Coming soon to the pews near you: Transgender wars and copy-desk perplexities

On the sexuality beat, much news involves the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2015 gay marriage mandate. In particular, should government should protect, or penalize, artists and merchants who want to avoid cooperating with same-sex wedding rites due to religious conscience?

Journalists need to understand that this is a mere skirmish compared with far more potent church-state fights that inevitably lie ahead.

Meanwhile, transgender conflicts are fast gaining media momentum. At issue: Should public lavatories and shower rooms be open to transgender individuals whose “gender identity” is the opposite of their birth genetics and anatomy? In other words, biological men using women’s rooms and vice versa. 

The national headlines cover federal and state actions, but the same problem will soon be coming to a public school near you -- if it hasn’t already.

What does this have to do with religion-news work? Well, religious groups and individuals are usually at the forefront of those favoring traditional toilet and shower access.

Frank Bruni, whose New York Times columns neatly define the Left’s cultural expectations, sees the wedding merchant and lavatory debates as one and the same. In both cases, he asserts, a ”divisive, “cynical” and “opportunistic” “freakout” by conservatives has “egregiously” violated LGBT equality. Thus the “T” for transgender and “B” for bisexual are fully fused with the victorious lesbian and gay causes.

Christian organizations judged to be “anti-LGBT” are on the list of “hate groups” from liberals’ influential Southern Poverty Law Center. The Southern Baptist Convention is not so listed, but on March 25 the SPLC’s “Hatewatch Staff” took aim at conservative moves in the nation’s largest Protestant body, which has 46,000 local congregations.

Bruni’s target was North Carolina, where the Republican legislature and governor overruled a Charlotte ordinance and required traditional bathroom access statewide. Bruni protested that politicians raise “the hallucinated specter of male sexual predators entering women’s restrooms, to sweep aside anti-discrimination laws.” New York and Connecticut are now forbidding state-funded travel to North Carolina, PayPal is cancelling a new operations center planned for Charlotte and other businesses are likely to penalize the state.

The Obama administration is in the thick of it. A heads-up Times item revealed that the federal transportation and education departments are reviewing whether to cut off $5.3 billion dollars in federal aid to North Carolina on  anti-discrimination grounds, while other federal agencies make funding threats against local governments. “Title IX” does not mention toilets or shower rooms and a Virginia federal court decision said traditional restrictions do not violate federal law. The Obama administration appealed and won a reversal of that ruling April 19.

Public-school struggles are bound to increase. For one example, on April 11, New Jersey’s Pascack Valley regional district ordered transgender pupils’ access to lavatories and athletic locker rooms on the basis of “chosen gender identity” instead of birth biology.  

Superintendent P. Erik Gundersen defends this as a natural application of  the state’s anti-discrimination law, which makes transgendered citizens a protected category.

The Record newspaper reports that at least a dozen other New Jersey districts have enacted the same policy “without fanfare.” Pascack parents complain that the school board blindsided them about this proposed change. Those opposed on religious grounds are being advised by Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal agency.

And then, how will newswriters and copyreaders navigate the transgender conundrum? The New York Times Magazine reports that “the language debate of the moment” is between the “biological essentialist” approach based on birth genetics versus new “gender identity” assertions.

Some propose that publishers shelve “he” and “she” in favor of the “singular they” that is already accommodating feminists. But such blurring of gender offends some transgender advocates who instead want  newly invented pronouns like “xe,” “xim,” and “xir.” The GLAAD gay lobby advises journalists to carefully check with each individual named in a story to use hishertheirxir preferred pronoun and gender identification.

Stay tuned.

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