Monday, May 23, 2016

Commentary on the Bathroom Wars (and the Role of Religious Folks in Them): "Fighting Over Bathrooms Is the Oldest Move in the Prejudice Playbook"



More commentary for you from the last several days, as a new work week begins: these pieces focus, for the most part, on the current "bathroom wars" in the U.S., and the role being played by church people in those wars — a considerable role, in fact,  since, as Bill Berkowitz has just noted, the Christian right's distress over transgender youth hit fever pitch last week when President Obama reminded public schools that they have an obligation to adhere to already established non-discrimination guidelines as they deal with transgender students.


In a "Late Night" segment recently, Seth Meyers explains and critiques the North Carolina bill attacking trans people: he states, 

Fighting over bathrooms is the oldest move in the prejudice playbook. America has a long history of using bathrooms to scare people … and politicians are happy to exploit that fear. 
Telling a minority group that they're not allowed to use the same bathroom everyone else uses is a well-worn strategy. Proponents of the so-called bathroom bill don't want you to see their bills as prejudice; they want you to think they're trying to protect the children.

Citing North Carolina's Moral Mondays leader Rev. William J. Barber II, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove connects the bathroom wars to similar race-baiting wars over bathroom use as integration occurred in the South: 

"[Rev. William J.] Barber, who now leads North Carolina's NAACP, has been clear since House Bill 2 passed in March that this discriminatory legislation is not really about bathrooms. It's about politicians using fear to hold on to power. 
Evidence for his point is in the bill itself. Proponents of the law have downplayed the fact that it also denies local governments the power to raise the minimum wage in their communities and takes away every citizen's right to sue in state court for employment discrimination of any kind. Even on paper, HB2 is a blatant grab for power. 
But Barber has also been clear that it's a cynical attempt at dirty politics ahead of the 2016 election. Four years ago, McCrory and his administration came to power by leveraging the vote of so-called social conservatives through a proposed constitutional amendment that put heterosexual marriage on the ballot. The Rev. Billy Graham was persuaded from his sickbed to endorse the ban on gay marriage, and Christians and others who believed their "family values" were under attack came out to vote for Republicans.

Max Brantley of Arkansas Times also notes how the bathroom wars reflect an old trope of the never-say-die Confederate states about the dangers of racial mixing: 

 [Even before President Obama reminded the nation of the law], Republicans already were using bathroom hysteria as a wedge issue in massive resistance to equal rights for lesbians and gays. A black president edges into sexual matters? Strike up "Dixie" and put a 1950s newsreel on the projector. [Notorious Arkansas white supremacist leader] Justice Jim Johnson would have admired how Arkansas politicians rushed to boil race and sex into a hateful stew. . . . 
The average child is at greater risk from a priest, Baptist minister, teacher or coach than a transgender person seeking a public bathroom stall. See: just about any daily newspaper.

Also in Arkansas Times, Ernest Dumas points out how absurd and unworkable the North Carolina bill is — when it legally mandates the very thing it claims to be protecting women against, requiring transgender men to use women's facilities because their birth certificates list them as female: 

It [the NC anti-trans potty bill] is an absurd, unworkable and cruel law, but politically inevitable. It captured the imagination of those who still cling to the ancient trope that everyone is born either a male or female and never the twain shall meet. Pediatricians and endocrinologists have long known better. The rest of society has been learning on a fast curve since the 1970s, when young people began coming out to their families and friends about their sexual or gender proclivities and feeling healthier for it. 
The practical result of the North Carolina law and any others that follow is that a transgender person cannot use a public restroom if they start requiring a birth certificate for admission to the potty. Burly, bearded men who were born female, like the once-daughter of a Republican congresswoman, could not legally use the men's room but would cause some hysteria if they entered the girls' room that they were legally mandated to use.

Abby Zimet notes that statistics alone would appear to indicate there's more danger of someone being sexually accosted by a conservative Republican legislator in a bathroom than by a transgender person: 

Finally, many commentators have noted that while virtually no transgender people have been found to have committed sex crimes in public bathrooms, at least three conservative GOP lawmakers - Former Senator Larry Craig, Former Florida Representative Bob Allen, and Former Senator Jon Hinson - and, depending on your source, possibly many more have been found guilty of the same offense. Entirely logically, then, one Jeremy Belanger has started a Change.org petition urging that we protect ourselves and our children by making GOP pols, invariably masquerading as "people who are morally just," use separate bathrooms. The new law would forbid them from joining the rest of us in our private business, set up "Grand Old Potty" spaces for them, and eliminate any stalls or dividers "so they can continue to monitor the bathroom activities they're so interested in.'"Toilet paper optional.

