Curry and Jennings address the Texas “bathroom bill” and General Convention 2018

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Presiding Bishop Curry and President of the House of Deputies, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings have written to the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives about a Senate bill to impose restrictions on which bathroom people can use. The letter, written last week, was made public yesterday by the Episcopal News Service.

Similar to a law passed in North Carolina last year, the bill targets transgender people using public facilities, insisting that they use the bathroom that corresponds to their “biological sex”, as stated on their birth certificates, regardless of gender identity. Speaker Straus opposes the bill. In the letter released yesterday, Curry and Jennings affirm his opposition and argue that such restrictions “target some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.” And, they point out, the Episcopal Church has some economic weight behind its opinions.

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.

The Episcopal News Service has more background, and the full text of the letter, copied below.

(Photo: Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin, TX, by LoneStarMike – own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org)

___________

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.

Faithfully,

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President, House of Deputies

 

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Anne Bay
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Anne Bay

The letter is well written. It's mind-boggling that it would even be necessary to write such a letter in the year 2017!! The article states the bill was written by a right wing former talk show host. Stupid is as stupid does. It's a shame that the Texas legislature is allowing ignorance on human sexuality to guide their law making. I do know several professors at one of our universities here that would be able to educate these people. There is a university in Austin-perhaps they could go and sit in on several different classes regarding Anatomy/Physiology, human sexuality, Gender Studies, and talk with the appropriate people who are trained in providing an inclusive society in the year-yes-2017!!! I also do know that Prime Minister Trudeau has a cabinet that is composed of a very diverse group of people, and the Texas legislature could speak with him on how Canada is approaching these complex matters. I wold have to say that if the Texas legislature refuses to be inclusive, the General Convention needs to be moved to another state that practices inclusiveness. Time to once again stand up for all human beings to be who they are without shaming and persecution. Hard to believe we are this behind.

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Paul Powers
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Paul Powers

TEC has held at least two Executive Council meetings in Fort Worth since the continuing diocese was reconstituted, so I don't think there's any question about the national church's support. And it's reciprocated. I don't know whether it's still the case, but at one time we were the only diocese in Texas to pay its full asking.

However, while I agree that Fort Worth is the best city in Texas, I'm not sure that it has sufficient hotel and convention space to host a gathering as large as GC.

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Robert Huttmeyer
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Robert Huttmeyer

In my opinion, Austin should never have been the site of the convention. If you really wanted it in Texas it should have been in Fort Worth, both to support the continuing diocese and because Fort Worth is just better.

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David Allen
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David Allen

Having lived in Dallas a number of years 3 separate times and having visited Austin and Ft Worth many times, I disagree. I don't find Ft Worth to hold anything over Austin. Nor vice versa.

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Bob Button
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Bob Button

I live in a metropolitan area in Texas and many here are afraid of the backlash that will occur if our legislature passes this backward legislation. The Lieutenant Governor, who is a former right wing talk show host, is the bill's chief proponent. He naively believes the national backlash will be minimal, with few events cancelled. Speaker Strauss, a more mainstream conservative, is quite concerned about Texas being punished if this bill passes. I applaud the letter encouraging him as well as informing him of the potential consequences if the bill passes. I have wanted to attend a General Convention for many, many years and I am looking forward to fulfilling that dream in Austin in 2018. But if the bill passes I will completely support and encourage our Church to move the convention to another state.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Most urban centers are progressive. Dallas and Houston included. Texas has 3 of the largest cities in population in the US, with San Antonio now larger than Dallas.

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Paul Woodrum
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Austin is the most progressive city in Texas. It shouldn't be punished for the bigotry of the Texas state legislature.

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JC Fisher
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JC Fisher

Any kind of broad-based boycott punishes the undeserving, as well as the deserving (think of how many Black South Africans suffered because of the boycott/sanctions/divestment campaign against apartheid South Africa!).

But to be effective, a boycott campaign MUST be easily-understood: "If the Bathroom Bill is passed, we will boycott TEXAS." It's not for us to judge individual Texans---just to keep the pressure on. [But by all means, then make a donation to a Texas transgender group, to help those specifically harmed]

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Jay Croft
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Jay Croft

I wonder if this bill passes, everyone would have to carry a certified, long-form copy of their birth certificate.

After all, Barack Obama had to prove that he was even born!

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Tim Kruse
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Tim Kruse

While I applaud the sending of this letter, I fear it could be a two edged sword. The threat of Austin losing millions of dollars may give ammo to those in the political ascendancy in the state, who gleefully seize any opportunity to bash blue Austin. Canceling GC 2018 would only hurt Austin's economy, which is poised to lose millions of dollars in state and federal funds at the behest of our governor and president because of our sanctuary city status and our county sheriff's refusal to do ICE's detainer requests at the county jail any longer except for egregious crimes.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

I did not hear it said directly that if the law is passed, Austin will not be the location of the GC. Is there someone who can explain that?

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Member

Perhaps since the rest of the content of the letter is to support someone we agree with. You and some others will also recall that we changed the primary convention hotel of the 2000 General Convention in Denver over matters of equity. Specifically, we honored a local boycott of the Denver Adams Mark Hotel (a boycott that then became national) based on demonstrated unequal treatment of African American and White guests. But, at this point let's hope it doesn't come to a similar decision.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Thanks for your clarification.I don't think if it gets a wider hearing in TX it will be perceived as anything more than a veiled threat, though I understand the subtlety you believe is at work. And if so, then the dynamics referred to by Mr Kruse below will kick in. Do you think Curry and Jennings have so timed it because they are taking genuinely seriously the possibility of a move and need to get on top of that enormous chore? Who would have thought in 2000 that transgender bathrooms would be the cause in 2017.

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Member

Brother Seitz, my only point was that perhaps when one wants to support a colleague instead of challenge an opponent, one suggests loss with sadness instead of as a threat. The letter begins, "Thank you for your stand." I presume the letter might look somewhat different if it began, "We would like to question your decision" - both polite, but with different inflection. I meant no more than that. Blessings.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Thank you Fr Scott. I am not quite sure what your first sentence means. Grace and peace.

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