Crossing the T

Life at the intersection of Church and Trans with Rev. Allyson Robinson

Archive for Tolerance

Day of Silence

Please understand my reasons for not blogging today.  I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their allies.  My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by harassment, prejudice, and discrimination.  I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices.  Think about the voices you are not hearing today. 

What are you going to do to end the silence?


“Day of Silence” meets “Golden Rule Pledge”

This Friday marks the twelfth consecutive annual observance of the Day of Silence.  From the official site:

The Day of Silence, a project of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), is a student-led day of action when concerned students, from middle school to college, take some form of a vow of silence to bring attention to the name-calling, bullying and harassment — in effect, the silencing — experienced by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students and their allies. This year’s Day of Silence will be held in memory of Lawrence King.

DoS has become a hotly contested front in the culture war, as evidenced by all the strategizing among conservative Christians on how best to deal with the DoS (which they see as an attempt to legitimize behavior they oppose).  Some conservative leaders have called their followers to keep their children home from school on Friday.  Others have sought to institute a “Day of Truth” to draw attention to their beliefs about sexual identity and gender expression and to counter the message of those who keep silence.  The American Family Association has asked parents and teachers to use their influence against schools that support the DoS and to force students to abandon their vows of silence or face disciplinary action. 

Recently, Warren Throckmorton and Michael Frey announced a different approach: the Golden Rule Pledge.  From Dr. Throckmorton’s website:

We believe the teaching of Christ in the Golden Rule should guide our actions and attitudes regarding all. We also believe that we should work to make school a safe place for all students.  Thus, we advocate students spread a message like this on the Day of Silence:

This is what I’m doing:

I pledge to treat others the way I want to be treated.

Will you join me in this pledge?

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31).

The Day of Silence cards passed out by the students observing the event will ask, “What are you going to do to end the silence?” meaning what will you do to help secure a safe environment for GLBT identified students. This group advocates that we answer that question with a commitment to their safety and the safety of all based on the teachings of Christ.

A safe zone is where the teachings of Christ are truly observed. GLBT students and peers as well as other who appear different have been the target of harassment, violence and scorn. We believe this is wrong. The church should lead the way in combatting violence and harassment in schools. A variety of options exist on the DOS, including silence. Whatever option one chooses, we do not encourage protests, divisive actions or criticism of others. One way to live out our faith is to treat others fairly and with respect.

This, I think, is a good thing.

Edit:  Maybe.  Alex Blaze makes a very good argument at the Bilerico project that this is unethical  “counterprogramming”:

The idea is that Christians are supposed to against all violence, and that they don’t have to be OK with the gay to be against anti-gay violence.

Of course, in the process, they erase queer identity from the day, students who specifically are targeted for expressing themselves. These students need specific protection because the problems they face are unique, so countering that is problematic since it looks like an attempt to sweep the violence they face under the rug.

But it’s more than that – it’s counter-programming. And when someone already knows what one group of people has scheduled and sets up another celebration, event, or remembrance for the same time and the same people, no matter what it is, the intention is clear: to prevent people from participating in the previously scheduled event.

I need to think more about Alex’s argument.  When I first read about the “Golden Rule Pledge,” my context for thinking about it was very personal.  Many of my friends and colleagues (and even a few family members) disagreed with my decision to pursue gender transition on religious grounds, and I respect their feelings on the matter.  And yet none of them would sanction violence against me.  How, I’ve wondered, can they express their opposition to violence against me without compromising their beliefs?  Having read Alex’s article, I’m wondering how joining me in my observance of the DoS would compromise those beliefs.  Is it really necessary for someone to say, “I agree violence against LGBT people is wrong and should be stopped, BUT I still think homosexuality and gender variance are sinful?”  Why not just say, “I agree violence against LGBT people is wrong and should be stopped?” 

I would hope that Christians on both sides of this issue can at least offer one another sufficient grace to cover the complexity of it. 

Another edit:  Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin has written an excellent critique on the “Golden Rule Pledge” that has pushed me over the edge on the topic.  He lists four problems with this response to DoS:

  1. It is counterprogramming.
  2. It appears to be motivated by opposition to homosexuality rather than opposition to violence.
  3. It perpetuates the false Christian vs. LGBT dichotomy.
  4. The “Golden Rule” cards do not actually address violence; they are too susceptible to exploitation for the purposes of hate.

