Finding the Courage to Stand Alone
by Brandon Smith
Now in his third year as a law student at the University of Kansas, Brandon Smith is a 2009 graduate of the Blackstone Legal Fellowship. Earlier this year, he suddenly found himself drawing on the lessons and insights gleaned from that summer training when circumstances thrust him into the heart of the public square at a crucial moment for his community.
I was preparing for class, focused on papers, etc., when I opened up an e-mail from a fellow KU-Blackstone grad. He told me about a city commission hearing scheduled for the next day, during which the commissioners would consider adding “gender identity” to the list of “protected classes” in the city of Lawrence. If passed, this policy would, among other things, allow men who identify as “transgendered” women to use public female restrooms.
If it hadn’t been for my experience at Blackstone, I wouldn’t have known what to say, how to say it, or even that it was important for me to be there. Even now, I was surprised. Earlier this year this same commission had voted against doing this. However, since then, three conservative commissioners had retired, one had been replaced with a more liberal member, and the other two vacancies had not been filled by the mayor. There was a real chance this measure could pass.
"It caught them by surprise to realize that - thanks to my ADF Blackstone training - I actually knew what I was talking about."
My fellow KU-Blackstone colleague could not attend the meeting, so I felt like I had to show up. I e-mailed my fellow Blackstone friends, asking them for advice. (That warm, dependable network of other Christian law students is one of the best things I brought away from my time at Blackstone.) They provided me with some research and some ideas on arguments. I also e-mailed a contact at the ADF-Kansas City office. Within a couple of hours, ADF had sent me a brief outlining the impact of adding “gender identity” to nondiscrimination policies. Armed with some great information, I felt ready to speak against the proposed policy.
That is, until I actually arrived at the hearing, where I found myself surrounded by dozens of transgendered individuals, homosexual activists (including the University of Kansas student body president), and several law students – including two who were in some of my classes. Seeing them, I began to realize what speaking up on this issue was going to mean for me. This was a very public place, and word was going to get back to the university community. I felt nervous and alone, inside a room crowded with people who were very hostile to my worldview.
Just then, I met another graduate student – an engineering major who’d heard about what was happening and had come to pray. He wasn’t willing to speak out, but he offered to pray while I testified against the new law. So I stayed.
When my turn came, I tried to lighten things up a little by saying that at least everyone there shared one belief, and that was support for the KU basketball team. Many laughed, but as I began to discuss the foundation of civil rights and protected classes, I began to get death stares. When I talked about the immutability standard that gender identity fails, people started to mutter and scoff. And as I spoke about the negative impact this policy would have on religious and para-church organizations, not to mention businesses, I could feel silent disgust all around me.
"If Blackstone had not given me the training it did, no one would have seriously addressed the legal aspects of this hearing."
After I finished, I heard some booing. I’d never been in a place where so many people disliked me at one time.
But: the city commissioners decided not to add gender identity to the city’s defined protected classes. The battle was won. The war, though, isn’t over. Indications are that this issue will be raised again at some future city council meeting, sometime later this year.
I do not know for sure that my words carried any special influence with the commission, but I do know that I was the only young student speaking against the provision. And I think maybe it caught them by surprise to realize that – thanks to my ADF Blackstone training – I actually knew what I was talking about and how to assert myself. I felt like a voice in the wilderness, but my voice was heard.
I would never have been able to do this without the support of ADF and the Blackstone Fellows. I know this is a small battle in the greater fight for family values, human dignity, and religious liberty, but it was my battle. It was a battle in my town, a battle that I could take part in.
I wasn’t the only one speaking against the policy that day, but if Blackstone had not given me the training it did, no one would have seriously addressed the legal aspects of this hearing. Passionate community members are helpful, but Blackstone has taught me how to direct that passion toward winning legal arguments.