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LGBTQIA+ rights are a state/church issue

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LGBTQIA+ rights are a state/church issue
Photo | Ted Eytan

The fight for LGBTQIA+ rights is not only about civil, sexual and human autonomy but is also a state/church issue.

Without separation of state and church, theocratic policies and laws will be imposed on the most vulnerable of our population. This includes not only religious minorities but also LGBTQIA+ communities, women from all walks of life, and anyone whose lifestyle does not strictly conform to traditional gender norms. Whenever religious people and beliefs are privileged above others, nonconforming individuals or minorities suffer the brunt of discrimination. The core American principle of the separation between religion and government continues to be threatened by the courts and state legislative bodies in the form of increasing attacks on LGBTQIA+ rights. These laws are rooted in rigid sexual and gender norms from a predominantly Christian nationalist point of view.

If you care about the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, and bodily autonomy, then you also must care about equality for LGBTQIA+ communities.

A continuous attack on personal and bodily autonomy in the name of religion

Over the past few decades, we have seen a tremendous expansion of rights for LGBTQIA+ communities, ranging from the striking down of anti-sodomy laws, to the recognition of the right to same-sex marriage, to increasing anti-discrimination protections and beyond. These rights, however, have been continually opposed and restricted by religious organizations claiming that the right shared by all citizens to be treated equally under the law infringes upon their religious practices. Not only that but religious politicians are increasingly forcing their religious beliefs surrounding sexuality and gender identity onto the entire country in the form of “Don’t Say Gay” bills, transgender sports bans, bans on gender affirming care, and more. In 2022, a record number of anti-LGBTQIA+ laws were introduced nationwide, and 2023 has outpaced that number. Religious organizations forcing their dogma on others not only end up being above the law, but becoming the law themselves.

Sexual Orientation: Religious support for LGB rights varies across different groups. Many conservative sects, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), oppose LGB rights. Meanwhile, many liberal-leaning Protestant denominations, as well as many Reform and Conservative Jewish communities, openly support LGB rights. Those who identify as religiously unaffiliated are among the most likely to support LGB rights. In general, acceptance of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and LGB rights have greatly increased over the past several years, with support for same-sex marriage reaching a record high of 71 percent in 2022.

Gender Identity/Expression: Overall, rates of acceptance of transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming identities and rights in the United States are lower than that of LGB rights. However, recent research has shown that support for trans rights is generally increasing as more and more people become aware of trans issues and get to know trans and gender nonconforming people in their everyday lives — particularly true when it comes to discrimination in jobs, housing and public access.

In terms of religious attitudes, support for trans rights follows similar patterns as support for LGB rights, with evangelical Protestants showing the most opposition and religiously unaffiliated Americans showing the most support.

Anti-LGBTQIA+ efforts have no basis in science or reality: Quick facts

Everyone is entitled to examine and decide their gender and sexual orientation in accordance with their beliefs. As we live in a secular nation, laws surrounding LGBTQIA+ lives and identities should be based on science, rather than religious faith or belief. The science is clear and confirms that there is no basis for anti-LGBTQIA+ laws — except for religion.

  • Same-sex attraction and identities that fall under the transgender umbrella are not medical disorders, mental illnesses or otherwise diagnosable conditions. Homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual nearly 50 years ago. “Gender Identity Disorder,” the diagnosis previously given to transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming people seeking out gender-affirming care, was similarly removed from the DSM in 2013, in recognition that there is nothing inherently disordered about trans identities. (1)
  • The American Medical Association opposes conversion therapy, and supports gender- affirming care and the rights of trans people to access public spaces.
  • The American Psychological Association has issued more than a dozen policy statements since the 1970s supporting the rights of all members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
  • Sexual assault and domestic violence advocates have debunked the “bathroom predator myth” for years, noting that transgender people are more likely to be the victims of violent assaults in public bathrooms, rather than the perpetrators.
  • Claims that transgender people are a danger to girls’ and women’s sports are unfounded. As discussed in further detail below, state school athletic associations have had policies allowing transgender children to play on teams that align with their gender identity for years before they started making headlines, and the Olympics have had transinclusive policies since 2004. In competitions where transgender girls and cisgender girls compete together, there is no consistent history of transgender athletes dominating, because there is no consistent correlation between testosterone levels and athletic performance.
  • In April 2022, Yale published a report debunking claims that gender-affirming care for trans youths constitutes child abuse, saying that in reality medical ethics requires that physicians treat gender dysphoria in an affirming manner.
  • There is no evidence to suggest that exposure to age-appropriate depictions of same-sex couples or trans people harms school-age children, and the American Psychological Association says that laws like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill lead to poor mental health outcomes for children.

