The Texas Privacy Act

Occasionally when talking to reporters I can sense a bit of incredulity or condescension at the views of evangelical Christians. The nice ones approach me the way you might talk to a crazy uncle building a time machine in his garage—somewhere between curiosity and fear. After SBTC made statements supporting six of the 20 issues under consideration during the Texas legislative special session, I was asked by media outlets in Asia, Europe and Fort Worth about only one of those—the “Bathroom Bill.” One international reporter said that she asked me because she didn’t know of anyone else who disagreed with fluid gender bathrooms. Although the reporters were fair and professional, it was clear that they, and presumably their audiences, thought we were a freak show. No worries; we’re supposed to be different. But I am frustrated at how mangled the message became over this issue. Other issues we supported, pro-life bills, were also mischaracterized, but they were not mentioned as often because there was no lurid shorthand for the issue, like “Bathroom Bill.” 

Okay then, why do we care “so much” about who goes in which dressing room or restroom? We don’t actually care more about this than anything else. I told one reporter that if a government entity decided to impose an unbiblical view of adultery or stealing on us, we would care about that as well. It’s surreal to many of us that otherwise serious people are presuming to overturn 100 generations of understanding about the definition of male and female. This discussion even divides conservatives in the most conservative state, at least in effect. 

We are discussing a foundational philosophical issue, whether we acknowledge that or not. Is it the will of our Texas communities that all differences between male and female people will be disregarded? Will our public institutions impose that view on our families, school districts and businesses? I believe the growing number of even very young children being trotted out as transgender has a lot to do with advocacy from our political leaders over the past 10 years. Children have some peculiar and transient ideas about reality that, if aggressively reinforced, can become an identity. That has happened a tragic number of times in recent years. Senate Bill 6, passed weeks ago out of the Texas Senate, does not impose a view of gender on individuals or businesses but rather constrains political bodies from imposing a view on them. It also forbids public institutions, schools primarily, from allowing biological males and females to use the same changing or restrooms at the same time. The Texas Senate leadership took one view of this issue when they passed the Privacy Act, and the Texas House leadership took the other when they killed it.

The bill gives way to parents and local communities to train and protect their children during a very recent flurry of irrational laws and teaching on gender identity. To remind you of what’s at stake, remember the 2016 effort by the superintendent of the Fort Worth Independent School district to require access to restrooms and changing facilities to any student who decides to identify as a new gender. It also forbade school personnel from telling parents if their minor child was “changing genders” at school. Parents objected, and the directive was withdrawn. It clearly did not represent the views of those entrusting their children to Fort Worth schools. It’s happened elsewhere. 

Business interests were huge players in the defeat of the Texas Privacy Act. I know nothing about the personal convictions of the people who put millions of dollars into lobbying against the act based on a belief that companies and sports leagues would punish Texas if we passed a “discriminatory” law. In all likelihood these parents and grandparents would prefer their little girls didn’t have to change clothes standing next to a strange man. And yet, these convictions were apparently trumped by the imagination of losing a sporting event or automobile headquarters in the state. I wonder, if I can give you 10 bucks, or 10 million bucks, to abandon a conviction, was it a conviction at all? Is it a matter of belief or just a matter of price? 

Some have argued that this is a hysterical response to an imaginary issue. Okay, let’s set aside what has been recognized as common sense for thousands of years and just talk about today. If we go beyond binary (male or female as identified by biology) gender identification, how do we know if a man is sincerely convinced that he’s a woman or if he is merely devilish? The guidelines I have seen for some businesses, and those temporarily guiding the Ft. Worth ISD, were unhelpful—if a person with a beard says “call me female,” you can’t question him until he commits a crime. One business that famously declared its bathrooms and changing rooms open to all has experienced criminal activity in those rooms. It’s not a made up problem, and further difficulties are not beyond anyone’s imagination. I encourage our families and churches to be alert as these issues arise in our city councils and school boards. Absent the Privacy Act, I predict some communities are going to face shocking challenges. 

I close by saying that the defeat of this bill, mostly by moderate Republicans, is not the end of the world. It’s not the most important decision our legislators should have made. It’s not the most important thing that your church or our fellowship of churches should care about. But it is mind boggling that we have to care about it at all. 

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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