In a legislative move met with both controversy and opposition, Representative Andy Ogles (R-TN) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) have introduced bills in the House and Senate aimed at preventing federal agencies and departments from taking disciplinary actions against individuals who refuse to use a person’s correct name or pronouns. Under these proposed bills, anyone facing punishment for misgendering or misnaming someone could potentially sue the federal official responsible, seeking damages of up to $100,000.
The genesis of this legislation can be traced back to an October memo issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which directed employees to use the names and pronouns that individuals use to describe themselves. This directive, aimed at fostering inclusivity and respect, has been met with resistance from conservative quarters, including Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and various far-right anti-LGBTQ+ Republicans who regularly oppose what they term “woke” LGBTQ+-inclusive policies.
Boebert, known for her staunch conservative views, accused “the left” of treating terms like “woman” as if they were “a dirty word.” The proposed bills have drawn criticism from queer civil rights lawyer Alejandra Caraballo, who pointed out that they would require referring to Senator Cruz by his legal first name, Rafael, instead of his preferred nickname, Ted.
The legislation, dubbed the “Safeguarding Honest Speech Act,” seeks to “prohibit the use of funds to implement, administer, or enforce measures requiring certain employees to refer to an individual by the preferred pronouns of such individual or a name other than the legal name of such individual, and for other purposes,” according to WZTV.
Senator Cruz emphasized the First Amendment implications, stating that “forcing anyone to use pronouns that don’t accord with a person’s biological sex is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.” Representative Ogles echoed these sentiments, decrying what he sees as the Biden administration’s imposition of speech requirements and expressing concerns about coercion in the name of a “woke agenda.”
Other Republican supporters of the bills, including Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), have voiced opposition to what they perceive as “woke, left-wing propaganda” and argued that requiring federal employees to use correct names and pronouns could further divide the American people. Notably, these legislators have a history of opposing LGBTQ+ rights and inclusive policies.
The bills have also garnered support from groups like Concerned Women for America, known for their anti-LGBTQ+ stance, and CatholicVote, which has previously discouraged the reading of LGBTQ+ literature in local libraries.
In contrast, the Department of Health and Human Services has emphasized the importance of using correct names and pronouns to provide equal workplace protections for all employees, including transgender and nonbinary individuals. Statistics show that a significant percentage of transgender individuals experience workplace discrimination, underscoring the need for policies aimed at fostering inclusivity and respect in the workplace.
As these bills continue to face opposition and debate, they shed light on the ongoing struggles for LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance in the political landscape, with many LGBTQ+ advocates seeing them as a potential threat to the progress made in recent years.