Curry, Jennings urge Texas House leader to continue opposition to Texas ‘bathroom bill’ noting General Convention planned 2018 meeting in Austin

By ENS staff
Posted Jul 20, 2017

[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.

Faithfully,

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
President, House of Deputies


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Comments (100)

  1. Anne Lynn says:

    Our denomination proudly welcomes all, just as Jesus would. We cannot change course now after so much discernment and effort. Please let’s support every Episcopalian, even if it means a move. Or a Movement.

  2. Cameron Partridge says:

    Thank you very much, Presiding Bishop Curry and President of the House of Deputies Jennings, for reaching out to Speaker Straus again and reaffirming the message you sent to him in February. Your steadfast support of the trans community, and for safeguarding the dignity of all human beings, is so appreciated.

  3. Nick Cuccia says:

    One hopes we have the spine to move the convention if this bill passes and is signed. It would be more than a little odd to say, “Well, we did this in 1955, but this time ….”
    BTW, I searched the Diocese of Texas website using the terms “gay,” “lesbian” and “LGBT” and several links to articles came up but I could not find anything about LGBT ministries on the site. Integrity is in a long list of ministries buried somewhere on the site (http://www.epicenter.org/testgroup/?page=64) , but the contacts provided are links to St. Stephen’s in the Montrose. I found no mention of Integrity under the “Ministries” tab on the home page. Please correct me if I am wrong about this. As a former Houstonian who visits the Cathedral each Christmas when I’m home visiting family, this is troubling to me. Does it mean LGBTQ persons are invisible as far as Diocese of Texas is concerned? Will that be addressed at convention in Austin?

  4. Susan Salisbury says:

    When I read articles like this I despair of ever having a church that cares about Jesus or the Bible. It’s always and all about geing politically correct and bullying people into compliance with progressive politics. You will do all of this to please progressives and most will still not come to church because they dont believe in God. The church is already seriously fractured, but by all means lets send this message to the red neck rubes that we despise them and find them icky. And also lets let people who are concerned, not about trans genders who can pass as women, but male perverts who like to hang out on women’s restrooms so they can spy on them and take pictures of them {and yes, this has happened in real life} let’s let those peopke know that we think them bigots for even voicing their concerns. That’s how we’re show compassion in the modern Episcopal Church.

  5. John Miller says:

    Susan, you need to re-read the parable of the Good Samaritan—Jesus did illustrate something radical, and against religious rules” who is my neighbor, whom should I help? Jesus pointed out that is was the despised, the rejected, the hated Samaritan that helped, not the religiously correct. Religious correctness is far more dangerous and off-putting than political correctness. Jesus was a radical in so many ways. I applaud my denomination to stepping out against the grain of bigotry and Know Nothings who would disenfranchise and marginalize some of God’s children.

    1. Gary Symons says:

      Lecturing Susan will not change her mind nor my mind. I never heard of religious correctness which implies that men know better then God.

  6. Eileen Centofanti says:

    I, too, applaud our denomination for its inclusivity and dedication to protecting the rights of all. So many in the LGBTQ community have been made to feel that they are a disappointment to God just for being who they are, as God created them. I cannot even imagine how painful that must be.

  7. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    I’m in complete agreement with Susan Salisbury. It’s pretty pathetic that “racist Jim Crow bathroom laws” hold such overwhelming interest for our Presiding Bishop and other higher-ups in the Church. Since common sense about so-called transgenderism has virtually disappeared from official Episcopal websites one has to look elsewhere. There are still a few journals (such as First Things) which respect tradition and which themselves can be respected for offering sensible commentary no longer available from sources within the Church.

  8. mike geibel says:

    Well said, Susan Salisbury.
    Bishops and clergy should remember their own admonitions. In April 2016, the TEC was one of 99 faith groups that sent a letter to congressional leaders opposing Trump’s campaign promise to weaken the prohibition against churches endorsing political candidates. In the TEC’s own words:

    “People of faith do not want partisan political fights infiltrating their houses of worship. . . . Houses of worship are spaces for members of religious communities to come together, not be divided along political lines; faith ought to be a source of connection and community, not division and discord.”

    Immediately on the heels of the 2016 Election, Bishops and Clergy joined the political Jihad being waged against conservative values and all things “Trump.” Preaching the Message was replaced with pounding the table—and the altar. Communal bathrooms and showers take precedence over individual rights of privacy. All must knee at the altar of political correctness, and those who disagree with the leftist views are despised and attacked as, in the words of Mr. John Miller, bigots and “Know Nothings.”

