perpetrators and enablers of the discrimination they abhor by engaging in practices that marginalize the very groups they’ve spent decades protecting.
In a DEI-driven America, the needs and concerns of biological women and lesbians have been pushed aside. We’re awakening to the bizarre reality that diversity, equity and inclusion can actually work against us. In some ways, we’ve even lost ground and find ourselves in a worse position today than we were a decade ago.
We’ve been forsaken by the crusaders who once valiantly defended us. Progressive leaders have become fair weather friends, seeking our support when it’s politically expedient and ignoring us when it doesn’t suit their broader agenda — and increasingly, that agenda seems to devalue people who were born female, or who choose to express their attraction to biological women without “becoming” men. It’s a perverse irony to which many well-meaning Americans are either completely oblivious, and those of us who’ve been forgotten are too ashamed or intimidated to point out.
The thought leaders who claim to promote diversity, equity and inclusion may call themselves Progressives, but in reality they’ve become a very different animal now. For all intents and purposes, they’re Regressives.
This is the DEI elephant in the room.
A decade ago Americans may not have agreed on much, but we didn’t have heated debates about what words mean. Today, it’s a different story. Our language is being re-defined in real time and thrusting millions of people into completely different realities. Nowhere is the language debate more heated than when it comes to gender.
Ask a Supreme Court justice or even a doctor what a “woman” is, and you won’t get a definitive answer. What was once a simple matter of biology has fallen into the nebulous and opaque area of gender identity. Even the American Medical Association won’t commit to a definition, opining that “an individual’s gender identity may not align with the sex assigned to them at birth.” Because in an America laser-focused on inclusion, gender becomes a construct that exists solely in the mind: if you believe you are a woman, then you are a woman.
To be clear, I'm by no means suggesting that people who feel uncomfortable in their biological bodies and want to present as, or transition to, the opposite sex shouldn't be respected. Their personal choice needs to be honored. Like every American, they deserve fair and equal treatment. Like every American, they're entitled to move freely through society without fear of mistreatment. The transgender community has been the target of vicious discrimination and abuse that’s been minimized and ignored for far too long. While the award-winning 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry brought much-needed awareness to the challenges this community faces, efforts to promote social justice have largely focused on race.
Recently, however, DEI proponents have pivoted hard toward this under-represented group, ensuring that their voices are heard and they are no longer invisible. Unfortunately, this shift has come at the expense of those who are still fighting to be seen, heard, and respected.
DEI initiatives have essentially equated transgender rights with the rights of women and lesbians — even though their experiences, struggles, and priorities are very different. This “piggyback” strategy was no doubt intended to foster strength through unity, but it’s undermined decades of progress. Because the transgender struggle is not, and has never been, the same as the struggle of biological women or lesbians. And herein lies another irony of DEI initiatives: while they purport to recognize the differences and unique challenges that diverse groups face, they often ignore and even trivialize these differences and challenges by conflating them with those of other groups.
Women have historically faced many obstacles, not just because of our physiology (endless battles with weight, menstrual cramps, and the “final gift” of menopause), but also because of deeply ingrained societal biases about gender roles. From misogynist rap lyrics to date rape and other sexual assault to the “glass ceiling,” it’s hard to grow up female without sometimes feeling like a second-class citizen. Thanks to feminist standard bearers like Susan B. Anthony and Gloria Steinem, pop culture icons like Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey, and advocacy groups like the National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), we’ve made tremendous strides over the past century by highlighting these inequities and enacting legislation to remove them. These crusaders passionately defended our rights and made us proud, and even honored, to be women.
But now the playing field is tilting — literally — in the wrong direction, ironically at the hands of people who spent decades working to level it.
Agape, The Danish Gender Museum (formerly the Women's Museum)
From high school track to college swimming, a growing number of transgender women are being allowed, and even encouraged, to compete in women’s sports. Some have transitioned through hormone replacement therapy, and others have transitioned further with gender-affirming surgery. Still others have even chosen to retain their biological male parts and have socially transitioned by simply identifying as female and changing their name and the way they dress. But the vast majority have one thing in common: they’ve experienced puberty as a young male. NCAA swimmer Lia Thomas, who spent three years competing on the University of Pennsylvania men’s swim team before beating two female Olympic athletes in the 500-yard freestyle in 2022, is still endowed with a penis.
By the time they’ve reached puberty, biological males develop an insurmountable physical advantage over their female counterparts, and the science proves it. Men have greater muscle mass, bigger and stronger bones, and larger hearts and lungs. It’s therefore no surprise that studies have shown transgender women retain an inherent advantage over biological females, and enjoy a double-digit edge even after two years of hormone therapy. Testosterone’s effect on every cell in the male body is profound and explains why elite females cannot effectively compete against elite males. (I suspect this is also why transgender inclusion has largely focused on women's sports, as transgender men are probably less likely to want to compete with biological men).
