I have a treat for you today, conscious politics practitioner. It involves a conservative Republican state senator advocating for trans rights in the great state of Utah. Everything is possible! I heard the story on NPR’s program/podcast, 1A, which included an interview with said senator about his actions and, in particular, one of his votes. I am calling this singular political story, which obviously exists in a sea of political stories, a pitch-perfect example of how to do something we always talk about doing: infuse our politics with compassion. It’s so stunningly simple and your treat today will be trading my on-a-loop, “here’s what we could do” voice for his “here’s what I did voice” because what he did is what I’m always saying we could do.
The particular bill in question — one of hundreds targeting the rights of gender non-conforming kids that have been wending their way through state legislatures across the country — disallows those who do not identify with the gender assigned them at birth from participating in school sports. It had actually been passed by the Utah legislature after which it was vetoed by the governor and this vote was to override the veto. Its outcome was assured. State Senator Daniel Thatcher, in the midst of a challenge to his reelection bid, could have chosen the “politically expedient” path by capitulating with a vote to override the veto. He didn’t. And he prevailed over his three challengers, negating the need for a primary election ahead of this November’s general election after all. Senator Thatcher had said that five years ago he would have voted to ban trans girls from participating in school sports. When asked what changed, he said:
“The biggest thing that changed was that I started getting to know people. I started engaging with that community. I started meeting them and hearing their stories. I have long been an advocate in the mental health space and specifically with regards to suicide prevention. You can’t work in that space and not see the glaring, disproportionate impact on the LGBTQ and, specifically, the transgender community. Those numbers are absolutely heartbreaking and I couldn’t understand why it was so bad, why it was so different. And so I asked people, help me understand why this is so bad and they said, are you serious? And let me tell you, I don’t blame them. Because they never had a Republican reach out and say I want to know what’s happening with you. And so I’ll tell you — my first several engagements were a little hostile. I think because they just didn’t trust, they didn’t believe that I genuinely cared. But I persisted. And I believe that if you can show someone that you do actually care, you get a little bit of grace when you use phrases that are maybe not affirming or kind. If they believe that you care, I think they’re more willing and more likely to help you understand instead of pounding on you for getting something wrong. So as those doors and as those relationships started forming, they started letting me see and they started letting me experience and get to know them and it has completely changed my view.”
“I started getting to know people.”
“I started hearing their stories.”
“I want to know what’s happening with you.”
Bravo, Senator. Compassion is the name of the conscious politics game and compassion is listening. Senator Thatcher made it a point to listen to a constituency of his about whom he knew virtually nothing and it changed everything. It took some effort and persistence and he learned. The constituents felt seen and heard. What a concept.
“…if you’re a Republican because you believe in smaller government, you can’t believe that the government should intervene between therapists and physicians and their patients…”
Another guest was a Republican state representative from Oklahoma talking in virtually opposite terms about his support for an anti-trans bill in his state. He said that we were talking about two percent of the population (being gender non-conforming) and his focus was on the 98%. When Senator Thatcher was asked about that legislator’s comment, he replied: “They’re not the ones dying. They are not the ones that we are losing at a catastrophic rate. And so if you actually want to solve real problems, it starts with looking at real data. It starts with looking at — there is proof of risk and harm to this community that — there is not proof of risk and harm to the 98%.”
When asked about the appetite among his fellow Republicans to look at the same data, Thatcher said that to break ranks in politics today (in either party) is to be “ostracized and replaced.” “This is what is frustrating to me,” he continued. “At some point Republicans are going to have to wake up and realize that if you’re a Republican because you believe in smaller government, you can’t believe that the government should intervene between therapists and physicians and their patients — that is literally the exact opposite of what Republicans and conservatives should believe. [And it’s judgment through and through.] So using the power of the government to force your personal beliefs onto someone else, that is the absolute opposite — just as racism flies in the face of personal exceptionalism and merit. You can’t believe those things and still be a conservative. And some day, the Republican party is gonna have to have a reckoning that we’re either conservative or we are whatever the hell we’re becoming.”
Show guest Imara Jones, founder and CEO of TransLash Media, offered this: “What we have to do is open our minds a little bit and open up our hearts and be willing to learn and be willing to connect to other people as human beings like Senator Thatcher has done. And I think that when you do that, this issue evaporates.”
Paraphrasing: being politically compassionate solves political problems.
NOTE: Today’s a great day to sign up for the next Conscious Politics Free Monthly Training, which will take place on Tuesday, June 21 from 5:00-6:30pm PDT / 8:00-9:30pm EDT or whatever that is in your time zone.
Success story. Works every thing it’s tried. Love that the Senator was able to show the fallacy of his colleague’s assumptions and judgment AND offer self-evident reasons as proof. Sharing widely now.
It's a beautiful thing to have faith, to continue to do the good work in the face of a seemingly endless trail of nah-sayers and yet, someone did and for that, I am grateful. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Hope is alive.