I haven't written about the transgender bathroom issue yet because to be honest, it isn't something that I've felt passionately about. I agree with the forces fighting for transgender rights, and admire celebrities who've canceled concerts in North Carolina. But as I've written before, I'm more invested in women's reproductive rights, which are being stripped away across the country and getting little national attention in this election cycle circus.
But then I read a quote in The New York Times, in an article covering reaction to President Obama's directive regarding bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools, and I felt compelled to address the issue.
This is "the biggest issue facing families and schools in America since prayer was taken out of public schools," said Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.
Huh? You mean that 1962 decision removing prayer from schools over 50 years ago? You think prayer and bathrooms are bigger issues for families than the proliferation of school shootings over the last couple of decades, or the inequities of public education in our nation's cities? Or the heroin crisis? Or the tainted water that some of our children are drinking inside their school buildings?
It is a major issue for politicians and ordinary citizens who put their "Christian values" ahead of civil rights. And indeed, many of them are speaking out and vowing to fight Obama.
I've tried to see their side, and I will say this. The issue has gained traction in the public sphere very quickly, and Obama may have inflamed passions to a point of no return with his order that schools allow students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice or lose federal funding. I agree with the president's order, but it may have come too quickly, and it may in turn act as a catalyst that drives conservative voters to the polls in November. This issue has caught fire like few others.
The United States is undergoing seismic shifts, and both conservatives and liberals believe they are fighting for the soul of this great nation. And you could say that 2016 is the new 1960's - America's youth is challenging its elders' long held beliefs about everything from college mascots, to career stability, to sexual orientation, to which bathrooms people can use.
There is a cultural divide at work here - but there is also a serious generational divide. Instead of driving VW buses across the country, tripping on acid and promoting free love, America's youth is more inclined to get in their VW electric Golfs and drive to an LGBT conference or Bernie rally. They are fighting for equality in all spheres of public life, in large numbers and with great passion.
In its front-page article, The New York Times pointed out that in interviews across the country, young people are generally supportive of transgender bathroom rights. It's their parents who have the problem with Obama's order and the issue in general. Millenials and Generation Z's see gender differently than many middle-aged parents do.
I consider myself pretty open-minded. But I have to say some of the semantics - like gender fluidity and alternative pronouns - and some of the ideas about sexual orientation being completely open-ended - have been difficult for me to absorb. My daughter has subjected me to a few lectures. And I don't always come down on the most liberal side. For example, I've been following the debate at women's colleges over whether a student who is born female but transitions to male while attending an all-women's college should be allowed to stay. I see both sides, but I would argue no.
So I can only imagine what conservative middle-aged parents think.
But they should talk to their kids. Chances are, their children don't feel they need the protection of laws like the one in North Carolina, that has been challenged by Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Chances are, their children have the same kinds of beliefs that my children hold. I'm sure there are many communities where young people will prove me wrong. But in general, these two generations look at all of this very differently than we did when we were growing up in the 70's and 80's. Most of us didn't even know the word transgender.
And guess what? Someday, in the not-too-distant future, Millenials and Generation Z's will be running the show. And you can bet that just as schools were desegregated in 1954, our public bathrooms will have all undergone similar changes. And if you want to be able to look back and say you stood on the right side of history, you'll support the civil rights of transgender people. You'll be tolerant and respectful of their humanity.
Some Christians have said throughout this debate that their opinions and beliefs are not being respected. But newsflash: this isn't about your opinions or your beliefs. This is not a religious issue. It's not about what God or Jesus would want (although I would argue they'd side with Obama here,) and it's not about what your pastor says from the pulpit.
This is about the right of people to live honestly, and openly - to be free. Transgender children are not hurting your freedom; they're not taking anything away from you. They're some of the most vulnerable human beings in the country, and they deserve our support and compassion.