Yet proponents of DEI choose to ignore this biological reality. They insist that excluding transgender athletes from women’s sports is discriminatory because it favors people who were born female over people who identify as female. Because identification trumps science. (But would these same people argue that it’s racist for the black community to exclude a white person who rejects biological reality and identifies as black? Doubtful.).
Incredibly, the organizations you would expect to support women in the face of this threat are doing the unthinkable: abandoning them. The Women’s Sports Foundation insists that while “there are many real threats to girls’ and women’s access and opportunity in sports…transgender inclusion is not one of them.” The ACLU has gone a step further, arguing that the exclusion of transgender women from sports hurts all women by reinforcing stereotypes that women are “weak.” Wrap your mind around that. The organization with a “proud history” of fighting for women's rights is warning that we will be perceived as “weak” if we refuse to compete with women who have the competitive advantage of being born as men. In what world does this make sense? Would a featherweight boxer be considered “weak” if he refused to get into the boxing ring with Mike Tyson?
Think about the message this sends to female athletes. Even if you’re a fierce competitor, your chances of getting an athletic scholarship for college will likely be slimmer, and your career may be eclipsed or shortened — solely because you’re not biologically equipped to compete with your transgender peers. Moreover, you’re expected to embrace your competitive disadvantage in the name of equality. Women’s sports, which once gave girls the confidence to compete in activities they would have otherwise been excluded from, are now setting them up for failure. Efforts to promote inclusion aren’t moving women forward; they’re pushing us backward.
This is the end result of a regressive mindset.
Why are the people who promote equality ignoring a scientific reality that clearly puts biological women at a disadvantage? Why should biological women be disqualified from competitions for taking performance enhancing drugs — or having naturally high testosterone levels — if transgender women are allowed to enjoy the same inherent advantage with impunity?
Even the U.S. government has turned a blind eye. In response to more than twenty states that have passed legislation prohibiting transgender athletes in women’s sports, President Biden recently proposed a rule to withhold federal funding from schools that comply with bans. In February 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which (if passed by the Senate) would codify this policy into law.
The few female athletes who have been bold enough to point out these obvious threats to women's rights have been attacked by Regressives for being transphobic. Former NCAA swimmer Riley Gaines, who lost to transgender rival Thomas, said she expected coaches or NCAA officials to “stick up” for biological females, but instead she and her teammates have been “emotionally blackmailed and gaslit into silence.” Earlier this month Gaines was assaulted by protesters on a college campus when she voiced her opposition to transgender athletes in women’s sports.
Even feminism, the ideology that was indispensable in securing women’s rights a century ago, has become a dirty word. Legendary tennis star Martina Navratilova recently expressed her opposition to transgender athletes in women’s sports: “ I am happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her. It would not be fair.” Navratilova was promptly labeled a TERF (Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminist). Because it’s apparently okay to acknowledge the unfair competitive advantage men enjoy in the workplace, but it’s anathema to acknowledge their biological advantage on the tennis court.
This regressive mindset is even reinforcing traditional stereotypes that women have fought so long to overcome. Much of the controversy surrounding trans TikTok influencer Dylan Mulvaney’s partnership with Budweiser centered on the backlash from right-wing, heterosexual men, but far less attention was paid to the message the company was sending to women. We’ve worked long and hard to be taken seriously. We know that being a woman means more than dressing like Audrey Hepburn and bouncing around in a ponytail like a teenage girl. Budweiser’s campaign didn’t advance our cause. It wasn’t progressive; it was regressive.
The subversion of women isn’t just happening in the U.S. The Women’s Museum in Denmark was recently renamed the Gender Museum and graced by a statue of a man with exposed male genitals breastfeeding a baby. Bizarrely, after decades spent attempting to overthrow the patriarchy, it’s quietly reconstituting itself — in the guise of biological men who are now laying claim to our singular ability to bear and nurse children.
We aren’t only losing ground in sports; we’re even losing our right to bodily safety in prison. State laws like California’s Prison Rape Elimination Act purport to protect transgender inmates by allowing them to be housed “in a manner consistent with their gender identity.” Yet while transgender women justifiably fear for their safety in male penitentiaries, biological women have similar concerns. Gender identity housing has led to rising incidents of rapes and sexual abuse against women by biological males who identify as female, a predictable outcome when sharing the same jail cells. In the words of one Washington State prison inmate: “Imagine coming into your room one day and you’re in closed custody and you turn around and there’s a man standing there peeing in the toilet…There’s nothing you can do.”
