March 31 marks the annual International Transgender Day of Visibility. I will confess that I only recently became aware of this day, which is “dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of transgender and gender nonconforming people while raising awareness of the work that still needs to be done to achieve trans justice,” as GLSEN, an organization that advocates for LGTBQ issues in K-12 education, puts it.
I fear that in far too many communities and churches the day remains largely unknown and unheeded. In the face of alarming trends that threaten the dignity and rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people, it is imperative that we speak out and take action to stand with our trans siblings, today and every day. I repent for my own lack of awareness and hope that others will see this day as an urgent opportunity to support transgender dignity and rights.
How we care for and protect transgender and gender nonconforming people poses an ongoing test of how we live out the bold, inclusive love of Jesus. It’s particularly important to speak out and act given recent actions by state legislatures and governors to marginalize, silence, and erase the very identities of transgender and other LGBTQ people, including children. This includes legislation and other actions that target LGBTQ kids and their parents in states like Texas, Florida, and Utah. Many of these bills seem designed to score political points and win elections. In February, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents and providers of what the letter described as “abusive gender-transitioning procedures,” a move that sent shockwaves around the country for its cruelty, further stigmatizing transgender kids and their families. The order, which obligates teachers, counselors, and even clergy to report gender-affirming care as child abuse could have a chilling effect on whether parents and caregivers feel safe and are able to help children get the care they need to thrive. Research has shown that individualized, age-appropriate gender-affirming care saves lives, so actions like Governor Abbott’s order put those same lives in greater danger.
In Utah, the Republican-dominated state legislature recently succeeded in overriding Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto, thus enacting a ban on transgender girls competing in girls’ school sports, despite the fact that only four transgender kids are playing high school sports statewide, only one of whom plays girls sports. That this ban was enacted anyway is strong evidence that the law is aimed more at creating a political wedge and exploiting fear to rally politicians’ political bases rather than the purported goal of “preserving women’s sports.”
To add even greater urgency, on March 28, Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill, a law opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which forbids “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity … in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” The vagueness of what counts as “classroom instruction” or “age appropriate” raises legitimate concerns that the practical effect of the law will be to make teachers fearful of any type of classroom discussion on these topics.
Thankfully, many people are courageously raising their voices against these exclusionary and often hateful measures, including people of faith. In Texas, numerous clergy have already spoken out against Governor Abbott’s order to investigate gender-affirming care as child abuse, in some cases signaling their intention not to comply with such an immoral reporting requirement. As Rev. Natalie Webb recently told Sojourners, “My commitment to the body of Christ and to the children who are created in God’s image is definitely more important than what the governor thinks.” In Florida, faith leaders from across the state joined student leaders in a “Proud to Say Gay” rally to protest the new bill earlier this month. In other parts of the country where anti-trans legislation has spread in recent years, both transgender and cisgender Christians are fighting for the dignity and rights of transgender kids and adults.
There are many important moral, theological, and practical reasons to oppose the recent anti-trans actions of politicians around the country. First and foremost, the stigma and gender dysphoria that trans kids experience is not just traumatizing; it can be life-threatening. The fact that we live in a nation where 86 percent of trans youth report suicidality and 56 percent of trans youth have attempted suicide is a painful indictment of the way our society so often treats trans people, especially trans kids. The efforts we’ve seen from state legislatures and governors in states like Florida, Texas, and Utah will only exacerbate that harm. From a legal and policy perspective, these measures are both unnecessary and counterproductive to the issues they purport to address. For example, the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” law is being enacted despite state educational standards already in place that help to ensure that topics of instruction and how those topics are discussed are age appropriate.
From a theological and religious perspective, these bills and efforts represent an assault on imago dei and contradict the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40). Transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people, whether children or adults, are all equally created in God’s image and are beloved of God — full stop. We worship a risen savior who modeled for us an ethic of unconditional love and radical inclusion. Jesus spent a disproportionate amount of his brief time in public ministry with and among so many of the most marginalized and ostracized people of his time. As his disciples, we must seek to do the same. Through the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) Jesus calls on us to stretch our understanding of who is our neighbor and deserving of our love and care to include those who are so often deemed the “other,” which for the Jews in the time of Jesus included the despised Samaritans. While some progress has been made, in our time transgender and gender nonconforming people are so often treated as the “other.”
Today provides an urgent reminder that we must work together to ensure that no child or person has to suffer because of who they are. Today and in the days to come, let us work together to affirm and protect the dignity of transgender people and ensure that they are fully valued and included in the Beloved Community that we are working to build.