[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.
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.