I will start this article of by saying that in spite of this policy stance, I do not in any way want to devalue or invalidate the experiences of those who have experienced oppression. The point I am trying to make is not to justify any form of discrimination, but to attack current policy which attempts to prohibit it – and that is the problem I have. That said, I will try to talk about this from my perspective as both a sexual and gender minority.
Anti-discrimination law sounds amazing as an idea, and it is an easy political point to score. After all, prohibiting discrimination is just a way of standing up for the little guy – and you cannot stand by and watch someone exclude another. But there is so much wrong with anti-discrimination law ethically, despite its good intentions – and I want to highlight these in this essay.
As Annoying As It Is, You Have A Right To Discriminate and Say What You Want
Yep, you do. Individuals are born to be self-sovereign, and so are endowed with rights to property, freedom of speech and freedom of choice (these rights I note are rights which come from owning yourself), and the right to discriminate is only an extension of this. Until speech reaches the point of threatening violence, individuals can say what they want and be as bigoted and hateful as they want. If the government and the courts are to have any role in the game of free speech, it is to protect it, not to restrict it.
Having offensive or oppressive remarks against you does not justify government force, or an invasion of freedom of speech. Whilst freedom of speech exists, you are still self-governing and own your own thoughts and your own body. “Freedom from discrimination” is not an extension of individual sovereignty (which is the base of enlightenment theory on natural rights, the foundation of constitutional rights), and so does not trump freedom of speech. I do not have the right to demand the service, income or work of another person through force. That is the complete opposite of the right – that is the denial of bodily sovereignty.
And the right to discriminate is sometimes a good thing. Being against homophobia and transphobia, I naturally despise the Westboro Baptist Church, and other fundamentalist, anti-gay organisations. I may refuse to serve people for picketing funerals and pride parades – but anti-discrimination laws hold that I cannot do this, and that I have to serve them. I am forced to help out and serve someone who believes in the genocide of queer people. How can this be a good thing?
Furthermore, if you are a religious institution, it is ridiculous and Orwellian that you should tell them which of their beliefs are acceptable, provided that they are not harming others. If a church decides that marriage is between a man and a women, they have a right to refuse service and guard their beliefs. Rightly or wrongly, individuals have the right to freedom of choice based on their subjective moralities, provided they do not force or ‘aggress’ others – and the state has no right to dictate the beliefs of private individuals when within the non-aggression principle.
Anti-Discrimination Laws Do A Disservice To The Cause of Social Justice
By banning discrimination, you build a narrative of oppression for oppressive groups. Fundamentalist Christian groups can believe that there is a “War On Christianity” because they cannot refuse to bake cakes for same-sex marriages. Racists and fascists can believe that there is a trend of “White Genocide” because you can no longer segregate under law, and that not being able to refuse to employ hijabi women is part of a process of “Islamisation”.
Whilst homophobia and racism are now looked down on by a large proportion of society, oppressive groups can claim that they are subject to government tyranny, making them discriminated against and a target of the system. If it were not for government force, the social change through grassroots activism would turn people against discrimination (like it has in some areas), and people would refuse their beliefs through freedom of association – this sort of change denies oppressors a claim to oppression.
The kind of laws which are meant to tackle discrimination simply give discriminators a feeling of victimhood, which only make their ideologies more attractive.
Hate-Crime Laws Contribute to the Prison Complex
We have to remember that human rights are applicable to all – whilst that seems obvious, we must remember this when we approach the treatment of the unlawful. Hate crime laws enhance the penalties of violent crimes because of prejudice against the victim, and consequentially, lengthen the times people are kept in prison. By supporting hate crime laws we only beef up the prison system, which is a brutal example of state oppression – complete with invasive strip searches, disgustingly high levels of sexual assault, violence and denial of healthcare. What is worse, at the end of the day, either a private entity or the government are incentivised to make services worse and worse as they cut costs for a budget surplus or profit, and have no accountability to the prisoner.
We also end up supporting an institution which targets and discriminates against queer and trans people, and which disproportionately jails more indigenous, latinx, black and brown people than white people. By turning to the prison system for punishment, you essentially attempt to solve discrimination with discriminatory institutions.
Tackling Bigotry Without Government
We do not have to lobby for anti-discrimination law to tackle bigotry and oppression. Shutting people down with rules is a sign of weakness – if we are to change people’s minds, we need to convince people. Change is about transforming the mind by being persuaded of a point or idea, which can only arise from strong dialogue and beating opposition. If we try to ban oppressive ideas, we simply give others the idea that their ideas are too strong to be discussed, and create a narrative that oppressors are being oppressed, both factors thus strengthening their justifications for injustice. Beating others in debate is infinitely better than shutting debate – and it has been by winning this debate that society has progressed.
Rather than banning discrimination, we should lead the way and call out individuals and collectives on discriminatory practices. In markets, we have the right to choose, and we can inform others of the practices or beliefs of certain enterprises, and change the market with our feet, by boycotting businesses who defend or instigate bigotry, and calling for enterprises to adopt inclusive practices. Instead of using the government to shut bad businesses down, we the consumers should do this ourselves. Businesses that openly refuse to serve LGBTQ people would be outed in the media and shamed, and if not by the media, by queer rights watchdogs. If I can recall correctly, one of my employers once told me “good word gets around once, and bad word gets around ten times” – the accountability in markets acts as a form of regulation against bigotry. I did say before that you have a right to be bigoted, but you also have a right to reply.
What I would like to communicate in all of this, is that despite the good intentions of anti-discrimination law, it tramples natural rights, requires force, is counter-productive and turns people away from justice advocacy. Fighting bigotry does not mean we have to clamp down on people’s autonomy – fighting bigotry is all about autonomy: it is restoring the self-determination that individuals deserve. We do not have to force others, but educate them – and point out that certain behaviours and attitudes are simply not on. Education is not effective by force, it is effective by reason, and that is why I am actively opposed to anti-discrimination law.