Getting up to speed on transgender issues

Becky Garrison admits to her credit that even many veteran campaigners for LGBT equality don’t actually know very much about the challenges faced by those identified by the last initial in that acronym. In a recent article for Killing the Buddha, she sets out to educate herself, and educates the rest of us in the process. Some excerpts:

[A]s gays and lesbians became more visible over the decades, … the media [began] to portray them as neighbors, family members, friends, and co-workers. Hence this year’s LGBT Philly Pride Parade and Festival seemed akin to any other family-oriented festival, with vendors offering products like adoption services, animal rescue vans, and insurance. Out with the leather, in with gay-friendly leisure travel.

Such a cultural shift has yet to happen for the trans community. What few trans-related stories I can find tend to focus far more on the subjects’ sex lives when compared to similar reporting of those who self-identify as cisgender (a term that refers to someone whose gender identity coincides with their sex at birth).


The findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report paints a bleak picture of the how this fear of the other translates into victimizing trans people:

The 6,450 US-based transgender and gender non-conforming participants who took part in the study were nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 a year compared to the general population. So much for the myth advanced by progressive evangelicals like Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, and Shane Claiborne that one can advocate for anti-poverty measures while ignoring LGBT rights.

A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population.

Discrimination was pervasive throughout the entire sample, yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural racism was especially devastating.


Prior to coming to this conference, I picked up a copy of Nick Krieger’s Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender from Beacon Press. (Shameless plug: Beacon also published the latest Killing the Buddha anthology, Believer, Beware.) Watching Nick read from this moving and humorous memoir about his fight to inhabit both and neither gender, I became acutely aware of the need for people to self-identify as they wish. For example, some transsexuals who have transitioned no longer self-identify as transgender, as they now see themselves as a cisgender male or female of transsexual history. Hence, I have begun to use the term “trans” when talking about the broader community and, then, to ask those I am interviewing how they would like for me to identify them.


While sitting in on a number of seminars focusing on faith and transgender, I was struck by the depth of conversations about how to create spaces that will welcome all who are created “very good” in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26). I came away from these sessions with a plethora of resources to aid in this exploration of what communities of faith can bring to this discussion.

Read Garrison’s article to find a list of those resources.

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