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At a time when political polarization is at an all time high, honest yet civil discussions between disagreeing parties are more crucial than ever. Unfortunately, this has not been the case regarding a recent controversy over an opinion article written by Scott Yenor, a Boise State political science professor.
The controversy started earlier this month when the Boise State School of Public Service shared a link on their Facebook page to an article written by Yenor, entitled, “Transgender Activists Are Seeking to Undermine Parental Rights.”
In the article Yenor argues transgender activists may soon try to use the government to force parents into giving their children gender changing treatment. To back up his claim he points to laws in Norway, Ontario and Minnesota, which allow the state to advance what Yenor contends is a transgender agenda onto children. He also argues that, at the ballot box, parental rights are more likely to be infringed because less people are becoming parents.
As a result of this article many students have argued Yenor should be fired for his article. A petition online has gathered 1,900 signatures to get Yenor fired for his opinion.
This article does not endorse Yenor’s opinion, in fact, there are key aspects of the article, such as Yenor’s assuming the worst personal motives to transgender advocates, that I strongly disagree with.
It’s also important to note when this article refers to “debate” it is not remotely trying to suggest that the identity or worth of transgender individuals is the topic to be debated. Transgender individuals deserve the utmost respect and care in the unique personal and social issues they encounter on an everyday basis.
What is up for debate is what public policies will best support transgender individuals. Local, state and national legislatures are already considering this issue. When considering a debate in terms of something that could be voted on by a legislature or the public, the best arguments need to be presented to convince the most people. In this regard, some of the response to Yenor’s article might not be the best way to convince people on the fence of this issue.
A formal condemnation of Yenor came from Micah Hetherington, president of the Trans Student Alliance. Hetherington wrote an open letter to news outlets and various parts of Boise State. It should also be stated that this analysis of one of Hetherington’s arguments is not a criticism of Hetherington himself or his position on transgender issues.
“Yenor wrote a blatantly transphobic, homophobic, and misogynistic article without any research or effort to acknowledge the feelings and experiences of the trans community,” Hetherington wrote.
This is simply not a strong argument. Hurling a bunch of labels at Yenor does nothing to address his points or sources. Especially when Yenor is using these arguments to address public policy, a counter article or evidence of any kind needs to be presented to prove why Yenor is wrong.
Instead, students have demanded that Yenor be fired immediately. One such student was Ryan Orlando, a Boise State student who wrote an opinion article for the Odyssey Online entitled, “It’s Time For Boise State To Part Ways With Scott Yenor,” in which he argues not only for Yenor’s firing, but debate on some issues not be allowed at all.
“The simple fact of the matter is some political questions are not negotiable, and we need to stop pretending that they are,” Orlando wrote. “There are some issues where a ‘politically neutral’ stance is in fact siding with the oppressor. Homophobia and transphobia are two of those issues.”
But this rhetoric isn’t going to stop debates on policies from taking place. It doesn’t build dialogue with potential allies. Again, what’s being debated in this article is not the identity or worth of transgender individuals, but how best to argue for policies that can improve their lives. And when those lives are being put up to a vote, building dialogue with other people is one of the most important things to do.
Censorship doesn’t solve issues
The ultimate problem with calls for censorship such as these is they ultimately leads to a complete shutdown of conversation between different sides, which leads to polarization. It doesn’t eliminate a controversial viewpoint, it only masks it.
When division exists in an issue as heated as how to accommodate transgender individuals, there needs to be dialogue between differing sides. This is something many on the right and left believe in, even those as prominent at Barrack Obama.
“You should have an argument, but you shouldn’t silence them by saying ‘you can’t come (to the university) because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say,’” Obama said at an education town hall in 2015.
Certainly articles such as Yenor’s which are written with inflammatory language aren’t helpful, but demanding all people who might disagree with how to best address the issues facing transgender individuals be silenced isn’t helpful either. Firing Yenor will not stop potential legislation from being debated. Even if Yenor is fired, it doesn’t change his ability to vote or try to get others to vote with him on potential laws that can have a much bigger impact than an opinion article.
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