Transgender

Why libertarians should care about Tolerance

by Alex Merced

After my article on advocating for tolerance of/acceptance for the transgender population I got several critical messages not about whether people should be accepted/tolerated but attacking my libertarian bona fides for even discussing it, as if being libertarian means being completely agnostic on the outcome of all issues all the time. If anything, these individuals have seemed to miss the point of my article, and possibly of libertarianism itself.

From the libertarian perspective just about everything should be solved by the interplay of individuals and their choices, also known as markets. Which cell phones should be sold? Let the market decide. How should you educate children? Let the parents decide. Which house should you buy and how should you finance it? You should decide. This extends to the market for values and preferences (what you think is right or wrong, what rituals and traditions do you practice, how do these things change), etc. Although these things evolve in an interplay of individual choices (a market) as well, even if there aren’t direct exchanges of money, decisions are made and some social norms succeed and fail over time.

These markets work because people act on their preferences and values. As a libertarian, I want people to have a view on which cell phone they want, to choose to act on that view, and even evangelize their choice. I just don’t want anyone making the choice for them. As a participant in the market for social norms, I am entitled to being able to choose the norms I like and evangelize them. I’m free to make the claim that if people voluntarily embrace these norms the world may be better off (I just don’t advocate forcing people to adopt these norms).

To me, engendering a culture of tolerance and acceptance has many consistently libertarian benefits:

– Libertarians are against violence and coercion. It’s one of the primary reasons we have such a distaste for government as a mechanism for economic or social engineering  (the fact that it often works poorly at doing so doesn’t help). Intolerance can often be a big motivator of violence (a good transgender friend of mine was recently beaten and sent to the hospital with her boyfriend). While I think there should be equality under the law and a crime should be treated as a crime for a jury (the judge should have the discretion to lessen or worsen a punishment based on circumstances in my view, but the jury should only determine if a crime has been committed not determine whether they liked the motivation for the crime which is what hate crime legislation does). Although, if social norms were more tolerant from the get go, the violence may have never occurred for it to be a legal issue in the first place.

– Promoting tolerance doesn’t mean people don’t have the right to be intolerant with their own property and choices, but promoting tolerance is about ending the atmosphere that makes people feel it’s alright to destroy someones property because they may be different in some way.

My point is that if libertarians are anti-coercion and anti-force, creating a culture that exalts individual choice and property ownership and shames violence/coercion from government or individuals is a project that must be actively taken on. If this isn’t, other cultural norms that may be ok with violence/coercion will win out in the cultural market.

Libertarians Should Lead the Way for Transgender Acceptance

by Alex Merced

Libertarianism is often well known for its concerns over the use of government power in solving economic and social issues, primarily because such power often attracts the wrong people to wield it and can often do more harm than good (a government that is powerful enough to establish and enforce hate crime legislation is also a government strong enough to establish and enforce the fugitive slave act.) So when it comes to issues of tolerance, you won’t find a philosophy more celebratory of diversity and tolerance (a free market works because of a diversity of goods, services, firms, and individuals) but often lambasted for its refusal to cross the line of using government power to compel tolerance or intolerance (or compel anything in that matter).

Although, just because libertarians do not want to use government power to force social progress, it doesn’t mean libertarians shouldn’t express social values and engage in the discussion of social norms. Over time, social attitudes have changed to more tolerant ones. Tolerant in a greater way than just “I don’t mind those people” but extending to being able to share space and participation in social institutions such as entrepreneurship, leisure, and family. In the generation prior to mine this battle over tolerance was focused here in the U.S. over tensions between the African American and White populations, and in my generation it has been about tensions between homosexual and heterosexual populations. These days it’s not just that there is tolerance for African Americans and Homosexuals but widespread acceptance of their participation as business owners, as co-workers, consumers, and as part of household formation.

The struggle for tolerance and acceptance in the coming generation will have a lot to do with gender identity. We are currently witnessing controversy over how to handle bathrooms for transgender students, and physical assaults against them in photos on instagram or video on YouTube. While the transgender population has enjoyed an increase in tolerance along with homosexuals (the two populations are not the same despite often being lumped in the same category) acceptance of the transgender population still has a long way to go.

Now, tolerance and acceptance is not just about feeling good that peoples lives are a little bit better. It serves an economic and social function as well. A broader participation in economic institutions such as entrepreneurship benefits everyone, adding people to the labor force benefits everyone, but sometimes intolerance and a lack of acceptance can reduce participation in these institutions.

So how can libertarians improve tolerance & acceptance of Transgendered and other populations suffering intolerance at no fault of their own without the use of government force?

– Media: Shows like Cosby, Will & Grace, and other introduced these populations in a broader way not as a spectacle but as people with their own lives, challenges, and families. How about a sitcom with a transgender protagonist facing many of the same family issues we all do? The images we grow up with in our culture determine many of our sensibilities, so we should use this to our advantage. Transgender characters often do exist in media but often as a “spectacle” in roles that societies “allow” to be accepted (hairdresser, model, prostitute) but where is the transgender business owner or engineer (they do exist) in the public eye?
*The character of Sophia Burset in Orange is the new Black is by far the boldest transgender character on tv with complex family and health issues that make her interesting, although she is often found doing hair, thus keeping transgender activities in a narrow band.

– Support: Sometimes it’s just about breaking vicious cycles, many young children who open up to their parents are often cast out and forced to be runaways. Being ripped away from the support system of the family affects their ability to get educated and to later be able to participate in the traditional labor force. Fundraising and volunteering for shelters and education for runaway youth can help break the cycle.

Conclusion

While empowering government to solve social problems will often result in empowering them to create social problems, libertarians should not allow big government progressives to attempt to hold a monopoly on the fight for broader tolerance and acceptance of individuals of all types. We should come with a message not just more tolerance for a particular community, but that we want to include everyone in the greater community of individuals who can participate in social and economic institutions to all our benefit. We must make real front line efforts to advance these values through education and volunteering, and help craft the norms that make society wealthier economically and socially.