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Trans rights are not a theological topic of discussion, they are a matter of life and death
Trans teens are killing themselves, and politicians want to make them illegal: now is the time to stand with them.
Before I get started, I want to make something clear: Jesus both acknowledges and affirms that gender exceeds the binary that often constrains it. A simple reading of the Gospel makes it clear that we are to love and side with the most vulnerable among us. And Paul says that church unity is dependent upon giving honor to the most disrespected among us. Today, I am telling you, that the clearest way to follow Jesus and express the Gospel is to love, affirm, and cherish trans folks, and especially trans youth. But unfortunately, Christians seem to be doing the very opposite.
According to one study, “data indicate that 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted suicide, with suicidality highest among transgender youth.” And of course, this isn’t surprising and it is likely to get worse: the assault on trans rights is happening across the U.S. and trans youth are the most victimized. As seen below, the issues don’t stop at J.K. Rowling or reactionaries like Matt Walsh – their bigotry is being legislated.
Not only have bans on aspects of trans life been codified into law – from a column in the New York Times, “There are sports bills, birth certificate and pronoun bills, drag bills, bathroom bills, ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills” – trans health care is being legislated against too. The largest threats to trans youth and their families are“aggressive efforts to outlaw what’s known as gender-affirming care for minors — a range of interventions from talk therapy and social transition, such as adopting a name, clothing style or pronoun without any medical treatment, to puberty blockers and, for older kids, hormones.”
Moreover, the publication I just quoted, covers trans issues as if they are abstract, and “both sides” the issue in a way that makes it a matter of public debate—not life or death. To be clear, the issues at hand are not whether or not we can watch or read Harry Potter, or whether we are being too harsh to transphobic people or people “just asking questions,” but rather the health, and life and death of trans youth.
Their lives depend on our support, but Christians lead the way in both the assault on their rights and debating their very livelihood. Most of us are not as brazenly hateful as Matt Walsh, but in my experience, even well-intentioned Christians harm trans people by not taking a side, as Brian Zahnd demonstrates here.
A lot of the debate gets lots on arguments about a lack of research on things like puberty blockers and hormones – I want to emphasize that while it is important for trans health to be researched as much as anyone else’s health – the material reality of the suicidality of trans children and the attempts to literally criminalize them and their parents is a need more pressing than any other. There’s nothing wrong with doing more research (which, by the way, the aforementioned legislation makes impossible), but to claim we need to do more research before we take care of our trans youth, is a lethal argument.
Trans people and their rights are often disregarded in our society because they they make up such a small percentage of our population. I’ve even heard pastors say “why are we devoting this much time to a group that makes up such a small percentage?” The idea is that they aren’t worth the sweat, and the effort. Here’s what NBA legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, has to say about it:
“The first step in marginalizing a group and justifying curbing their rights is to identify them as a small and therefore powerless group outside the mainstream. However, most marginalized groups can be designated as small in relationship to others: Jews, Muslims, Latinx, LGBTQ+, the elderly.”
Not only is Kareem great at basketball, he’s both prolific and insightful here. Minorities are marginalized because people dismiss them because they don’t make up the majority of society. Their needs aren’t put up as highly as the rest. But trans people are our neighbors, our co-workers, our family, our children. They must be cared for like anyone else. Their needs much be especially prioritized because they are so often dismissed. Once again, this isn’t a theological or abstract matter: it is a matter of life and death.
Christians, however, miss this point. All over, many of them wonder and speculate about the harm done to gender identity. Not only is this the result of their fear, it is all deeply rooted in a homophobic and patriarchal understanding of the Bible. It is a shame that those leading the death march against trans folks are Christians, because Jesus has such a different approach to the most persecuted among us.
It is time for Christians to listen to trans folks and their allies and allow them to lead us. If we care about life and defeating death, then trans rights must matter to us. Jesus saw people beyond the gender binary and called us to love the most vulnerable among us. It’s time to stop engaging in the culture war, and prioritize the life and health of trans folks among us.