JMU: Where Not Only Are You Wrong, But How Dare You Ask?

Lia Thomas (left) and Emma Weyant (center) after notorious swimming event.

by James A. Bacon

Western Civilization went more than 2,000 years with people dividing the world between male and female. About 10 years ago, the idea gained traction in the United States that gender wasn’t based on biology — XX and XY chromosomes — but was a social construct. Within an extraordinarily short time, transgender ideology has cemented into an orthodoxy on college campuses. Indeed, the notion has become so deeply embedded that many now consider it bigoted to even question it.

At James Madison University, a faculty-run group called Ethical Reasoning in Action posed a hypothetical situation: Suppose a state was considering a law that requires transgender athletes at the high-school and college levels to compete against only those “with the same assigned sex at birth.”

“A transgender female swimmer competes at your university who, as a man in competition was not especially successful, but as a woman just two years later set school and conference records. While the university opposes the proposed law because it doesn’t align with their emphasis on diversity, inclusion and equity on campus, they ask students, faculty and staff to vote on the issue.

“Should transwomen be allowed to compete with other athletes?”

Madison Equality, a student LGBTQ organization, condemned the ethical scenario as “transphobic.” It wasn’t even a question fit to be asked.

“The rights and lives of transgender people shouldn’t be opened up for debate to the student body,” said the Madison Equality statement. “By releasing this as an ‘ethical scenario,’ an undue pressure is being placed on transgender students to defend their rights. We ask the 8KQ Ethical Reasoning group to consult members of minority groups before creating fake scenarios about their rights.”

Of course, there is nothing “fake” about the scenario at all. It has been widely publicized that Emma Weyant, a student from a certain educational institution down the interstate from Harrisonburg, lost first place honors in NCAA-level swimming competition to transgender student Lia Thomas.

The Breeze student newspaper quoted Dylan Marti as saying that it is “insensitive, harmful and unnecessary” of Ethical Reasoning in Action to discuss the rights of a minority population.

Here’s my first problem with Marti’s response. He (I hope I’m getting the pronoun correct) is acting if no one else has rights but transgender people. Don’t women have rights, too? Why shouldn’t biological women be allowed to compete against other biological women, not transgenders who experienced years of teenage maturation as a male — with all that implies for the development of size, height and muscle mass — before transitioning to female? Marti finds it “hurtful” that someone would take that view. Hurtful? Does it occur to Marti that biological women might find it “hurtful” to lose a championship to a biological man identifying as a woman?

Here’s my second and bigger problem. Marti contacted Tim Miller, vice president for student affairs, voicing his concern about the proffered ethical dilemma. In response Miller reached out to Ethical Reasoning in Action and, in the words of The Breeze, “expressed [his] concerns” about the scenario. The university, said Miller, will continue to “represent students”… whatever that means.

As summarized by The Breeze, Miller’s response is so vague that it’s hard to know what to make of it. But one thing seems clear: Miller did not come out with a ringing defense of Ethical Reasoning in Action’s posing of the ethical question. The rights of transgenders are now so settled, it appears, that debating them is not something done in polite campus society. Such questions are not impermissible yet, but they are inching in that direction.

For anyone interested in the complexities and nuances of the issues raised by transgenderism, I highly recommend a discussion by Douglas Murray, a gay English journalist, in “The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity.” He discusses the inherent tension between gays and transgenders on the one hand and feminists and transgenders on the other. There are many unresolved ethical issues arising from within the ranks of feminists, the LGBQT+ community and the “progressive” camp.

The JMU administration’s mealy-mouthed response to the mini-controversy is not encouraging. The outcome of debates, it appears, increasingly turns not  upon facts and logic but the ability of the various parties to paint themselves as victims “hurt” by the implications of the other side’s arguments. Feelings trump reason. To the person with the most exquisitely delicate feelings go the spoils.