Jim Crow America restrooms were a hot-button issue, as today, and a battleground for equal treatment.
Across the country, there are epic battles in many states to either pass or not pass transgender bathroom bills. Here in Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states, we’re asking voters to vote “YES” on Question 3, Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Veto Referendum, to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in public places—such as hotels, restaurants, and stores.
Rallies to get Bay Staters to vote “YES” on Question 3 has been taking place throughout the Commonwealth. After speaking at one of the rallies in Copley Square one Sunday morning, an onlooker asked me the following question: “Rev, you’re a minister. How does the church and God feel about transgender people? Will they go to hell?”
Trans issues in our churches are not addressed enough. However, trans activism has taken place in both Catholic and Protestant churches and synagogues across Massachusetts. Sadly, Pope Francis has compared transgender people to nuclear weapons. His reason is that transgender people destroy and desecrate God’s holy and ordained order of creation.
“Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings,” Francis stated in 2015 in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter “Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.”
With pronouncements like that, especially from a pope, it’s easy to think transgender people are damned to Hell.
Freedom for All Massachusetts has been addressing the faith issue by working in collaboration with Action for Transgender Equality, a collective of clergy and faith-based institutions working as part of the “Yes” on 3 ballot campaign. Passage of the bill, sadly, hangs in the balance because voters are split on the issue although there is no link between anti-discrimination rules and bathroom-related crimes in Massachusetts.
However, people of faith -who can be moved to vote “Yes” on Question 3 -want to know where can they find in the Bible visibility as well as acceptance of transgender people.
The good news is that there are several trans-affirming stories in the Bible. My favorite story is about Philip the Evangelist and the Ethiopian eunuch conversion to Christianity in Acts 8:26- 39.
We can deduce from this pericope that the teachings of Christ circulated widely across the world and Christ’s teachings spread, at least one way, throughout the continent of Africa through the Ethiopian Eunuch. Traveling south from Jerusalem to Gaza, Phillip meets the Ethiopian Eunuch, a court official of the Queen of Ethiopia, in his chariot reading was from a part of the scroll of Isaiah that theologians commonly refer to as “the Third Suffering Servant Song.” The Ethiopian eunuch had traveled to Jerusalem to worship and was headed home. God tells Philip to follow the Ethiopian to baptize him so that he can spread the good news of Jesus.
While traveling down the road together, Phillip explained the Isaiah text and the Ethiopian asked to be baptized. When they came upon some water, Philip baptized him.
Deceased John J. McNeill, a gay Jesuit priest, and theologian affirmed the story of the Ethiopian eunuch as “the first baptized gay Christian. This scripture reveals to many progressive Biblical scholars that God welcomes and affirm gender- variant individuals. Eunuchs were castrated, homosexual, and intersex men. Today the terms could easily translate to mean sexual minorities, referring to LGBTQ individuals. The term means “the keepers of the bed, ”These gender- variant men served and guarded the women in royal palaces and wealthy households.
Also, the story of the Ethiopian eunuch highlights that the early beginnings of Christianity welcomed not only sexual minorities but also different races, and ethnicities. The Ethiopian eunuch is an example of a queer foreign black man as the first non-Jewish convert to Christianity.
During the “Trans Catholic Voices” breakout season at the DignityUSA conference in 2017, an African American transwoman pointed out that Francis statements about transpeople deny them of basic human dignity and perpetuates violence against them. The life expectancy for black trans is 32 years old.
In her closing remarks, the African American transwoman in “Trans Catholic Voices” asked for help from advocates and allies in the room that nearly brought me to tears.
“Trans lives are real lives. Trans deaths are real deaths. God works through other people. Maybe you can be those other people.”
In Jim Crow America restrooms were a hot-button issue, as today, and a battleground for equal treatment. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on national origin, race, hue, gender, and religion. The law mandated desegregation of all public accommodations, including bathrooms. The Obama administration expanded the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect LGBTQ Americans. However, in February Trump’s administration revoked federal guidelines permitting transgender students from using “gender-appropriate facilities ” which aligned with their gender identity.
How churches feel about transgender people will vary. How Trump’s administration treat transgender citizens must stop. “YES” on Question 3 is doing God’s work which is the work of justice.
Published in Teen Vogue on October 17, 2018.