Anti-LGBTQIA+ policies are the work of a religious minority that seeks to force a dangerous and extremist world view onto a secular nation. The Supreme Court’s extremist supermajority has signaled that they are now willing to revisit decades worth of precedent protecting LGBTQIA+ rights.FFRF opposes bans on gender-affirming care

Bans on gender-affirming care, especially for minors, have dominated much of the recent discourse surrounding trans rights. While these bans, with names like “Save Adolescents From Experimentation Acts,” are framed as protecting the health and safety of children, they actually take an anti-scientific approach to transgender health care, contrary to the current standard of medical care recommended by credible medical professional organizations.

The tone of these bills is becoming increasingly religious, such as in the proposed legislation in Oklahoma and South Carolina being titled “Millstone Acts” — a direct reference to Mark 9:42 (“whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea”). These bills represent efforts to ban gender-affirming care not just for minors, but for anyone under the age of 26.

Much like with reproductive rights, religious fundamentalists have targeted gender-affirming care in their quest to limit bodily autonomy and force people to conform to a primarily religious understanding of gender.

Learn more about FFRF’s efforts here:

FFRF opposes “Don’t Say Gay” bills and other attacks on public education.“Don’t Say Gay/Trans” bills, forced outing, book bans, sports bans, and bathroom bans have dominated much of the news cycle over the past year, severely limiting the rights of LGBTQIA+ students and teachers, and putting their careers, health, safety and lives at risk.

“Don’t Say Gay/Trans” Bills: These bills typically prevent school personnel from any discussion of gender or sexuality in the classroom, and in some cases limit students from discussing their own identities or families with peers. School personnel in same-sex relationships would not be able to mention their partner or display wedding photos on their desks — all completely normal and appropriate things teachers in opposite-sex relationships discuss with their students or are allowed to do. Trans teachers may not even be able to teach at all, particularly non-binary teachers who use non-gendered pronouns and honorifics such as Mx. (pronounced “mix”) or Tr. (pronounced “teacher”) or who choose to forgo honorifics altogether. Students with parents or other family members in same-sex relationships may also be limited from sharing very basic details about their lives, such as what they did over the weekend, for fear of being disciplined.

While these bills are typically written to avoid referencing non-heterosexual orientations and non-cisgender identities, the rhetoric and debate surrounding them make it very clear that they are meant to apply only to LGBTQIA+ communities, and that the heterosexual, cisgender community members whose relationships conform with a religious understanding of marriage and existence would be free to continue their lives as before.

School Voucher Programs: Our school system is the public institution most vulnerable to state-church violations, and LGBTQIA+ students are at particular risk for harm. Each year, billions in taxpayer funds are poured into private schools — most of which are religious — through school voucher programs. Many of these schools have policies that mandate discrimination against LGBTQIA+ employees, families and students. In some cases, such schools will go so far as to require that students who identify themselves as LGBTQIA+ be placed into dangerous conversion therapy programs. The risk created by these policies is not limited to students who identify as LGBTQIA+ in some way, as even students who simply appear to be LGBTQIA+ have been expelled from religious schools, despite not necessarily identifying as such. Taxpayer dollars should not be spent endorsing religious belief and the discrimination that often accompanies it.

Book Bans: Attacks on school, classroom and public libraries have become a hallmark of the religious crusade against not only LGBTQIA+ rights, but also science, history, racial equality, disability rights and beyond. Approximately four in 10 banned books are banned because of references to marginalized genders and sexualities, according to PEN.

Bans on LGBTQIA+ representation and content in books and other library media are often based on the charge that they are pornographic, violent and otherwise inappropriate for children to encounter. Characterization of LGBTQIA+ existence as inherently pornographic is not only harmful and innaccurate, but also hypocritical. Many religious texts, including the Christian bible, contain material that is far more graphic than any book aimed at LGBTQIA+ young adults, yet there is no major public outcry against exposing youth to those materials.

Learn more about FFRF’s efforts here:

FFRF opposes sports and bathroom bans “Protecting women’s sports” has become a major rallying cry by religiously motivated opponents of transgender people, especially transgender youth. This issue is completely manufactured: School and professional athletic associations have had policies governing how and when transgender people may compete as their identified gender since the early 2000s, and there is no evidence to support the idea that trans women consistently outcompete their cisgender counterparts. There is certainly no evidence to support the bizarre idea that low performing male athletes decide to radically alter their lives and bodies just in order to dominate women’s sports.

The recent attacks on transgender women and girls playing sports is much more an attempt to vilify trans people, rather than to solve any real problem. The fact that the majority of these sports bans specifically target trans girls and women, while being suspiciously silent on the topic of trans boys and men, alone makes it clear that these athletes have become religion’s latest boogeyman.

Similarly, the many bills requiring students to use the bathrooms/locker rooms that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificate (or some other legal definition of sex depending on the state) typically present it as an issue of protecting girls and women from sexual assault. Once again, this is a solution to a problem that does not exist— trans people have been using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity for as long as sex-segregated bathrooms have existed. There is no evidence to suggest that allowing trans women to use women’s restrooms leads to a rise in sexual assaults.

