According to Merriam Webster, lookups for the pronoun “they” in 2019 increased by 313 percent over the previous year.
Webster attributed this growth to the word’s use as a pronoun in the LGBTQ community for individuals of non-binary gender (don’t identify as either man or woman). For this reason, Webster added this additional use of “they” to its definition of the word back in September and deemed “they” as its Word of the Year for 2019.
These statistics offer some hope that the social acceptance of non-traditional genders might be growing, but just how much growth is genuine? If you ask Florida A&M senior biochemistry major Timothy White, the answer is: “Not much.”
“Especially in this last year it definitely seems like people are more open, but that’s on the surface,” White said. “I think [people] are trying to be understanding and open and use the words though they haven’t really caught all of the meaning in it.”
White, who themself uses gender neutral pronouns, believes that a culture of political correctness has allowed people to know and use the proper language without truly understanding or respecting what it means to be non-binary.
Tallahassee is proof of this sentiment. Every year since 2015, a state Senate bill titled “Prohibited Discrimination” has been introduced to add “gender identification” to the list of traits that cannot face discrimination from employers. But for these and their accompanying house bills, all but one have died before receiving a vote in their first committee. The only exception was SB 120 in 2016, which instead received an unfavorable vote of 5-5 in the Judiciary Committee.
The Supreme Court might not do much better. Due to multiple cases of firing due to sexual orientation and gender identification across the nation, the court will be deciding whether Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex also applies to these categories of self-identification.
If public opinion is any indication of how the justices are thinking, it is likely that someone will bring up the “common sense” argument that, since sex is not equivalent to sexual orientation or gender identification, one cannot extend Title VII to cover these categories. However, if you are FAMU Spectrum president Cheyenne Roberts, this argument simply “doesn’t make sense.”
Roberts explained that if an employee was hired as a man and now identifies as a woman, to then fire her would imply that being male and presenting as a man was a factor in their hiring. This “positive discrimination” very clearly becomes negative the moment the individual is on the other side of the coin.
If the Supreme Court rules against gender-based discrimination, it would have a tremendous effect on the 27 states which still do not offer these protections to its citizens. In the meantime, Floridians will just have to keep an eye on recently introduced SB 206 and HB 161 for any indication of real development in the acceptance of non-traditional genders.