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From Sanctuary to Capitol

EQUALITY is one of our core values, and in the heart of Montrose we know that our neighbors most in need of this justice are the poor and the LGBTQ community. Now that we're a year old as a worshiping community, we are discovering where our relationships with neighbors have taken root and where they have the opportunity to blossom.  We are active in the fight for justice not because it matches up with our pre-determined passions.  We show up alongside our neighbors in need because we are invited.  Our LGBTQ friends from the church, the neighborhood, and beyond have asked us to be here. We don't don the rainbow flag because it makes us trendy, we do it because we take the call to love one another seriously.  It's not a casual decoration, it means marching in the streets when real lives are at stake. 

So when our Transgender folks asked if we could show up at the state Capitol, we said, "of course."  Thanks to the LGBTQ Caucus, the church parking lot became the staging area for a a bus full of witnesses.  Pastor Ashley and friend of KINDRED, April Wackenreuter, spent weeks working on their prepared statements, packed up for Austin, and spent the next 24 hours on the road for justice.  The Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs was hearing testimony on State Bill 6, which would have everyone use bathrooms at government-run buildings (i.e. schools, courthouses, post offices) according to the gender assigned on their birth certificates.  The bill is touted as one that would protect women and children in vulnerable spaces, but actually puts transgender people at significant risk .  Read more about the bill here.

We heard testimony after testimony about the statistics that over 40% of transgender people attempt suicide and we've seen our own friends hunted down and beaten for who God created them to be. Seven transgender women of color have already been murdered in our state so far this year. The testimony of Dr. Colt Keo-Meier is packed full of scientific study and is not to be missed.  Even children stayed throughout the night to tell their stories to the panel of Senators.

In the face of such life and death policy, the church can not remain silent.  While we only had two of our folks traveling to Austin, the outpouring of encouraging messages and prayers that surrounded them offered strength and grace sufficient to the day. It is a matter of privilege to be free to take an entire day to travel, sit, and wait for your chance to speak but so many others used their voices when and where they could - calling their Senators, bringing coffee and pizza to hungry and tired activists, watching along on live stream to root us on.

Here are the transcripts from April and Pastor Ashley's testimonies.  First, from April:

Madam Chair, and members of the committee, my name is April Frances Wackenreuter from Houston and I’m here to testify in opposition to SB6.

I have served six years in the Navy and an additional fourteen years in the US Coast Guard before retiring. During my service, I married my wife and we have now been together forty-one years.  Later, I entered the US Postal Service and served for twenty years. 

I am a Christian and also transgender. My wife supports me and my church supports me.  I need my state to protect me.

I have served as an election poll worker and have been called three times as part of a jury pool.  With these discriminatory bathroom policies, I would not be able to serve my civic duty.  When I worked at the Post Office,  there was only one unisex restroom.  I tried going there but on four occasions I had accidents.  I would try to avoid restrooms so long it came to the point of giving myself a bladder infection.

Out in public, the first thing I usually look for are the rest rooms - checking out the locations and trying to figure out if they are accessible to me.  I will even ask managers for permission to use the restroom and I never have been denied access.  I feel as though at 69 years of age I still raise my hand to go to the bathroom.  This is a matter of basic human health.

I am also told that bills like SB6 are about safety and I agree.  If I am forced to use a men’s bathroom, my safety is at risk.

I think about dying just about all the time these days.  I had a (transgender?) co-worker years ago shot and killed along with two of her three children.  I go to the vigils of slain transgender women.  There have been seven murders of transgender women so far this year and I don’t want to be next. 

This is a matter of safety…and a matter of basic human health. Thank you for making sure Texans like me are not put in harm’s way by discriminatory bills like SB6.

From Pastor Ashley:

My name is Pastor Ashley Dellagiacoma. I serve Kindred, a Lutheran Church in Houston. I am a 7th generation Texan and my young daughter is the 8th generation of our family to make its home here in the State of Texas. We love this place, but we love the people even more. That’s why I’m here to testify in opposition to SB6. SB6 would have us treat Transgender Texans as less than people, by systematically denying them access to the most basic of human needs.  To allow this policy anywhere is to degrade the humanity of every Texan.

Some have said that SB6 is intended to protect people like me and my daughter, while there is no evidence that this bill makes us any safer than existing laws. In the camples we have heard today where women were tragically victimized in intimate spaces by CISGENDER men, the problem named was that their presence was not questioned.  If SB6 is passed trans men (who are men!) will now be entering the women’s room and therefore we have made no progress toward privacy. Meanwhile, I have seen too much evidence of a transgender woman beaten by strangers, too much evidence of a transgender child wetting themselves while trekking to the nurse’s office or being bullied to the point of suicide.  We must protect the dignity and the life of these who are already vulnerable to the violence of prejudice.

So I beg of you, do not put SB6 forward on my behalf as a woman, a mom, or as a Christian.  My faith demands that I renounce fear.  The bible insists that I stand alongside those who are put in harm’s way. Jesus commands us to recognize the humanity of every person.  I won’t let myself be tricked into fearing a threat that will not be solved by this and neither should you. The gain is nonexistent and the sacrifice is real lives. Do not let this bill cripple our state – our economy and our integrity. Do not hurt the people I love with policies that endanger their health and their humanity.

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