Earlier this week, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson had Robin Biro, an openly gay Democratic strategist, on his show defending a bill in California that, if passed, would make it possible for health care providers who repeatedly misgender a patient to be punished with a fine and jail time. Unsurprisingly, Carlson made sure to completely humiliate him during their interview for supporting a piece of legislation that violates people’s First Amendment right to free speech.
Carlson began their interview by introducing SB 219, otherwise known as the “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Long-Term Care Facility Resident’s Bill of Rights.” It’s a piece of legislation recently proposed by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) that, if passed, would punish people with a fine “as high as $1,000” and a “jail term of up to a year” for, among other things, “willfully and repeatedly failing to use a resident’s preferred name or pronouns after being clearly informed of the preferred name or pronouns.”
This means that someone could literally be fined and thrown in jail for simply refusing to call a biological man “she,” or a biological female “he.” Such legislation is not only completely absurd, it’s also in violation of the First Amendment, which protects people from compelled speech.
Despite this, Biro supports the legislation. To push back against the legislation, Carlson asked, ”It doesn’t sound very American. The idea that you go to jail if you say something someone else doesn’t want you to say. Don’t we have a bill of rights that would prevent that?”
Although Biro acknowledged that the First Amendment protects speech, he tried to justify the bill by pointing to a 2011 survey with 6,456 elderly LGBT respondents that showed 28% of them suffered harassment from medical providers or had been denied care. He also accused Carlson of cherry picking because the bill is not just about the transgender use of pronouns, but also about expanding the patient’s bill of rights to include LGBT rights.
Frustrated, Carlson decided to cut him off. “Okay, slow down…I’m sure there are lots of things I would agree with in the bill,” Carlson interjected. “And just to be totally clear, I think you should call people what they want to be called. You know? You should be polite to people and I tried to be. But there’s a principle at stake here that you’re ignoring for political reasons that I’m a little surprised that you are. And that is a really simple one. It’s called free speech,” he continued.
He also noted, “you have the right to express your view. And if other people don’t like it, they don’t like it. But you can’t be put in prison for saying what you think is true.” He added, “this bill seems to ignore that long-standing right that we’ve enjoyed, and I find it terrifying for that reason.”
In response, Biro stated, “I knew you were going to say that. I will contend that these are employees, they are regulated by the government. They already have a patient’s bill of rights that addresses some of these. What is left out are protections for the LGBT community.”
Carlson, however, was not satisfied with his answer. “No. But again, you’re skirting the point that I’m making, which is, this bill criminalizes speech. If you use the wrong word, you can be put in jail. That is grotesque.” He added, “I understand that you’re enthusiastic about expanding rights for LGBT elders. Okay? But why in the world would you as an American who once wore the uniform support a bill that would criminalize speech?”
Biro explained that he supports the bill because he believes elder abuse is “inherently wrong.” When Carlson pointed out that speech is not abuse, Biro replied, “understand this: misusing someone’s pronoun is abuse. We see all the time people do this as a form of abuse. I follow the alt-right blogs where they call Michelle Obama a man. That is abusive.” When asked if people should go to jail for such abuse, Biro said yes.
Curious, Carlson asked, “how many times do I need to use the wrong pronoun before police with guns show up at my house and handcuff me and deprived me of my freedom and throw me in a prison cell?” Biro tried to dodge the question Carlson’s point by mentioned that the bill does not explicitly state an actual number.
“You’re dodging it. You’re dodging it.” retorted Carlson. “Last question. There are a lot of things that I don’t like to hear. People call me names. I find it abusive. I have mental anguish as a result, let’s say. Should they go to jail for that?” he pressed.
“If they are your healthcare provider and they do it intentionally to mentally abuse you and as stated on the wall in the health care bill of rights, yes,” replied Biro.
Understandably, his response completely shocked Carlson, who proceeded to end the interview. But before concluding the interview, he noted, “these are like minimum wage workers and you’re like, you know what I mean? Bullying them basically. It’s so weird.” He added, “I hope you’ll watch this tape when this is over and ask yourself if you’re really on the right side of this question. Because it used to be like people have their opinions [and] they can express it but no one threatened to send them to jail.”
Lawmakers in California must not be allowed to approve SB 219. This is because the First Amendment protects people, including government workers, from compelled speech.