Why The Christian Backlash Against Trans People?

As a Christian, and someone who was in some fundamentalist circles, I think I can answer this. It’s kind of puzzling to watch the hatred against trans people. Oh, we all know that some Christians interpret some verses as God’s prohibition against homosexuality (of course not all Christians do). When you think the Bible literally says that God will punish gays, of course you would think being gay is wrong. Now, I’m not going to argue against this here, although I clearly disagree with those who see God hating homosexuality (I used to believe that hogwash; then I learned to actually think and read and judge independent of what I was “supposed” to believe according to some leader; I also started voting non-Republican sometimes, as I also couldn’t find the 11th Commandment, Thou Shall Vote Republican, in the Bible either).

But I know the language and I thought like these people still think.  So I think I have some insight that non-Christians might lack in understanding the double-talk and coded language surrounding gays and trans people.

Display in Gamarelli shop window of Papal vestments. (Licensed CC-Attribution-Generic 2.0. Creator was Anthony M.)

That lacy garment is not a woman’s dress!  This display in Gamarelli shop window of Papal vestments. (Licensed CC-Attribution-Generic 2.0. Creator was Anthony M.)

The question that comes to mind is: so, what’s the issue with trans people? The verses about gays don’t talk about trans people. At best, you can find something about cross-dressers in Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this” (NIV).  But, this verse isn’t what you’ll hear quoted by Christians who object to trans people.  After all, Jesus fulfilled the law (which includes Deuteronomy) so we are no longer bound by it, but are now bound by the new covenant. Yes, that’s a bunch of coded language, but it basically means Christians can ignore the parts of the old testament we don’t like (yes, it’s more complex than that, but I’m simplifying as I don’t think I’ve heard this much used against trans people, because it is old, not new, testament).  Besides, I’d have to ask about the picture to the right – and see what the pope wears. It sure looks similar in style to some of the clothing I’ve seen very conservative Christian women wear! And certainly if you wore that type of clothes out of context, people would think “dress”, not “papal vestment!”

As I’ve mentioned, this isn’t the problem people seem to have with trans people. It’s not because God “despises” trans people (most Christians would say God loves trans people, even if they themselves think the trans person is going to hell and committing a huge sin). Perhaps this is because of what comes just afew sentences later in Deuteronomy 22 – the section around verses 20 and 21 in particular:

If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.

Nevermind that good ‘ol Mom & Dad are supposed to know if she’s a virgin and have the proof – go look at verses 13 through 15 for how that was to be done:

If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” then the young woman’s father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin.

This “proof” was a bloody cloth. I don’t know any Christians who keep bloody cloth as proof of virginity of their daughter at time of marriage. Or, thankfully, any that will stone their daughter (although I know plenty that will shame a woman – and never mind that there are ways that the hymen could be broken or stretched beyond consensual intercourse). Also nevermind that heterosexual intercourse (particularly with a man who is gentile and who listens to the woman) won’t necessarily cause bleeding even if a woman still has a supposedly “intact” hymen (you did get your sex ed somewhere other than porn or Texas, so you know this, I hope…and you know that a hymen may stretch, not rip, if the man is not rough [see this video])? Never let a little science get into the way of obsessing over virginity! Besides, who says the blood actually has to come from the hymen to make the sheet bloody (it appears that some women actually cut themselves to bleed on the sheets to provide this proof)? Regardless, this is a ritual I’ve not seen encouraged by the modern Church in general, so I’m not surprised the part right before it – about clothing choice – is also similarly dismissed. Oh, and the fact that 80% of unmarried Christians age 18 to 29 have had sex (that means it’s probably much higher by the late 20s than 80%) probably doesn’t hurt in getting people to ignore this.

So, what’s the issue?

It’s gays. Yep, gays. Now I can hear it now, “trans is not gay!” Of course it isn’t (and, yes, I know that a trans person can be gay).

In the last few years, same-sex marriage has become legal in much of the United States and elsewhere. The US federal government recognizes it, as of this summer. And that’s a good thing. So what does it have to do with trans people?

It’s simple: it’s the argument against gay marriage. There are religious arguments against gay marriage, but most people know that someone who doesn’t follow their faith isn’t going to put a lot of stock in these arguments, so they turn to what they think is a secular argument. This is where we get to the doozy: men and women are different and complimentary. This is the key to understanding the Christian backlash against trans people.

You see, you’ll hear statements like “every child needs a mom and a dad.” This is apparently the less-noticably-bigoted way to say “a kid needs straight parents.” It’s also exceptionally offensive not only to gay and lesbian parents, but also to widowed and divorced parents. But this argument persists – the idea is simple: moms (women) bring one set of gifts to a family, and dads (men) bring a completely different, but just as necessary, set of gifts. If you have two moms, you have the maternal, but you’ll be hurt in life by not having the paternal. And, likewise, having two dads will leave you missing the maternal.

Of course this is hogwash. But it is the kind of “common sense” hogwash that people use to hide bigotry. “Oh, I’m not saying gays can’t be good parents. I’m just saying that a man can’t provide what a woman can and visa-versa. You need both.”

Obviously this type of thing is also exceptionally sexist – what things can’t a man provide? Sometimes, these are very generally described, or, more often, not described at all. After all, not every family with a mom and dad has a man earning money and a woman cooking food. And plenty of men can be nurturing, kind, emotional, and all sorts of other things supposedly only women do. And plenty of women can protect, provide, and guide their child – despite these being supposedly manly tasks.

