[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and House of Deputies President the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings have written a second letter to Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus urging him to stand firm in his opposition to that state legislature’s effort to pass a “bathroom bill” during the current special session.
The Episcopal Church General Convention is scheduled to meet July 5-13, 2018, in Austin, Texas, and Jennings told the Executive Council in June that, “we are watching the situation closely with an eye to ensuring the safety and dignity of everyone traveling to General Convention next summer.”
Curry and Jennings wrote to Straus in February, thanking him or his stand against the bill. However, 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 be deeply grieved if Senate Bill 6 presented us with the same difficult choice that church leaders faced more than 60 years ago,” Curry and Jennings wrote.
Texas 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.
The state Senate has passed the bill but the House has not acted. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called the Legislature back for the special session that began July 18 and said that he wants legislators to pass the bill.
In March, Curry and Jennings were the lead signers on an amicus brief filed by 1,800 clergy and religious leaders in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving transgender-bathroom use policies.
Jennings told council that she, Curry and others are also watching the legal challenges to Texas Senate Bill 4, which threatens law enforcement officials with stiff penalties if they fail to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The bill also allows police officers to question people about their immigration status during arrests or traffic stops.
The text of the most recent letter follows.
July 19, 2017
The Honorable Joe Straus
Speaker of the House
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, Texas 78768
Dear Speaker Straus:
Since we wrote to you in February expressing our concern about Senate Bill 6, we have watched with gratitude as you have resisted efforts to enshrine discrimination against our transgender sisters and brothers into Texas law. We write now to urge you to remain steadfast in your opposition during the legislature’s current special session.
As the presiding officers of the Episcopal Church, we are firmly opposed to “bathroom bills” and particularly reject the idea that women and children are protected by them. As clergy who remember racist Jim Crow bathroom laws that purported to protect white people, we know the kind of hatred and fear that discriminatory laws can perpetuate.
We are especially thankful for your recent remarks acknowledging the acute emotional and spiritual damage that discrimination does to transgender people. In May, a review of more than forty studies conducted over nearly two decades found that transgender people attempt suicide 22 times more often than the general public. Your opposition to bathroom bills is one important way that you are helping to prevent tragedies in Texan families, and we are grateful for your moral courage and your leadership.
As you know, the Episcopal Church supports local, state and federal laws that prevent discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression and opposes any legislation that seeks to deny the dignity, equality, and civil rights of transgender people. Because 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, we are paying especially close attention to the news emerging from your special session.
We want very much to hold our convention in Texas. However, as we wrote to you in February, we must be able to ensure that all Episcopalians and visitors to our convention, including transgender people, are treated with respect, kept safe, and provided appropriate public accommodation consistent with their gender identities.
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. It would be especially unfortunate if this special session of the Texas legislature 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 any bathroom bills introduced in the special session, and we thank you for your continued commitment to keeping Texas a welcoming state for all of God’s children.
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
President, House of Deputies