A Southern Baptist state newspaper editor says Tennessee lawmakers should put children’s safety ahead of money when considering a controversial bill that would require public school students grades K-12 and higher to use the restroom that corresponds to their sex at birth.
House Bill 2414 — which would add to the Tennessee Code the sentence “Public schools shall require that a student use student restroom and locker room facilities that are assigned for use by persons of the same sex as the sex indicated on the student’s original birth certificate” — appears to be dead for now.
Its sponsor, State Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mount Juliet), pulled it from the calendar April 19, saying it needs more work in light of opposition and controversy surrounding the measure.
Tennessee’s attorney general said the state could lose $1.2 billion in Title IX education funds if the bill passes, and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said it could cost Music City $58 million in visitor spending from groups that might cancel conventions. Executives from 60 businesses, including Cigna, Hilton Hotels, Dow Chemical and Alcoa, Inc., signed a letter to Republican leaders of both chambers expressing concerns about the bill.
Lonnie Wilkey, editor of Baptist and Reflector, news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, said in an editorial April 21 that nobody knows for sure if passing the bill would cause any businesses to leave. “My feeling is that if some do, God has others ready to move to a state where values still matter,” Wilkey said.
Wilkey said it is not discrimination to prohibit public schools from having policies “that would allow students to use the bathroom or locker room of their choice based on what sex the student chooses to be, instead of how they were born.”
“It’s a safety issue for our children and it’s just plain ole common sense,” Wilkey said. “Unfortunately, we live in a culture where common sense is fast becoming a dinosaur.”
Comparing the commonly used statistic that there are about 700,000 transgendered persons in the United States to a total national population of 323 million, Wilkey said the number of transgender children is statistically “minute.”
“Therein lies the problem,” Wilkey said. “We don’t even know the number because it is so small, but we are more than willing to risk the safety and welfare of 99.9 percent of the remaining population.”
According to the Williams Institute, a UCLA School of Law think tank specializing in sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, about 10,000 transgender youth ages 13-19 live in Tennessee.
More than 250 sexual assault and domestic violence organizations issued a statement April 21 labeling the bathroom predator argument a myth and saying it obscures the fact that transgender people are deeply concerned about their own safety and privacy in bathrooms.
“Transgender people already experience unconscionably high rates of sexual assault — and forcing them out of facilities consistent with the gender they live every day makes them vulnerable to assault,” said groups including FaithTrust Institute, a ministry formed in 1976 to address sexual and domestic violence within the church by United Church of Christ Minister Marie Fortune.
One survey of 93 transgender/gender non-conforming adults in Washington, D.C., found that 68 percent had been verbally harassed and 9 percent experienced physical assault or violence in a gender-segregated restroom. More than half experienced some sort of health problem, such as a urinary tract or kidney infection, as a result of trying to avoid a public gender-segregated restroom.
Wilkey said he doesn’t think the real issue driving the controversy is concern “for the relatively minute number of transgendered students the proposed bathroom bills will affect.”
“Proponents are more concerned about forcing everyone to accept the LGBT lifestyle,” he opined. “That’s it in a nutshell. And, politicians and others are falling for this lie hook, line and sinker, to borrow from an old fishing adage.”
“Pray for our decision makers in Tennessee that common sense and the safety of our children will prevail over threats of losing money — threats that may or may not happen,” Wilkey urged Tennessee Baptist readers. “The important thing is that we choose our children over money.”