But, regardless of problems, this is the view. God made women to do women things. God made men to do men things. It was ordained by God (in their eyes).

So, where does a trans person fit in? First, they might identify as neither man or woman – that is, non-binary. But God’s plan, in the eyes of some Christian, requires rigid separation of roles. And, if you are arguing that gays can’t provide everything a child would need without a woman, you can’t believe that a gender lines aren’t fixed or rigid and absolute. You have to believe they are rigid and absolute. A gay dad couldn’t cross over and be nurturing (note that I don’t buy this, and I don’t find anything non masculine about being nurturing). To some Christians, the dad isn’t supposed to do these things. He’s supposed to do “man” things. So that leaves a gap. A non-binary person could, in theory, do both “man” and “woman” things. We can’t have that, because then if one was in a relationship they wouldn’t need anyone else to raise a kid . Supposedly.

That may not yet make sense, so let me talk about the binary, transsexual person. That is, someone who identifies as a binary gender. The very existence of this person means a few things: first, it means we might have women that look like men (as do most transwomen before they express a feminine gender identity, as most are raised as boys and then men). After all, someone might be a woman inside, but might be living as a man. How would we know it’s not a lesbian relationship if this person married a woman (just joking here – the Christians I’m talking about don’t think that deeply)?  No, rather, the problem is that, to them, there is no longer any way of objectively verifying someone’s gender – instead you have to ask. This causes too many questions, and questions in a path they don’t want to go down. For instance, if someone could marry heterosexually as a man, but then gets divorced and transitions to a woman, should she marry a man or a woman? Did she suddenly lose all the “man” skills and gain all the “woman” skills? Or did she have the woman skills all along, but lacked the man skills – and, if so, did she, before transition…well, the questions go on. And this challenges beliefs. It turns out you start thinking about what are gender roles and where did they come from. And that starts you questioning this fixed, rigid roles.

Again, however, it’s not that complicated to these people. Trans people, like gays, challenge the ideas of gender. They challenge the idea that there are certain things that are man-only and certain things that are woman-only. Gays do it by being attracted to a guy (in some Christians’ eyes, this is something only women should do). Lesbians do it by being attracted to a woman (again, something some think only men should do). And if they raise kids or otherwise participate in society, somehow the important stuff gets done. Even the stuff that someone might think is “womanly” like cooking or nurturing. And the stuff someone might think is “manly” like protection and providing.

Trans people challenges these thoughts by essentially saying, “You don’t know who I am, you just know who you thought I was. And you have to take my word for who I am.” And, to someone who is already transphobic and thinks being trans is just a random choice, this sounds like, “I can be a man or I can be a woman.” Of course intersex and non-binary people also cause this problem.

But much of it traces back to this idea that men and women have different roles in the family, and thus a feeling of justification in opposing gay rights (see, I care about the children). And back from there to just plain sexism. And, yes, it’s as ugly as it seems.


On the Nature of Hate

I’ll warn people.  This is a hard post, particularly if you know or are trans.  If you’re feeling bad right now, this post can wait.

Cassidy Lynn Campbell, a 16 year old high school girl, won her homecoming court vote and was crowned Homecoming Queen.  The problem in the eyes of the narrow-minded is that she’s trans.  Watch her explain what it was like to win (hint: pretty awful) in this article.

I know exactly what is bothering her.  It’s not any one particular comment.  It’s all of them.  It’s not the needle on the camel’s back, it’s the 200 tones of iron on the camel’s back.

Now, go to Youtube and read the comments.

Seriously, go read the comments.  Just some of them.  I’d recommend leaving a nice one and using your effort to support Cassidy, not to get into a fight, even though if you have a shred of humanity, you’ll want to.  I’m about as non-violent as a person can be, and I’m pretty sure I’d be willing to hit someone for some of the stuff people are saying in respond to someone who is obviously very deeply wounded.

Did you read the comments?

If not, here’s just a random sampling.  Here’s one:

The only one who thinks he’s ‘beautiful’ are the exact same cabal of misfits he doesn’t care about impressing.

No, he wants Average Joe to accept his monstrosity, and we never will, not even with the last breath of life.

This is another gem:

I think he’s a little old to be playing pretend.

Or this:

This ‘girl’ has a penis and needs to die.

Or how about this one:

No, HE is attention whoring

These were the less vile of the negative comments.

There’s a theme here.  When many people see or hear about a trans person, the immediate thought that goes through many people’s heads, particularly if they lack any understanding of gender or sexuality, is, “I need to state my opinion.” I don’t know why the less you know, the more you speak up, but that seems to be human nature.

Linked to this is an idea that somehow something bad will happen to you or the world if you don’t “express the truth” – that is, it’s a moral duty to say, “NO, this person isn’t a woman, he’s a man!” (I’m assuming the trans person is a transwoman – that is someone who’s identity is that of a woman). So the hateful people can’t seem to resist saying something. They can’t resist doing something, whether it is a microagression such as “accidentally” calling the woman “sir” or a full-fledged attack like is happening on this girl’s YouTube comment section. There’s something very human about not wanting to see a “falsehood” portrayed.

And, in many people’s eyes, trans people are living a lie.

