BY James Kirchick
February 08 2010 10:00 AM ET
Last May, Aiden Quinn was texting his girlfriend while operating a moving vehicle—a dangerous activity under any circumstances, but especially reckless considering that Quinn wasn’t driving a mere automobile. As a trolley driver for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which operates Boston’s subway and bus systems nicknamed the “T,” Quinn was at the helm of a train carrying dozens of people underground. Buried in his digital billets-doux, he wasn’t alert when the train sailed through a red light and rammed into the back of another trolley. Luckily, no one was killed, though nearly 50 people were injured, and the resulting lawsuits could cost the T millions.
Media attention slowly drew away from the details of the accident to something far more sensational: Quinn is female-to-male transgender. This immediately provided fodder for all manner of disparaging comments, and given the way in which transgenderism—something of which most Americans are utterly ignorant and view as peculiar—was suddenly thrust into the mainstream media spotlight, it was understandable that transgender organizations would go on the defensive. “Anything related to his gender identity would be irrelevant and further perpetuate unnecessary sensationalism,” read a statement from the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. “Media outlets should be reporting on the facts of the case and not using sensationalistic coverage of a person’s identity or former name when neither has a bearing on the case.”
Quinn’s trans identity had nothing to do with the collision; being transgender (or gay or female or black or left-handed) does not make one more likely to text while driving. But that doesn’t mean that his gender identity was utterly “irrelevant.” Indeed, Quinn’s transgenderism became fair game when the allegation arose that he had benefited from it to get his job in the first place. “[Quinn] was initially hired as a minority and used her [sic] transgender status,’” an MBTA source told ABC News. The MBTA rebutted that charge, saying that Quinn was hired through a job lottery, although the T does advertise itself as an “affirmative action employer.”
Consider the following: Quinn had received three speeding tickets and was involved in a motor vehicle accident during the seven years prior to the accident. Amazingly, these violations do not disqualify one from working for the T, which may say more about lax government hiring standards and the power of public employee unions in Massachusetts than it does about political correctness. But is it not fair to at least raise the question of whether Quinn would have been treated differently were he not transgender?
Regardless of the specifics surrounding this particular incident, the prospect of preferential hiring on the basis of homosexuality and transgender identity poses troubling questions. At this point it’s a largely hypothetical issue. In most states employers can fire or refuse to hire LGBTs solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. So the idea of asking for special preferences is more than akin to the metaphor of beggars acting like choosers. But in the country’s more “progressive” institutions, the notion of gay affirmative action is not so theoretical. At the 2006 annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the subject of affirmative action for gay students came up and found some adherents, including an admissions officer at Vermont’s prestigious Middlebury College. The school’s assistant director of admissions told the website Inside Higher Ed that gay students bring “a unique quality,” which is important as the school tries hard not “to be too homogeneous.” Don’t be surprised if, within the next few years, the nation’s top colleges add homosexuality to their list of applicant “attributes,” giving gay students the same leg up that athletes, children of alumni, and some racial minorities also enjoy.