transgender bathrooms

Religious freedom question in Indiana: Can teacher refuse to call transgender student by preferred name?

Religious freedom question in Indiana: Can teacher refuse to call transgender student by preferred name?

All week, we've been talking about the U.S. Supreme Court's 7-2 decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

We've highlighted the narrow scope of the ruling in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.

We've asked the "Now what?" question.

We've even noted that while everybody has an opinion about the case, not everybody has all the facts.

I won't rehash all the crucial context and background here, so please click at least one or two of the above links if you need a refresher.

But for those who are up to speed, here's a different case that raises some similar and some totally different questions: a public school teacher in Indiana who cites his religious beliefs in refusing to call a transgender student by the child's preferred name.

The Indianapolis Star reports:

A Brownsburg teacher is fighting for his job after he says the district forced him to resign over its transgender student policy.

John Kluge, the former orchestra teacher at Brownsburg High School, said the school district's requirement that teachers call transgender students by their preferred names, rather than those given at birth, goes against his religious beliefs. The requirement, Kluge said, violates his First Amendment rights. 

"I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that's a dangerous lifestyle," he said. "I’m fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing."

Advocates for the LGBTQ community say that using a person's preferred name is an issue of respect, not religion or politics. 

"This is not a request for advocacy," said Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, a national nonprofit focused on suicide prevention in LGBTQ youth. "This is a request for respect."

Phillips, of course, declined to use his creative talents to design a special wedding cake for a gay couple. He cited his Christian belief in marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman. He owns a private business.

Kluge, on the other hand, works for a public school district. I'd be interested in whether church-state scholars believe he has a legitimate constitutional argument. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

When profiling a Trump HHS appointee, The Atlantic misses key journalism cues

When profiling a Trump HHS appointee, The Atlantic misses key journalism cues

This should be an obvious fact, but to some, it may be shocking: When a given political candidate wins election as President of the United States, they and their team gain the right to appoint bureaucrats of their choosing at federal agencies. Many must be confirmed by the Senate and some may be denied confirmation or withdraw their nominations. Generally, however, the new sheriff gets to name their principal deputies. It's one of the job's perks, alongside a private helicopter and jumbo jet.

Granted, my explanation is on a par with that now oft-mocked Sesame Street cartoon about how a bill becomes a law. But it appears to have been forgotten in the four and one-half months since a real estate mogul born and raised in the New York City borough of Queens was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

There's been plenty of ink -- and misapprehensions -- about some of President Donald J. Trump's appointees, but there are also attempts at more insightful coverage, as GetReligion alumna Mollie Hemingway tweeted on Wednesday:

Great piece by @emmaogreen: The devout, conservative head of civil rights at HHS could reshape American health care

Herewith The Atlantic's take on the new head of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services:

The offices inside the Department of Health and Human Services are aggressively tan. Roger Severino, the newly appointed head of its Office for Civil Rights, hasn’t done much by way of decoration. Aside from a few plaques and leftover exhibits from old cases, his Clarence Thomas bobblehead doll and crucifix are the only personal touches in his work space.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

AP deploys full Kellerism to summarize North Carolina's 'bathroom bill' business price tag

AP deploys full Kellerism to summarize North Carolina's 'bathroom bill' business price tag

North Carolina's HB2, the so-called "bathroom bill," is again making headlines, this time in a rather large and detailed Associated Press account of the economic losses the news organization reports the Tar Heel State has suffered:

Despite Republican assurances that North Carolina's "bathroom bill" isn't hurting the economy, the law limiting LGBT protections will cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Over the past year, North Carolina has suffered financial hits ranging from scuttled plans for a PayPal facility that would have added an estimated $2.66 billion to the state's economy to a canceled Ringo Starr concert that deprived a town's amphitheater of about $33,000 in revenue. The blows have landed in the state's biggest cities as well as towns surrounding its flagship university, and from the mountains to the coast. ...
The AP analysis (http://apne.ws/2n9GSjE ) -- compiled through interviews and public records requests — represents the largest reckoning yet of how much the law, passed one year ago, could cost the state. The law excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections, and requires transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings.

While it may surprise some folks that the 76-year-old former Beatle, born Richard Starkey, is still touring, it seems equally surprising that the AP, once held up as an example of objectivity and down-the-middle reporting, has produced a report laden with advocacy language. The piece lacks almost any perspective from those who believe HB2 has its merits, particularly on faith-based grounds and the protection of women and children. (I say "has" instead of "had" because, despite efforts to repeal the law, HB2 remains on the books, as the ABC News video above shows.)

