In his book Sabbath, Wayne Muller recounts this story: In the early 1990s, many hundreds of people in the US sent donations to help the poor, unfortunate children in the Sahel region of Africa after seeing heart wrenching images on television. The nomadic peoples of the Sahel were being pushed out and impoverished by the encroachment of commercial farmers on what had been grazing lands. The US Agency for International Development rushed to their assistance and drilled deep wells for the nomads’ cattle. The sudden abundance of drinking water destroyed the balance among water, livestock and grasses. The cattle population boomed. The land with its sparse rainfall could not support them. They began to die in catastrophic numbers.
This is one of the clearest examples I know of in which intent and impact are at odds with one another.
Yesterday, at the Texas State Capitol, at the hearing for SB 6, the so-called “bathroom bill,” I encountered another.
Before I explain that, let me say that yesterday I witnessed both the ugliness of politics and the beauty of people. I was truly blessed and inspired by being with hundreds of transmen an women of all ages and their families, friends, and allies. Over and over I heard transwomen and men tell their stories with great courage and conviction. No one should EVER have to fight to receive basic human dignity and respect, yet that’s the all too familiar position these people found themselves in.
Some of the ugliest moments of all came yesterday when the testimony was about the possible economic impact of SB 6. I saw two state senators disrespect, taunt, and bully the spokesperson from the Texas Association of Business. He, however, taught us all a lesson in grace under fire, answering questions as best he could with calm and respectful answers. It was so bad that the Chair of the committee had to apologize several times to those assembled, trying to assure us that even though the line of questioning and ferocity of the questioners was so intense as to make many of us uncomfortable, the senators were “within their rights and doing their jobs.” When did our civil affairs become so uncivilized?
Here’s where intent versus impact comes in. I watched Senator Kolkhorst, who authored the bill, carefully throughout the proceedings. I don’t think she’s a hateful woman. I don’t think she’s trying to rise up in the Republican ranks by attacking some of Texas’ most vulnerable citizens. I think her intent was to try to reduce assaults on women and children. I think her desire was to enforce as best she could a “safe space” for women in locker rooms and bathrooms. Nearly HALF of all women have had sexual violence other than rape perpetrated on them (http://www.rrsonline.org/?page_id=944). The vast majority of those who perpetrate the violence are white cisgender men (https://sapac.umich.edu/article/196.) There is nothing wrong with her thinking. Her intent, I believe, is fair.
But her intent coupled with a lack of knowledge, understanding and experience adds up to a horribly negative impact on the very people she is trying to protect—women. She does not accept that transwomen are women. Because she can only see them as “men dressed as women” or “men trying to be women,” she can go no further.
She can’t see, for example, that her legislation creates a whole other set of victims. Transwomen who are forced to go into men’s facilities will undoubtedly, I believe, be targeted for even higher rates of sexual assault and, ironically, the assaulters will have an “insulated” space in which to commit the crimes.
As I found myself becoming more and more angry, I had to keep reminding myself that the Senator and her sympathetic colleagues are not the enemy. The Baptist pastor from Houston talking about the “ex-gays” in his congregation is not the enemy. No human is the enemy. Ignorance. Fear. Barriers. Those are the enemies.
Cue Dr. King: Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Always in Hope,