I’m not going to debate this now, except very quickly. Trans people often do live a lie. They live as the gender that people want them to be. You see, you get less shit from people if you you live as a man if you were originally thought to be a boy at birth. Heck, one of the worst insults you can tell a non-trans teenage boy is that he’s a girl! So many transwomen do the hyper-masculine thing – they join the army, they work in a manly job, they have sex with plenty of women, they get drunk and party, and otherwise act as the stereotypical man. And, for many, this path leads to destruction, even death, due to the conflict it has. If you’re a non-trans guy, think for a minute about living as a woman the rest of your life – heck, do it for one evening. Go put on a dress and go to a bar. I’ll bet you don’t have the nerve. I certainly wouldn’t have it. It takes a pretty powerful biological (yes, it is biological) force to go against this type of pressure in society. Trans people know they aren’t supposed to be trans in the eyes of society. In fact, there are few things worse in many people’s eyes than someone saying, “I’m not a man. I’m a woman.” And transmen have similar problems too.

So, when a trans person gets the incredible courage to live as who they are, that’s a wonderful thing. It’s the only way to be at peace – to be who you are. No amount of anti-trans conversion therapy will do it (trust me, many have tried). You have to be who you are. And we need to encourage that.

Except we don’t. We (I use this in the general, society sense) make life hell for people who transition. We keep reminding them that we disapprove. Whenever a trans person is misgendered (called “sir” if they are a transwoman, for instance), that’s not merely expressing a view or moral belief. No, it’s heard as it usually is intended (even when not intended) as: “You disgust me. You shouldn’t exist. You are so horrible you need to hide from society.”

I know trans people that literally can’t go out of their house for a shopping trip without this happening to them multiple times. Now I can hear the objections now – and I’ll tell you something: the objections are just as hurtful. The first objection I hear some thinking is, “Maybe it was an honest mistake.” Maybe it was. But it’s still hurtful. Incredibly hurtful. I’ll give you a hint: if you accidentally injured someone, maybe in a car accident in which you were at fault, what would your response be? Would it be, “Well, I didn’t mean to injure you, so you aren’t allowed to be mad at me?” I would hope not. I would hope it would be to try to help this person that was hurt as a result of your unintentional mistake. Likewise, if you misgender someone, realize that this causes pain. Yes, it’s a different kind of pain than a car accident injury, but it’s still pain. It’s horrible because you weren’t the only one to do it. It’s happened to almost every trans person tens of thousands of times. And many of those times weren’t accidental denials of the person’s identity, but full-fledged attacks on that identity. Own up to your mistake, don’t justify it.

Now imagine that having someone use your previous name or the wrong pronouns is hurting you in this profound, cut-the-soul sort of way. Imagine that you do something like purchase a nice set of clothing that flatters your body and makes you feel great about yourself. You’re really happy with how elegant or nice it looks. And someone then comes up and, despite the obvious cues of the clothes, calls you by the wrong name or pronouns. Imagine how crushed you were. You thought these clothes made you look even more like yourself. And someone just took that away. They took the joy and confidence right from you. When this type of thing happens at a place you enjoy, or during an activity that you enjoy doing, it taints that place and activity. This place now is a place of pain. Something that brought joy now reminds the person of pain. Even if it was “accidental.”

But of course much of the time, it isn’t accidental. It’s the desire for “truth” and the desire to express an “opinion.” Some people can’t leave well enough alone. No, they need to make sure that the person knows they don’t approve. Oh, if they get called out, it’ll be an accident. Or they’ll pull the next excuse: “I don’t have to agree with that lifestyle” or “we have different opinions” or some other appeal to diversity and the right of free thought.

Sure, people have the right to their opinions.  But I also have the right to call them an asshole when they are being one. And they don’t have the right to not be treated as the asshole you are if you do this. They also don’t have the right to abuse someone, opinion or not. And, yes, taking the joy and confidence from someone is abuse.

I’ve also seen people say the most inappropriate things to allies, friends, and family of trans people. I’ve seen people explain that, “I would have a problem going out with a woman who didn’t have woman parts.” That’s wonderful to tell me, but I can’t say I really wanted to know what genitals turn you on or don’t turn you on. And, as an ally to transwomen, what I hear you saying is, “The women I want closest to me need to turn me on sexually. And without this type of turn on, I don’t want them close.” That’s misogynistic and bigotted. Really. Even if you can’t help it. Imagine you’re dating someone from a different race and someone of your race comes up to you and says, “I couldn’t see being attracted to <insert race here> women. They just don’t turn me on.” That would be offensive, even if you couldn’t help being a bigot. Now, I’m not telling anyone who to date or not to date, and I think sometimes people flatter themselves if they think they would be the one that would do the rejection. But I am saying this type of thing is just plain not appropriate. But strangely it seems to be yet one more tolerated expression of bigotry. Ironically, it seems to typically be prefaced with, “I’m fine with trans people…but…”

I’ve seen others tell trans people things like, “Oh, you’re going to get a security clearance? I hear they let gays do that now.” Another news flash: not all trans people are gay! Most are probably straight. That is a trans person identifying as a woman would probably want to date guys. That’s straight. Woman + Man = straight (just in case you have problems with this type of thing). Of course she might instead want to date women. Then she’s lesbian. Or she might be interested in some men and some women. Then she’s bi. It’s really pretty simple. But people make two assumptions: first, they assume that most people are straight. Second, they assume the only reason someone would want to live as a gender other than what they were assigned at birth is because they really want to have sex with people of the same sex. So they are gay (these people are baffled when the trans person is gay – that is attracted to someone of the same gender they identify as themself, because “you already have the parts you need” – again assuming straight sex is the only kind of sex people would want).  Except it doesn’t work that way!

