Crux, you had me at "varied Catholic responses."
Just about every transgender rights article I've ever read has drawn caricatures: a hidebound, monolithic bureaucracy against earnest activists who bravely state their rights. Yesterday's Crux story is different: It cites intelligent, articulate viewpoints on more than one side.
You can see the difference right in the lede:
A controversy over transgender rights at schools and public facilities in the United States that’s been dubbed the "bathroom wars" has drawn varied Catholic responses, with bishops expressing concern over a trio of disputed government actions at the local, state and federal level, and a Catholic gay rights group supporting increased access for transgender people.
No other story I've seen has carried Catholic Church views on the so-called bathroom wars. Nearly all the stories major in politician quotes; most quote liberal activists; some quote their conservative opponents; one or two asked a pastor or two. The largest division of Christianity, the Catholic Church, is always ignored. Except for Crux yesterday.
The article focuses on North Carolina, the battleground of laws, lawsuits and boycotts. Crux explains Charlotte's ordinance that allowed people to use restrooms and locker rooms for the gender with which they identify. Crux also cites HB2, the state law that overturned the ordinance and prevented other cities from passing similar measures.
And the 1,500-word indepth has more than sound bites. It gives lots of space to a statement by both of North Carolina's bishops, Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte:
The bishops noted, "This issue is principally about safety. Beginning in April, in the City of Charlotte, any man will be able to walk into a women’s locker room without recourse, so long as he claims a female sexual identity."
"That same man could follow a child into an opposite sex bathroom," the bishops said. "While this poses obvious safety issues, this violates diocesan policies associated with our Safe Environment programs."
Crux cites Bishop Burbidge's call for public discussion that would "defend human dignity, avoid bigotry, respect religious liberty and be discussed in a respectful manner." That's distinctive enough, given the crossfire of insults that often passes for public discourse.
Then the article unveils the religious "ghosts" that lurk unseen in most stories of the type:
Burbidge also addressed the pastoral side of the controversy, saying, "No person should feel as though they are unwelcome in our communities of faith. The priests of this diocese, myself included, remain committed to speaking with anyone who has concerns about how we operate or what we believe."
"This applies regardless of one’s gender or gender identity," Burbidge said. "All people are made in the image and likeness of God as man and woman, and we stand ready to continue accompanying all people in their faith walk."
One drawback is that all of those comments were in the canned statement by the two bishops. Crux asked for more from Burbidge, but his spokesman simply summarized what the bishops already said. It doesn't say whether it sought live quotes from Jugis.
But the article doesn't merely sell the bishops' pitch over all others. It gives several paragraphs to DignityUSA, an alliance of pro-LGBT Catholics. In its own statement, Dignity said the bishops showed a "lack of understanding for what transgender children and their families experience," Crux reports:
"Transgender children and their families often deal with very challenging situations every single day. Gym class, using a bathroom, or simply walking down a hallway are often uncomfortable and even unsafe for many transgender students," Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA’s executive director, said in the statement.
The DignityUSA leader added, "We believe, as do many Catholics, that our transgender kin reflect the immensity and diversity of God’s creativity. They challenge us to humbly re-examine traditional beliefs about sex, gender, identity, and human relationships, and to acknowledge the limitations of our current understanding in these areas."
"We urge the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to engage in dialogue with transgender youth and adults, as well as their families, so they can better understand the pastoral and practical needs of these communities," she said.
If Crux assigns blame, it's against the federal government, for ordering public schools to open all facilities to students "consistent with their gender identity." Saying that Title IX of the Education Amendments also applies to trans students, the directive threatened to cut federal funds from schools that didn’t comply. That action deepened the "seismic rifts of what to that point had not been a major issue across the country," Crux says -- arguable, but maybe misplaced in a newsfeature.
Another bobblein this story is calling out Gov. Pat McCrory for signing HB2, as if he somehow passed the law himself. (And in a typo, Crux calls him McGrory.) Many media have done the same, but Crux didn’t have to follow their bad example.
And how many Catholics are we talking about? The University of North Carolina, using the 2010 U.S. Religion Census (the most recent), counts fewer Catholics than Southern Baptists, United Methodists and nondenominational Christians. But the Catholics are growing fast -- from less than 100,000 in 1980 to 393,000 in 2010. Those numbers would have added punch to the Crux article.
Finally, I'm not sure I've ever seen a news story linking to Title IX, the federal law that everybody refers to. Here it is. Readers may well wish to look for themselves, rather than just a brief digest.
All told, though, the Crux piece stands high above the rest of the coverage. It shows how to report a controversy without imposing one's ideology. "Give light and the people will find their own way," according to the Scripps company's slogan. I wish more news media believed that.
Photo: Gender-neutral bathroom sign at the Baby Wale Restaurant, Washington, D.C., uploaded by Ted Eytan via Flickr Creative Commons. Thumb: Gender-neutral bathroom sign in California. Photographed by Sarah Mirk via Flickr Creative Commons. Both pictures: Some rights reserved (CC-By-2.0).