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  • Reverend James Squire

The Ethics of Restrooms

Medical groups want the Fed to respond to recent threats against children’s hospitals across our nation that provide care for transgender children. This includes CHOP in Philadelphia. The threats are being made by conservative social media influencers. This is, in my opinion, because these people don’t have direct experience of transgender children that cause them to take this view. Currently in our society we can self-select those people that we want to get to know so we remain isolated in silos bereft of experience of people who are different from us. What is needed as an antidote to this form of hatred which is despicable is for them to get to know what a transgender child is really like which I would hope would remove their threats and bias about others who they know nothing about. I know this is a stretch that they would do this, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Ethics is about choices. Transgender children know and experience that their identity is not the same as when they were born. I don’t know any child who wakes up in the morning and says, “I think I will choose to be transgender today because it will make my life so much easier.” Their transgender identity is like their height. There is nothing they can do to change it therefore it is a moral perspective to honor.

I have written about the following anecdote before, but it makes my point. After completing co teaching a diversity course, I returned to my office to have a phone call with one of the leaders of the 50th reunion class who wanted me to have their transgender classmate be the speaker for the alumni weekend chapel service which the 50th reunion class usually chooses. It is a big deal. I asked the caller why his class chose Clemmie Engel to speak. They were unanimous in voting their selection. They described someone who they admired and who was a great academician who had done outstanding work as a lawyer. Keep in mind the 50th reunion class was all male and not a left-wing group. They are quite the opposite. Their reason for having her speak was that they knew and had admired her. I said, “let’s do it,” but that I wanted the caller who was eloquent in his comments about Clemmie to introduce her and to describe the class’s relationship to Clemmie.

Of course, I am sure that you can imagine the interesting days I had when the EA community learned that this was happening as she was the first transgender person to speak in chapel. I told various people to come hear him and then make their conclusion. Clemmie was introduced by her classmate and hit a home run with her address. She received a standing ovation and applause except for the people in the back rows who came with a critical eye.

Vicki and I attended the 50th reunion class dinner that evening. Clemmie was in tears when she was talking with us because of the wonderful welcome she received. But as we were leaving, she said something to me that turned out to be prophetic. “Jim, watch this is all going to come down to the restrooms.”

I had an advantage over the naysayers. I knew transgender people as well as their parents. I think God gives these children to the most empathetic, sensitive, and smart people that I know. One of the parents told me that she would never forget the smile that came over the face of her daughter when she identified as male. She lived a lifetime with her daughter in a depression like stance, but now that smile is there often. Kids and parents, however, fear what the future will bring with the conservative right making so many laws that make it difficult for transgender children to thrive at every level particularly when medical issues come into play such as take place at medical groups like CHOP in Philadelphia. It’s really simple. If your child is OK, then you, the parent, are OK and vice versa.

Back to Clemmie’s comment about rest rooms. We know how this is being played out nationally in the medical treatment of transgender kids. They are belittled and shamed!

When the Lord was guiding the architects’ hands in the chapel design for our new Class of 1944 Chapel, He provided something that was a godsend to me. There is a gender-neutral rest room next to my office which is off the beaten track. Transgender people could use that restroom to meet their needs. People knew that my door was open when I wasn’t seeing people in the office so if a person used the rest room they could come next door to my office if they needed to check in with any concerns. People came and went in the course of a day to the chapel for various reasons so there was no stigma to entering there throughout the day.

A good many ethical issues that transgender people experience focus on how the restroom issue is handled. Clemmie was right. It is a social justice issue.

What was helpful to providing a context for Clemmie’s chapel speech was having Joan Mulholland speak in chapel a few weeks before. She was raised in the South and was an activist by the age of 19 who fought against segregation in the South. She is the person who was sitting at a Woolworth Counter in protest and had bottle of ketchup poured over her head. The photo of this event became an icon for the Civil Rights Movement. There was a documentary about her life called An Ordinary Hero. Bennie Thompson, the leader of the January 6 Commission, had a role in the film.

Recall one of those pillars of ethics is “justice” along with “love.” Joan and Clemmie helped our community see an overview of social justice in America not in theory but in real lives lived.

The school motto of EA, Esse Quam Videri, to be rather than to seem to be, could be a motto as well for the transgender community,

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