Rather than ignore these biological realities and their accompanying risks, wouldn’t it make more sense to place transgender men and transgender women in dedicated areas at these facilities? Men’s and women’s prisons, like men’s and women’s sports, exist for a reason: because we recognize salient and important biological differences between sexes. This isn’t a matter of discrimination; it’s a matter of fairness, safety, and an acknowledgment of evidence-based science.
Lesbians have also been forced to take a step backward in the name of transgender equality. The GLB community was spawned based on the need for recognition of our sexual orientation. Since the late 90s, however, other identities such as Trans, Queer, and Intersectional — based on gender identity, not sexual orientation — have “piggybacked” and been foisted on the gay community by people who think inclusion means throwing disparate groups into the same basket. Gay rights advocate John Aravosis argues that “the trans revolution was imposed on the gay community from outside, or at least above,” and that many gay Americans “who weren’t running national organizations, weren’t activists, or weren’t living in liberal gay enclaves… accepted de facto that transgendered people were members of the gay, lesbian and bisexual community, but only because our leaders kept telling us it was so.”
As a lesbian, I know and accept that I am a biological woman, and I am attracted to other biological women. Yet while I wholeheartedly respect the rights of transgender people, I don’t share their perspective on gender identity. I have little in common with a man who wants to cut off his penis, surgically construct a vagina, and become a woman. I can’t relate to her experience, her challenges, or her needs — just as a Black person can appreciate, but cannot relate to, the experience, challenges, and needs of a Hispanic or Asian person. Would it be appropriate to add “Hispanic Lives” to the Black Lives Matter movement?
Yet in a DEI-driven America, the gay community is expected to embrace a perspective on gender identity that we don’t universally share. And it’s taking a toll: in the process of supporting transgender identity, we’re losing our own. Increasingly, lesbians are being pressured and shamed into accepting transgender women as partners. If we refuse, we're accused of being transphobic. We’re expected to honor the identity and desires of transgender women while denying our own.
When I came “out" in the late-90s, a young woman who was attracted to other girls but presented herself in a less-than-feminine manner would consider herself a “butch” lesbian or “dyke.” Today, under the relentless pressure to question and explore one’s gender identity, a 13-year old girl will be influenced and even pressured to identify as transgender. Because in a society fixated on gender identity, it’s tempting to reject your womanhood and any possibility of being lesbian. Because if you’re not overtly feminine but you're attracted to other women, you must be a man. We are constantly encouraged to embrace gender fluidity and non-binary identities, yet young women who question their sexual orientation are being presented with the most binary of choices.
While well-intentioned, efforts to affirm or publicly celebrate a young person's gender identity are not neutral actions: they can have very real consequences. Nearly 98% of children who take hormone blockers to delay the progression of puberty of their birth sex will go on to take cross-sex hormones, and many will undergo irreversible gender affirming surgeries. With the support and encouragement of an increasing number of schools and activist groups, a less-than-feminine girl will be more likely to shed her female body, removing her breasts and uterus and her ability to carry and nurse a child or have an orgasm. And of course, there are other long term consequences we can’t even begin to anticipate.
The statistics bear out this trend. The number of transgender youth has doubled in the past five years; there’s been a 40x increase in the number of transgender youth clinics in the U.S.; and the number of gender-affirming surgeries performed in the U.S. has increased fourfold from 2000 to 2014. It’s a trend that’s also been extremely profitable. AbbVie, the manufacturer of Lupron, one of the most widely-used hormone blockers, made $726 million on that drug alone in 2018. The gender reassignment surgery market is expected to grow 8.5% in 2023 and is on track to become a $6 billion industry by 2030.
Gender affirmation is big business.
Equality should never be a zero-sum game. All Americans of every color, sexual orientation and identity deserve fair and equal treatment. We should be able to make the human rights pie bigger without taking slices from other people. But that’s not what’s happening now. Increasingly, we’re being forced to accept the idea that creating equality for one group may require taking rights from another.
It was easy for Regressives to play the zero-sum game when the collateral damage was limited to the biggest beneficiaries of privilege, i.e. straight white men; cries of reverse discrimination fell on deaf ears. But it’s much harder to rationalize Equality 2.0 when it undermines and alienates groups that are still fighting to overcome stereotypes and a historical lack of privilege. Women and lesbians fully support equality for transgender Americans, but it shouldn't require us to surrender our own identity and rights. We shouldn't have to sacrifice the progress we’ve worked so long and hard to achieve.
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