    I do not mean to say that the Church is wrong on all “social justice” issues. But I do say that denigrating those who disagree with someone’s politics is not part of my “Baptismal covenant.” The vitriolic and ad hominem attacks on those who may disagree with the TEC’s social politics have made the Episcopal Church a place I no longer want to spend my Sundays.

    I wager that most Texan’s could care less whether the TEC meets in Austin or not–the TEC’s sense of it self-importance is rather presumptuous. The threat of a boycott and condemnation of the Texas Legislature merely throws more gasoline on the fire that divides their own congregations. It should be no surprise that the TEC is seeing another wave of members exiting the Church. Surely ministers and church leaders know that unlike most evangelical churches, those in its pews present a politically diverse audience. Clerics are so blinded by the disconnect between their leftist indoctrination and their own uncompromising views on political issues that they cannot see the frowns and crossed-arms of many sitting in the pews.

    For a church that self-proclaims how “inclusive” it is, the Episcopal Church is the loser in the membership drive between liberal theology and conservative evangelicals. And the Church is not just losing—it is losing badly.

    1. Deborah Matherne says:

      well said Susan and Mike

    2. Bill Louis says:

      Thank You Mike and Susan for saying what many of us think. A point missed by many in TEC is that WE are paying (look it up. They are well paid) for these people to represent US. A portion of OUR contributions to our local churches are siphoned off by the regional and national diocese to pay for their salaries and programs and in turn fuel the ECUSA political agenda. To all that are unhappy with the direction of TEC, dry up the money or live with it! Otherwise things will never change.

  9. Vicki Gray says:

    Thank you, Michael and Gay, for walking the talk and living into the Gospel and our Baptismal vow to seek justice and honor the dignity of every human being. I am so proud to be a member of the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.

  10. The Rev. Iain Stanford says:

    Thank you to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings for your ongoing support of the trans community. Your willingness to reach out to Speaker Straus and to reaffirm your previous message is greatly appreciated. Your continued witness to the full human dignity of trans people fills me with pride for our church. Thank you, again

  11. Dianne Aid says:

    I so appreciate the courage of Michael Curry and Gay Jennings to be forthright on this issue. Another issue in Texas is that of punishing Sanctuary Cities.
    With almost every General Convention in the last 20 years we have had to face situations of violation of workers rights, gun violence, etc. We have joined workers in their local campaigns (Disney Be Faithful in Anaheim and The Hyatt Regency Boycott and Blacklisting in Indianapolis, and in Salt Lake the Bishops’ March Against Gun Violence). General Convention gathers to guide church policies and faith development and being agents of peace and justice in the world.

    Dianne Aid,
    The Episcopal Network for Economic Justice e

  12. Lee Anne Leland says:

    When marriage equality was passed the right looked around for another group to attack and quickly settled on the most vulnerable of the LGBTQ community, the T. We were the low hanging fruit. For many years we were relegated to what amounted to second class status within the community so setting their sites on us was a given. We are thankful for the support being given by a wide variety of groups and businesses but are somewhat disheartened by the lack of participation at our rallies. We may be weary of the constant struggle to be included that we have endured since the early years after Stonewall. The emotional toll of this constant fight for equality is heavy but we will never give up. I hope that with your support we will succeed in out struggle.

    1. mike geibel says:

      “When marriage equality was passed the right looked around for another group to attack and quickly settled on the most vulnerable of the LGBTQ community.” Baloney.

      The Texas bathroom bill was and is a reaction (and perhaps an overreaction) to Executive Orders by President Obama that decreed schools and other public facilities MUST allow transgender identity persons to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and showers of their choice. His EC was backed by the threat that failure to do so would mean loss of federal funding, as demonstrated by the North Carolina experience. Many parents, both Democrat and Republican, recoiled at the thought of their young daughters having to shower with an anatomically correct male who thinks he is a girl.

      This bathroom issue has ballooned into an over-heated, political football that only involves a tiny percentage of the population. The common sense solution is unisex, single-user bathrooms and showers which would protect the rights and the privacy of all persons, transgender included. Threatening a boycott is political posturing. Unisex single-user bathrooms are fairly common, and if the TEC is truly concerned about the “safety” of transgender clergy attending the conference rather than making a political statement, then it should book a hotel that has unisex bathrooms.

  13. Toby Hooper says:

    I am a Texan, an Episcopalian and a “Crazy Christian” and want to thank you both for writing Speaker Straus.

