America's newest cultural battleground
How should the church respond to the transgender movement?
By John W. Kennedy
A recent spate of newspaper columns, magazine articles, television programs, and films has trumpeted the cause of transgender rights.
Much like the early homosexual rights movement a generation ago, the reports are designed to show the humanity of people who feel they have been unfairly targeted because of their sexual preferences. The message is one of tolerance and acceptance.
Hollywood has aided the cause with films like Boys Don’t Cry, starring Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank, to Transamerica, featuring Oscar-nominated Felicity Huffman.
Recent media portrayals have focused on children. In an April segment for 20/20, Barbara Walters interviewed a 6-year-old boy who explained how he had been born with the wrong body. His parents and psychologists supported the kindergartener’s decision to become a girl.
A transsexual desires to be a member of the opposite sex. The person may or may not have had “sex reassignment” surgery. The person may or may not be a homosexual.
A raft of transgender-rights groups have formed in the 21st century to take up the cause, including: the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Transgender Law & Policy Institute. Homosexual rights groups have also lent their support.
Although the transgendered already have some legal protections, rights groups are seeking more.
“The goal for GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons) is complete acceptance,” says Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, a Christian organization based in Orlando, Fla. “They want any sexual preference to be legitimized and celebrated. They believe if society endorses what they are doing it will validate what is broken inside them.”
“The transgender community doesn’t want any voice out there that will suggest anything they are doing is questionable,” says Jerry Leach, director of Reality Resources, a ministry in Lexington, Ky.
The transgendered are seeking more than additional restrooms. They are demanding special federal protections for employment and housing and, through lawsuits, are waging battles on behalf of transgendered college students, immigrants, prisoners and the homeless.
Those opposed to the transgendered rights movement maintain it will open a legal can of worms. For example, if a transgendered person weds, does that constitute same-sex marriage? If serving in the military, does it violate government policy? If playing organized sports is it an unfair advantage?
To date, few Christian organizations have spoken out on the issue, but Chambers, 35, says that is changing: “It’s coming to the forefront because, like many things that ride on the coattails of the gay-rights movement, it’s brought into public discussion through concentrated media efforts. Christians are paying more attention to other areas of sexual brokenness: homosexuality, pornography, sex trafficking.”
Spring Arbor (Mich.) University, a Free Methodist school, was forced to pay a settlement to John Nemeck. The school demoted and eventually fired Nemeck, a 15-year business professor and associate dean who refused to stop wearing makeup, earrings and a wig to classes.
By January 2008, 13 states will have laws prohibiting employers and landlords from discriminating against transgendered people. Ten states have enacted “hate crime” laws specifically protecting “gender identity or expression.” A growing list of major corporations, including American Airlines, Kodak, Nike, IBM and Apple Computers, have gender identity non-discrimination policies.
By a 237-180 vote, the U.S. House in May passed a “hate-crimes” bill to protect victims on the basis of gender identity. The Senate hasn’t taken action.
“We don’t need [additional] legislation protecting any special class of people,” Chambers says. “There are [already] rights that benefit people who are transgendered just as men and women.”
A large number of children identified as transgendered are misdiagnosed, maintains Chambers, who served on the pastoral team at Orlando Calvary Assembly of God in Winter Park before joining Exodus.
“As a prepubescent boy I could have been diagnosed as transgendered,” Chambers says. “I dressed like a girl. I acted like a girl. I wanted to be a girl.” Chambers says his parents didn’t encourage him to try to be a female. They knew God doesn’t make mistakes, and cited Genesis 1:27, in which God creates male and female.
“A lot of parents are allowing their children to switch identities from the sex that God created them to live,” Chambers says. “That’s the ultimate form of child abuse. It only sets kids up to be even more confused.”
Chambers says preschoolers are incapable of knowing whether they would feel better as the other gender. He says his desire to be a girl subsided when he hit puberty. Exodus encourages parents with a child who has such feelings to seek help from a Christian counselor who understands the issue. Younger children, on the other hand, shouldn’t go to the counselor, he says.
Leach believes God can transform a person’s mind and give a new beginning. In 1989, Leach was considering sex reassignment surgery. Two weeks before the operation, he sensed God telling him to stop four decades of his covert double life. Ultimately, Leach understood that God knit together his male body, as outlined in Psalm 139:15,16.
“God planned for me to be a man before I had ever been created. There was not a woman inside my body longing to be expressed. This is a psychological and emotional malady. It’s not like taking an appendix out.”
Leach says only the compassion of Christ and trusted Christian friends helped him emerge from the struggle. The challenge for Christians in dealing with the subject is to oppose the sin, yet reach out to those who are hurting.
“There is no human condition outside the redemptive circle of God’s love and power,” Leach says.
John W. Kennedy is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
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