Arkansas Faith Leaders Appeal To Governor For Change Of Course On Transgender Rights Guidance

Jun 10, 2016

Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

More the 70 Arkansas religious leaders affixed their names to a letter delivered to Governor Asa Hutchinson’s office on Friday expressing “dismay” at his directive to disregard federal guidance on bathroom access for transgender youth. 

The display from religious leaders that embrace transgender rights follows a letter last month from over 60 conservative Christians which praised the governor’s stance.

Reverend Gwen Fry, part of the Episcopalian Diocese of Arkansas, and Rabbi Barry Block of Temple B’nai Israel in Little Rock helped craft the letter urging a reconsideration of Arkansas policy. Fry hopes the letter will remind the state’s top Republicans that many in the religious community support transgender people.

“I felt it was important that the governor understand there’s more than one side to this issue and that we request an opportunity to sit down at the table with them and have a discussion about issues of gender identity and safety in public spaces for all people,” said Fry.

Rabbi Block said his faith compelled him to speak out, “We want to make a really clear statement, a clear religious statement, that everybody’s created in God’s image. That includes men who are created first with women’s bodies and women who are created at first with men’s bodies and that everybody is deserving of equal rights and safety.”

The senior pastor at Little Rock’s Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church, Britt Skarda, says it’s a matter of protecting vulnerable youth.

“Our public school students are extremely vulnerable, bullying is on the rise and there are great concerns about suicide rates among youth,” said Skarda. “It’s important to care for those who may not be able to care for themselves and to stand up for the rights of all people from a faith perspective and as a citizen of this great nation.”

The letter also contained some praise for the governor.

We are grateful for the role you played during the recent special session to scuttle an amendment which would have made sex offenders of transgender Arkansans who merely wish to use the restroom that conforms to their gender identity.

A spokesman for Governor Asa Hutchinson told KUAR the governor has not seen the letter delivered on Friday.

Of the 74 signatories to the letter, 42 are male and 32 are female. Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians dominated those who signed it along with about a dozen non-denominational churches. A letter delivered late last month from conservative religious leaders had a 62-4 male-female split. Nearly all those who signed are Baptist or non-denominational.