- - Wednesday, July 28, 2021

There is an unfortunate and unhealthy debate raging over a book published by journalist Abigail Shrier about the surge in females under the age of 18 who have sought or are seeking medical interventions for gender reassignment.

Ms. Shrier’s book, “Irreversible Damage,” chronicles the significant and unexplained rise among adolescent females in requests for gender reassignment treatment. The author suggests — rather unremarkably— that it is probably unwise to allow minor children to make permanent, life-altering decisions in the absence of parental involvement.

Ms. Shrier herself has been clear that she believes that transgender people should have the same rights and be treated with the same dignity as any other children of God and any other American citizens.

That has been insufficient to protect her from the howling mob. There are dozens of examples, but let’s zero in on three particularly egregious ones.

Chase Strangio, who is the deputy director of transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that used to be in favor of free speech, tweeted out:  “Stopping the circulation of this book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on.”

Grace Lavery, a professor of English (!) at the University of California, Berkeley (ironically the cradle of the Free Speech Movement in the early and mid-1960s), couldn’t resist, either. She tweeted:  “I do encourage followers to steal [the book] and burn it.”

The American Booksellers Association – the people in this country who actually sell books —  apologized for distributing the book in its July promotional box. They were so terrified of the mob that they didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to even name the book’s title in their apology.

The ABA said: “An anti-trans book was included in our July mailing to members. This is a serious, violent incident that goes against ABA’s ends, policies, values and everything we believe and support. It is inexcusable.

“We apologize to our trans members and to the trans community for this terrible incident and the pain we caused them.”

It seems reasonable to assume that one of the things the ABA doesn’t believe in and doesn’t support is free thought and free discourse.

Leaving aside the material and intentionally inaccurate characterization of the book, the idea that giving someone a book could be construed as a “serious, violent incident” or is a “terrible incident” is at the core of our current problem.

The American experiment is built on freedom, and the most essential and original freedom is the freedom to think what you want. Freedom of speech is a natural and direct consequence of freedom of thought and conscience.

Those trying to limit a citizen’s ability to say what they want in the public square – in this case, the ACLU, academia and the American Bookburners, excuse me, Booksellers Association – are really trying to limit the range of acceptable thought in society.

What Ms. Shrier believes or doesn’t believe should be irrelevant. The problem is that there are some people on the left in this instance who want her not only silenced but also her thoughts to be permanently excluded from the realm of the acceptable discourse. Yes, they want to burn the books, but they really want to burn the thoughts out of existence.

The book burners who are always among us have figured out that social media allows them to incinerate thoughts and people they find unacceptable. That they have made inroads into places like the ACLU, academia and even booksellers, which used to be the guardians of free thought and free speech, is alarming.

The government is not the threat here.

The government is not impairing our rights; our fellow citizens are impairing them. There are now Americans walking around who believe they have a right and, in some cases, a duty to limit their thoughts and words. How short is the distance from that to limiting what you do? Or incarcerating you for “wrong” or “antisocial” thoughts?

The time to be silent or surreptitious in our support of free thought, free conscience and free speech is over.
My friends in the environmental community are fond of talking about the need to be on the “right side of history.” We are at a moment in which our past and our future require us all to stand up publicly for the truth, however we perceive it.

In Ms. Shrier’s case, she has done difficult work. All that remains for us is to protect and consider that work on its merits. Parents, teachers, therapists, doctors, lawyers and all those involved in the care of young people should be free to participate in that consideration.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”  For those committed to freedom, that time is now.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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