Curry, Jennings support advocacy against Texas ‘bathroom bill,’ noting General Convention planned 2018 meeting in Austin

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, have written to the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives to praise his opposition to a so-called “bathroom bill” in that state.

“The need for voices of conscience is urgent at this moment, because laws like the one proposed in Texas target some of the most vulnerable people in our communities,” Curry and Jennings said in their Jan. 30 letter to Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, that was released Feb. 6.

General Convention is scheduled to meet July 5-13 in Austin, Texas. The two told Straus they hoped the Episcopal Church would not face the “difficult choice” of rethinking that choice.

“No one wants to move General Convention,” Jennings told Episcopal News Service. “But, we do want to offer our support to Speaker Straus and the growing number of Texans, including many Episcopalians, who are opposed to discrimination in their state. We’re committed to assisting the coalition working to defeat Senate Bill 6 when it reaches the House so that in 2018 all Episcopalians can enjoy Texas hospitality in Austin.”

The Senate Bill 6 would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on what the bill calls their “biological sex” as stated on their birth certificate. The bill would also overturn local nondiscrimination ordinances in cities like Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst introduced that bill on Jan. 5 and it has the support of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, among others.

The bill echoes a similar law North Carolina passed in early in 2016 that survived a repeal attempt late last year. The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council said in June 2016 that it opposed that state’s “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act” as well as “all legislation, rhetoric and policy rooted in the fear-based argument that protecting transgender people’s civil rights in the form of equal access to public accommodation puts other groups at risk.”

Shortly after council acted in June, Curry and Jennings wrote to the Episcopal Church explaining their opposition to the bill and saying that they had written to the North Carolina governor and members of the state’s General Assembly, calling on them to repeal the bill.

Curry and Jennings link such bills to those of the Jim Crow era aimed at people of color. They also reminded Straus about the impact on transgender people of the harassment they face, citing a 2011 survey tracking those effects.

The Episcopal Church is “proudly diverse: racially, economically, and in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Curry and Jennings said. “We are duty-bound to ensure that all of our people are treated with respect, that their safety is guaranteed, and that our investment in the local economy of our host city reflects our values” during meetings of General Convention.

The letter notes that the Church moved General Convention from Houston to Honolulu in 1955 because the Texas city could not offer sufficient guarantees of desegregated housing for its delegates.

“We would not stand then for Episcopalians to be discriminated against, and we cannot countenance it now,” Curry and Jennings wrote. “We would be deeply grieved if Senate Bill 6 presented us with the same difficult choice that church leaders faced more than 60 years ago.”

They urged Straus to “remain steadfast” in his opposition to the bill, which is expected to pass the Senate.


The complete text of the letter follows

January 30, 2017
The Honorable Joe Straus Speaker of the House
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, Texas 78768

Dear Speaker Straus:

Thank you for your stand against Senate Bill 6. As the presiding officers of the Episcopal Church, we are firmly opposed to this legislation and condemn its discriminatory intent. We reject the notion that transgender people do not deserve equal civil rights and protection under the law. We affirm the dignity of all of God’s people, for we are all equally children of God, as the prophet Malachi declared when he wrote: “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?” (Mal. 2:10)

As you are no doubt aware, this is not the first time that the segregation of bathrooms and public facilities has been used to stigmatize minority groups. “Bathroom bills,” as they are sometimes called, were passed during the Jim Crow era, and the bogus rationale advanced then is the same bogus rationale being advanced now: the safety of women and children who are no way under threat. The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has stood against fear and in support of God’s love by passing a resolution that reaffirms the church’s support of local, state and federal laws that prevent discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression. The resolution also states our opposition to any legislation that seeks to deny the dignity, equality, and civil rights of transgender people.

The need for voices of conscience is urgent at this moment, because laws like the one proposed in Texas target some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. In a 2011 survey, 78 percent of transgender people said that they had been bullied or harassed in childhood; 41 percent said they had attempted suicide; 35 percent had been assaulted and 12 percent had suffered a sexual assault. Almost half of transgender people who responded to the survey said they had suffered job discrimination, and almost a fifth had lost housing or been denied health care due to their gender identity or expression.

For us, as Episcopalians, the proposed Texas law is of particular concern. We are currently scheduled to hold our triennial General Convention—a nine-day event that includes as many as 10,000 people—in Austin in July 2018. Our church is proudly diverse: racially, economically, and in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity. At our conventions, we are duty-bound to ensure that all of our people are treated with respect, that their safety is guaranteed, and that our investment in the local economy of our host city reflects our values.

In 1955 we were forced to move a General Convention from Houston to another state because Texas laws prohibited black and white Episcopalians from being treated equally. We would not stand then for Episcopalians to be discriminated against, and we cannot countenance it now. We would be deeply grieved if Senate Bill 6 presented us with the same difficult choice that church leaders faced more than sixty years ago.

We urge you to remain steadfast in your opposition to Senate Bill 6 and any similar bill that might be introduced in the Texas House, and we thank you for your commitment to keeping Texas a welcoming state for all of God’s children.

Faithfully,

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President, House of Deputies

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Comments

  1. Edna B. Hibbitts says:

    What ever happened to “Go in to rest room, lock door, do what is needed, wash hands, leave to next person?” There is too much angst over a practical matter.

  2. Susan Russell says:

    Giving thanks for your principled and prophetic stand on behalf of the most vulnerable in your willingness to oppose Senate Bill 6. God bless and la lucha continua!

