Sunday, August 06, 2017

We are called to stand with transgender people

NOTE: This is the longer version of a commentary I gave on the Flashpoint segment of Inside Texas Politics on WFAA Channel 8 that aired July 30, 2017. My conservative counterpart, Mark Davis, could not be there, so it was just me, giving a minute-and-45-second version of this. Writers know it always takes longer to write something short than something long. We tape Flashpoint at 2 pm on Thursdays. I was told I could do this commentary at 12:22 that Thursday. I live in Fort Worth and we tape in Dallas, so I have to leave my home by at least 1:20. Yikes! I was able to do this only because Gwen Fry and Cameron Partridge, friends who are transgender activists, leapt into action at my call for help and provided me with data. This is the first draft I wrote -- it was way too long. We had to cut it in the studio. But I wanted to put it all out here, because it's a matter of life and death. And I wanted to hold up the generous tireless efforts of Gwen and Cam. Thank you for all you do for so many.
You can see the segment that aired here.

I’m going to talk about something of deep concern to me as an American citizen, as a mom and grandmom, and as a Christian. I want to talk about the outbreak of attacks – both real and political – on some of our most vulnerable citizens – transgender women and men.

I’m talking about the president’s recent banning of transgender people from serving in the military – a policy reversal created by tweet apparently on a complete whim –and the bathroom bill in our own Texas Legislature’s special session.

Now, I’m a cis woman – I’m a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with my birth sex. Apparently most of us are cis gendered. But a significant portion of human beings are born into bodies that do not correspond to their sense of personal identity and gender.

Yes, the same God who created Leviathan for the sport of it, who created our wild and varied and unbelievably beautiful planet, also created a wild and complex and unbelievably beautiful variety of human beings.

Like a lot of people, when I began to hear about and actually meet some transgender people, I was puzzled and admittedly uneasy – an unease born of my lack of information. Some amazingly kind, patient, and courageous transgender people helped me in my journey to better understanding. Just like you and me, they want to live authentic live as who they really are.

But way too many of our leaders are approaching this whole subject with a fear of what they don’t understand – what they refuse to even try to understand. They are using THE most common weapon of the bigoted -- the fear of the unknown, the fear of the “other” – to justify attacks on fellow human beings who experience themselves differently from cis gender people.

Which brings us back to the president’s ban on military service and the Texas bathroom bill. Both of these actions are completely unnecessary and very dangerous.

Let’s set aside the president’s continuing desire to distract us all from the investigation into Russian influence on his campaign and the 2016 election and his willingness to cruelly and cynically risk the lives of our fellow Americans to do so. Let’s look at his purported reasons for the ban.

The American Medical Association has said, “There is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from military service. Transgender individuals are serving their country with honor, and they should be allowed to continue doing so.

A Rand study on the impact of transgender individuals in the military reveals the financial cost might – might- incur an approximate 0.13-percent increase in the defense budget. This should not be used as an excuse to deny patriotic Americans an opportunity to serve their country. As the AMA said, "We should be honoring their service - not trying to end it."

As for the bathroom bill, it’s already illegal to enter a restroom or locker room for the purpose of harming someone or invading someone’s privacy. The bill is unnecessary and targets transgender people for discrimination.

In 17 states, more than 200 cities across the country, and in school districts covering over 500,000 students, transgender people are explicitly protected from discrimination, including when using restrooms and locker rooms. None of these laws have resulted in an increase in violence or other public safety incidents. Bathroom bills are impossible to enforce and bad for business.

But worse, these laws and the rhetoric surrounding them portraying transgender people as somehow dangerous to the rest of us create a climate in which the very lives of transgender people are at risk. Witness the attack on Stephanie Martinez, a transgender activist, in Austin last week. Martinez was attacked after testifying against the bathroom bill by two men who admitted they attacked her because she was transgender. Luckily, she survived the brutal attack. But many do not. In 2016, there were at least 22 deaths of transgender people in the US, and so far in 2017, at least 15 have been murdered. Transgender women of color are especially vulnerable to violence. It is not too strong a statement to say that the blood of these people are on the hands of leaders seeking to score political points on the lives of transgender people. What’s more, they claim their Christian faith impels them to this action.

I think that borders on heresy. In my church, our baptismal covenant includes the promise to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We promise to strive for justice and peace among all people respecting the dignity of every human being. These laws are the antithesis of the Christian message.

We need to defeat the bathroom and push back against the president’s military service ban. Our common humanity calls us to this action.

From the left, I’m Katie Sherrod.