When that isn’t happening, we get well-meaning missionary-types (not usually missionaries, but people who think that somehow God can’t possibly reach people without their help). That’s the kind of people who have to “speak the truth in love.” I’ll give a hint to Christians here (I say this as a Christian, albeit one that some who base their faith on the tenant of hating gays and trans people probably think is going to hell): figure out love. Not the “truth in love”. Just plain love. Start with love.

This kind of stuff isn’t cool. People don’t need to tell a trans person that they don’t think the trans person is really are who the trans person says they are. Really, it isn’t needed. And people can be sincerely sorry and try to repair the situation when they cause hurt. Even accidental hurt. Allies and trans people don’t really want to know that someone “sees trans people as they identify, except in bed.” Really, that’s sort of like saying, “I’m not attracted to <insert race here>.” Most people know to keep their mouth shut. For good reason. Nor do people need to deny that trans people are who they are by claiming (without knowing) that they are actually gay. And, really, Jesus didn’t talk about trans people. At all.

Oh, there’s plenty of other hate too.

What is happening to Cassidy is horrifying. I hope if she reads this post, she can know that people do support her right to be who she is (and we wouldn’t want her to be anyone else), and are in awe of her courage. And that people she doesn’t even know feel a connection and concern for her. I’ve been depressed and suicidal – not because of gender, but because of other bullying and abuse. I know how incredibly horrible that world is. And I know how horrible people are to trans people in general. Sure, 99 people at the grocery store are fine. But it only takes one person misgendering you to ruin that day. And there always seems to be one. I personally can’t imagine how hard that is to face every day. I know Cassidy can do it, and I hope if she reads this that she finds something – anything – to look forward to for one more day. For me, when I was being sexually and emotionally and physically abused, it was wanting to see the next Star Trek episode. Seriously. I’d kill myself after the next episode. But I delayed it – I found something to delay it. And after the next episode, I tried to find something else. And there is something else. There needs to be. When we get into that situation, we need to find anything, no matter how stupid or trivial, to make it to another moment. And I hope and pray that Cassidy can do that.

American Owned

You’ll see the signs still in some places.  Most of the time, “American Owned” hanging on a convenience store window or hotel means one thing: “We’re white.”  It’s racism, plain and simple, and carries the implication that someone who isn’t white can’t possibly be American.

About 10 years ago, on election day, I went to my favorite restaurant.  The shop owner, a Vietnamese man, was in the process of becoming a citizen while legally operating his business.  He came over, but rather than ask if I wanted my “usual,” he asked if I voted yet.  When I said I hadn’t, he firmly told me that he would not be serving me until I had done so.  At first, I thought he was joking and explained that I would vote, just not before eating! He insisted.  He told me about the process he was going through to become a citizen and that I, as a citizen, have a responsibility to America to go and discharge my citizenship duties. He said, “I can’t vote, but I can get people who can to do so.” Clearly, this man wanted to vote, and I know (he is now a very proud citizen) that he proudly votes in every election.

I left, voted, and came back later. I got a free meal for it.

When I think of people coming to America, I always think of this man. He worked harder than most people I know. Hard work is American, right? He ran a successful business in the free market, by providing what people wanted for a price they would pay. That’s American, right? He is more patriotic than most. That’s American, right? He recognized the good about America. That’s American, right? He’s exactly the kind of person that makes America into America. I don’t know what his religions was, but I do know that he didn’t look white. And, in my mind’s eye, I can see a competitor hanging a sign that says, “American Owned” in the window when the competitor cannot compete on the basis of a superior product at a superior value.

In WWII, we saw the enemy of the Japanese. Heck, we saw the enemy of the Japanese-American. We locked Japanese into internment camps. This was while we were fighting the Nazis who were sure that race mattered. Apparently, it didn’t just matter to them.

During WWII, the 100th Infantry was made up of Japanese Americans, fighting two wars: the war against the Axis and the war for recognition as full Americans. By all accounts, they fought hard and incredibly bravely. TWENTY ONE of the members of this battalion received the Medal of Honor during WWII. TWENTY ONE! This is the highest possible military honor in the United States. It’s awarded for the often dismissed phrase, valor “above and beyond the call of duty.” To put in perspective how high of an honor this award represents, a four-star general will salute a private, even if in civilian clothing, who is wearing the medal. I know a white veteran who was in Italy while the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a part of the 100th, was also there. I can assure you that nobody will insult a Japanese American in his presence without finding out the full story of what our fellow Americans did there.

But there’s more to this story. Those 21 medals? 20 were not awarded until 2000, because these men were ignored – due to race, according to the commission investigating in 1998 – despite tremendous valor deserving of the award. It took us 50+ years to recognize the heroes of the 100th. Of course there’s other awards, too, that many were deserving of.  The 442nd is, for the size and length of service, the most decorated unit in US military history.

But, in WWII, these brave men were the enemy. They had the skin color of our declared enemy. They weren’t Americans, they were the enemy. They weren’t “us.”

