Last week a colleague from Australia asked me via Facebook a question that I imagine a lot of non-U.S. folks are asking about the United States these days. “What is going on over there?” She was referring to the bills in Georgia, North Carolina, Kansas and now Mississippi that basically criminalize being transgender and (in the case of North Carolina) seek to bar non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in local municipalities. I replied that in a post-marriage equality United States, this is a predictable backlash against the most marginalized members of our LGBTQ community.
These bills, oftentimes supported by people who identify as Christian, promote fear of difference. They play on unfounded fears of trans people (and especially trans women) as predators. There are many “helpful” memes out there that are actually reinforcing this fear. You may have seen them – pictures of people who fit society’s definition of masculine or feminine and who are trans – with captions like “Do you really want this person in the bathroom with your wife/husband/child?”
While these memes point out one of many unfortunate consequences of these bills, they also reinforce the idea of a very strict gender binary, and that is dangerous. Because the folks who are most in danger are those who don’t fit that strict societal definition of gender binaries. Some are trans women. Some are genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, or bigender. What we have learned is that much like sexual orientation, gender exists in many diverse ways that cannot be reduced to binary check boxes. This growing awareness is destabilizing for many folks. And destabilization can lead to fear.
What we know is that these fears of people who don’t fit our neat societal definitions of gender are unfounded. What we know is that Jesus showed us how to move beyond fear to love. He showed us how by consistently pushing his followers to love those they weren’t even supposed to associate with – women, Samaritans, tax collectors, people with mental and physical illnesses. But these lessons are hard to learn. Our human nature can send us back to a place of fear, even when we know better.
Just ask the disciples that many of us read about this week. They were huddled, terrified, in a locked room. They thought they were following a Messiah who would definitively defeat the oppressive Roman Empire. And instead, this person in whom they had placed their hope for liberation was brutally executed. Jesus’ followers could not make sense of this. They were terrified. And even when presented with the evidence of an empty tomb that death and the powers of oppression had not had the last word, they struggled to believe. They needed a word, a sign, or some sort of confirmation.
They got this confirmation when Jesus broke through their fear by coming through its locked door and speaking: “Peace.”
Our faith does not call us to fear. It calls us to radical inclusivity, casting out fear, and peace. As a queer person of faith, I believe that I must speak to break through the locked doors of fear. As a queer person of faith who fits the gender binary, who enjoys the privilege of marriage among many others, it is my duty to speak when my siblings are being attacked, because we know that “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” [i]
My organization started a petition last week to raise up faith voices against these anti-LGBTQ bills being proposed in state legislatures across the country. (More than 175 bills have been proposed already in 2016!) Nearly 3,500 people of faith have signed it, proving that there are literally thousands of us who are standing up to fear with words such as these. “All people are God’s precious creation.” “God’s love is immense enough for everyone.” “God created us all in God’s image.” “Discrimination and hate are not religious values.” I am grateful to see so many people standing up for love and against fear. For me, the theme of this Easter season is going to be allowing perfect love to cast out fear, every time.
[i] From The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus. This is the poem quoted on the base of the Statue of Liberty.
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