When I was Director of the Wyoming Department of Family Services, we developed a mantra. “Nothing about them without them.” It meant that when policymakers develop plans or programs targeting certain individuals, those people have a right to be at the table.
“Nothing about them without them” is a rule legislators should adopt before proposing laws detrimental to other people’s lives. Take State Representative Roy Edwards (R-Gillette) for example.
Edwards wants a law dictating which bathroom you may use. He’s a big government sort of guy. Edwards is concerned that without a government big enough to tell you where to relieve yourself, “a man could enter the women’s bathroom and spy on people.” It’s an unnecessary cultural war. He hasn’t heard of it being a problem in Wyoming but worries it might become one for somebody, someday.
The lawmaker told the Gillette Chamber of Commerce he needed to stop people from “getting their thrills off of being allowed to go into the opposite sexes’ bathroom.” Campbell County bathroom-goers may be different, but around these parts, people hardly make eye contact in public bathrooms.
What else is wrong with that picture? It’s not just what it says about Rep. Edwards but also what it says about his audience. Why was he confident he could safely express bigotry in front of the business community?
Mr. Edwards is trying to fix problems he doesn’t know exist about the behavior of people he doesn’t believe exist, i.e. transgender people. He figures transgender people are just like him, except they made a choice to be transgender in order to spy on one another in bathrooms.
As this bill moves through the legislative process, perhaps Rep. Edwards will disclose the sources of his expertise on transgender people. It’s clear he doesn’t know one or that he doesn’t know he knows one. Instead, he relies on prejudicial, though politically popular, assumptions to reach the conclusion that we need to be protected from them.
The truth is transgender people need to be protected from politicians like Roy Edwards.
To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, “Brothers and sisters, politicians need not be uninformed.” How different Brother Edwards might think if he took time to know a transgender person. He should make an effort to meet these children of God and their families. He’d learn something about their struggles and how what he considers a “choice” was actually made, not by them but for them, by the one who created us all.
Then he’d learn what the American Psychiatric Association learned. The medical diagnosis is called “gender dysphoria.” It’s not a mental illness. It’s a conflict between the gender on one’s birth certificate and the gender with which they identify.
Unfortunately, Mr. Edward’s prejudices amplify the personal pain, deep depression, anxiety, and rejection experienced by transgender people. These wounds are worsened by familial and societal responses, including hurtful laws supported by people like Edwards. Many consider, some commit, suicide.
If legislators made an effort to know those they target before tossing bills into the hopper, they might find themselves more compassionate. Compassion means having concern for the suffering of others, not compounding the suffering. Having concern for their suffering inevitably leads one to believe they have not “made a choice.”
Humans aren’t wired to make choices causing them to be rejected by family and friends and to be cast adrift in a world where few people they encounter understand what they are experiencing. You don’t choose to be someone whose life is the subject of political debates and to be ridiculed by those who think you’re trying to “get your thrills” when you’re simply trying to go to the bathroom. Voters may have chosen you to be their representative but God didn’t choose you to be their judge. Responsible law makers don’t target people they don’t know, never met, and don’t understand.
Here’s a memo to Representative Edwards and other legislators: “Nothing about them without them” will make you a better legislator and a better human being.