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A Father Defends His Transgender Child

A writer recounts the struggles involved in parenting a transgender child.


KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, when I was six years old I jumped into the deep end of the pool, and someone had to pull me out. I almost drowned. I really feel like this is what I am doing discussing this subject today – jumping into the deep end of the pool. It’s about the transgender issue. This is a followup from our last podcast. Bill, I must say at the outset that my heart breaks for people who struggle with gender identity and transgender issues and the parents, who we are going to look at – one particular parent and how he is dealing with this. How they are dealing with this. It can’t be easy, can it?

DR. CRAIG: Obviously not. It is deeply agonizing for those who experience this.

KEVIN HARRIS: It has become a political football, and sometimes when something becomes a political football we forget about the people and just look at the politics of it. I want us to avoid that. There is a blog[1] written by Patrick Green, The Transparent blog (a clever name), who has a child who identifies as a son – as a boy – born female.

This father recounts two things that have happened to them and they're both sad: one at a pharmacy, and then one at a restaurant. People who treated them badly because of his look, because of the look of this transgender young person. The name of this article is, “The Nationwide Epidemic of Sincerely Held Beliefs.” They were refused service at a restaurant and they were refused service at a pharmacy because of the people who work there – their sincerely held beliefs. Those are protected. He wants something done about that.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, and this connects with other cases that have gone all the way to the Supreme Court where you remember a Colorado baker had been held to be in violation of the law because he had refused to make a custom cake for the wedding of a homosexual couple. The Supreme Court reversed this Court's ruling and sent it back to the lower court because they said the Civil Rights Commission in Colorado was not exercising appropriate neutrality on this issue as a government agency but were adopting a particular point of view that discriminated against this baker. Then more recently there was the Oregon florist as well who had a similar case returned to the lower court with the advice from the Supreme Court that they look at this decision that was made in the case of the Colorado baker. So this is a very hot issue today whether or not a person’s sincerely held religious beliefs can justifiably affect the sort of work that one will do for clients.

KEVIN HARRIS: The first thing that happened to them, they were at a restaurant. The waitress took one look at this transgendered young person and then refused service. They overheard her say, “I am not gonna serve that. I don't even know what to call it. It ain't a boy or a girl. It’s a thing, and it ain't of God.” That's almost like a bad movie script. I cannot imagine someone saying that. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would be that insensitive. It says,

The waitress was gesturing at our table when this happened and it was not only loud enough for us to hear, but other patrons. [He looks at his son and said,] “Look at me. . . . Nothing is going to happen to you. I’m here and you’re safe. . . . We are going to stand up with our heads held high and our backs straight. It will be a steady pace. We don’t look at anyone. We don’t talk to anyone. We just walk to the car and go. We leave like men. Got it?” He nodded.

There's a couple of things here. One that you hear a lot is being safe – making sure that the campus is safe and that everything is safe for a person who is transgendered, homosexual, different, and whatever. So that's a big thing these days – you're safe. In a way I see a conflict of the father here. He wants his child who identifies as a boy to be manly but then he's saying, I'm here and I'll protect you and we're gonna go out like men. Like you pointed out, he's kind of a traditionalist in this, but he's trying to accommodate his child's identification as a man.

DR. CRAIG: Right. He's very affirming of the transgender identity of his child. He said in the blog, “We left like men because that is what you are. A man. My son.” He's clearly affirming the child's choice of changing gender to be male.

KEVIN HARRIS: A lot of people in the transgender movement would not like this because, if gender is fluid, why characterize what you're doing as manly or womanly? They want to get rid of all that.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, there's no doubt that there is a kind of traditionalism here in identifying male roles as being strong and back up and sticking up for yourself. Yeah, in that sense it's traditional. But it's in the context of a very non-traditional transgender situation.

Now, it seems to me that what the waitress did here was clearly illegal. In cases like the Colorado bakery case or the Oregon florist case, it was a freedom of speech issue that is at the heart of those. That still actually remains to be settled. Because these were, for example, a custom cake that would carry a message on it that would affirm the homosexual couples’ marriage which that baker could not do because it went against his sincerely held beliefs. So the question there was: can the state compel speech in that way? That has yet to be decided. The Supreme Court decided that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had acted inconsistently because in other cases they had declared that anti-gay messages would be forbidden. In other words, they were not neutral. They were forbidding anti-gay messages, and then prescribing that this baker put on a pro-gay message. So this is a case that involves freedom of speech and coerced speech, and there's nothing like this in the case of the waitress at the restaurant. Nothing that has to do with her freedom of speech, freedom of expression. All she had to do was carry food to the patrons. So it seems to me that this would be a clear example of discrimination that could not be justified on the basis of sincerely held beliefs.

