Ben Carson oversteps his Adventist faith in proposing separate bathrooms for transgender people (COMMENTARY)

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A sign on a restroom door at Salisbury University in Maryland. Photo courtesy of Marshall Childs

A sign on a restroom door at Salisbury University in Maryland. Photo courtesy of Marshall Childs

(RNS) Presidential hopeful Ben Carson earlier this year said gay people chose to be gay because some men come out as gay after serving in prison. He eventually apologized for those remarks. Then Carson suggested bathroom segregation as a solution to the battle over which gendered restroom transgender people have the right to use.

His proposal stemmed from a conversation over a human rights ordinance, which was defeated in Houston last week. The ordinance would have protected Houston residents from employment and housing discrimination. Opposition to the ordinance took the shape of a transgender bathroom scare.

So when Carson sat down with journalist Jorge Ramos, the candidate’s solution to the Houston debacle was just as illogical as the ordinance’s repeal.

“How about we have a transgender bathroom?” Carson proposed.

“It is not fair for them to make everybody else uncomfortable,” he said. “It’s one of the things that I don’t particularly like about the movement. I think everybody has equal rights, but I’m not sure that anybody should have extra rights — extra rights when it comes to redefining everything for everybody else and imposing your view on everybody else.”

But using a restroom that best fits with your gender identity isn’t extra rights. It’s ludicrous that transgender Americans are subjected to discrimination for wanting to perform basic bodily functions. Carson’s proposal of bathroom segregation infringes on basic tenets of civil liberties. It’s also based in ignorance, not facts.

Being uncomfortable with transgender people isn’t enough of a reason to deny someone the use of a restroom. Carson and other opponents are using irrational fear to deny people their rights.

For example, a common rationale is that trans individuals are bathroom predators. This narrative is based in fear, not facts. There isn’t a single documented case of a transgender person attacking anyone in a restroom.

But the opposite may be true: Transgender people are more likely to be victims of assault for using gender-correct restrooms.

A study from the Williams Institute notes that 70 percent of transgender individuals have faced some sort of negative reaction for using the restroom. The majority of respondents documented instances of ridicule and other forms of verbal harassment. For a portion of the community, they were physically or sexually assaulted for entering the restroom.

These staggering statistics of the discrimination transgender people face is why Carson’s comments feel disconnected with reality.

Then again, as with his comments with gay people before, they are reflective of his faith tradition, the Seventh-day Adventist Church — a denomination to which both Carson and I belong.

Earlier this month, the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church approved a document condemning same-sex relationships while attempting to include gay people.

Eliel Cruz writes about on religion, (bi)sexuality, media and culture. He's the co-founder and former president of Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition, an organization that advocates for safe spaces for LGBT students at Seventh-day Adventist colleges. Photo courtesy of Eliel Cruz

Eliel Cruz writes about on religion, (bi)sexuality, media and culture. He’s the co-founder and former president of Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition, an organization that advocates for safe spaces for LGBT students at Seventh-day Adventist colleges. Photo courtesy of Eliel Cruz

Oddly enough, the North American Division Executive Committee included a small passage on “transgenderism”:

“While the Seventh-day Adventist Church has formulated teachings on gender and sexuality that may have a bearing on issues related to transgenderism, the Church has not yet articulated an official position applying these teachings to the issue,” the document states. “The complex nature of transgenderism calls for further discussion before recommendations can be made for the Church.”

The Seventh-day Adventist Church publicly acknowledged the need to do more research before making comments on the transgender community. Perhaps Carson should follow suit.

(Eliel Cruz writes about on religion, (bi)sexuality, media and culture. He’s the co-founder and former president of Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition, an organization that advocates for safe spaces for LGBT students at Seventh-day Adventist colleges.)

YS/MG END CRUZ