Women Speak: Why an Ohio Case Matters for Women and Girls

There is a case moving its way through the federal court system in Ohio called Meriwether v. Trustees of Shawnee State University. It involves a Christian conservative male professor at a public university (Dr. Meriwether) who was disciplined for refusing to use she/her pronouns and Ms./Miss. titles when referring to a male student. The professor sued, lost, and is appealing his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (that appeals court is located in Cincinnati, Ohio, and covers Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee).

Why might a case involving a Christian conservative male professor matter to WoLF, and to women and girls generally? All attempts to limit free speech harm women disproportionately, because the ongoing legal demands of the “gender identity” movement fall mostly on women and girls who speak out about our rights, privacy, and safety. Everyone has the right to discuss these issues, but women and girls have the most personal and immediate need to do so.

Here is a brief summary of what happened in this particular case:

October 2016: Shawnee State University (a public institution) approves a non-discrimination policy requiring the university to “ensure that there are University structures and processes in place that prohibit discrimination against any individual because of … gender identity” (the policy includes sex, pregnancy, and sexual orientation as well).

The policy defines “gender identity” to mean “a person’s innermost concept of self as male or female or both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves.” (I.e., something that most people would refer to as a personal and private belief.)

Previously, Dr. Meriwether had been informed by the faculty union president that faculty members could face disciplinary action if they “refused to use a [student’s] requested name or pronouns.” He contacted administration officials to express his concern about this, because he has a sincerely held belief in the reality of sex, and was told that professors “must respond to a student’s demand to use a pronoun that reflects that student’s self-asserted gender identity,” and that faculty “must comply or be disciplined” (emphasis added).

January 9, 2018: Dr. Meriwether responds to a question from a male student, named in the suit simply as “Doe,” by saying “Yes sir.” Dr. Meriwether has a pedagogical policy of referring to students by their last names and a title (Mr. Ms., etc.) or as “sir” or “ma’am.” After class, Doe approaches the professor, says that he is “transgender” and that he “identifies as female,” and demands to be addressed with female pronouns and titles. When the professor questions the male student, the student says, “Then I guess this means I can call you a cunt,” and threatens to have the professor fired.

January – June 2018: A series of actions occur, during the course of which the professor is informally warned that the student’s demand must be heeded. He files various grievances, all of which are denied.

June 22, 2018: Administration officials issue a written letter to the professor, finding that he has discriminated against the student on the basis of “gender identity,” warning him to avoid “such behaviors” in the future, and threatening further “corrective action.” The letter is placed in the professor’s official file.

November 2, 2018: Dr. Meriwether sues the university and various administration officials, alleging, among other things, violations of his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, and his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection.

February 12, 2020: The complaint is officially dismissed in federal court in its entirety.

Let’s consider the tyrannical implications of what the university is doing here, what it’s asking the federal courts to do, and why this should matter to women and girls (and to everyone who understands that sex is grounded in material reality).

If this decision is allowed to stand, it will mean that any public employee in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee can potentially be disciplined by his or her employer any time that employee holds and/or expresses an opinion that acknowledges verifiable facts concerning sex, if that opinion conflicts with another person’s belief in the fantastical notion of “gender identity.” Take a moment to take in the implications of what these university administrators said to Dr. Meriwether – that professors “must respond to a student’s demand to use a pronoun that reflects that student’s self-asserted gender identity,” and that faculty “must comply or be disciplined” (emphasis added). The court ruled that this publicly-funded university’s policy of restricting and compelling speech about “gender” is perfectly legal.

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, a public hospital located in Columbus, Ohio (just 90 miles from Shawnee State University) boasts that it employs “Central Ohio’s most experienced Ob/Gyn experts.” If the court’s decision in this case is allowed to stand, it will likely be interpreted broadly as giving legal approval for hospital administrators to subject these experts to disciplinary action if they refuse Ob/gyn treatment for a man who schedules an appointment and demands treatment on the basis of his self-declared “gender identity.”

The YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, which receives federal grant funding, states, “For 122 years, we have helped women, girls, and families in Nashville and Middle Tennessee build safer, more self-sufficient lives,” by, among things, operating domestic violence shelters. How many shelter administrators and counselors will potentially be disciplined for refusing service to men who demand placement in the shelter on the basis of their self-declared “gender identity?”

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services runs an assistance program for women, infants, and children. The program “serves low and moderate income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, infants, and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.” Its welcome packet for recipients states that under the program, “[w]omen receive support and education to have healthy pregnancies and get breastfeeding off to a good start.” If this decision is allowed to stand, state health employees will potentially be at risk of disciplinary action for “misgendering” men who demand benefits after declaring that they are pregnant or breastfeeding.

In November of 2019, the Kentucky Department of Education announced that it is launching a new girls-only STEM program. According to program administrators, the goal is to “equip female students with the skills necessary for success in a rapidly changing global economy using the latest state-of-the-art STEM approaches.” If this decision is allowed to stand, it will communicate the message that it is perfectly legal for those same program administrators to be subjected to disciplinary action if they refuse to acknowledge the sex of boys who demand participation in the program because they “identify as girls.”

And, of course, if this decision is allowed to stand, any professor at any public university in any of those states could potentially be without any legal recourse against being disciplined for engaging in “wrongthink” like Dr. Meriwether allegedly did by “misgendering” a student who demanded the use of certain pronouns and titles.

This is an utter assault on free speech, and although this particular case involves a Christian conservative man, everyone – but especially women and girls – should be concerned about it.

The above examples demonstrate the absurd implications of an appellate ruling affirming the court’s decision, and they also highlight the real-life consequences of decisions like this on actual women’s and girls’ lives. The trend of courts enforcing “gender identity” ideology undermines the rights of women and girls, falsely casts lesbians as bigots, and especially harms women who lack the financial or social means to avoid or escape these conditions. It is the most misogynist and the most homophobic movement that many of us have experienced in our lifetimes.