Port: The war on good manners

"We don't have to understand transgenderism. We don't even have to like it. But couldn't we at least be kind?"

Left to right: Claudia Purdon and Athalia Haughton of Bismarck and Truman Hamburger of Dickinson, lead a march around the North Dakota capitol grounds d during the 2021 legislative session.
Adam Willis / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — I have to admit that, on a personal level, I don't understand transgenderism.

I have never felt uncomfortable with my gender, or sexuality, and it seems strange that others would. Or that they would live as though they have no gender at all.

North Dakota Sen. Larry Luick, R-Fairmount, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 2231, which addresses pronoun use in state agencies and public schools.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

But a part of being an enlightened human, I think, is understanding that my lived experience isn't universal. My sexuality, and my gender, weren't choices I made. They're just parts of who I am. To believe that another person's expressed sexuality or gender is somehow contrived and objectionable because it doesn't match up with my own seems like the worst sort of solipsism.

Our nation was founded on the ideas of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." What I've come to learn, as I've aged, is that there are many paths to happiness, and not all of them have to look like mine. But I am obliged, I think, as a citizen of a society that aspires to liberty, to make reasonable accommodations for others on their paths.

Perhaps especially if their paths have more obstacles than mine does.


This brings me to Senate Bill 2231 , introduced by Sen. Larry Luick, a Republican from Fairmount. It is, in the context of transgenderism and pronouns, a ban on that very sort of accommodation.

The bill, which has now passed both the Senate and the House and is on Gov. Doug Burgum's desk, prohibits government entities from setting policies requiring public workers to use "an individual's preferred pronoun when addressing or mentioning the individual in work-related communications" or designate "the employee's preferred pronoun in work-related communications."

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That provision, on its own, might not be so bad. We've all heard the extreme examples of pronoun policies so draconian that a mere slip of the tongue can land a person in hot water. I don't think it's unreasonable to want to avoid that sort of thing.

But the rest of the bill, which sets new law for our state's public schools? It just seems cruel.

Under this legislation, schools would not be able to set any policy at all regarding expressed gender. No classroom instruction "recognizing expressed gender" would be allowed. Teachers wouldn't be able to receive training that recognizes expressed gender either. Teachers could use a student's preferred pronouns, but only with the written permission of parents, which seems awfully officious for something that amounts to good manners.

What's next? Permission slips for students who want to be called "Rob" instead of "Robert?"

Transgenderism exists in the world. It's a part of our society. Our government, and our public schools, exist to serve all of us. Why are we now making laws that require these institutions to treat some of our citizens in such a callous way? Especially when the alternative, which in this case is just recognizing that trans people exist and using their preferred pronouns, costs us nothing?

We don't have to understand transgenderism. We don't even have to like it. But couldn't we at least be kind?

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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