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Supreme Court punts on first major transgender case, but religion angle merits ongoing coverage

Supreme Court punts on first major transgender case, but religion angle merits ongoing coverage

The U.S. Supreme Court decided March 6 to punt on its first encounter with the growing transgender rights movement, sending the Gloucester County School Board case back to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for review. The high court had scheduled this Virginia case for oral arguments March 28, but the incoming Donald Trump administration has for the time being rescinded the Obama Administration policy the 4th Circuit relied upon.

The evolving situation merits close Godbeat attention due to the major challenge for advocates of religious liberty, already on the defensive over other issues. With gay marriage legalized throughout the United States by the Supreme Court, the LGBT movement is focusing all its moxie on transgender rights.

The basics for reporters: The Obama administration’s Departments of Education and Justice notified all U.S. public schools last May that to qualify for continued federal funding they need to follow each student’s sense of personal “gender identity,” as opposed to birth biology, regarding access to “sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing and athletic teams (.pdf document here)."

That redefined “sex” under Title IX of the anti-discrimination law in question. For 44 years before that, the government thought “sex” meant biological gender, not an identity that may conflict with it. The new contention that gender is “assigned” at birth but flexible, rather than fixed by biology, gains cultural clout from important segments of the Democratic Party, big business, the academic world, the entertainment industry, professional and college athletics, and the like.

In the Virginia case, an anatomically female high schooler who is transitioning wanted to use boys’ toilets instead of unisex facilities the school provides. Local school districts are caught between transgender rights appeals and community concerns about privacy and security, including access to locker rooms and showers that were not raised in the Virginia dispute.

A major chunk of U.S. organized religion has reacted in unison against the Obama policy and 4th Circuit ruling.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Time to work up those walkups to the Supreme Court’s big transgender moment

Time to work up those walkups to the Supreme Court’s big transgender moment

On March 28, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the Gloucester County School Board case, its first encounter with the growing transgender rights movement.

Journalists, it's time to work up those walkups.

The basics: The Obama administration’s Departments of Education and Justice notified all U.S. public schools last May that to qualify for continued federal funding they need to follow each student’s sense of personal  “gender identity,” as opposed to birth biology, regarding access to “sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing and athletic teams (.pdf document here)."

That change redefined  “sex” under Title IX of the anti-discrimination law in question. For 44 years before that, the government thought “sex” meant  biological gender, not an identity that may conflict with it. In the current case, an anatomically female Virginia high schooler who is transitioning wants to use boys’ toilets instead of unisex facilities the school provides. Local school districts are caught between transgender rights appeals and community concerns about privacy and security.

The case’s significance is not ended by the February 22 decision of the incoming Donald Trump administration to rescind the Barack Obama directive for now. Access to locker rooms and showers are also part of this hot-button debate.

With gay marriage legalized throughout the United States by the Supreme Court, the LGBTQ movement is focusing all its moxie on transgender rights. The belief that gender is “assigned” at birth but flexible, rather than fixed by biology, gains cultural clout from important segments of the Democratic Party, big business, the academic world, the entertainment industry, professional and college athletics, and the like.

That poses a major challenge for advocates of religious liberty, already on the defensive with other issues.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

When a 4-year-old biological male prays to be a girl, a few questions for journalists to consider

When a 4-year-old biological male prays to be a girl, a few questions for journalists to consider

The Houston Chronicle tugs at heartstrings — or at least makes a valiant attempt — with a story today focusing on a kindergartner who wants to use the girls' restroom at school.

No, the timing of the cover story in the major Texas newspaper's City and State section is not coincidental: It's related to the Trump administration's decision this week on transgender students using public school restrooms and locker rooms. In case you missed it Thursday, we highlighted three key questions to consider on that issue.

Today's Chronicle headline and subhead play the issue down the middle:

Transgender policy change shows split
Reactions vary among Texas school districts

But the actual story leans heavily in favor of one side. Guess which? It's the side upset with the decision to overturn an Obama-era directive. By my count, four transgender rights advocates are quoted vs. one source on the other side — a school superintendent whose past quotes are recycled.

