(Above: Joy Butler standing with her church, Saint John’s UMC in Austin, Texas.)

So much harm is being done as a result of the stream of discriminatory messages coming from my home state Texas this month. In the state capitol, lawmakers and constituents continue to rally in support of SB6, Senate Bill 6, aka the “bathroom bill,” which passed the bill’s senate committee and will potentially soon go before the House of Representatives to become law. This legislation, like the bathroom bill passed a year ago this month in North Carolina, would keep transgender Texans from using the bathrooms and restrooms, in public schools and other government buildings, that align with their gender identity if different from their birth certificate. This includes transgender individuals in transition and vulnerable schoolchildren.

Despite some claims that SB6 does not discriminate and only aims to protect cisgender women, the insensitive and hurtful words, of both the senators on the SB6 committee and others who have spoken in support of the bill, make it clear that some state lawmakers and their constituents are actively working to persecute transgender Texans. SB6 bill supporters often publicly identify as Christian, claiming that God only ever intended two sexes, a male and a female as labeled at birth.

Thankfully, hundreds of Texans were allowed to publicly speak against SB6 during the senate committee hearing on March 7, 2017. I encourage you to find these videos online and listen to as many as you can. Included in the over 13 hours of public testimony were emotional stories from trans children who just want to go to school, have friends, and fit in with their identified gender group. Young trans adults related painful accounts of bullying and violence that would no doubt increase as a result of harassment over anticipated gender checks at public restrooms. A counselor from my daughter’s high school in Texas reminded the senate committee of the hundreds of deaths that will occur if the bathroom bill is passed, based on studies of the impact of such bills on LGBTQ+ students as correlated with the substantial number of queer students in Texas.

What is our role in this conversation as United Methodists? As trans allies? How can we help when trans friends and family are under attack from discriminatory language and legislation? What are we being called to do?

We need to provide sanctuary in the fullest sense of the word…by stepping outside of our church walls to be witnesses in public spaces, thereby creating healthier spaces for the trans community. We are called to pray for the well-being and emotional health of God’s beautiful trans children, youth, and adults and to surround them with love.

And perhaps most importantly, we are called to put that love into action by pushing back against any organized movement that works to further marginalize the already beleaguered trans community.

Anti-trans legislative efforts are not confined to the Texas and North Carolina borders. Targeted discrimination against the civil rights of trans people is replicating across the country. In the 2017 legislative session, twelve states—Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington—have introduced bills that would restrict access to multi-user restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities on the basis of a definition of gender determined by sex as assigned at birth. Legislation introduced this year in South Dakota, Virginia and Wyoming failed to pass.  Additional legislation currently pending in Arkansas, Senate Bill 346, is titled “Gender Identity and Bathroom Privileges.”

This wave of oppression wrapped in official legislative language is going to cause irreparable harm, whether or not any more bathroom laws are passed.

While we may not be able to stop people from publicly saying oppressive and unfortunate things about our trans friends during legislative testimonies, we can work to diminish the impact. And if enough of us raise our voices, we just might be able to help our legislators understand that we are Christians who are going to be actively and continually supporting our trans neighbors, because our faith requires no less of us. With some intentional action, and a whole lot of prayer, we just might be able to shift these attempts to discriminate into an educational opportunity for those who are fearful of a people they do not yet know.

Here are some examples of what you can do if a “bathroom bill” is being considered by your state congress:

1) Check for organized trans and/or LGBTQ+ lobby days in your state and sign up to participate.

2) Call and visit your state lawmakers to voice your support, as a faithful Christian, for the right of trans people to use the bathroom of their choice. Legislative aides report that phone calls and in-person meetings are the best way to have your voice heard (but send mail or emails if you are unable to call or visit). Bring enough copies of your message in a letter to give to everyone interested during any meetings you have with your lawmakers and their support staff.

3) Show up at your capitol whenever anti-trans legislation is being discussed. Even if you think the bill isn’t expected to pass, the presence of allies is needed to demonstrate that LGBTQ+ affirming Christians support equality for trans people.

4) Whenever you have the opportunity, wear a show of support for trans rights. This is important whether you are advocating in a legislative setting or going about your regular routine. Wearing something, be it is a small pin or a pride t-shirt, that indicates your support of the trans community can help create a safe space wherever you are, especially during these trying times.

5) Create a visual witness on social media. Take photos of your church members holding signs affirmative of trans people and post them online with hashtags that reference legislation in your state or neighboring states. Don’t forget to post these photos on your church and personal Facebook pages. Share your photos with RMN and local advocacy groups to increase the reach of your message. Choose bold and creative ways to witness Christian love for trans people in your community!

Friends, let’s stand strong in our Christian faith…by standing side-by-side with our transgender friends and family.

Joy Butler

Joy Butler is a fourth generation Methodist, raised in the North Georgia conference, who has lived in Texas for fifteen years with her husband of twenty-two years. She won the national RMN "Voices in the Wilderness" laity award in 2013 for her work opening hearts, minds, and doors in the Rio Texas conference. She currently serves her community as a Coordinator for the Pride Interfaith Partnership in Austin.
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