“If God didn’t give you access to a male or female bathroom via your anatomy, neither should we give you access via ordinance or legislation.”
Those words, uttered by a youth minister to the North Carolina legislative chamber earlier this year, are at the heart of the discrimination that trans people face daily. As trans communities assert their rights, gain visibility and some social acceptance, the Religious Right is fighting to defend its worldview that God’s design is limited to two distinct immutable genders.
Religious Right advocates have spent the last 20 years fighting against the legalization of same-sex marriage and are now frantically working against trans rights and protections, claiming that transgender identities are sinful and don’t really exist.
To do this, the Religious Right has invented scripture, refused to believe the medical community and ignored the biological reality of intersex individuals.
Facts don’t seem to dissuade the Religious Right powerhouse organizations and leaders that are plotting the anti-trans campaign. They continue to use false messages and misinformation because those things succeed at keeping their followers emotionally charged up and fearful.
Focus on the Family, one of the most powerful Religious Right organizations in the country, has used misleading scare ads to keep transgender people from using bathrooms that fit their gender identities.
Family Research Council, a Religious Right political advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., laid out a five-point plan in 2015 for “responding to the transgender movement.” The plan presented obscure and outdated scientific theories in an attempt to pathologize transgender people.
The Southern Baptist Convention has endorsed reparative (ex-trans) therapy, told parents to reject their children’s identities or risk damnation, railed against medical care for transgender people, and compared gender dysphoria to body-integrity identity disorder.
Denny Burk, president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, may be the most dangerous adversary to trans people. Burk has dismissed all research that has determined gender identity to be a biological phenomenon and chooses to ignore that there are serious mental health consequences to denying a person’s gender identity. He consistently misgenders trans people purposely and uses “transgender” as a noun, all the while claiming that these are the only legitimate methods of “loving” trans people.
In 2014 Burk wrote “On Transgender Identity,” a resolution the Southern Baptist Convention adopted as its official statement regarding transgender people. In the resolution Burk describes transgender and intersex people as “psychological” and “biological” manifestations of “human fallenness,” and expresses opposition to any form of physical gender transition.
In essence, Burk and those who think like him are denying the very existence of transgender people because they believe in a God who creates only males and females, and so the existence of trans people threatens their image of God. And that is precisely why trans visibility and laws protecting trans identities are so important. No one should have to engage in a theological argument to justify their existence.
Thankfully, many Christians are interested in welcoming trans people with open and loving arms. Here are some things they are doing: (Some of these suggestions are useful for non-Christians and non-believers as well.)
- Seek ways of reading scripture that will remind trans people that they are wonderfully made in God’s image. For example, think of new ways to read words like “male and female” and “him and her.”
- Create non-gender-specific restrooms.
- Listen to trans people who are willing to share their stories and their experiences.
- Lift up the voices of parents who support their trans kids, and stand with people who are strong trans advocates.
- Use trans-inclusive language. Instead of using “men and women” or “males and females,” use “all genders.”
- Trust trans people to know their bodies and minds, and trust them to know about and understand their own spiritual and emotional health. Recognize that they know what is best for them.
- Educate yourself, and help educate those in your circle of influence.
- Don’t assume gender. Use a person’s preferred pronouns.
These are simple steps – but they can make a world of difference to those in the trans community who are too often targets of the Religious Right’s hate and fear.
Liz Dyer is founder and owner of Serendipitydodah for Moms, a private Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ kids.