Thursday, April 15, 2021

When Keeping It Woke Goes Wrong: Threatening Merriweather's Job Got Jane Doe's Ass Kicked

I'm gonna use discrimination to get what I want. from r/trashy

slate  |  Last month, a conservative panel of judges on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the First Amendment grants professors a right to intentionally misgender trans students in class. The decision, authored by Donald Trump-nominee and Mitch McConnell protégé Amul Thapar, had a triumphant tone: Thapar depicted himself as a champion of free speech combatting the “classroom thought police” at modern universities who seek to turn their campuses into “enclaves of totalitarianism” by prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ students.

The facts tell a much more nuanced story than Thapar’s simplistic tale of academic freedom versus totalitarianism. The case centers on professor Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio. In 2018, Meriwether misgendered a trans student, known in litigation as Jane Doe, in class; she asked that use her correct pronouns and honorifics in the future, but he refused. The university found Meriwether in violation of its nondiscrimination policy, which requires professors to use students’ preferred pronouns. Meriwether refused to comply with the policy, and following an investigation, the university placed a “written warning” in his file noting his noncompliance. The professor, backed by the viciously anti-trans law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, then sued—dragging Jane Doe into the center of a years-long legal dispute that she desperately wished to avoid.

I recently corresponded with Doe over email about the case, including its effect on her own freedom of expression and academic experience. We spoke on the condition that I use the pseudonym Jane Doe to preserve her privacy. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mark Joseph Stern: How did you feel when professor Meriwether first misgendered you?

Jane Doe: At first, I thought it was a mistake, either mix-up of words or a miscue based on my clothes or appearance. When it is the latter, it is particularly painful; it makes you feel ugly or that your body is broken. But, at the time, there was no way for professor Meriwether to know that I am transgender. All my documents and school records reflect my correct name and female gender marker.

The 6th Circuit wrote the following about your reaction to professor Meriwether’s refusal to acknowledge your gender identity because of his religious beliefs: “Doe became hostile—circling around Meriwether at first, and then approaching him in a threatening manner: ‘I guess this means I can call you a cunt.’ Doe promised that Meriwether would be fired if he did not give in to Doe’s demands.” Is this account accurate?

This account is only partially accurate. I approached professor Meriwether after the first class session to let him know that he mistakenly referred to me as male and ask that he refer to me as female in the future. He refused. I showed him my driver’s license to further prove that I am female. He refused again. It was degrading to have to debate with my professor whether I am female and entitled to the same treatment as my peers simply because professor Meriwether believed that I was transgender (it was not until I filed an internal complaint with Shawnee that I disclosed that I am transgender). Professor Meriwether’s persistent refusal to treat me with the same respect he afforded other students was upsetting. Although I made the remark quoted in the opinion, I was not threatening or hostile.