  3. Thank you to our Bishop and President of the House of Deputies for putting our faith in action and calling for justice and compassion for all God’s children. Transgender people are God’s people too and we need to have respect for all of God’s great diversity and co-exist in a way that as the prophet Micah wrote, does justice, loves kindness and walks humbly with God!

  4. Cynthia Case says:

    Thank you for taking a stand! I’m grateful for your advocacy.
    In solidarity,
    Cynthia Case

  5. I so appreciate this supportive letter. It means so much amid the rise of hate speech and acts that have accompanied the new US presidential administration. We are all in this together!

  6. Iain Stanford says:

    Thank you very much! As a newly ordained priest and trans man in our church, I cannot express how grateful I was to read this letter. It gives me hope to know that my church stands with me.

  7. Rev. Dr. Sally Howard says:

    Thank you for this letter and for standing where Jesus stood, with those on the margins. I am grateful for your courageous and prophetic leadership!

  8. Jamie Barnett says:

    “The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has stood against fear and in support of God’s love,” and I couldn’t be more proud of that action. I stand boldly beside my church leadership in their opposition to any law that denies dignity and perpetuates fear, especially while masquerading as a rational attempt to increase security. The Executive Council was right on many levels to call out this “bathroom bill” and expose it for being what it really is–a legal cover for blatant discrimination. God’s children are called to love and celebrate rather than hate and discriminate, remember?

  9. It’s time to stop the unfounded fear. We’ve got this! We can do it! Please know that all of us Texans do NOT agree with this hateful thought process!

  10. Logan Rimel says:

    As a transgender person, it feels so good to read this letter, even though the circumstances that created it are dangerous for us. It’s such a false fear that motivates these bills, and it really boils down to this underlying message: “We wish you didn’t exist, and it’s ok with us if you die from lack of healthcare, hate crimes, suicide, or addiction. We’re ok with making life so difficult for you that you don’t want to live it, because ultimately, we wish you weren’t here at all.” I give thanks that my church will fight for people like me.

  11. Vicki Gray says:

    Thank You!

  12. The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley says:

    If this bill passes, we cannot go to Texas. I will not support this hatred, and will not go to Convention. That would sadden me, but I would be more saddened, indeed deeply grieved, at turning my back on my sisters and brothers who would be hurt by this bill and are being hurt daily by far too many. Thank you, Bishop Curry and President Jennings, for taking this stand. We’ve got your backs.

  13. Karen Weed says:

    Thank you for this letter and all your courageous stands. With your leadership we will continue to speak truth to power.

  14. Mary Ray Worley says:

    So thankful that you are taking a stand in defense of the most vulnerable among us. This action truly embodies the love and compassion of Jesus. #JesusMovement

  15. Christie Fleming says:

    Amen.

  16. Lynne Homeyer says:

    I agree whole-heartedly. Transgender men and women just want to “go in peace”, and we should let them, for heaven’s sake.

  17. Stephan Quarles says:

    I am thankful for these prophetic voices that seek to resist this culture of fear. May we all take up the prophetic role so clearly shown here.

  18. Alex Leach says:

    Thank you for standing alongside the Transgendered community.

  19. Michael Coburn says:

    I love my Church.

    Thank you,

  20. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    I think that the next time I see the misuse of the term “most vulnerable” I shall throw up! To suggest that males who aren’t thrilled by the prospect of having to pee in the presence of females who resent being female are engaging in “harassment” and “discrimination” of the “Jim Crow Era” is truly idiotic. Episcopalians no matter what their sexual orientation should be embarrassed that we have a Presiding Bishop and many other higher-ups in the church who are using the pulpit to make learned pronouncements that not that long ago would have been regarded by any normal person as sheer lunacy.

    It’s bad enough that Episcopalians may soon be forced to help pay through their pledges for the installation of unisex toilets in Episcopal cathedrals. Even worse is the fact that bishops and priests who embrace transgenderism as something fine and dandy are essentially telling individuals unhappy at having been born male or female that they have a right to tell our Divine Creator that he made a mistake which human beings have a right to “correct”. That amounts to pure sacrilege which until recently might have resulted in their being thrown out of the church.

    I hope that fellow Episcopalians who feel as I do will rise up in protest at this and other outrages such as the recent notion that giving preference to fellow Christian refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere amounts to unjustified “religious” discrimination. Otherwise the flood of loyal members leaving the church in disgust will continue until such time as the Episcopal Church ceases to exist.

  21. Thank you so much for standing with trans folk and the entire LGBTQ community. This is what brought me to the Episcopal Church and this is why I’ve stayed!

  22. Patricia Lyndale says:

    Thank you so much for speaking out in support of all our brothers and sisters!

  23. Caroline Hunter says:

    Thank you for speaking for justice.

  24. The Rev Kate Lewis says:

    Thank you for your prophetic witness! It won’t be easy to move, and it will hurt our friends in Austin, but perhaps they, and all the Episcopalians of Texas would be able to use the move as a powerful witness. Sí, se puede!

  25. John Payne says:

    Go to Texas. Not everyone in Texas agrees with the proposed legislation, and by not showing up in Austin, you leave the floor to those who are opposed to the bathroom legislation. How can you be a prophetic witness against discrimination if you aren’t there. Go to Austin and make it a teaching experience for the church and for Texas.

  26. Thank you. I especially appreciate that the letter, and this article, don’t imply that only men and women do or should exist. Many of us are both / neither / other than men and women.

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