KEVIN HARRIS: The second story that happened to them was at a pharmacy. He and his son were there at the pharmacy to pick up testosterone. The pharmacist looked at his child and then looked at the information and said there's a discrepancy – there's a disparity here – and I don't think I can fill this. The father thinks that this pharmacist was doing that on purpose; that she was doing this to humiliate his transgender child. But as you pointed out when we were talking about this before, there could be legal ramifications here.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, there could be in this case. I think it's different than the case with the waitress. Testosterone is a controlled substance, and therefore pharmacists have to be very careful with the law in selling drugs without a valid prescription. I found out in my work on the atonement of all things that selling drugs without a proper prescription is what's called a strict liability offense. That means that the pharmacist can be held liable before the law for criminal activity even if it's a non-culpable offense. For example, suppose somebody comes into the pharmacist with a fake prescription from Dr. X, and the pharmacist looks at this prescription and fills it. That pharmacist can be arrested for the strict liability offense of selling prescription drugs without a valid prescription. You might say, But he had no idea that prescription was fake! It looked good; it looked perfectly all right. It doesn't matter with a strict liability offense; he is guilty and prosecutable because he sold prescription drugs without a valid prescription. So a pharmacist needs to be very careful to be sure the name matches when someone comes in trying to fill a prescription for something like testosterone. In this case, the prescription name didn't match. The prescription was for a girl's name which isn't given here. The child now was going by the name Dave because of the transgender identity, and the father was infuriated because the pharmacist continually said, We have a prescription for (and then would say the name, Sally or whatever it was), but we don't have a prescription for Dave. He felt this was a deliberate attempt at what's called dead-naming where you use the name of the child that's on the birth certificate by which he no longer goes because he has changed his name to a transgender name.

KEVIN HARRIS: So he considers his birth name a dead name and then your new name is . . . and if you call them by their old name then you are . . .

DR. CRAIG: Dead-naming. Right. And that's considered a deeply hurtful personal offense. In this case, it's not clear that that's what the pharmacist was doing because the pharmacist cannot sell drugs to a person whose name isn't on the prescription properly. That pharmacist could be liable for prosecution, committing a crime. And so I think in a case like this, the father may be over-interpreting what was happening as a result of the wounded feelings.

KEVIN HARRIS: I've noticed that you can’t get a pharmacist to budge on anything. They are really . . .

DR. CRAIG: And with reason given how tight the laws are. The other thing that needs to be said about this is that you're under no obligation to respect another person's feelings. It may be hurtful to use the dead name of a transgender person, but you're not under any legal obligation to use that person's new name. This is going to be a personal decision on your part. Here someone like Jordan Peterson has emphasized that the attempts of Canadian universities to prescribe certain pronouns (not just names, but pronouns) to be used in addressing transgender people are an abridgment of free speech and cannot be coerced upon you. Peterson says when he addresses a transgender person he may choose to use particular transgender pronouns or something, but he insists that he cannot be coerced to do that.

KEVIN HARRIS: Compelled speech.

DR. CRAIG: That's right. It is compelled speech. And so once again we've got this conflict here with freedom of speech which is enshrined in our Bill of Rights. And you're under no obligation at all to respect the personal feelings of the other person to whom you speak. Now that raises ethical questions, questions about the loving way to treat other people, and so forth, but we're talking here about whether or not there is a legal issue, a constitutional issue, that is at stake, and it seems to me in the pharmacy case there just isn't any such legal violation on the part of the pharmacist.

KEVIN HARRIS: True, and they went to another pharmacy and told the manager what happened, and the manager said, I'm sorry. That's the way it is. There are strict rules. I mean he was sympathetic but he said, Look, this is just the way it is.

The two ways that he kind of wraps up the blog here. He says that he did hear one person congratulating the woman behind the counter for her bravery and her sincerely held belief, and I'm almost thinking, boy, that's hard to believe. I mean, really? Maybe that person could have been saying, You stuck to the law, not that you were just trying to shame this person. I don't know, but I can just see . . .

DR. CRAIG: The difficulty here is we're hearing one side of story, and a very emotional and wounded side of the story.

KEVIN HARRIS: Very true. He says that it's everybody sincerely held beliefs that are hurting others these days. “Illinois, like Arizona, is one of 11 states that allow pharmacy counters to refuse to fill a prescription based on moral or religious objections.” He's saying, as a secularist, we need to get rid of that as a country. Here's the bottom line. He is asking where is the line? And his answer is: I don't know. He doesn’t know where do you draw the line between your sincerely held beliefs, your religious convictions, in the workplace and what it is. He admits: I don't know, I don't know where the line is because he understands that he has sincerely held beliefs, too.

DR. CRAIG: The courts don't know either. It hasn't been determined yet. In these cases like the Colorado baker or the Oregon florist, the Supreme Court ruled narrowly on these cases that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had acted inappropriately, that the lower court needs to reconsider the case of the florist, but they did not rule on the free speech issue that was at stake. So these cases are going to come back to the court again and nobody knows where the line is right now. That's why, politically, the appointment of Supreme Court justices is so crucial in upcoming elections.[2]


[2]          Total Running Time: 15:49 (Copyright © 2018 William Lane Craig)