Nearly 50 clergy members identifying with the Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Churches USA or Cooperative Baptist Fellowship joined a legal brief filed March 2 supporting a transgender student’s case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In all more than 1,800 religious leaders and 15 organizations signed onto the amicus brief backing Gavin Grimm, a Virginia teenager born female but who identifies as a boy denied permission to use the school restroom that aligns with his gender identity. The case is set for oral arguments later this month.
“All students should feel safe in school, including transgender individuals,” said David Key, founding pastor of Lake Oconee Community Church in Greensboro, Ga., identified in the amicus brief as a Cooperative Baptist.
“At the heart of all faith traditions is the support for human dignity,” said Key, former director of Baptist studies at Candler School of Theology and currently board chair-elect of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. “As a Baptist minister, I urge all good people of faith to rally for this cause. Gavin Grimm deserves our unwavering support.”
The brief, signed by Baptist leaders including Alliance of Baptists President Michael Castle and Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America Executive Director LeDayne McLeese Polaski, counters arguments by other religious groups — including the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention — that extending protections against sex discrimination to transgender persons would pose a threat to religious liberty.
“A high school boy simply wanting to use the same restroom as his classmates at a public school poses no threat to anyone’s religious exercise or expression,” says the brief, one of a number filed Thursday in support of the 17-year-old identified in court documents by the initials G.G. “Rather, these religious actors seek to enforce a kind of religious orthodoxy that rejects the fundamental existence and dignity of transgender persons.”
Other Baptists joining the brief include Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics and Latin studies at Iliff School of Theology and Baptist News Global columnist, and David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and lead planner of a “[Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant” co-sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 2012.
The brief cites “broad and growing embrace of transgender individuals within mainstream religion” and opposes the co-opting of faith to legitimize “false narratives about transgender people under the guise of endorsing ‘bathroom safety’ or ‘modesty.’”
It bears “witness to diverse viewpoints on gender identity across various faiths and denominations” and contends that religion “does not speak with one voice” on the question of transgender rights.
Permitting religiously based “anti-‘transgenderism’” to shape civil rights enforcement, the brief argues, “would both enshrine religious beliefs in the law and implicitly privilege some religious viewpoints (those that reject the basic existence of transgender persons) over others (those, like Amici’s, that embrace such persons’ existence and dignity).”
“The First Amendment forbids both forms of religious favoritism,” the brief contends.
Baptist clergy joining the brief include Larry Bethune, senior pastor at University Baptist Church in Austin, Texas; Henra Chennault, pastor of young adults and community relations at Park Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta; and Carolyn Dipboye, co-pastor at Grace Covenant Church in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Others include Stacey Simpson Duke, co-pastor at First Baptist Church in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Dennis Foust, senior minister, St. John’s Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C.; and Larry Greenfield, executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religion and former executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago.
Pastors James Lamkin at Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta; Jill McCrory at Twinbrook Baptist Church in Rockville, Md. Joined the brief. So did Susan Rogers, pastor at CBF-affiliated The Well at Springfield in Jacksonville, Fla., and Lanny Peters and Melanie Vaughn-West, co-pastors of Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.
Other names include Cody Sanders, pastor of Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass.; Stephen Hyde, senior pastor of Ravensworth Baptist Church in Annandale, Va.; Mimi Walker, pastor of Church at Ponce & Highland Atlanta; and Ashlee Wiest-Laird, pastor at First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, Mass.
Religious groups say public restrooms should be segregated by sex, not gender identity