Covering the transgender bathroom/showers debates has created a few conundrums for the folks here at GetReligion in that we tend to comment on pieces in which religion is a factor or there’s a “ghost;” where religion should be a factor but the reporter –- or editors –- have left it out.
A lot of folks involved in these debates do so for religious reasons, but those reasons aren't often spelled out and instead, as my colleague Bobby Ross has reported, the debate devolves into journalists simply labeling folks "anti-LBGT.".
One side of the debate does seem to get demonized. This case study concerns a Seattle Times food critic who outed a local chef who happens to be providing some of the stadium food available during Seattle Seahawks games.
The chef, known as the “steak king of Seattle,” apparently had a hidden weakness, in that he held unorthodox -- to the new normal -- beliefs on a controversial issue in the public square. Here’s what the Times reporter ran on Wednesday:
Seahawks stadium chef John Howie donated $1,000 to the Washington anti-transgender bathroom group Just Want Privacy in May, and Howie says he also signed a petition opposing transgender bathrooms.
This puts Howie on the opposite side of the issue from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. On Monday, it was reported that Wilson and singer Ciara moved their wedding out of North Carolina due to that state’s anti-transgender bathroom law. Asked about the report today, Wilson said, “I just believe that Jesus loves all people. That’s honestly what I believe.”
Howie says he’s opposed to transgender bathrooms due to concerns about who could gain access to them. “I think that there’s a chance that the law could be abused by somebody,” he says. “I think somebody who is not transgender, a sex offender, could abuse the law -- somebody who is just out to put themselves into a women’s, or a boys’, bathroom, for that matter.
“I have grandchildren that are going to be affected by this law,” Howie continues. “Sex offenders scare the living day lights out of me. I think pedophiles can take advantage of this.”
I'm not sure what's with pitting a local chef against a Seahawks quarterback proved, other than the fact that Wilson is (a) super famous and (b) an outspoken Christian, but it was effective.
First, GetReligion readers may recall that I live up here and I had never heard of Just Want Privacy before this. However, the folks who donated to the group have endured quite a bit of harassment from media that have combed through the group’s campaign filings.
Look at what The Stranger (a Seattle tabloid whose photos and copy are so racy, I won’t bring it home lest my 11-year-old see it) wrote about two other donors in July:
Meet John Olerud: retired Seattle Mariners player, devout Christian, wealthy Clyde Hill resident, anti-trans ballot initiative funder, and tree-slaying schmuck.
According to Just Want Privacy campaign filings submitted last week, Olerud and his wife each contributed $25,000 to the campaign to remove transgender folks' right to use gender-segregated bathrooms. But that's nothing compared to what they spent on forcing a neighbor to remove two 50-year-old trees in order to improve their view of downtown Seattle from their Clyde Hill property.
You get the idea. Later in the piece, the Stranger slams Olerud for quoting a Bible verse in his campaign to get his neighbor to cut down the trees.
Back to Howie. A day later, the Times adds this:
UPDATE 3:30 p.m. Thursday: Seattle chef John Howie has apologized in an emotional video on Facebook, saying he’s changed his views on transgender bathroom laws after “a very eye-opening 24 hours.”
“I’m sorry to the people that I have harmed or negatively affected with my words and my actions,” Howie says. “It’s not who I am, and it’s not who I want to be.”
“My concerns about the proposed law were based on fear and not facts,” he acknowledges.
I watched the video. Can't say I've seen someone grovel like that for a long time.
Near the end, Howie mentioned God and forgiveness. The Times didn’t pick up that quote, which I managed to get from another site. Howie signs off with:
“Again, I’m saddened and hurt that I have hurt people in our community, and I ask that you will forgive me. It’s truly my belief that God loves all people, and that with love and respect, we can all live together.”
Some of the folks in the Times comment section had similar thoughts to mine:
This is one of the scariest videos I've seen in a long time. It reminds me of the Great Purge Stalin instigated in the Soviet Union in 1930s.
I thought the same thing. They broke him, and for what? An opinion about bathrooms. Psychological torture over bathrooms.
However, some of the comments on Howie's Facebook page had a different take. It’s a shame that no one has delved into Howie’s background much. His Twitter description reads: Chef owner of Seastar, SPORT Restaurant & Bar, John Howie Steak, The Beardslee Public House, & the Wildwood Spirits Co. Loves God, family, food, wine & sports.
Seems like there’s a religion angle in this story hiding in there somewhere, you think? For starters, how are local Christians, Jews and Muslims dividing on this issue? Perhaps reporters could make a few telephone calls?