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The Transgender Body of Christ

As a minister, I am disheartened by the misunderstanding and hate displayed against transgender persons in many states across our country. According to a recent report by the Human Rights Campaign, there are 44 anti-transgender bills being considered in 16 states. Within the last week, 11 states sued the Obama administration in an effort to oppose federal guidelines concerning transgender students use of restrooms and other facilities. Opponents to the equitable inclusion of transgender persons couch their arguments as simple common sense. In doing so, they reveal their dismissal of gender identity at call, by purposely misgendering trans boys and girls. For all the fear-mongering and anti-trans rhetoric that is out there regarding transgender use of public restrooms and in schools—including death threats that are being espoused by so-called “Christians”— people should take a look at how inclusive transgender laws have played out here in California.

California law allows transgender students to choose restrooms and sport teams based on the gender they identify with. In fact, in 2014 we became the first state to enshrine certain rights for transgender kindergarten-through-12th grade students in state law. I hope the rest of the country can come to this position. California’s children are not only safer in schools, but no horror stories emerged that fear-driven and hateful reactionaries claimed would happen. Attorney General Loretta Lynch was correct when she said, “This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them.”

Transgender persons visit restrooms so that they can use them. It’s that simple. It is a complete and utter fiction to associate such usage with violence against children. Rather, it is cisgender persons who continue to threaten transgender youth and adults in and around bathrooms. A 2013 study reported that 77 percent of transgender persons had experience harassment in public restrooms. As others have noted, fears around public bathrooms pre-existed the current inane debate on transgender use, including fears of unisex bathrooms in the 19th and 20th centuries (it may have been what defeated the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s) and race-based segregation through the mid-20th century.

Opponents of transgender inclusion are actively causing psychic and spiritual harm to young people in the sloganeering of “protecting children.” According to the American Psychological Association, using the appropriate restrooms and locker rooms is a key component of successfully transitioning between genders for students. It helps them feel included and not under threat.

In recent weeks around the country, there have been instances of numerous cisgender persons being yelled at by other cisgender persons whom they falsely think are transgender. I ask my siblings in Christ, where is the compassion? Such toxic thoughts and actions inflict wounds on transgender persons, and like a virus clearly spread to damage others that get caught up in their wake.

I’ve heard so many stories of transgender persons feeling that they have to leave their church because of beliefs members have about them. It breaks my heart, and I believe that God weeps whenever someone is made to feel separate from God’s love and welcome. It violates the body of Christ.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught his disciples to expand their circle of inclusion. For him, that meant welcoming those his culture tossed to the margins. Paul took it another step and formed communities in cosmopolitan cities where Jews and Gentiles could live together and eat at the same table. The church is tasked with continuing to broaden horizons where before was a hard boundary. Racial segregation? A violation of each as a beloved child of God. Denying women clergy? A violation of each as a beloved child of God. Hate the sin but love the sinner rhetoric for gay and lesbian persons? A violation of each as a beloved child. We can do better; we can see the demand for dignity of transgender persons as part of the movement of the Spirit; we can not only stop barring the gates; we can push for changes that move us closer to the Beloved Community.

Christians are called to lives of compassion and of supporting the oppressed. They can start small by encouraging the promotion of gender-inclusive restroom signs in their houses of worship. But they don’t have to stop there. We can listen to our transgender siblings, support nondiscrimination against them in the broader society, together working for God’s vision for a just society where none shall make them afraid.

About the Author

The Rev. Dr. Timothy Murphy is Executive Director of Progressive Christians Uniting

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