"I would have to present my birth certificate to anyone who would challenge me using the ladies room."--Renee Manning
A note came across my desk this morning, and I just can't stop thinking about it.
It was sent to an email distribution list for Welcoming Faiths, a group of interreligious congregations which promotes equality for LGBTQ individuals. My wife and I became involved with the organization a year or so ago when we joined our city's Episcopal church, which is a member.
It was sent by Renee Manning, a transgender woman from a town nearby our home in Massachusetts, a state which is wrestling with legislation related to access to public accommodations. Bills have been introduced into both the House and the Senate which prohibit bias against transgender people.
Here is the essential text of these bills:
Any public accommodation including without limitation any entity that offers the provision of goods, services, or access to the public that lawfully segregates or separates access to such public accommodation or other entity based on a person's sex shall grant all persons admission to and the full enjoyment of such public accommodation or other entity consistent with the person's gender identity.
The controversial nondiscrimination bills are supported by a wide range of organizations and individuals, including numerous academic associations and teachers unions, but of course the support is not universal. House Representative Colleen Gary has sponsored an opposing bill. Here's the text of that one:
The meaning of "gender identity" shall be distinct from that of "sex" and "sexual orientation." Access to lawfully sex-segregated facilities, accommodations, resorts, and amusements, as well as educational, athletic, and therapeutic activities and programs, shall be controlled by an individual's anatomical sex of male or female, regardless of that individual's gender identity.
Manning's email this morning explained that she and a friend will be visiting Rep. Garry Thursday evening, and asked for prayers. Here's what she said:
If she had her way, I would have to present my birth certificate to anyone who would challenge me using the ladies room. I believe she believes transgender persons are deviants and sexual predators. Her voice is definitely the minority but still very dangerous for the trans community. I am no more special than any other woman, yet I hope her meeting me, a transwoman, I can give her a "face" to see when she pushes her agenda. I hope she sees a face of kindness and acceptance, a believer in our Lord Jesus Christ, and a contributing member of society. I hope and pray for a positive meeting and not an adversarial one.
Please pray that I may convey my concerns reverently and with love.
God Bless all of you,
My daughter attempted to talk to me about her transgender friends almost a decade ago. At the time I didn't know how to process the issue and I undoubtedly handled the conversations badly. Since then I've made some mental progress. My next children's book, a follow on to Rumplepimple, includes a genderqueer cat who becomes the hero's sidekick. The novel I'm finishing includes a young transgender man as a minor character. So I'm trying.
But two things struck me in Manning's note.
First, the insanity of having to prove your birth sex when you are rushing to urinate or simply need to wash your hands. The indignity of such a thing is appalling. Not to mention the impossible logistics of enforcement. The image of Manning, or any other transgender individual, having to present a birth certificate or some other document at such a time is crass and ridiculous. But how else could enforcement happen?
The second thing about Manning's note that made such an impact is her own gentle response. All she wants to do is be a human face for someone who may not have an example of what it means to be "other". She hopes to show up at Rep. Garry's door, gentle and smiling, and to be received. To be seen. To be recognized as an ordinary person who simply wants to love God and her fellow man, and to be able to visit a restroom in public without fear of confrontation and demands for documentation.
I'm praying for Renee Manning and her friend. May their humanity and gentleness shine bright. And I'm praying for Rep. Garry. May her own humanity respond in kind.