Of course Japanese-Americans weren’t the only ones treated this way. We did it to blacks and Asians (and still do). And today, it’s popular to treat Hispanic Americans and Muslim Americans the same way.  For instance, what could be more American than singing the American Anthem? Apparently you are not to do that dressed as anything but a western European:

Sebastien, the boy in the above video, is as American as anyone else. He’s a citizen, born in Texas. Yet, he was attacked online for being “Mexican” and non-American. Fortunately, the San Antonio Spurs basketball team responded in the perfect way: they asked him to come back and sing again.

Yet, a positive response by a sports team doesn’t erase racism. It’s still here.

We saw that again with the Miss America Pageant when an Indian-American woman won. Among the racist tweets and statements were many that assumed Nina was an Arab Muslim, a common mistake made by racists. Apparently, in their America, a Muslim or an Arab couldn’t represent America. After all, Muslim Arabs are terrorists, and so are people who look like them. And thus they are the Japanese of the 21st century.

It’s time to stop this cycle of hate. No, it’s not about whether she was Arab or Indian. She’s American. That’s what this needs to be about. And whether she believes in Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Athiesm, or something else, she’s still an American. We’re a diverse country. With Muslims. That aren’t terrorists.

And, lest you think this attitude towards Muslims by an American is a new, liberal idea, check out this article by the Huffington Post. The founding fathers knew Muslims existed – they weren’t as stupid as some think. And they built a country that was supposed to recognize them as full Americans.

Not everyone wants that America, though. And rather than claim to be destroying the foundational principles of America, those who don’t want it hide behind the flag and patriotism, claiming they want “Americans” to represent America, when what they really mean is only white Christian people should represent America. Their “patriotism” needs to be called out as the bigotry that it is.

Insubordination, Ministers, and the Eighty (or ninth) Commandment

A former teacher in NYC seems to have won the first round in court against her former employer, a Catholic high school that she alleges discriminated against her on the basis of gender identity, something highly protected in New York City.  See the TV station video here.

St. Francis Prepatory School in Queens.  Picture by Jim Henderson, public domain.

St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens. Picture by Jim Henderson, public domain.

From what I can tell, there are two objections – the one that everyone thinks about and the other one.  The one everyone thinks about is something called the ministerial exception – that is, a church does not need to follow non-discrimination law when it comes to their ministers and others who are key parts of their religious institution.  For instance, a church can refuse to hire blacks to work as ministers, if their religion believes only whites should be ministers.  That’s perfectly legal, even though religious employers cannot discriminate in this way.  Does this privilege apply to a school?  I’ll talk about that in a second.

First, though, the reason the Catholic high school used initially to battle it: they claim she wasn’t fired for being trans, but for being insubordinate.  Are they lying?  I’m going to give them a lot of benefit of doubt and say, “Okay, let’s take their claim at face value.  Let’s for a minute assume they didn’t fire her because of Catholic beliefs about gender.

They claim it was insubordination.  Now, this former teacher accuses the school of telling her she was worse than gay (and you know they think gay is bad).  That sounds like something different than insubordination. But the judge phrased it best when he said, according to video on the ABC website, “Insubordination after 32 years of teaching? And the insubordination seems to coincide with the expression of being transgender?” Exactly.

But let’s move onto the issue of ministerial exception.  If they did fire her because of her gender identity, they are lying.  Lying is covered by one of the commandments (I say one because it’s the ninth for many Christian faiths, but the eighth for Catholics).  Interestingly, this commandment is usually translated as something similar to “thou shall not bear false witness.”  Yes, witness.  As in someone testifying in court.  As the Catholic’s Catechism (the church’s teachings on doctrine) paragraph 2476 explains:

False witness and perjury. When it is made publicly, a statement contrary to the truth takes on a particular gravity. In court it becomes false witness. When it is under oath, it is perjury. Acts such as these contribute to condemnation of the innocent, exoneration of the guilty, or the increased punishment of the accused. They gravely compromise the exercise of justice and the fairness of judicial decisions.

Let’s ignore this seemingly problematic passage however, and say that the school also claimed ministerial exception – as they in fact did.

There’s a key test for ministerial exception: it has to be a religious position.  For instance, a mosque could absolutely refuse to hire a Christian to lead services.  But it gets more tricky when it’s things like schools and hospitals.

Now, for some places, like hospitals, it’s pretty clear.  The only hospital in your city may be owned by the Catholic Church.  Can they refuse to hire a gay doctor?  Generally, no.  The reason is simple: it’s probably not wholly religious in purpose.  They probably hire non-Catholic doctors, something you wouldn’t do for someone entrusted to teach the faith.  You don’t get to have it both ways with the ministerial exception – either religion is important to you or it’s not in a given position, but you don’t get to say, “Oh, suddenly we care about this.”  In addition, the person actually needs to be engaged in the religious element of the institution’s mission.  So it doesn’t apply to a doctor generally, who is not teaching Catholic doctrine.

In addition, the hospital’s mission is not expressly religious.  You can tell this by their sign.  For instance, a nearby hospital to me is “Exempla Lutheran Medical Center.”  Would you believe it’s owned by Catholics (it used to be Lutheran)?  How about the “Exempla Physician Network?”  Does that sound religious?  By choosing, among other things, secular or non-Catholic names, they in effect are saying, “This isn’t just for Catholics and not about teaching Catholicism.”  Or they are being at best dishonest in their naming, through neglecting to mention their real mission!

