News Virginian, July 25, 2021

Some members of our community have been thinking conscientiously and humanely about school nondiscrimination policies while others refuse to bring logic, compassion, or humanity into their response. Some vocally use their religious beliefs to demand discrimination be enforced, while others use religion to argue that the only holy way forward is to honor all God’s children of all gender identities and gender expressions. As Rev. Barrett Owen told the Waynesboro School Board at its July meeting, “To vote against this nondiscrimination policy is to vote for discrimination.” That seems obvious, doesn’t it? If you oppose nondiscrimination, you support discrimination. Indeed, some base their opposition to nondiscrimination policies on their belief that God discriminates and commands us to be “godlike” in this.

I believe the only holy and just way forward is to accept the human value of all and their absolute right to discover and determine for themselves who they are and where they fit in the great human spectrum. Agreeing or disagreeing with transgender people about their identity and their needs is simply irrelevant.

Transgender bathroom use has taken over much of the fear mongering of people opposed to antidiscrimination policies that recognize a person’s right to use the restroom that matches their established self-understood gender. We hear the frequent hypothetical of a cisgender boy asserting they are a transgender girl with the intention of entering gendered restrooms and locker rooms in order to do harm. But my experience as a cisgender gay man is that danger in restrooms comes from the dominant group, not the sexual or gender minority. To this day, public restrooms are uneasy places for me because straight guys harassed or bullied me there. They knew or assumed I was different from them, and that was all they required to respond with violence to my presence. Requiring transgender people to use the restroom that conforms to the gender listed on their original birth certificate puts them at risk of violence from those who are fearful and those who hate. It is simply not true that transgender people pose a risk to cisgender people.

It is not complicated to understand that the bathroom policies some conservatives prefer are mediums for anti-transgender violence. And in case it wasn’t yet clear to you, bullying and other violence also damages the soul or psyche of the bully. No one gets away undamaged when a human being is subjected to harassment and violence.

The other prominent area of the new school nondiscrimination policies that upsets some is the provision for transgender students to be called by the pronouns that reflect their actual gender when it disagrees with the original birth certificate and to use their established name, when they change it to reflect their gender. This should be simple for people of goodwill and good faith to accept. We have been switching our names around in the form of chosen and assigned nicknames since forever with no trouble. Switching pronouns is also not uncommon either. Calling people by the wrong pronouns as a display of disrespect happens all the time and is nothing new. All that is new is that the new policies recognize that other people do not have the ultimate right to assign one’s pronouns. This isn’t rocket science. It is simple human decency to call people by the name they identify as theirs and to refer to them with the pronouns that they know to match their gender.

Mixed in among the Bible verses some choose to use against those with orientation or gender difference from societal norms are verses that have aged better and that are more germane to the discussion. Verses that command us to love our neighbor… to respect our neighbor… to protect our neighbor. And people who value the teachings of Jesus have the example of the parable of “The Good Samaritan,” which teaches that everyone at risk and in need is our neighbor. We are morally obligated to ease their way. Making life harder for people who already have widespread social and religious opinions arrayed against them depends on bad faith or bad theology.

The nondiscrimination policies area schools are adopting are not a choice but a state and federal mandate. And they are the right step toward a safer more just world. They are a minimum step toward making all our children safer.

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Column by Rev. Paul Oakley