15 april 2016: our transgender neighbors need us

So, someone forwarded me a posting today, a photo of an ad for Match.com, a dating website. The ad was a billboard in a London mass transit station, and featured a young adult with red hair and freckles. Here’s what the ad said: “If you don’t like your imperfections, someone else will.” There’s another poster in the series that features a young person with one brown eye and one blue eye. Same tagline. 

Yeah, I learned early – elementary school, actually – that red hair and freckles are “imperfections,” as are extremes of height or differences of weight. Honestly, I thought we’d moved on. I guess not. The ad has been removed due to strong public backlash, but the thoughts linger about the ways we judge and divide and disempower one another. 

In other backlash news, North Carolina is reeling this week from its so-called bathroom bill, the legislation that would require transgender men and women to use the bathroom aligning with gender as assigned at birth, mostly based on anatomy, rather than the gender aligning with identity – the one based on that deep psychological and spiritual self-knowing that the bravest among us are claiming and proclaiming, to the chagrin and sometimes hostility of a terrified world. 

North Carolina has gotten complaints and criticism from companies and churches, and from other states and municipalities (including this week Royal Oak, MI), about the nonsense of this bill, the unnecessary sanction and discrimination against people who are generally minding their own business. 

North Carolina isn’t alone, of course; some 20 states have introduced bathroom bills, and this, of course, is in addition to the states that have passed “religious freedom” bills, allowing discrimination against LGBT folks, as long as your discrimination is based on religion. 

South Carolina, you may remember, is my home state, and has its own version of the bathroom bill in the midst of hearings this week. The governor is against it, as is the Chamber of Commerce. The county sheriff couldn’t attend the hearings, but wrote a letter of opposition. He said, among other things, according to The State newspaper, that, in his 41 years in law enforcement in the state, “I have never heard of a transgender person attacking or otherwise bothering someone in a restroom. This is a non-issue.” 

Here in Michigan, the state Board of Education has proposed guidelines to keep transgender kids safe in schools (as well as lesbian and gay kids), including bathroom usage in conformity with gender identity. The response has overwhelmingly been vitriolic, tinged with fear, ignorance and animosity. The guidelines are forward-thinking, but progress often looks radical and unreasonable. (They include a smart but unpopular provision that parents of transgender kids should only be notified with the students’ assent, since parents are often hostile to their own transgender kids.) Our legislature has threatened to withhold a portion of state education funding if these guidelines are adopted. (You can read about it here and find a link to the proposed guidelines here.) 

Michigan Board of Ed needs us. The public comments are lopsided in their opposition to these safety measures. The public comment window has been extended to May 11, and you can offer your thoughts here. 

As a lesbian, I am all too familiar with the scorn, the verbal assaults, the fear, the ostracism based on the lack of understanding. As a redhead with freckles, I know the “benign” laughter, the teasing, the otherness. As a Christian pastor, I am also familiar with the basic tenet of every major faith -- that we love one another. 

I get tired. Tired of having to defend the right of others just to be. Tired of having to defend the boundaries of my own right to be. The teasing I endured as a child for my hair and skin pales in comparison to the brutality endured by our transgender brothers and sisters, pales in comparison to the threat of death or the humiliation of enduring the invasive questioning regarding our most private bodily and psychic areas. 

So, this is a faith issue for me. Not only because there are transgender Woodsiders, but because the vision we keep coming back to is about space for all of us, about a world that works for all of us. And because the opposite of faith isn’t doubt; the opposite of faith is fear. 

Red hair, freckles, eyes of two colors, same-sex orientation, anatomy inconsistent with identity: these aren’t imperfections; they are simply more of the variety that blesses us when we believe what we proclaim: that we are created in the image of God. 

I know that not everyone is in the same place, living with the same experience or the same understandings. But I’m happy that Woodside is the kind of welcoming place that it is, that we understand the immensity of God’s grace and choose to be a community reflective of that. And that when we aren’t sure, we get educated. And tired as we get, having to defend against whatever the current assault on humanity, we never quit advocating for justice, calling out bigotry and easing fear, putting ourselves in the place of the persecuted ones. Such was the life of Jesus; such is a life of faith. 

It’s resurrection the way we live it here. 

With you on a Woodside journey, — pastor deb