Authorities arrested a transgender individual in Idaho this week for taking pictures of an eighteen-year-old woman in a Target fitting room. Shauna Smith, who identifies as a woman, was booked as a man under Smith’s legal name, Sean Patrick Smith. The story has made national news, in large part, because of the gender identity of the perpetrator and the location of the crime. Target has drawn praise from transgender advocates and heavy criticism from others for their decision to allow customers to use the bathroom or fitting room that corresponds to their preferred gender identity, so many have taken notice when those policies appear to have contributed to a crime.
As Niraj Chokshi reports for The New York Times, while most Target locations now utilize unisex changing rooms, the store where the crime took place does not. Consequently, Smith, who was wearing a dress and blond wig at the time, would not likely have been allowed into the same area as the victim were it not for Target’s new policies. At the same time, it also seems likely that, given the dress and wig, Smith could have gained access to the area regardless of whatever rules were in place.
After all, voyeurism happened long before it became permissible for men and women to share the same fitting room area, though the new policies do, perhaps, make it easier for such a crime to take place. The incident gives further ammunition to the argument against those policies while also granting a plausible defense for those who simply see it as an old crime committed in a new way.
How will we choose to view it? I must admit that my first reaction upon reading the story was to place equal or greater blame on Target than the person who committed the crime. In the time spent praying and thinking about this story, however, I’ve come to realize that such a reaction is fundamentally flawed. Does Target hold some responsibility for creating an environment in which this could happen? Perhaps, though there’s also little they could have likely done to prevent it and, to their credit, they acted quickly to help police catch Smith once the crime was reported.
The bulk of the responsibility for this heinous act, however, belongs to the individual that perpetrated it, and we cannot afford to lose sight of that. If we do, then we are more liable to equate the acts of a perverted and genuinely sick person with those of the transgender community of which Smith is a part. Such a conclusion would be a grave mistake and do little to help share God’s love with those in that community. Smith no more represents all transgender people than the Christians who have committed the same crime represent us.
While our sins often impact a wide range of people, Paul is clear that we are ultimately the ones whom God holds responsible (Romans 14:12). In the next verse, moreover, he continues by saying “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13). Turning Smith’s sin into a referendum on Target or the transgender community instead of focusing on the sick actions of a sick individual would likely place just such a stumbling block in the way of helping them come to Christ—the only one that can truly help them see their mistakes and accept the necessary grace to move past them.
Ultimately, God’s kingdom will be best served if his people see this story and use it as motivation to pray for the transgender community rather than to judge them by the actions of a single person. Were the roles reversed and it was a Christian who took those pictures, that’s the kind of grace and understanding we would want. So let’s make a point to treat them as we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12) and, in so doing, show them God’s love in ours. That’s what Jesus would do. Should we act any differently?