  14. DAvid Horwath says:

    Lee Anne
    Please get your timeline correct. The right (who you also call the the deplorables, bigots, wingnuts, etc) did not have an issue with the trans until your president obama gave us a another “poke in the eye” with the unprovoked rule about allowing trans to use the bathroom of their choice. The left and their media allies immediately escalated this into a national crisis along with racism, sexism, religious bigotry and all the other “isms” and intensified their disdain at anyone who does not completely support the progressive agenda. The right’s fighting back is the natural reaction to the 20 years of continual provocation, invective, name calling and especially the loss of personal liberty and freedom. We already have Scalise. It is time to lower the tone and temperature from your politicians, media, comedians and cultural warriors like TEC.

  15. Colleen Fontenot says:

    While I support everyone as Jesus Christ did, He also upheld the belief of one man one woman as God created. The transgender movement is nothing more than satan acting through susceptible and emotionally unstable and ill persons.
    The “bathroom bill” is not evil. Leave it alone. And please get back on track of teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and NOT participating in social engineering by very misguided persons.
    Blessing to all.

  16. Gwen Fry says:

    Thank you Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings for your continued support of my community. As a trans woman and Episcopal priest living here in Arkansas I can assure you that your support gives those of us living in places of extreme discrimination and bigotry hope. It is good to know that my church, and the two of you in particular, seek to serve Christ in all persons and respect the dignity of every human being.

  17. Doug Desper says:

    To some, weighing in on political issues will always be the same thing as preaching the Gospel. It’s also easier than the journey of calling society to repentance and acceptance of Christ as exclusive Lord and Savior (if we still follow the BCP Baptismal Service, that is). The apparent goal is for people to never feel bad or negative. Notwithstanding, there are real concerns about pedophiles and abusers probing for weak spots in bathroom policies, yet some of our Church’s leaders reside constantly in grievance identity politics to condemn those with concerns. Sorry, but if you want to identify yourself as something other than your birth identity, go for it, but it’s not all about you. If you want to make gender identity changes realize that you owe an obligation to society that you choose to mingle with. Realize too that there are plenty of ill or predatory people that are already stalking and choosing their next weak point. Requiring people to use a multi-stalled bathroom or shower according to their current God-given “plumbing” isn’t outrageous. It never has been.
    I’m personally much more concerned with the act going on within our Church. Some of the claims and unresolved issues and pending lawsuits and mediation surrounding our prominent leaders, schools, seminaries, finances, and clergy behavior need our full attention – and some degree of repentance – before going on the road to look for a cause to cure.
    So, if General Convention planners throw a tantrum and haul off to another location, so be it. It truly looks ridiculous and petty.

  18. Melanie Barbarito says:

    As one who lives in Texas, I believe that the Lt. Governor is way out of sync with many of the citizens here. The State Legislature is out of sync with many of the citizens here. Why then were they elected? Gerrymandering.

  19. Sarah Lawton says:

    Thank you, Presiding Bishop Curry and President Jennings, for lifting your voices on our behalf. You are helping us live out the commitment we made in 2009 when we voted to support and uphold civil rights for transgender persons. And of course our baptismal vow to respect the dignity of every human being. These discriminatory laws are frightening for all of us with close family and friends who are trans.

    Here are some good resources on being Christian and caring about and supporting our transgender neighbors and family – these are also for those who are Christian and trans. They were put out for a recent Transgender Weekend of Prayer.
    https://www.nationalweekendofprayer.org/religious-education/

  20. Casey Perkins says:

    Thank you Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings for your continued support of the Trans community. As a gay man and Episcopalian, I can assure you that your support gives those of us living in places of extreme discrimination and bigotry hope. It is good to know that my church, and the two of you in particular, seek to serve Christ in all persons and respect the dignity of every human being.

  21. Dennis W Headrick says:

    Bishop Michael Curry and President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings, thanks so much for your wisdom, faith, and support of the LGBTQ+ faithful. I pray that God is with you as you continue your journey to promote grace and love within our Christian community.

  22. Scott Elliott says:

    Thank you. Bp Curry and President Jennings, for your forthright and courageous words.

  23. Patricia Hart says:

    Thank you all for supporting the LGBTQ community. I am so glad I am an Espiscopalian, and glad my son was raised in our faith without the guilt and shame many are subjected to.

  24. Jillian Westerfield says:

    I’m so grateful to Bishop Curry and the Episcopal Church for speaking against bigotry. As a Texan, I have been looking forward to the 2018 convention in Austin for a long time, but absolutely support the decision to relocate if my home state can’t do the right thing.

  25. Taylor Vines says:

    I am so thankful for Bishop Curry and President Jennings. This is the kind of Christian witness our country needs right now. Their decision to stand with the least of these makes me proud to be an Episcopalian.

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