I needed to purchase a few household items on Tuesday, and I just happened to be driving past the SuperTarget store that is near our home. I was vaguely aware of Target’s recent policy statement regarding the use of their restrooms by transgender individuals, and I had also seen an online headline or two about the American Family Association’s initiation of a petition to boycott the retailer. If you find it hard to believe that I wasn’t thoroughly steeped in all the sordid details of the “outrage du jour” among some conservative Christians, trust me when I tell you that my father’s death and funeral last week have kept me from being overly concerned about this latest skirmish in our nation’s culture wars.
So, I walked into Target on Tuesday and… everything seemed so perfectly normal. The people looked perfectly normal. Well, normalcy is relative; everyone at least looked “big box department store normal.” Things were just like they were the last time I was in Target, and just like I expect they will be the next time I’m there.
Ironically, I found myself in need of a restroom while at Target this week. To the best of my knowledge and remembrance, I have never used the bathroom facilities in this or any other Target. Ever! That’s just not why I go to Target, or to any other store for that matter. If the need does arise when I’m traveling or out shopping, I, like many other Americans, generally seek out the facilities of the nearest Cracker Barrel. That’s why they’re conveniently located near interstate highway exits. Surely my family can’t be the only ones who do this!
I don’t know if there was something at work in my subconscious on Tuesday, or if it was just my two morning cups of coffee, but I headed to the restroom immediately upon entering the store. The entrances to the restrooms were clearly marked “Men” and “Women.” Signage also identified a more private Family Restroom. I was grateful not to encounter any protesters, anyone asking me to sign a petition, or anyone demanding to see my birth certificate on my way into the men’s room.
Other than the obvious, my brief visit to the restroom at Target was uneventful. I had the place all to myself; I didn’t see another living soul. In the event that someone else had been in there, I’m certain that I would have avoided eye contact (as usual) and would have refrained from striking up a conversation; no small talk about the weather, the NBA playoffs, or the first few weeks of the MLB season. I certainly wouldn’t have dreamed of questioning a total stranger about their sense of gender identity. “Yeah, this is some weather we’re having, isn’t it? By the way…”
So, about the current controversy…
If you don’t want to shop at Target (for any reason, or no reason at all), then please don’t. Maybe you don’t like their restroom use policy as it relates to transgender individuals, or the values that you think this policy reflects, or perceived dangers you think the policy poses for unsuspecting women and children. That’s fine! Maybe you don’t like the presence of Starbucks in their stores. Remember the Great Starbucks Christmas Cup Controversy of 2015? Plain red cups! Gasp! It’s a miracle that the national economy didn’t crumble or that there’s a shred of morality left in the country after such an egregious assault on Christian faith! Maybe the Target logo naturally reminds you of a target, which reminds you of guns, which reminds you of hunting, which reminds you of the senseless slaughter of animals. Okay! Maybe you’re just a Walmart person at heart. Lovely! Whatever your reasons, take your business elsewhere. I really don’t mind at all, and I will respect your retail values and decisions, regardless of what drives them.
If you want to continue shopping at Target, but choose not to use their restrooms, that’s fine as well, since most shoppers never do. I’ve now made one such visit in the last 30 years, and may well reach the end of my earthly journey without a second visit. If the need does arise, and you’ve got some personal discomfort or concern for the safety of your wife or child, then use the Family Restroom and lock the door behind you.
But, please, please, please…. don’t question or condemn the faith, commitment, or morality of those of us who refuse to panic, who refrain from joining you in screaming that the sky is falling, who won’t stoop to fear-mongering, who aren’t interested in signing your petition, who continue shopping at Target, and may even sip a cup of Starbucks coffee while doing so.
I’ve already seen Christian friends on Facebook who have posted links to fabricated news stories about atrocities that have allegedly taken place in Target’s restrooms since the announcement of their policy. Such things severely weaken our witness as followers of Jesus Christ. Whatever truth you are seeking to defend, don’t discredit it, and the name of Jesus, with falsehood. Check it out on Snopes.com before sharing a link; the story may contain some truth, a smidgeon of truth, or no truth at all.
Can public restrooms be dangerous places and potential targets (no pun intended) for voyeurs, exhibitionists, and pedophiles? Yes! But, that’s always been the case, long before Target’s policy announcement. Vigilance, caution, and common sense have always been advisable. You shouldn’t need policies or laws to convince you of that.
What are the chances that you’re going to encounter a transgender individual in a restroom at Target? Infinitesimally small! What are the chances that this individual will pose some threat to you or a member of your family? Even smaller. What are the chances and likelihood of women and children being victimized, traumatized, harmed, or abused within communities of faith at the hands of trusted individuals whom they believe are sincerely serving the Christ that they claim to follow? Sadly, tragically, and damnably far greater.
A few months ago, we were having Sunday lunch with friends at a restaurant after morning church services. Our nonverbal, 23 year-old special needs son signed to me that he needed to go the restroom. We excused ourselves, walked to the restroom, and I claimed the handicapped accessible stall, as always, simply because there is more room for me to assist him. After our arrival, someone occupied the stall next to us. As we exited the stall to head to the sink, the door next to us swung open simultaneously. The fingers that were wrapped around the adjoining door’s edge were beautifully manicured, with nails brightly adorned in candy apple red polish. Uh-oh!!! As my eyes met with the owner of those distinctly feminine hands, I immediately began apologizing. “I am so, so sorry! We’re in the wrong restroom.” She spotted Coleman, smiled pleasantly and without alarm, and said, “Well, it could be me who’s in the wrong bathroom.” She stepped to the door, opened it, glanced at the sign on the outside, and said, “No, it’s definitely you!!!” We all washed our hands at the double sink, dried them, chuckled again with nervous embarrassment, and headed out the door together. I offered a final, parting apology, and silently prayed that I wouldn’t see her sitting among our guests at church as I preached the next Sunday morning!
Had this circumstance happened in Oxford, Alabama, this week, and if the woman had doubted our intentions in being in the women’s restroom, she could have called in a complaint to the police department, signed a warrant, and I could be facing a $500 fine or six months in jail. We would not be covered by the exceptions to Oxford’s new city ordinance. Though Coleman is my child, he is older than 12, and though considered disabled, the exception would only cover Kim assisting him in a restroom, not two males in a women’s restroom. Such are the inevitable consequences of knee-jerk legislation.
I’ve never struggled with my sexual identity or questioned my gender identity. It’s always been crystal clear to me. So, I obviously don’t understand what it’s like to be conflicted or confused about those issues. However, as a Christian, I can compassionately show civility, love, and respect to those who do. I can’t imagine what it’s like to honestly and sincerely be emotionally torn about which restroom to use; I simply can’t imagine. This doesn’t mean that my understanding of Scripture has changed one bit. It just means that I can and will treat people, all people, as individuals who have been created in the image of God and as those for whom Jesus died. It also means that I refuse to panic, and I refuse to peddle fear.