While the piece ostensibly is an overview of area school district policies, the story begins and ends with the kindergartner mentioned above. And yes, there's a religious angle — not to mention a ghost or two.

Hang with me for a moment, and we'll get to my journalism-related questions.

But first, let's start with the lede:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Facts, framing and fairness: Three questions to consider on Trump transgender bathroom decision

Facts, framing and fairness: Three questions to consider on Trump transgender bathroom decision

One of the big news stories of the past 24 hours — in fact, the lead story in today's Washington Post and New York Times — involves the Trump administration's decision on transgender students using public school restrooms and locker rooms.

Interestingly, the story did not make the front page of USA Today or the Wall Street Journal.

I quickly read the coverage from those four national newspapers, along with reports from The Associated Press, CNN and Reuters.

In case you missed the headlines, the lede from AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Transgender students on Wednesday lost federal protections that allowed them to use school bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities, as the Trump administration stepped into a long-simmering national debate.
The administration came down on the side of states' rights, lifting Obama-era federal guidelines that had been characterized by Republicans as an example of overreach.
Without the Obama directive, it will be up to states and school districts to interpret federal anti-discrimination law and determine whether students should have access to restrooms in accordance with their expressed gender identity and not just their biological sex.
"This is an issue best solved at the state and local level," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said. "Schools, communities and families can find — and in many cases have found — solutions that protect all students.

In my rapid-fire assessment of the stories, I'm interested in three key questions:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Eyes of Texas are on religious leaders -- pro and con -- as state debates transgender-friendly bathrooms

Eyes of Texas are on religious leaders -- pro and con -- as state debates transgender-friendly bathrooms

As you may recall, I was not impressed with initial media reporting on a transgender-related bathroom bill in Texas.

Perhaps the title of my January post --  "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" -- gives some clue as to my overall analysis of the news coverage.

Fast-forward to recent stories on religious leaders in the Lone Star State entering the fray, and I'm feeling a little more generous in my appraisal.

The Austin American-Statesman, in particular, deserves a high passing grade for its fair, evenhanded treatment of the Godbeat angle.

I should stress that I'm grading on a curve because the American-Statesman — like other news organizations — faced the difficulty of reporting on both sides when one side closed its proceedings to the press. 

The lede from the Austin newspaper:

The fight over legislation to block transgender-friendly bathroom policies ventured into the religious realm Thursday as faith leaders gathered in Austin to promote competing views.
The day began with a closed-door briefing for Christian pastors by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and other state officials who see religious support as crucial to the passage of Senate Bill 6, which would limit the use of bathrooms in schools and government buildings to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.
The event by the U.S. Pastor Council was billed as “show up time” for those who would lead the fight in support of the bill.
That was followed by an afternoon gathering of more than 40 religious leaders — many holding signs reading “My faith does not discriminate” — who oppose SB 6 as immoral.
“Our lawmakers are considering anti-transgender bathroom bills and bills that come disguised as religious freedom — dangerous pieces of legislation that place a religious mask over what amounts to state-sanctioned discrimination,” said the Rev. Taylor Fuerst of First United Methodist Church, where the event was held.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Transgender bathroom bill unveiled in Texas

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Transgender bathroom bill unveiled in Texas

Even if you live far from the Lone Star State, the weeping and gnashing of teeth — on the part of the news media — were difficult to miss last week.

Suffice it to say that elite journalists are beside themselves over this: Top Texas Republicans seem intent on heading down the same dangerous, discriminatory path as North Carolina. At least that's the slanted perspective that major newspapers advanced after Thursday's unveiling of a Texas "bathroom bill" (scare quotes courtesy of the news media).

In the following "news story" lede, please help me count how many different ways the Dallas Morning News editorializes its concerns:

AUSTIN -- Cities like Dallas and Austin could have to undo local laws that protect transgender people from discrimination if Texas passes the so-called bathroom bill unveiled Thursday, a proposal panned by the business community that's wreaked havoc on other states' economies.

OK, what's your count?

I got five:

1. "could have to undo local laws"

2. "that protect transgender people from discrimination"

3. "the so-called bathroom bill"

4. "a proposal panned by the business community"

5. "that's wreaked havoc on other states' economies"

Man, I sure hope the Dallas Morning News doesn't waste space by writing a separate editorial on this subject. Just include a note on the opinion page referring to the front-page "news story."

Please respect our Commenting Policy