Articulating what would seem to me to be a praiseworthy religious perspective to all of the toxic nonsense being peddled about transgender human beings by the religious right at present, Father Jim Martin proposes getting to know transgender individuals and their families, and reaching out to them.

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly makes a similar point, also from a Catholic standpoint: she responds to an op-ed statement in her local paper in New York by a Catholic priest, Fr. Andrew Carroza, who claims that a school which has switched to gender-neutral graduation gowns is engaging in "misplaced compassion" that does not want to share hard truths with students, including the hard truth that gender is ordained by God and fixed at birth. (So he thinks.) 

She writes,

When you characterize supportive accomodations for trans people as "misplaced compassion," as Carrozza does -- arguing, "We're so afraid of being accused of lacking compassion or discriminating that we don't tell people the truth for fear of hurting them" -- you are refusing to acknowledge that the alternative to that compassion, in many cases, is ostracism, depression, and suicide. What should the church's priority be?

As an aside that's not really an aside, Ed Wilkinson focuses on a recent statement of Father Thomas Rosica, a Vatican p-r aide and head of the Canadian Salt and Light foundation, who notes the extent to which the Catholic blogsphere has become a toxic stew of hate speech and prejudice — in the name of preserving Catholic truth: Wilkinson writes, 

[T]o hear Father Thomas Rosica tell it, sometimes Catholic conversation on-line is more "culture of death" than "culture of life."
"Many of my non-Christian and non-believing friends have remarked to me that we 'Catholics' have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith!" he said.

As Elton John (and others) are pointing out, the hate speech has real-life consequences for real-life people, vulnerable young folks among them: Elton John states, 

As the father of two children, I would hope their world is free of discriminatory, hateful legislation like North Carolina's. 
Forcing transgender people to use the bathroom of a gender with which they don't identify isn't just inconvenient or impractical. For many, especially young students still grappling with their transition, it can be traumatic, and at worst, unsafe. 
The failure of McCrory and other lawmakers to see this is a failure of compassion, a failure to recognize the difficult and frequently unwelcoming world transgender people must navigate every day, stigmatized by the fear and ignorance of others.

Samantha Allen reports on a case in which a transgender person has already allegedly encountered abusive treatment in a restroom, as religious groups and political conservatives fan the flames of prejudice: she writes, 

If anyone faces heightened danger in public restrooms, it's transgender people. And as lawmakers in North Carolina and elsewhere take aim at their right to relieve themselves, there are troubling signs that this danger could be growing
Most recently, on Wednesday evening, NBC Washington reported that a security guard at a Giant grocery store in northeast D.C. had been charged with simple assault after allegedly forcing 32-year-old transgender woman Ebony Belcher out of the store for trying to use the bathroom.

Matt DeRienzo points to a case in Danbury, Connecticut, in which a non-trans woman indicates she was accosted in a restroom merely because she has short hair: he reports, 

Aimee Toms was washing her hands in the women’s bathroom at Walmart in Danbury Friday when a stranger approached her and said, "You're disgusting!" and "You don't belong here!"
After momentary confusion, she realized that the woman next to her thought - because of her pixie-style haircut and baseball cap - that she was transgender. . . . Besides being a pretty normal choice of style for women, Toms has a short haircut because she recently donated hair - for the third time - to a program that makes wigs for child cancer patients.

And as all of this brews up across the country, Kim Davis pushes herself back into the limelight — of course! — babbling about how evil gays have been trying to shove things down her throat, and how she has informed them that she could not possibly marry them because the bible told her she could not. This language of having things shoved down her throat and being forced to eat them: it's exactly the language that resentful white people in the South used after Brown v. Board and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I know this, because I grew up hearing it.

And just like Kim, we white Southern Christians back then cracked open our bibles and pretended to find verses that told us how wrong it was for the Supreme Court to shove its liberal racial nonsense down our throats, when God had created the races separate and intended for them to remain separate. 

Plus ├ža change: Kim is just the latest incarnation of a shameful type of Southern bible-based bigot that has long been thoroughly familiar to many of us with roots in the bible belt.

(Thanks to Terri Hemker for sending me the link to the Ed Wilkinson article linked above.)

Tennessee "Liberal Redneck" Trae Crowder is back with a new video commenting on the bible-toting nutcases screaming about Satan and baby killing lately in the aisles of Target stores; the video's from his Facebook page and is also at YouTube.

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