In the United States, much of the conversation around faith is dominated by conservative voices, voices that often argue for policies that restrict the rights of people in our communities. Through Progressive Voices of Faith, Pacific School of Religion (PSR) seeks to amplify the faith-based perspectives of progressives on politically and culturally relevant issues.
This month we spoke with the PSR community about the fight for the establishment and expansion of rights for transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) people. This fight is more vital than ever: 2021 was the deadliest year on record for trans and GNC people and, sadly 2022 isn’t far behind. It’s no coincidence that more state bills seeking to curtail LGBTQ+ rights have been introduced in 2022 than any previous year, the majority targeting trans and nonbinary people and almost all backed by religious arguments.
This urgency was felt deeply within the PSR community with 70% of respondents saying that protecting and expanding the rights of trans and GNC people was either their top social and policy concern or among their top four.
Hope for the future was more mixed. Asked whether they felt U.S. policy and opinion were moving towards a consensus that would make the country a safe and equitable place for trans and GNC people, just over half felt that we were either moving in that direction or would eventually get there. Twenty-one percent feared the country was moving backward.
Many pointed to the recent restrictions on reproductive rights in the wake of the Dobbs decision as a sign that rights for other historically marginalized groups were also in danger. Current student CJ Dunford interrogated the question itself saying, “In reflecting on this question, I’d counter with these questions: since the […] founding of the U.S., has our popular policy and opinion moved towards a consensus that has made the country a safe and equitable place for the poor? For women? For BIPOC families and communities? For religious minorities, especially Muslim communities? To simply answer yes to the example question and my corresponding questions requires a great deal of privilege and naivety.”
Others saw hope in the expansion of acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights by younger generations. Musician, activist, and PSR student Ryan Cassata said “The trans community has come extremely far since I have come out 15 years+ ago […] visibility has allowed for some victories and also some setbacks. We have a long way to go but we are going there…”
Almost everyone agreed that their own understanding of gender and the need for rights and protections for trans and GNC people had evolved over their lifetimes. Some who are trans, GNC, or nonbinary took years or even decades to understand their own identities. Current student Rabbah Rona Matlow said that ze, “Didn’t even know I was trans until I was 55. It wasn’t until then that I became woke.”
Others’ views accelerated through relationships with friends and loved ones who are trans or GNC. A PSR staff member said, “For much of my life I did not give much thought to the rights and experiences of trans/non-binary folks – there was no one close to me who was openly trans, nor was I in a place where [there] was much open debate around the issue of trans rights. When I met my now husband towards the beginning of his transition, I still had only a vague idea of the depth of struggle and discrimination that trans folks face, and while there is still so much I will never understand, I have also been given a glimpse into the challenges (and joys) of the trans experience. Even in an extremely progressive area, there is still so much that is lacking – from health care professionals who have little knowledge about how to care for trans bodies, to “inclusive” faith communities whose commitment to allyship begins and ends with including pronouns on name tags.”
Alumnx Renie Kirk said, “My understanding has expanded and grown exponentially! I am so grateful to my trans brothers and sisters for sharing with me their stories so that I could have a better understanding. I am also so grateful to those who published their stories, and those who did research to educate those of us who had no knowledge.”
Staff member Maij Vu Mai said that their, “Understanding has shifted away from ‘gender rights & protection’ language to ‘gender justice & liberation’ language over time.” Saying that “While rights and protection are indeed critical to the survivorship of trans and GNC folks, gender justice and liberation goes beyond the securing of rights for trans and GNC folks and moves into this idea/theory that every person should have the freedom and space to explore who they are gender wise, outside of the bounds of social gender constructs.”
We also asked our community to share language or arguments they’ve found most helpful in countering the dominant conservative Christian rhetoric supporting the restriction of rights for trans, GNC, and other LGBTQ+ people. Many said they ask simply, “What would Jesus do?” Current student Rosanne Siino elaborated, “I don’t see any evidence in the Gospels that Jesus would condemn people who were trans or gender nonconforming, but rather, a command to love and a modeling of radical love.”
Others reminded us to trust in God’s creation. “Gender and sexual diversities are part of the divine’s blessings,” said Alumnx Debra H. Mai asked, “If God is infinite possibility and makes miracles possible wouldn’t it make sense for gender to also exist as infinite possibility and for trans and GNC folks to be witnessed as gender miracles?”
Many quoted God’s many entreatments simply to love each other including, “Love thy neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:36-40) and “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” (John 13:34).
Cassata who has a global platform through his music and activism has a direct and personal approach, “Sharing who I am, my story, and educating people, has helped to change hearts and minds.”
A closing message from PSR President Rev. David Vásquez-Levy, “The strongest arguments against full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people continue to be made on religious terms, undermining positive progress in law and politics. PSR is leading the way to make the case for inclusion on religious terms through its educational programs, and particularly through the work of the Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS).”
Read more Progressive Voices of Change
Below is a list of further resources and books shared by the PSR community