Target has announced that transgender people are welcome to use the bathroom of their choice in its stores, and some fundamentalist Christians are not pleased. The American Family Association (AFA) launched a petition and boycott in response to the chain’s announcement.
“Target’s store policy endangers women and children by allowing men to frequent women’s facilities,” the petition says; it also urges the store to force transgender employees and customers to use a separate unisex restroom. The AFA claims its petition has more than one million signatures, but there’s no way to verify that.
Since then, several men have filmed videos of themselves protesting at Target stores and posted them online. Most appear to be conservative Christians. In one video, a so-called “Radical Reverend” enters a Target, screams about the “fear of God” and tells customers and staff they’re going “straight to hell.” In another, the Rev. Greg Locke stands in front of a Target and claims a manager told him he was free to use the women’s bathroom.
A third YouTube star should be a bit more familiar to observers of the Religious Right. Dave Daubenmire once coached football at London High School in London, Ohio. He no longer coaches football there or at any other public school, and there’s a good reason: He settled a lawsuit with the ACLU in 1999 over complaints that he forced his athletes to participate in Christian activities. Daubenmire admitted during legal proceedings that he led athletes in recitations of the Lord’s Prayer after games, passed out Bible verses and invited local ministers to lead the team in prayer and Bible studies.
London High School promptly fired Daubenmire, but like Beyoncé he turned lemons into lemonade. He now markets himself as “Coach Dave,” a sort of inspirational public speaker with a heavy emphasis on fundamentalist Christianity. As “Coach Dave,” he’s posted videos urging followers to protest Target locations and filmed himself interrogating a store manager about the chain’s policy. (If you desperately require more wisdom from this character, you’re in luck. He has an interactive “live huddle” every weekday at 7 a.m. EST.)
Target isn’t the only front in the Religious Right’s bathroom blitz. Not surprisingly, public schools have been brought into the fray. This week, ThinkProgress reported that two Religious Right legal groups – Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the Thomas More Society – have filed suit against an Illinois public school district for allowing transgender students to use the appropriate bathrooms and locker rooms.
District 211 in Cook County, which is the state’s largest, implemented the policy to comply with a directive from the U.S. Department of Education. The Obama administration has directed federal agencies to interpret Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 in a manner that protects the rights of transgender students.
These groups and their plaintiffs, however, believe that policy violates their religious freedom rights. Here’s an excerpt from the complaint: “Some of the student and parent members of Students and Parents for Privacy are devout Christians whose faith requires that they preserve their modesty and not use the restroom, shower, or undress, in the presence of the opposite sex.”
There’s a common prejudice underpinning these bathroom protests. The AFA, ADF and their allies have insisted repeatedly that transgender-friendly policies allow men to enter women’s restrooms. This simply isn’t true. The policies allow transgender women to use the correct facility.
Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern touched on the religious roots of this anti-Target crusade in a recent article.
“The Southern Baptist Convention has declared that ‘gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception – a perception which is often influenced by fallen human nature in ways contrary to God’s design,’” he wrote. “The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod insists that the sex we are assigned at birth is ‘a God-given identity’ and that gender confirmation surgery ‘will only mutilate the body God has given.’”
The war on bathrooms is simply another prong of the Religious Right’s campaign to roll back protections for LGBT people. Having lost on marriage equality, this is their new front for the “culture war.”
People are free to believe whatever they wish about gender – that it is immutable, that gender identity and sex are the same, that gender confirmation surgery is a sin against God. But there’s only one group harassing people who are trying to use the bathroom. And it’s not the transgender community.