Thistlethwaite: Protect trans kids and their families
Thank heavens for Colorado. Families of transgender children are coming here to our state for respect and the health care they need.
I am proud to call Colorado home. From requiring some health care coverage for gender-affirming care, to updated anti-discrimination language to gender-neutral terms, to banning conversion therapy and changing gender markers on state-identity documents, when it comes to dealing justly with transgender issues, Colorado is a bastion of sanity and ethical treatment for all who live here, at least compared to states like Texas.
Texas, on the other hand, has become a hellhole of political wedge issues that advance nothing but physical harm and needless threat over what should be purely private issues. First Texas lawmakers came for those trying to exercise their legal reproductive rights, and they got away with it. And now they are coming for transgender children, their families and the health care professionals who help them.
Why? Why do this to people?
Political gain. It is as simple and as bad as that. Criminalizing women, kids and their families works to drive the “culture wars” vote. This political device allows conservatives to avoid what is actually harming people in their state. In Texas, this is a range of very serious issues from increasing violent storms from climate change, a wobbly electrical grid, housing crises, poverty and so on. But rather than address those real issues, they insert themselves into people’s private lives just like a wedge used to split logs, breaking them apart.
As a pastor and a teacher of pastors, I believe using kids and their families as a political wedge issue is wholly and completely immoral.
That is exactly what is happening in Texas now, and is advancing in other states. 2022 could be the most anti-trans year so far for legislation, with 300 bills advancing or forthcoming, nearly twice as many as last year. The Texas law is so insidious, accusing parents of child abuse. A judge has temporarily halted this effort, but it is unclear where this trend will go as state after state piles on.
Wedge politics is very subversive. It advances political power by picking on a vulnerable group and demonizing them.
The risk to the very lives of trans kids is alarmingly high. These children do have higher rates of depression and suicide ideation than peers, but supportive care and networks lowers their mental health risks. Gender-affirming care has been shown to reduce suicidal ideation for trans and nonbinary children. The idea that gender-affirming health care is “child abuse” is baseless, cynical, and even cruel.
And yet, self-identified Christian groups, especially those with Christian nationalist views who believe the U.S. is a “Christian nation” and government should keep it that way are a driving force behind these bills, arguing that they are “protecting” kids. They are not. They are putting these kids’ lives at risk and that is not protection by any measure.
There is a very real struggle here in the Christian faith as well as in the culture. The struggle is over whether love or condemnation will be the defining religious message Christians promote.
One reason marriage equality succeeded in this country is that more progressive faith groups spoke out. Christian faith leaders, and I have been one on this topic, spoke forcefully and often on the Christian imperative to “love one another,” a command that appears 11 times in the New Testament. “Love is love” became the religious support for marriage equality. And “Love Wins” worked.
Conservative Christianity lost that struggle against marriage equality, but the drive to control the body and sexuality and enforce a male/female duality remains a core issue for those groups. Controlling women’s bodies through denying reproductive rights and targeting transgender kids and their families to literally enforce cisgender (“straight”) identity on the whole country is the goal.
But in my book, as a Christian pastor, #GodLovesTransKids. Love wins and love is the rule. There can be no debate about that if you base your Christian views in the teachings of Jesus.
As Jesus said in John 13:34: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.”
I believe with all my heart #GodLovesTransKids.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.