I’d add that we don’t always get the luxury of choosing where we go in a medical emergency (and many people live in places that only have a single hospital).  Medical care is pretty important and we don’t generally think discrimination there is good (that said, the Catholics can and do discriminate based on their beliefs).

But what about a Catholic school?  I admit, I’ve got mixed feelings here.  In the US, we have public schools, so it’s not like a hospital where you can end up without you or your parents actually making a conscious choice. Now, an employee doesn’t have the same choices necessarily, but it is a bit different in character than a hospital.  That said, the question comes down to: is the person employed in a religious capacity?  Or are they there to teach math?  If they teach math all day, every day, then clearly they aren’t a religious minister.  They are a math teacher.  And thus, no, the Catholics cannot fire on the basis of age, family status, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, etc.  The burden is then on the Catholic institution to prove that this person is, in fact, a minister (used as a generic term, not a specific position).

Is it right for the government to tell a private employer what to do?  That’s a whole different discussion. But I do know that if we didn’t do that, it would be a lot harder for women, muslims, disabled people, gay people, etc, to get work.  And I personally don’t think we’d be better for it.

Another Bad Month

candleAugust was another bad month for trans people.

When I recount the violence I know about, remember that many crimes against trans people go unreported, don’t get media attention, or are treated as ordinary violence in media reports.  Sadly, the majority of crime against trans people falls into this unreported and ignored category.

Even so, what is reported is horrifying and shows us, again, that we need to continue to fight for trans people.  Not for marriage.  Not for employment.  Not for bathroom access.  Just for the right for trans people to exist.  Just to exist.

As always, I strive to respect who people are.  Unfortunately, the preferred gender identities, names, and pronouns of victims are not always evident from reports.  In addition, some cultures have different views among trans people of who they are – all the world doesn’t view gender as western society does.  I’ve tried to be respectful of people, and am sorry that not everything linked here goes to that same trouble.  I also know I may get it wrong, as I am forced in most cases to rely on media reports.  I welcome correction and will update this post accordingly.  I’ve also tried to be respectful in what I link, but at the same time, some of the only reporting is often horrifying or degrading.  Please keep this in mind when clicking links.

During the beginning of the month, a trans woman was brutally attacked by a group of thugs in Russia.  The attackers even video taped themselves brutally attacking the woman.  Unfortunately, we don’t know if the woman’s physical wounds have healed or not, but it is clear that the attack will have lifelong consequences.  It’s hard to imagine that not only could someone do this to someone else, but they could actually make a graphic video about it.

On Aug 18, 2013, in Ankara, Turkey, a crowd violently attacked a group of trans people, beating them with bats, gassing them, and destroying their automobiles.  When the crime was reported to police, with license plate information, the police claimed that the license plates were false.  However, the victims report that they are concerned that the apathy of police will cause these attacks to continue.

In Dhobi Ghat, India, on Aug 19, a trans person was raped.  The rapist went on to rape severely ill person (who died, in large part due to the attack according to relatives) only a few hours later, followed by participating in a gang rape against a photojournalist two days later.

One day later, on Aug 20, in Fontana, CA, USA, Dominique Newburn was murdered in a violent struggle with her attacker.  Some of her belongings were stolen, and a manhunt continues for the suspected killer.

On August 22, in New York City, a Islan Nettles was brutally attacked, dying several days later having never regained consciousness from her injuries.  The murderer was a student at a local university who was apparently so enraged upon finding out that the woman he was hitting on (and who turned him down) and her friends were trans brutally attacked Islan in front of a New York City police station, leaving her unconscious.  Islan’s friends were also attacked, although with less significant injuries.  Meanwhile, the suspected killer’s mother, seems to have found another man to try to take the blame for the murder, to spare her son jail time.  Fortunately, police are still investigating Paris Wilson, the originally suspected killer.  It should be noted that others were also likely involved in attacking the trans women.

Of course, even in all of this, several of the victims of the crimes described above faced additional injustice when they reported the crimes to apathetic police, endured misgendering, were referred to as “drunk” or “prostitutes” by police and/or media, and even when their families used the wrong pronouns or names in talking about the victims.  The attack rarely stops when the physical violence ends.

This article puts it in perspective, speaking about July:

These findings were based on statistics released by the Organization of American States and included incidents from Canada, the United States, Central America and South America. The report found that in the month of July alone, 39 people were murdered: 23 transgender people and 16 gays and lesbians.

The article goes on to talk about that, while gays face more risk of violence than straight people, trans people, particularly trans women and non-white trans people, face violence at an incredibly increased rate compared to even gay people.

This has to stop.  When you see people devaluing the humanity of another, whether it’s a crass joke, intentional misgendering, laughing at someone’s gender presentation, or gossiping behind their back, you need to speak up.  These things are not violent attacks, but they lower the social status of trans people and make them less than fully human in some people’s eyes.  And they’re asshole things to do besides.

Right to Refuse Service

America is a country that values freedom, at least some of the time (drone strikes and stop-and-frisk programs excepted), including the key freedom of being able to decide who you will and won’t serve, if you run a business.  It’s the “right to refuse service.”

(My apologies to people outside the USA – I’m writing right now about a USA-specific issue)

A small-town business district.  Should these businesses be able to refuse service to a black man?  A Jewish person?  A disabled person?  A pregnant woman?  A trans person?  Note that none of these businesses to my knowledge does so, but I ask the question: Should a small business be allowed to discriminate?  When?  And when not?

