As the campaign season drags on to its inevitable and deeply unsatisfying conclusion, those of us interested in current events, but who cannot stomach a 24/7 diet of delegate math, cast our eyes longingly for a fresh issue. Apparently, toilet access is the best we can do. That we fiercely debate which public toilet a transgender person should enter fuels my worry that we are avoiding more important issues. The economic world is changing and we need systems in place that will drive American success in the new order. But our thought leaders find our passions more easily stirred by the politics of division than the politics of opportunity and we find ourself again yelling at each other about “them” and what “they” are trying to do to us. By Saturday morning I had taken the bait and planned my opus on the subject.
It was easy to conclude that we should not allow job discrimination on the basis of sexual identity. The overarching American story is that all people share fundamental rights. It may be that this principle was first announced for the benefit of white, male property owners, but logic compels its expansion and that expansion is largely our history. The right to earn a living is about as fundamental as it comes. So I will pick up a sign and walk the picket line arguing the LGBT community should be measured at work by their work.
Toilet comfort, as important as it may be to the empty-nester demographic, does not strike me as rising to a Bill of Rights level. The comfort spectrum was the prism through which I viewed the question because, to my knowledge, no one was saying the transgender population could not use public bathrooms or had to use “separate and equal” bathrooms. Instead, the transgender population was asking for access to the toilets where they felt the most comfortable. Their opponents were arguing that giving that access made the straight population feel less comfortable. The math struck me as pretty simple: if .03% of the population is transgendered, rearranging American toilet access for the benefit of transgendered people would make many more people less comfortable than it made happy. Being a “greatest good” adherent, I planned to be writing a snappy piece on how even a center-left coot like myself could see we were pushing some things too far.
Such were my thoughts as Ms. Nester and I continued our “church search” this Sunday morning. On the docket for the weekend was Seventh and James Baptist Church. We have been Methodists everywhere but the football field for our entire adult lives. In Waco, however, everyone is a little bit Baptist. Plus Kelsey, our eldest chick, had been married at Seventh and James and it had been a wonderful experience. So what the heck, we decided to give it a try.
As soon as I looked at the program though, I recognized we had committed a grave error in church-search protocol. We were visiting on Youth Sunday. Attendance would be down, we would not get the “normal music” or the professional delivery of wisdom. Even more alarming, Seventh and James is one of the few churches that turns the pulpit over to graduating seniors on Youth Sunday, a quaint custom that most senior pastors have widely–and wisely–curtailed. Prepared to chalk it up to experience and visit again in the near future, I settled into my pew.
Maybe my defenses were down. Or I might not be ready for full codger status. Whatever the reason, something remarkable happened. The service actually changed my mind. The scriptural reference was Acts 11:1-18, in which Peter defends his breaking bread with and accepting gentiles into the flock. Peter had to defend himself because these gentiles neither followed Jewish dietary laws nor where they circumcised, that second point hopefully being built on an assumption. Any way, the argument was that the gentiles were different in both physical status and in custom. Those differences made the Jewish followers uncomfortable. Peter says we are called to ignore those differences and overcome our discomfort. A God that loves us despite our own quirks is not quite logical if he does not love others because of their quirks; it works better if we are all quirky together.
Fair enough, and I felt a small amount of shame that my thoughts had not lived up to a Christian ideal. But the Apostle Peter should not be writing the law today; I was still not ready to impose my religious beliefs on those who wish to preserve the sanctity of the stall. Until an impossibly fresh-faced high school senior brought down the hammer. Her thesis derived from “The Diary of A Wimpy Kid” and the infamous Curse of the Cheese Touch. By definition, the curse infects the smallest minority possible as only one child at a time can be infected. The curse operates to exclude the “infected child” from the others based on their perceived uncleanliness. With the assurance and optimism that only youth can bring, the young lady calmly demonstrated that a society that refuses to battle infections like the Curse of the Cheese Touch–despite the discomfort of doing so–loses much more than it gains.
Allowing the transgender population access to the bathrooms that they feel comfortable using is not a zero-sum game. Yes, their access will cause concern on the part of people who find that access unusual. It is wrong to minimize or mock that concern. In the bigger picture, however, any focus on what divides us is the much larger harm. It may be that our thought leaders can more easily stir my passions based on these divisions, but the good news from today is that the bitterness has not penetrated our children. I am just glad I was awake enough to hear them and interested to see if the adult preacher can bring a worthy encore.