When Vice President Joe Biden stated during a campaign stop that “transgender discrimination is the civil rights issue of our time,” he gave voice to a population that has remained almost invisible in even more progressive circles. Despite the presence of the word “transgender” in the LGBT moniker, a trans person was not chosen to head any LGBT organization until Allyson Robinson’s very recent appointment as Executive Director of OutServe-SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network). As I reported in The Revealer:
Despite the recent rise of murders motivated by a bias against LGBT people alongside increasing anti-gay measures in states such as North Carolina, the growing body of anti-discrimination laws focusing on sexual orientation afford many gay and lesbian individuals the opportunity to live their lives authentically. This overall shifting has yet to take place for transgender individuals. Few laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of gender identity protect this community and allow them to express who they are in public. Because of this, trying to estimate the exact number of people who self-identify as trans remains a challenge for researchers, health providers and others working with this community.
According to the Transgender Law & Policy Institute, only 16 states (and Washington, DC) and 143 cities and counties passed anti-discrimination legislation that make it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of their gender identity or expression in areas such as housing, employment, public education and credit/lending. (This number does represent an improvement over my earlier reporting in 2011 where at that time 13 states and 109 cities and counties had passed gender non-discrimination legislation Yet as in the case of the law passed in Massachusetts titled “An Act Relative to Gender Identity” (2011), this legislation often fails to include provisions that extend protections in public accommodations such as the creation of gender neutral bathrooms.
While much ink has been spilled about recent faith based battles pertaining to issues relating to human sexuality, this conversation tends to focus on anti-gay measures promulgated by leaders such as the Rev. Billy Graham, the man dubbed America’s pastor. (In light of Graham’s recent explicit shift to the far right, one should not be surprised that Christianity Today, the magazine he founded, stated that an all knowing and loving God would require women to bear their rapists children.) This depiction of God appears to be far more concerned with controlling his creation’s genitalia than loving the least of these.
This US evangelical focus on “homosexuality” and other sexual sins fails to notice the theological shifting transpiring in more liberal church settings regarding gender inclusivity that informs their social justice advocacy. For example, the Episcopal Church passed two groundbreaking gender nondiscrimination resolutions that prohibit discrimination from the ordination process or lay employment on the basis of gender identity and expression. In this sense, the Episcopal church could actually be seen as more progressive than the majority of secular employers where a man who self-identifies as a cross-dresser could be fired for simply wearing one of his dresses to work.
Along those lines, on November 20, 2012, the Cathedral Church of St. Paul (Episcopal) in Boston will open its doors for the third year in a row to those wishing to commemorate the International Transgender Day of Remembrance. This annual event that began following the murder of trans rocker Rita Hester in Allston, MA in 1998 has since grown into an international gathering to remember those who died as a result of anti-transgender discrimination and violence. Within hubs such as Transfaith Online and The Massachusetts Transgender Political Committee’s Interfaith Committee for Transgender Equality, one finds similar faith based campaigns toward granting basic civil rights for transgender individuals, as well as exploring how affirming church communities can create spaces that are radically inclusive by welcoming all regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, disability and other barriers that all too often separate us from each other.
I noted in The Washington Post’s “On Faith Column that developments in theology, science, psychology and other disciplines around this topic inform the work of academics like as the Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge, a transman who is the Episcopal chaplain for Boston University and a lecturer at Harvard Divinity School. He asks how those with bodies perceived as “different” contribute to how we understand “what it means to be human.”
Therein lies the Q that drove earlier campaigns to grant equality for African Americans, women and LGBT folks. During an election cycle when the basic civil rights of all who do not assume a Romney-esque persona have come under attack, Biden reminds us that the “T” part of the LGBT equation cannot be forgotten in this latest round of unbiblical battles. Partridge adds, “I’m grateful for Vice President Biden’s affirmation of the importance of transgender equality. We need such solidarity as we continue to make progress on securing legal protections that honor our basic human dignity.”
This report was supported by a 2012 Knight Grant for Reporting on Religion and American Public Life. The Knight Grants are a program of the University of Southern California’s Knight Program in Media and Religion.