A small-town business district. Should these businesses be able to refuse service to a black man? A Jewish person? A disabled person? A pregnant woman? A trans person? Note that none of these businesses to my knowledge does so, but I ask the question: Should a small business be allowed to discriminate? When? And when not?  (Picture by self)

But we also recognize that freedom has limits.

Just recently, a bar in Portland was fined $400,000 for attempting to refuse service to a trans support group.

This isn’t the first time a business has been prohibited from refusing service.  This tradition goes back some time.  For instance, we recognized in 1964, with the federal Civil Rights Act.   In Title II of the act, many types of businesses were regulated by the government – and told, like it or not, you have to serve black people too.  It didn’t matter that the business owners might have objected on religious or political or philosophical grounds.  They didn’t have a unilateral right to refuse service for any reason.  And anyone who tries to create that right today will be undoing Title II of the Civil Rights Act.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  We need to start with the basics.  First, a business generally can refuse service.  There’s only a limited number of reasons why a business cannot.  A business can refuse service to an unruly customer.  A business can refuse service to someone who makes too little or too much money.  A business can refuse service on the basis of fingernail length or lack of shoes or color of a T-shirt in most cases.  A business can refuse service to people named Frank.  A business can refuse service to someone the owner just plain doesn’t like.

But what a business cannot do under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is to refuse service on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin.  Other federal laws since then – and we’ll get to a some of this – extended that to creed, age (with limitations), sex, disability, and veteran’s status (with limitations).  So you can refuse to serve a black man coffee, but not because his race or color.  You need a non-protected reason to do so.

In 1964, shortly after passage, the law was challenged.  Among the arguments in the challenge, brought forth by the owner of the Heart Motel of Atlanta, were that the federal government cannot regulate local businesses that do not directly engage in interstate commerce (they argued that was a state power), and a violation of his right to liberty (fifth amendment) by refusing him this liberty, forcing him into involuntary servitude contrary to the 13th amendment (by forcing him to rent a room to someone).  In other words, he argued that not being able to exercise his right to refuse service was similar to slavery and a violation of his personal freedom.  That’s not very far off from the argument today about the right for businesses to refuse service to LGBT people.

Now, remember, prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being enacted, segregation was prominent.  Whether it was “separate but equal” (outlawed in schools in the 50s, but not outlawed in businesses) accommodations or bans against serving blacks, racial discrimination in business was common.  The famous, “I have a Dream,” speech was delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. only one year earlier.

When this case reached the Supreme Court of the US, the court upheld the law – unanimously (albeit with several concurring opinions).  The desire of the hotel owner to refuse service could be regulated by congress, and congress had passed a law prohibiting such refusal on the basis of race or color.

Much later, in 1990, the Amercians with Disabilities Act passed.  This act applied to an even larger group of businesses than the 1964 Civil Rights Act – and prevented not only direct refusal of service, but also indirect refusal.  Businesses could not indirectly refuse access and were required to take “reasonable” steps (pardon the pun) to remove barriers, architectural or otherwise, that might prevent access.  This was wide-ranging, and included not only physical disabilities but mental, sensory, developmental, and psychological disabilities as well.

This, too, has been challenged and upheld.  A business not wanting to serve blind people cannot refuse service to a blind person!  That’s illegal.  Even if you have strong beliefs.

Now some would throw the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act out the door.  They would say, “If I’m a business owner, I should be able to refuse service to gays.”  Now, the 1964 act didn’t apply to gays, but if a Federal act attempting to ban segregation was constitutional, a state act can be also, even if it applies to a different group of people.  But of course if there is a universal right to refuse service for discriminatory reasons, it would equally apply to race (there’s a question as to whether LGBT status should be treated similar to race, but that’s not the argument presented that I’m countering – the argument I’m countering is that a business owner should be able to decide who to serve, period; that said, I do believe LGBT status should be a protected status on par with race, sex, religion, disability, etc).

In the recent case, where a bar was fined $400,000 for harassment of trans customers (this is a form of refusal of service), the bar owner felt it his right to refuse service to whoever he wished.  However, his jurisdiction had laws that protect LGBT people from this type of discrimination.  Much like the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, they do not allow discrimination for some specific reasons – in this case, LGBT status.

The response online?  “He should be able to refuse whoever he wants.”

Of course one can see the need for regulation on refusal of service if one looks at a few types of businesses.

First, hospitals: imagine a for-profit hospital refusing to perform emergency care on the basis that someone is gay or black!  Unfortunately, this does happen, but not as commonly as it would without some non-discrimination laws that apply to health care.  Of course someone might say, “Well, that’s different.  This is life and death and they have a duty to keep people alive.  You might need a hospital, but you don’t need a bar.”

That may be true.  But of course, how do you define what businesses are needed and which one’s don’t perform a useful service?  And is the point really that there are other ways to handle this?

Let’s go a bit further and talk about government contractors.  First, what is a government contractor?  Let’s define it broadly as someone who does business with the government.  Should a company leasing a major toll road from the government (see the Indiana Tollway) be able to refuse service to gays?  Should a toll booth operator be able to ask, “Are you gay?” and charge a different rate if you are?  Or tell you to take a free road?  I think most people would say NO, they are getting money from government and need to operate in the public’s interest.

So, let’s take it a bit further.  Does this apply to anyone doing business with the government for services?  What about a pizza joint used by federal agents during a stakeout?  Obviously this gets messy.

