In Texas these days, it seems everyone must have an opinion on which bathroom transgender folks can – and cannot – use.
So let’s get our position out of the way upfront: As far back as 1990, the people of our church — and many others in Texas and across the country — welcomed transgender persons and their families as equals in the household of faith and beloved of God. The signs on our restrooms read “God created and welcomes us in all of our diversity. At University Baptist Church of Austin, all are welcome to use the restroom that best fits their gender identity.”
Unfortunately, some politicians aren’t as enlightened. Our state Governor and Lt. Governor have teamed up to call a “special” 30-day legislative session to consider, among other alleged priorities, measures that would restrict which bathrooms transgender Texans can use.
One place we pastors do have some experience: calling out bullies.
Texas’ bullying ‘bathroom bill’ targets the vulnerable in the name of protecting the public from a problem that does not exist.
So we are calling out the bullying behavior of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick towards the most vulnerable among us. There are more than forty thousand transgender students in Texas. While the percentage of students who identify as transgender is small, many school districts – in Texas and around the country – have found caring ways to support families as they encourage healthy development of these children.
In most ways, these children are no different from any other. They are kids who go to school, get involved in extra-curricular activities, make friends and have hopes and dreams like other kids. And just like all other kids at their school, they simply need to use a restroom.
But like schoolyard bullies, Texas leaders are determined to join politicians in states like North Carolina and at the federal level to pick on these most vulnerable victims and pressure others into joining their cause. May we remind you: These bullies are picking on children.
Texas is one piece of a larger narrative: cynical politicians are seeking to discriminate against the transgender community. But we are part of a larger narrative, too. When North Carolina passed a similar “bathroom bill” targeting the transgender community, people of faith were on the frontlines of dissent. And a month after the Department of Education rescinded guidance that would make trans kids safer at school, more than 150 congregations and thousands of people of faith partook in a National Weekend of Prayer for Transgender Justice.
We are especially offended when politicians use our Christian faith to defend their bullying behavior. Nothing could be further from the Christian spirit of welcoming the stranger, defending the vulnerable and following the Golden Rule.
Texas’ bullying “bathroom bill” targets the vulnerable in the name of protecting the public from a problem that does not exist. Our transgender congregants are far more likely than the public to be the targets of verbal and physical assault, not to mention exclusion and discrimination. Such laws would place our transgender congregants and their families in deeper danger of discrimination, slander and even violence.
And we hasten to add that such discriminatory laws, which the governor would have us believe are about public safety, would also have a disparate impact on those in our congregations with disabilities that rely on the help of caregivers in accessing public spaces. Most personal care attendants are female, while the percentage of those living with disabilities is the same for male and female adults. A person with a disability should be free to receive assistance from whomever is most qualified regardless of their gender.
We encourage all people of faith and good conscience to join us in speaking out against this bullying bathroom bill.
We are not alone in speaking against the immorality of these laws. Support by congregations for treating all Texans equally under the law is strong – and growing. More than 200 of our Texas clergy colleagues have joined us in signing a statement — for a campaign called Texas Believes — urging our state leaders to recognize “the full equality of LGBT Texans – equality before God and equality under the law.” And we are in solidarity with thousands of faith leaders across the country who have been urging politicians to stop vicious attacks against the transgender community and protect all God’s children.
Many of us have gathered repeatedly at the state Capitol during the last session to urge our leaders not to join in a campaign to marginalize our congregants and fellow Texans. Our legislators had the courage to resist fear tactics disguised in religious rhetoric and refused the bullying bathroom bill. In response, Texas Lt. Gov. bullied his way into a special session, enabled by the governor. These tactics threaten our democratic process and this law threatens the common good.
We are commending the courage of those Texas leaders who opposed the bathroom bill in the last session and urge them to stop its passage again. We are grateful for the witness of faith leaders, transgender people, and allies who have stopped these bills elsewhere. And we encourage all people of faith and good conscience to join us in speaking out against this bullying bathroom bill and any others like it.
Bethune is senior pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin. Cooper is associate pastor. Both are members of Texas Believes (TexasBelieves.org), a coalition of Texas faith leaders who support full equality for all Texans, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans.