The pain on her face is etched onto my heart.

She had been heading into the woman’s restroom when someone hollered at her to stop because they thought she looked like a man.

I spoke with her soon after she was accosted. It was the kind of thing that happened to her often. As a woman who did not appear “feminine” and wore neutral work clothes for her blue-collar job, she was a target for suspicion and anger, especially in the current climate of hyped-up fear. She was toughened, but that didn’t really lessen the pain. It only increased the feeling of isolation.

As a pastor, my job was to help her shoulder that pain a bit and give it over to a God who calls her beloved for who she is, despite the judgments of some humans.

This kind of experience, along with careful consideration of both sides of the issue and prayerful searching, has made it clear enough to me: We should not be policing people’s appearances and gender identities, much less burdening the actual police with doing so. That is why I oppose anti-transgender laws like I-1552, and urge folks not to sign the petition to put it on the ballot in our state.

Similar discriminatory laws in states like North Carolina have in fact led to multiple incidents of men running into women’s bathrooms to grab women … because they thought on a glance that the women were boys based on how they dressed and wore their hair. The frenzy of fear bolstering these laws are compelling folks to police how some people appear.

Wise laws police certain behaviors. Predatory, lewd, and threatening behaviors are illegal and remain illegal. Anti-discrimination laws protect more people from harmful actions. In fact, they are supported by groups whose missions have long been to protect women and children from sexual violence.

Laws that require policing of how people appear, much less laws that police people’s basic understanding of who they are, are laws that lead to tyranny.

The highest law is the law of divine grace and divine love. In keeping with that law, I just hope for everyone to be able to sing with the Psalmist, “I praise you, God, for I am awesomely and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works” (Psalm 139:14).

– Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg

(Published June 25, 2017 in the Walla Walla Union Bulletin as a letter to the editor)

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