The right solution is the same one we started for race and disability.  While we haven’t solved racial or disability discrimination, we’ve made progress and made the world more pleasant for people with disabilities and who are not of a certain race.  We’ve also restricted business owners’ rights to refuse service.  We decided that was a good thing to do then.  And it’s a good thing to do now.

The difference between race, disability, and LGBT rights is simple: almost everyone thinks racial discrimination is wrong.  Of course it wasn’t always that way, and in the 1960s, there was plenty of opposition to desegregation.  And in the 90s there was a lot more opposition to the idea that a business shouldn’t be able to fire a disabled person who could perform the job.  But times have changed.  So now people look back and generally support those laws – but it wasn’t always so.  I suspect the LGBT non-discrimination laws will be similar – you can see the tide changing, and you can see the people who aren’t ready to adapt clinging onto every possible reason to continue to discriminate.

Of course we’ll see objection after objection (such as the current religious ones) to LGBT rights.  But the question isn’t really a religious one (so, you want to refuse service to gays because they don’t value the sanctity of marriage, and you’ll do so by refusing to bake cakes, but you have no problem baking a divorce cake?) – it’s hard to claim a religious exemption if you are a business instead of a religion, and your discrimination looks more like targeting of one group than a general sincere desire to follow your religion.  Just as a hotel owner in 1964 claimed it was slavery to take money from black customers.

Soldiers, Voters, and Cross-Dressers

Just recently, the US has opened up military combat roles to women.  However, we’ve already had women in combat roles, well before the 21st century.  No, I’m not talking about the women who were honored for finding themselves in combat while performing a supposedly non-combative job (these women were every bit as brave as any man who signed up for a combat role).  No, in every conflict the USA (and likely others) have been involved in, women soldiers were on the front lines.

Civil War Memorial on the side of the Colorado Capitol Building.  Taken by self.

Civil War Memorial on the side of the Colorado Capitol Building. Taken by self.

For instance, in the Civil War, at least several hundred – perhaps well over 1,000 – women served on either side of the battle lines.  No, not just as nurses or such (although the only woman to have received the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor in the US, was a surgeon; she is also one of only eight civilians to receive the Medal of Honor – she dedicated her life after the war to woman’s rights, as even after receiving the Medal of Honor and being a prisoner of war, she was unable to vote).

A Washington Post article describes a book and research on the Civil War.  Unlike Mary Edwards Walker, these women dressed and acted as men during the war – in fact, they enlisted as men, using male names, wearing male clothes, and, in most cases, going undetected (unless injured or, in some cases, having a child).

Albert Cashier, likely a FTM transsexual who served in the US Military during the Civil War.

Albert Cashier, likely a FTM transsexual who served in the US Military during the Civil War.

The reasons for this were varied – some, such as Albert Cachier (referred to as Jennie Hodgers in the Washington Post article) would likely be classified as transsexual today, although it’s hard to apply modern labels to historical figures.  Albert worked as a man following the war and was eventually committed to a mental institution (for non-trans related reasons).  At that mental institution, he was discovered to be female (referring here to sex, not gender) and forced to wear dresses.  He turned the dresses into pants.

Other reasons for presenting as a man during the war included a desire for independence, greater rights, better pay (war pay was quite good compared to what many workers made, and certainly better than what women made), love (to enlist with a significant other), patriotism, or revenge (often to take revenge for the death of a loved one or family member).  Voting was a particularly possible reason as well.  Of course the reasons given by the military for this were less noble – typically homosexuality (then considered a very grave moral sin) or prostitution.  A good woman didn’t enlist in the army, after all.

Ironically, just as in the civil war, cross dressing today in the military is grounds for discharge.  While gays and lesbians may serve openly, being found out to be a cross dresser or trans person in the US military is grounds for a discharge under mental health reasons.  In fact, even having had sex reassignment surgery or being intersexed is reason to be discharged (or not admitted).  Apparently, sex organs matter in combat, at least in the eyes of the USA military.  Maybe some of this is related to the idea that only men can possibly fight in combat roles, an idea the USA had until recently, at least officially.

Not all other countries see things that way.  For example, during WWII, women bomber pilots fought for the Allies.  No, I’m not just talking about the women who ferried planes around the world, sometimes at great risk to themselves.  I’m talking about women who had bombs loaded on their planes and flew into combat with the bombs, to drop them on the enemy.  The Russian Night Witches flew some of the oldest and worst planes in the Russian air force, but successfully performed their missions.  Incredibly successfully, in fact.  They flew a dozen or more missions each during an average night (owing to the planes limited payload capacity), and most pilots flew over 1,000 missions.  Very few suffered casualties, but not because it wasn’t dangerous, but because of their outstanding tactics and flying skills.

And, today, many US allies allow not only women in all roles, but also allow trans people to openly serve.  For instance, Canada not only allows open service, but even covers SRS (sex reassignment surgery) under the military health plan (and allows time off for surgery).  Israel just enlisted their first known trans service member.

It is probably time for two things: First, we need to fully recognize that not only did women provide essential support, often at great cost to themselves and their families (just as men did) during times of war, but performed as men do in military – as soldiers.  Second, we need to finish the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell in the USA.  What matters is a soldier’s ability to perform their job, not their sex organs (or their surgical status).  Let them serve openly as who they are – they are fighting for all of our rights to do the same, after all.