It’s true, the transgender bathroom debate is taking over our newsfeeds.
On one end of the spectrum, you have Target’s open policy to allow people to use the bathroom they feel aligns with their gender “identity,” and on the other end, you have North Carolina’s law that mandates people use the bathroom that matches their physical gender.
Both conservatives and liberals are speaking out. The Obama administration put out a decree saying public schools should let students use the restrooms and locker rooms of their choice. And, although this letter is signed, it does not have the force of law yet. Both Hillary and Trump have given ascent to Obama’s letter saying that transgender people should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice as well.
However, conservative leaders have spoken out against Obama’s decree. Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame recently said, “Men should use the men’s bathroom and women should use the women’s bathroom. … That used to be called common sense.” Ted Cruz also rejects Obama’s trans policy and says, “Let me make this real, real simple for folks in the media who find this conversation very confusing. If Donald Trump dresses up as Hillary Clinton, he still can’t go to the girls’ bathroom!”
The transgender bathroom debate has hit its peak of sensationalism, but as pastors, youth pastors and ministry leaders, I think it’s important to take a step back and think about the facts. Debates like this tend to get hijacked by news spins and pundits, but it’s important to remember that there are real people this debate affects.
So, regardless of where you stand on the issue, and I mean that, I think it’s important and helpful speak compassionately with truth. I think these three points are helpful to remember as we work through this critical conversation.
1. There’s a difference between “transgender” and “transvestite.”
A transgender person is someone whose identity and self-awareness is in conflict with the sex they were born with. The battle a transgender person faces is between the mental and the physical association of their gender. A transvestite is someone who dresses in clothes and makeup of the opposite sex for reasons of sexual gratification. In my experience, the transgender people I’ve known have been timid and cautious about their social interactions. They’re struggling with their gender identity, not because it’s trendy or connected to a sexual fetish, but due to a very real mental battle. Transvestites, on the other hand, are people who dress up as the opposite sex, to increase sexual arousal. It’s important to have the right person in mind in this debate. We are discussing a “transgender” issue, not a “transvestite” or drag issue.
2. Transgender children and teens are more likely to experience bullying and struggle with thoughts of suicide.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute, 41 percent of transgender people try to kill themselves at some point in their lives, compared with 4.6 percent of the general public.
Additionally, according to a study conducted by the National Center of Transgender Equality (2011):
—82 percent of transgender youth report that they feel unsafe at school
—44 percent of them had been abused physically (ex. punched, shoved, etc.)
—67 percent of them had been bullied online
No matter what you think about the bathroom debate, it’s good to remember we’re dealing with real people, with very real struggles—in many cases we’re dealing with teenagers on the brink of suicide. This is, in my opinion, the most critical element of the debate. As Christians, the way we discuss this issue should be full of compassion—even if we disagree with the policy.
3. The biggest offenders of sexual abuse are not strangers in bathrooms.
According to a 2003 National Institute of Justice report, 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well. I understand there are exceptions, and those exceptions are important, but this fact is also very relevant to the conversation. The biggest threat of sexual abuse is not at Target, but often in our own families, neighborhoods and even churches.
These three facts might not sway your opinion on the transgender bathroom debate one way or the other, and that’s not the point, but hopefully they will inform you and help you speak about the issue from a compassionate perspective—no matter which side you’re on.