Freethought NOW!

Transgender rights are a state/church issue

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transgender rights
Copyright: Ted Eytan

Those of you reading this blog have likely noticed over the past several months that there’s been a significant uptick in coverage of LGBTQIA+ rights from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Over the past month especially, we’ve had blogs, an incredible episode of “We Dissent” (available wherever you get your podcasts), and an episode of “Ask an Atheist” dedicated to talking about transgender issues. People who aren’t entrenched in this work, however, might find this a bit odd and may be asking “Why is this a state-church issue?”

The truth of the matter is that religious extremist organizations in the United States, as well as the politicians they fund and the media outlets that further their narratives, have chosen the trans community as their latest scapegoat in their quest to turn America into a theocracy.

Many conservative media outlets like Fox News have been quick to exploit the tragedy of the recent shooting in Nashville to further the flames of anti-transgender hysteria. The day after the shooting, Tucker Carlson claimed that transgender people are the “natural enemy of Christianity,” that “Christianity and transgender orthodoxy are wholly incompatible theologies” and that the shooting was proof that “one side [trans people] are more likely to draw blood before the other side.” Despite the fact that at this time law enforcement has yet to release a motive to the public, Carlson and countless others immediately jumped on the shooter having identified as trans, rather than on the real issue behind the shooting: the extreme lack of gun control laws in this country.

It’s worth noting that in the past 40 years, only three mass shooters in the United States have ever been identified as transgender, and there is no data to suggest that trans people pose any particular threat to the safety and wellbeing of others. In contrast, the primarily religiously motivated harassment of trans people in the wake of the shooting has forced many of us to lock down our social media accounts and temporarily remove pride pins and other potential visible markers of transness from our wardrobes for our own safety. In 2022, at least 34 trans or gender nonconforming people were murdered, though that number is likely higher due to underreporting.

This is only the most recent escalation of the anti-trans rhetoric being pushed primarily by Christian nationalists. Across the country, lawmakers have been pushing gender-affirming care bans, bathroom bans, Don’t Say Gay/Trans bills, and similar proposals to eradicate trans people from public life. These bills are coming from explicitly religious sources. The recently passed bathroom ban in Arkansas, which bans trans students from using the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity, was written by the National Association of Christian Lawmakers. The association, whose mission is to elect “godly leaders at every level” and “restore the Judeo-Christian foundation of our nation,” actively took credit for the law, celebrating that Arkansas was able to fight “the things of the devil in this country.” This is not a new phenomenon either. A recent report released by Mother Jones exposed the secret working group of religious-right organizations, which includes familiar names like the Alliance Defending Freedom and Eagle Forum, that have been pushing for anti-trans legislation since at least 2019.

These organizations are trying to roll back decades of jurisprudence that have made it increasingly clear that transgender people are protected by the law because it is a threat to their agenda to force their religious beliefs onto the rest of the country. The constant stream of anti-trans hysteria has no basis in reality, science or even democracy.

Sexual assault and domestic violence advocates have debunked the “bathroom predator myth” for years, noting that transgender people are more likely to be victims of violent assaults in public bathrooms, rather than perpetrators. Similarly, claims that transgender people are a danger to girls’ and women’s sports are unfounded. Many 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 trans-inclusive policies since 2004. Yet 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 youth constitutes child abuse, saying that in reality, medical ethics requires that physicians treat gender dysphoria in an affirming manner. There is also 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” law lead to poor mental health outcomes for children.

These laws also are not supported by the basic concept of democracy. Recent polling done by the Trevor Project shows that the majority of Floridians and Texans (where some of the most egregious bills have been proposed) don’t actually support these anti-trans laws being proposed. The overwhelming majority of Americans also support anti-discrimination protections including LGBTQIA+ identities, and there is more support than ever for same-sex marriage. It is clear that instead of listening to their constituents, lawmakers are listening to the deep pockets of the religious organizations funding their campaigns.

As advocates for a secular society, we have to look at issues based on all of the available facts, and the available facts tell us that the only motivation for the attacks on transgender rights is religion. This is yet another part of the coordinated attack by religious extremists to dismantle the wall separating church and state and establish an American theocracy. At the end of the day, you don’t have to like trans people, but you do have to ask the question: Once they’re through with us, who are they going to go after next?

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