Commentary: We’re praying for an end to bullying from Patrick, Abbott

We’ve all seen it: The schoolyard bully chooses the most vulnerable victim, then uses fear to pressure peers into joining the campaign. Unless someone strong calls out the bully and defends the weak kid, the bully succeeds in consolidating power.

We are calling out the bullying behavior of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his ally Gov. Greg Abbott towards the most vulnerable among us. While the percentage of students who identify as transgender is small, many school districts have found caring ways to support families as they encourage healthy development of these children.

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In most ways, these children are no different from any other. They are kids who go to school, get involved in extra-curricular activities, make friends and have hopes and dreams like other kids. And just like all other kids at their school, they simply need to use a restroom.

But like schoolyard bullies, Patrick and Abbott have chosen to pick on these most vulnerable victims and pressured others into joining their cause. May we remind you: These bullies are picking on children.

We are especially offended they have used our Christian faith to defend their bullying behavior. Nothing could be further from the Christian spirit of welcoming the stranger, defending the vulnerable and following the Golden Rule.

As far back as 1990, the people of our church — and many others in Texas — welcomed transgender persons and their families as equals in the household of faith and beloved of God. The signs on our restrooms read “God created and welcomes us in all of our diversity. At University Baptist Church, all are welcome to use the restroom that best fits their gender identity.”

The bullying “bathroom bill” targets the vulnerable in the name of protecting the public from a problem that does not exist. Our transgender congregants are far more likely than the public to be the targets of verbal and physical assault, not to mention exclusion and discrimination. We are offended that Patrick and Abbott use this bill to demonize our friends by creating public fear based on lies to consolidate their power. Their bill places our transgender congregants and their families in deeper danger of discrimination, slander and even violence.

Other faith leaders in Texas have called out the bullying behavior of Patrick and Abbott. Support by congregations for treating all Texans equally under the law is strong – and growing. More than 200 of our colleagues have joined us in signing a statement — for a campaign called Texas Believes — urging our state leaders to recognize “the full equality of LGBT Texans – equality before God and equality under the law.”

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Many of us have gathered repeatedly at the Capitol during the last session to urge our leaders not to join in a campaign to marginalize our congregants and fellow Texans. Our legislators had the courage not to be pressured by fear tactics disguised in religious rhetoric and refused the bullying bathroom bill. In response, Patrick bullied his way into a special session, enabled by Abbott.

We are commending the courage of those Texas leaders who opposed the bathroom bill in the last session and urge them to stop its passage again. And we encourage all Texans to join us in speaking out against this bullying bathroom bill.

Bethune is senior pastor of University Baptist Church in Austin. Cooper is associate pastor.

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