Earlier this month, I testified in a hearing before a Minnesota House Committee on HF3396, a misguided piece of discriminatory legislation that would restrict bathroom access for trans and gender nonconforming people on the basis of “biological sex.”
In that committee, I shared my experiences as a pastor, a gay man, and the son of Mississippi sharecroppers.
I am the Senior Pastor of All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church in Minneapolis. I am also the fifteenth child of the late Rev. Birkett Davis and Delcia Davis, who started their family and life together as sharecroppers in Jim Crow Mississippi.
My parents worked many years to make sure that I would not know the terror and violence of those years. They rarely spoke about the hate and discrimination visited upon them, and yet the memory of one particular act of discrimination could not so easily be forgotten: the whites only sign for restrooms.
No matter where they were and what they did, they were constantly reminded that they were second-class citizens. It was the most visible sign to them that their government would not protect them and that they were vulnerable to the worst kind of violence if they visited to the “wrong” facility.
Try as they might, they could not forget the pain of that memory.
Long after it was necessary, they continued to pack food for road trips and let us relieve ourselves on the roadside, a practice and caution against the Jim Crow discrimination of those days. When I came out to my parents as a gay man, their biggest fear was that I would be denied a job, that I would not be treated equally by the government or more frighteningly, or that I would be hurt or killed because of my sexuality.
This, I fear, would be the impact of “bathroom bills” like HF3396. Regardless of the stated intent of those who drafted this legislation, the impact would be to relegate the most vulnerable people among us to second-class citizenship.
Make no mistake about it. States that pass these discriminatory “bathroom bills” are not only sanctioning discrimination in the public square and the economic marketplace. They are also be signaling to the majority that it need not concern itself with the rights and interests of the trans and gender nonconforming citizens in their state.
States that pass these bills are sending the message that our transgender citizens are fair game for discrimination, and for some in our society, that our transgender citizens are fair game for violent repression.
I am the pastor of a number of transgender Minnesotans.
In this role, I have heard from them of their fear of the bullying, the assaults, and violence that have been and can be meted out for those who use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. I have heard their stories of having to negotiate how and where they will use public accommodations, fearful that at any moment that they will be singled out for abuse and discrimination.
The proponents of this bill keep telling us that this is an attempt to protect women and children from sexual predators who can use transgender nondiscrimination laws to gain access to public restrooms. I have searched all over, and I have not found one case of a sexual predator using nondiscrimination laws to attack women and children.
Given these facts, I am left to conclude that this legislation is not a serious attempt to address a pressing public policy question. Rather, this is an attempt to draw strict lines around whose lives matter most.
HF3396 tells transgender Minnesotans that their aspirations to fullness of life and wholeness of joy will not be tolerated.
At All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church, we believe Isaiah’s prophecy that no weapon formed against us will prosper because God’s covenant of peace with all God’s children does not end.
We will answer this cruelty by doing what the late minister of The Memorial Church of Harvard Peter Gomes exhorts us to do: “live in expectation of great and good things” because we are made in the image of God who makes nothing bad. We will overcome this cruelty because we know that we are entitled to fullness of life and wholeness of joy even when bills like these are proposed that make our lives more difficult.
We will continue to fight for the rights of all citizens to live, love, work, and thrive because our very lives are testimonies to the power of love and compassion that eventually defeats hate and division.
That’s why I called on Minnesota legislators to defeat H.F. 3396.
It’s up to all of us to make the fullness of life, equality, and nondiscrimination a reality for all Minnesotans, especially her transgender citizens.