Last week, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal held a hearing that brought to light what’s become a central question in today’s culture wars: When do business owners have a right to refuse service?
The tribunal hearing came in response to complaints from Jessica Yaniv, a man formerly called Jonathan who now identifies as a woman, after some 15 small businesses refused to wax his male genitalia. The defendant in last week’s case is Marcia da Silva, a Brazilian immigrant who operates in her family home, where her small children also reside.
Da Silva said she is not licensed to conduct the procedure on males. She also cited safety concerns for her family as well as alleged harassment by Yaniv as the primary reasons for her refusal. In the hearing, Yaniv argued that estheticians should be forced to lend their services to all clientele, regardless of the service providers’ “religious and cultural beliefs.” Yaniv said the women denying their services “are forcing their beliefs on society.”
That’s ironic, as it’s Yaniv — not any of the business owners — who has invoked a government agency to coerce certain behavior from an unwilling citizen. Further, as the Post Millenial reports, Yaniv has publicly expressed prejudiced views about immigrants, and it appears he explicitly sought out small-scale operations run by immigrant women, many of whom speak English as their second language, rather than larger salons that offer a wider range of services.
Using Extra-Judicial Tribunals to Coerce Citizens
The juicy details notwithstanding, the most significant feature of Yaniv’s case is that it highlights the left’s efforts to shape policy not through traditional avenues of democracy, but via unelected government agencies.
Indeed, it contains the trappings of an all-too-familiar story: An individual from a politically designated victim class seeks out a service, typically from a small-business owner known to hold religious (or otherwise traditional) views. The businessperson refuses, often citing their convictions and — voila! A movement is born, outfitted with a slew of lawsuits, powerful interest groups, and media backing to boot.
Throughout the last few years, the most high-profile disputes have involved legal battles, most of which concern same-sex weddings. You might recall Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Washington, who was sued in 2013 for not providing custom-designed flowers for a same-sex wedding. Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado had to go to court about the same time for declining to design a cake for a same-sex couple celebrating their recent union. Other recent suits have targeted photographers in New Mexico and evangelical artists in Arizona.
‘Human Rights Commissions’ Are Anything But
Yet activists haven’t always achieved success in the courts, and have thus found other, more expedient avenues of enforcing ideological conformity: human rights commissions. Although their explicit functions vary from state to state in the United States, most commissions are governmental agencies that review cases concerning alleged discrimination. Governors often appoint the commissioners, and despite the quasi-judicial powers these agencies wield, many have zero legal experience.
Some of the aforementioned cases directly involve such commissions. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission, for example, actually sued Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop after receiving a complaint about him. Composed of seven unelected members, the commission ostensibly exists to “advise the Governor and General Assembly” on cases involving alleged discrimination, yet it has the immense power to amend legislative statues, effectively empowering its members to rewrite laws according to their subjective interpretations and biases with zero direct accountability to voters.
The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal is just the latest of these commissions to fully exercise its broad and ambiguous powers. On the day after Christmas in 2015, the Washington State Human Rights Commission amended an old anti-discrimination statute to magically include “gender identity and expression,” suddenly mandating every business and place of “public accommodation” to grant access to intimate spaces such as spas and locker rooms according to gender identity rather than biological sex.
In near-identical fashion, the NYC Commission on Human Rights mandated similar rules regarding sex-specific facilities. It also set legal rules for “misgendering” people in public spaces, assigning fines up to $250,000 for those found guilty. Elsewhere in Canada, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has similarly classified “misgendering” — referring to people with pronouns affirming their biological sex rather than a falsehood — as a form of discrimination subject to legal consequences.
It Wasn’t a Slippery Slope?
Efforts to fully repeal or roll back these legal interpretations have been largely unsuccessful thus far, requiring millions of Americans throughout the United States and other parts of the West to endorse radical ideas on sex and gender suddenly enshrined in the law.
The timing of these myriad cases is no accident. The first prominent cases came about the time certain states legalized same-sex marriage, and the uptick in LGBT-related adjudication by U.S. human rights commissions began promptly in 2015, the same year the Supreme Court affirmed same-sex marriage as a constitutional right in Obergefell v. Hodges.
Conservatives warned what might result from such a sweeping ruling. They foresaw the continuation and expansion of what was already happening in the country’s most progressive pockets, fearing regulation of speech and behavior not just from private social institutions but from the federal government itself.
Conservatives knew Obergefell might spell the end for religiously affiliated organizations such as adoption agencies and medical clinics. Even the dissenting justices predicted that the decision may one day compromise a foundational freedom: the right of an individual to exercise his or her religion.
Yet leftists relentlessly tried to convince us otherwise. It’s not a slippery slope, they said. Don’t you silly conservatives know gay marriage is actually quite old-fashioned? One New York Times author takes the cake (no pun intended) for the worst prophesying, writing in 2015, “No one has ever attempted, or will attempt, to force anyone to participate in any same-sex marriage ceremony.”
Who Are the Real Victims Here?
In fewer than five years, the marginalized identity groups the political left currently champions have proved they are not the victims in this cultural crusade. Instead, business owners such as Stutzman and Phillips, who have had their livelihoods threatened and their reputations felled by people who explicitly sought them harm, are the real victims.
The real victims are the girls forced to share shower facilities with pubescent boys, and the rape survivors banned from social media for daring to protest sharing intimate spaces with grown men. They are the female athletes being beaten up by men in professional sports, and high school girls losing out on championships to their male peers appropriating womanhood.
They are people such as da Silva, who has been run out of business by a provincial government seriously contemplating whether to codify sexual assault by forcing women, against their will, to handle the genitals of strange men.
When it comes to these political battles, the identity groups in question proclaim they lack a sort of privilege everyone else enjoys. Yet if it is not the very apex of privilege to subvert due process and rewrite laws in such a way that requires everyone else to conform to your ideology, then what is?