Transgender people are not an “issue,” and their humanity is not up for debate.
Rev. Marie Alford-Harkey, President and CEO, Religious Institute
One of the hardest parts about being a person of faith committed to justice is when basic human dignity is made a political issue. Transgender people are not an “issue,” and their humanity is not up for debate. Transgender people, like all other people, are human beings, created in the image of God, deserving of dignity and justice because of who they are, not in spite of it.
But you wouldn’t know that, given what’s happening in the United States right now. Last month, President Trump rescinded the guidelines for public schools to interpret Title IX to include transgender people in its prohibition on sex discrimination. Two weeks ago the Supreme Court declined to hear the case of a transgender boy who simply wanted to use the restroom in his high school. And currently in Texas and 11 other states, bills are being considered that would legislate transgender people’s right to exist.
In Texas, Senator Lois Kolkhorst appealed to her Christian faith when defending a bill she sponsored that would require people to use restrooms that match the gender listed on their birth certificates. In one speech, Kolkhorst said, “I think the god I believe in, the cross I wear today, said there was man and woman.” As a deeply religious person, a pastor, a Christian, and the president of a social justice organization, this statement offends me. Worse, statements like hers that use religion to justify discrimination cause real harm to real people.
Bills like SB 6, the bill Kolkhorst sponsored in Texas, threaten the very right of transgender people to exist in public. If people cannot safely go to the restroom in public buildings, how can they conduct business in those buildings? How can they go out of their homes and know that they will be safe? We know that the suicide rate among transgender people is 40%, nine times higher than the general population, and we know that bullying in school and discrimination in society are primary causes. As people of faith, we must examine our theology to see where we fall short of celebrating the amazing variety of humanity, which points us toward the infinite variety of divinity.
I assume Senator Kolkhorst is referring to the Bible when she asserts what God says. The Bible does indeed talk about men and women, but it does not speak with one unified voice. The Bible is a collection of stories, laws, rituals, sayings, advice, sermons, and songs with multiple authors, spanning across millennia. It has been passed down through oral and written traditions and received in cultures with various understandings of gender, sexuality, and the body.
Acknowledging the diverse perspectives contained in this text, there are still various biblical themes and passages that celebrate a diversity of gender identities and expressions. Gender-variant characters appear throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. New Testament epistle-writer Paul’s letter to the Galatians even directly contradicts Senator Kolkhorst’s statement when Paul writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, NRSV).
In the Christian tradition, the witness of Jesus’ life is one of reaching out to people who were on the margins of society, and Jesus’ disciples held to this tradition in their own ministry. Indeed, the very first non-Jewish person to become a convert to Christianity was a gender-variant person known simply in scripture as “the Ethiopian eunuch.” As Kittredge Cherry says, “The nameless Ethiopian eunuch was a triple outsider — a gender-variant foreigner from a racial minority — and his experience shows that the early Christians welcomed all kinds of outcasts, regardless of race, gender identity or other differences.”
We also learn throughout the Christian scriptures that all human beings are created in the image of the divine and that we are called to treat others as if they are Jesus himself, especially those who are pushed to the margins of society (Matthew 25:40).
To Senator Kolkhorst and the many other lawmakers and citizens using religion to do violence to transgender people: the majority of Americans and the majority of people of faith in this country agree that religion is not a justification for discrimination.
People of faith must not allow lawmakers to co-opt our faiths and harm transgender people in our name. We must not remain silent. We must take up our responsibility to articulate a moral vision that affirms the inherent dignity and worth of transgender people. Lives depend on it.
This piece was originally posted at RevGalBlogPals.