Page: Faith not an excuse for anti-transgender bills

From The Houston Chronicle:

By Jonathan Page
July 27, 2017

Faith is used often as an excuse for bigotry. Religion can be wielded like a weapon, to put down the humanity of others, and to justify an agenda that coincides with one’s personal feelings on a group of people. One needs only to look at the current debate over transgender Texans’ right to use the restroom that matches their identity. Or rather, the debate over whether transgender Texans deserve to be a part of public life.

 I am a pastor of a church and the leader of an interfaith organization, and for me, my faith calls me to affirm and embrace my transgender neighbors, not single them out for discrimination, often under the guise of religion.

In my work, I have had some of my most personally and professionally fulfilling conversations with people who are vastly different than me, because they have challenged me to think about the diversity of all of our lived experiences. When I think about the shameful amounts of discrimination that face transgender Texans, it creates a powerful response from the core of my being: a response that is rooted in the fact that we are all God’s children, and that we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. You see, my faith tells me that it is an unequivocal teaching of Jesus that we must stand with those who are marginalized. In Matthew 25, Jesus clearly says to his followers: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” This is not to say that LGBTQ people are any less than anyone, but that they are part of a marginalized community; one that we, as Christians, must care for as we care for ourselves. The model of Jesus could not be clearer: he cared most deeply for (and spent the most time with) the supposed “outcasts” of society, because he understood that it is difficult to live a life under a dark cloud of others’ judgment and scorn. Those who use Bible verses and the pulpit to preach otherwise are working to further an untruth, a fictional narrative that only serves to harm those most in need of our care and understanding.

Bills such as SB3 are un-Christian and unconscionable. This bill, introduced by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, with the backing of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would require discrimination against transgender people and rip away non-discrimination protections from millions of Texans. And, they’re a solution in search of a problem. Let’s be clear: There is only one possible angle for this, and that is to justify a policy that endorses hatred for trans people.

My first experience with a transgender person was in graduate school. Talking to Scott, you would have had no idea that he was trans. He was a faithful Lutheran with an insightful theological mind and a great sense of humor. He was also perfectly willing to answer any question I had about his transition and his life experience. Knowing Scott changed my perspective, and I promise you that if you take the time to get to know a transgender person and listen to their story, your perspective will be changed as well. This is personal. It involves the lives of real people – my friends.

The least you can do is to listen before you judge.

These anti-transgender bills are the lowest form of political pandering: creating an issue that doesn’t exist, scapegoating an entire population and seeking a remedy that would force transgender people out of public life. If a person can’t use the bathroom, they can’t go to work, they can’t go to school, they can’t see a movie. It’s a dark, insidious way of saying to trans people: This society is not for you. As a Texan, and as a person of faith, I reject that.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Listening to transgender people and their allies speaking at a Senate hearing against SB3 and SB91, I heard similar refrains: the hate from society toward trans people leads to an increase in anxiety, fear, depression and suicide, simply because it is exhausting and scary to even exist while trans. Why would we pursue a law that would exacerbate this issue?

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