May 16, 2011

Maine Voices: Legislation singles out transgender community for discrimination

Proponents of L.D. 1046 are using irrational fears in an attempt to take away legal protections.

"I praise you, God, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." -- Psalm 139:14

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The Rev. Dr. William M. Barter is pastor of St. Ansgar Evangelical Lutheran Church in Portland.

PORTLAND - For the past two years, I have been honored by the transgender community by being asked to speak at Portland's Transgender Day of Remembrance. This event, held every November around the world, commemorates those who have died needlessly (and often violently) simply for being or appearing to be transgender.

Most die alone, their last human contact having been with their murderer. It is a sad and sobering experience as the names are read aloud. These are real people, with real names, with real lives given to them by God and taken from them by hate. Transgender people are a small minority of the population, but even if there were only one transgender person on earth, such treatment is inexcusable.

My own faith tradition, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is very clear on the matter of human sexuality and our responsibility as people of God:

"Hate crimes and violence against those who are regarded as sexually different sometimes have been perpetrated publicly in the name of Christ. Not only must such behaviors be denounced, but this church must work toward greater understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity. It must seek that which is positive and life-giving while protecting from all that which is harmful and destructive." ("Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," ELCA, August 2009.)

As a pastor, I feel bound to denounce a harmful and destructive piece of legislation, L.D. 1046, now being considered by the Maine Legislature.

This hateful, fear-mongering measure seeks to take from transgender individuals protections that are currently included in Maine's human rights statutes. This legislation unfairly singles out one group of individuals for discrimination.

People claiming to be Christians have no basis in sacred Scripture for using religion to discriminate against transgender individuals. In Genesis, for example, we read that God created human beings in God's own image, "male and female." Scripture refers to God as "Father," and again as "Mother." Jesus himself laments over Jerusalem and states that he longs to gather God's people like a "mother hen." God is heard in the wind and seen in fire, two natural phenomena with no gender!

In addition to being a Lutheran pastor, I am a clinical psychologist. I have spent much of my professional life working with transgender people, who, like all of us, seek integrity and wholeness in their lives. They are among the most insightful and inspiring people I have ever met.

Time and again I have heard horror stories about locker rooms, restrooms and other public accommodations. On a daily basis, transgender youths and adults are forced to make fearful decisions that many of us do not even think about.

Imagine, if you will, being forced every day to use a restroom in which you know you do not belong.

Imagine the humiliation of being told that using public facilities must include psychological torture.

Imagine being teased and bullied in school just for being the person God created you to be.

Proponents of L.D. 1046 are using irrational fears to advance their bill. The testimony in favor of the bill has been disturbing. Transgender people are being falsely portrayed as sexual predators.

Using fear as a basis for legislation is never a good idea. It is inhuman to discriminate against transgender people, and using fear and lies in the service of such discrimination is immoral.

To pass L.D. 1046 would be to codify discrimination against a minority who deserve our protection. If you are reading this letter as a religious person, consider the mandate to love all of God's people and to stand up for the oppressed. If you are not a religious person, reach into your conscience and find genuine goodness and fairness.

I encourage everyone to stand up for what is right and just, and to oppose L.D. 1046 by contacting your legislator today.

- Special to the Press Herald

 

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