Jim sums up:

The Golden Rule is one of those wonderful aphorisms which serve more as a Rorschach test than a standard. It can mean whatever anybody wants it to means, allowing it to a provide a “nice” cover for those who have no intention of changing their attitudes or behavior. It’s too easy for the Golden Rule Card to become a sanctimonious, self-righteous and passive-aggressive reaction to the Day of Silence. It allows them to claim the moral high ground — a high ground which by their definition is not a level playing field.

Thank you, Jim and Alex, for helping me think through this.

(Thanks to Box Turtle Bulletin.)

Can I Quote You? Gary Nelson on speaking without entitlement

[It takes] humble sensitivity . . . to live as a biblical people in a place where you are only one voice of many and are not necessarily the dominant voice.  [Churches] must respect that they are only one voice in a number of voices, and the ability to dialogue in a pluralistic world is not so much about prison as they are about creating healthy places where their voices can be heard.  I do not fear prison as much as I would be concerned about simply being ignored or marginalized even more because I have chosen to speak with a sense of entitlement and assumed moral authority that others around me have not granted. In Canada we earn the right to speak, and speak we do with courage and sensitivity.

Dr. Gary Nelson, General Secretary of Canadian Baptist Ministries, responding to the recent assertion by Southern Baptist Convention President Dr. Frank Page’s that pastors in Canada can be jailed for speaking against homosexuality

And a comment from me:  Page’s original comments came in the context of an interview in which he decries an alleged liberal bias in the media.  It strikes me as curious that a theology that affirms the righteousness and justice of the market economy would be so fearful of the marketplace of ideas.  Can a fundamentalist theology of human sexuality compete in a marketplace where all ideas are placed on an even field?  More importantly, can they compete in a way that upholds the traditional Baptist value of soul competency and refuses to descend into oversimplifying the issues, mocking the competition, or fear-mongering?  Time will tell.

Thanks to Ethics Daily.

More thoughts on pain: “What if I were gay?”

Perusing my Google Alerts today, I came across a wonderful post at the blog Emphatic Asterisk titled “What if I were Gay?”  In it, the author, a straight woman who blogs as Shush, considers what her life might have been like had she entered into a lesbian relationship when offered the opportunity at some point in her past.  Though some of my readers may not agree with everything Shush has to say, I’d like to point her out to you as someone who is really thinking, not merely (as William James said) “rearranging her prejudices.”  She’s doing the kind of imaginative, open-ended thinking that is the only possible foundation for true compassion, which is why I was so encouraged to find her today.

Shush, you’re in my RSS reader.  Thanks again!

Recent and readworthy, “Room at the Table” edition

Latina Baptist Laura Cadena, after attending the New Baptist Covenant celebration, wonders if there is room at the “black and white” Baptist table for people like her.  I’m asking myself the same question, Laura. 

In Australia, over 100 Christian ministers, banding together as 100Revs, have issued a formal apology to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.  “The church has often been profoundly unloving toward the GLBT community,” they confess.  (More thoughts on their statement coming up.)

MetroWeekly reports on LGBT participation in Virginia’s recent Lobby Day.  Legislators show a willingness to talk about the issues.  What about religious leaders and communities?

Transgender student denied campus housing at public Utah college

Matt Hill Comer at InterstateQ describes the situation in an exclusive interview with Kourt Osborne, who has recently been denied any campus housing at the public Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah.

“During our conversation,” Kourt said, “he told me that a sociology professor on campus believed I was ‘not truly a transsexual’ because I do not seek sexual reassignment surgery.”

Kourt said the university will only allow him housing in male residence halls after he provides:

  • a letter from the doctor that monitors his hormone treatment;
  • a letter from his therapist saying that he has gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria; and
  • official documentation that he has had sexual reassignment surgery.

Kourt had already provided the housing department with a letter from a doctor who monitors his hormone treatment. For personal reasons, Kourt does not seek to be diagnosed with “gender identity disorder” and does not want to seek sexual reassignment surgery.