Any law that requires school employees, sports officials or other authority figures to make determinations of gender will ultimately rely on religious, misogynistic understandings of gender presentation and race-based stereotyping, as well as dramatically empower religious individuals to force their views on gender expression onto their communities. Some bills even go so far as to empower officials to conduct genital exams, ironically increasing the risk of sexual assault far more than a transgender person in a bathroom ever could.

Learn more about FFRF’s efforts here:

FFRF opposes drag bansMuch like bans in public schools on learning about the existence of LGBTQIA+ people and communities, bills banning minors from viewing drag performances rely on the presumption that drag is inherently sexual and pornographic. The truth is, there is nothing inherently sexual about drag performances. Much like any other art form, the sexual nature of a performance is completely contextual. A drag performance on a Saturday night at a bar is going to be very different from a drag story time at a library on Monday morning geared to preschoolers. Additionally, many of these bans are written in such a way that the legislation would criminalize any trans person from performing in the presence of a minor, regardless of whether or not they are drag performers.

These bans stoke violence against transgender people as well as cisgender people who do not adhere to a strictly binary gender presentation. The implication that anyone who dresses in a way that is contrary to the gender identity that someone perceives them as is a sexual act in and of itself leads to fear and potential violence.. The ultimate goal of these bills is to control the gender presentation of all Americans into a binary that conforms with a conservative, religious understanding of gender.

Learn more about FFRF’s efforts here:

FFRF supports bans on conversion therapyFrequently associated with religious organizations, conversion therapy — also sometimes known as “anti-gay” or “reparative therapy” — is widely agreed to be unscientific and outright dangerous to the people subjected to it.

As many as 20 states and over 70 cities and counties have passed laws limiting and regulating conversion therapy, especially when it comes to minors. While these laws are an important first step in outlawing this dangerous practice, it is important to continue to advocate for their expansion to include conversion therapy targeted at adults, as well as to lobby for every state to adopt these protections.

Learn more about FFRF’s efforts here:

FFRF supports anti-discrimination laws and ending religious exemptions 

Legal protections for LGBTQIA+ individuals vary widely from state to state, and in some states, from city to city. Anti-discrimination laws may cover any number of areas, from education to housing to employment and beyond, and guarantee equal access and dignity for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.It is important to remember that even in states where protections exist on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity/expression may still not be protected. In Wisconsin, for example, the statutes that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation when it comes to employment, housing and public accommodations do not extend to gender identity/expression.

Many religious groups respond to anti-discrimination laws by pointing to Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) and other religious exemptions. Such measures exist at both the state and federal levels, and require that any law that would impact religious practice, no matter how incidentally, must be the least restrictive means to meet a compelling government interest.

This means that even when anti-discrimination protections and other laws that may protect LGBTQIA+ individuals are passed, religious organizations, businesses and individuals may be able to use RFRAs in order to dismantle them.

In a recent example from 2022, a federal judge in Texas ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurers and employers offer plans that cover preventative care, including the HIV prevention drug PrEP, is a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, agreeing with the plaintiff’s argument that it “forces religious employers to provide coverage for drugs that facilitate and encourage homosexual behavior.”

In addition to RFRAs, many states have enacted religious exemptions targeted toward LGBTQIA+ rights in the areas of marriage services, adoption/child services, medical services and marriage licenses. These laws work in combination to prioritize religious belief over the rule of law, allowing businesses to refuse service, adoption agencies to turn away prospective parents, doctors to refuse to treat patients and more, on the basis of religious disapproval of certain sexual orientations or gender identities.

Cases like 303 Creative v. Elenis are also poised to severely limit the effectiveness of anti-discrimination laws, opening the door for any business owner to refuse service to members of LGBTQIA+ communities on the basis of religion. Now more than ever it is critical to continue to advocate for strong protections for LGBTQIA+ individuals against religious bigotry.

Repealing these laws is critical to ensuring that all other legislative efforts are actually effective, rather than essentially meaningless platitudes that don’t actually operate with any force of law.

Learn more about FFRF’s work here:

Court reform is needed to protect all aspects of state-church separation, including the protection of LGBTQIA+ communities, families and individuals. Until that happens, we cannot rely on judges to protect the civil rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution. We need voices of reason, science and compassion in state legislatures advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights, and the principle of separation between state and church that undergirds most individual freedoms and human rights.

(1) While the diagnosis of “Gender Dysphoria” is still a valid diagnosis in the current edition of the DSM, it refers to the mental health issues related to the distress felt by many trans individual as a result of the mismatch between their gender identity and their body, not trans identity in and of itself. Experiences with gender dysphoria vary among individuals, with some trans individuals experiencing extreme levels of dysphoria, and others experiencing none at all.

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