He said that if he did not present the three items requested by the university, then he would not be allowed to live in male housing. At the same time, the university has denied housing for him in female housing, as well.

At this time, Kourt is not allowed to live in any part of the public university’s campus housing. He is currently considering his options and how to proceed with the issue.

It seems to me that the university is being duplicitous in its attempt to make up policy on the fly here. Is the issue that Kourt hasn’t had gender reassignment surgery, or that he doesn’t want it? The unnamed sociology professor appears to advocate the latter, the housing department the former. While the grounds for refusing Kourt housing in accordance with his gender identity remain ambiguous, however, the refusal to allow him housing in female dormitories seems completely baseless given the way the University is defining gender.

And that raises the key question: Just how is SUU defining gender? Though SUU does not post faculty biographies on its website, a look at the four faculty members who make up the sociology department leads one to guess it was either Dr. Andrew Bamford (who offers courses titled “Social Psychology” and “Body and Society”) or Dr. Shobha Gurung (whose course offerings are not listed but “will focus on courses in race, ethnicity and gender” according to a departmental newsletter). Dr. Gurung received her PhD from Northwestern University; her dissertation was entitled, “Women in Factory-Based and Home-Based Carpet Production in Nepal: Beyond the Formal and Informal Economy.” Searches of the EBSCO Research Database, JSTOR, and Sociological Abstracts at CSA Illumina turned up only this dissertation. Google Scholar adds a presentation at the 2006 meeting of the American Sociological Association entitled, “The Factory World: The Intersection of Gender, Caste, Class, Ethnicity, and Kinship.” SAGE Journals Online adds reference to reviews in the journal Gender & Society.

SUU is apparently satisfied that the opinion of one of these professors on matters relating to transgender identity is a sufficient basis upon which to craft policy. It seems to me, though, more like a “first draft equals final copy” approach to a very complex matter. An academic institution should know better.

Here’s some advice to SUU, provided free of charge by a girl who’s getting her masters degree today.

  1. Do your research. Be thorough. Take your time. The idea isn’t to get something turned in, it’s to make absolutely certain that what you’re turning in is your best work.
  2. Check your sources. It might be good idea to use more than one. And if you begin your research having already formed an opinion on the matter, you should probably check out a few sources that disagree, just to make sure you’re doing well-rounded research.
  3. Follow the rules. If the syllabus requires MLA, use MLA. If your nondiscrimination policy includes sex (which it does) and sexual orientation (which it doesn’t, but should), make sure you know what those terms imply in 2007.
  4. Clarify your argument. Is a transsexual someone who wants SRS, or someone who’s had SRS? Consistency is the key to writing a good essay; it’s also the key to drafting good policy.
  5. Think through the logical implications of your argument.  If you’re making policy based on a pathological understanding of the trans experience (i.e. that trans people have Gender Identity Disorder), then by denying someone housing, aren’t you potentially violating your policy not to discriminate based on disability?  (See, this is why you have to take your time.)
  6. Finally, if you need help, ask for it. You might start with the Educational Equity Section of the Utah State Office of Education. Equality Utah might have something to offer, too. Or how about the National Student Genderblind Campaign?

Out Gay Soldier on 60 Minutes this Sunday

Leslie Stahl interviews out gay Army medic Sergeant Darren Manzella this Sunday on 60 Minutes on CBS. In her reporter’s notebook at the 60 Minutes site, Stahl asks, “Is the military more tolerant of gay members in wartime?”

Manzella’s commander reported him, as he was obliged to do, and then “I had to go see my battalion commander, who read me my rights,” he says. He turned over pictures of him and his boyfriend, including video of a passionate kiss, to aid the investigation. But to his surprise, “I was told to go back to work. There was no evidence of homosexuality,” says Manzella. “‘You’re not gay,'” he says his superiors told him. This response confused him and, he says, the closest a superior officer came to addressing his sexuality was to say “I don’t care if you’re gay or not.”

It really seems as though the days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are numbered. I hope Sergeant Manzilla’s courage, and the courage of his chain of command, will inspire others to take similar action.

(Hat tip to The Bilerico Project.)