As their denomination splinters over sexuality and gender issues and as their state elected officials debate new restrictions on transgender citizens and their families, a group of 650 United Methodist clergy and laity published an open letter supporting International Transgender Day of Visibility.
“Given the way in which discriminatory and oppressive policies have been used historically to seek the marginalization and eventual erasure of entire groups of persons, we believe the observance of International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, 2023, is all the more important to the wholeness and flourishing of our communities and to raise awareness of issues impacting transgender, gender non-conforming, gender expansive, and non-binary people,” the letter states.
Geoffrey Moore, lead pastor at St. Stephen UMC in Mesquite, Texas, organized the campaign and said one motivation is a wave of anti-trans bills working their way through the Texas Legislature, especially SB-14 and HB-1686, which outlaw gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors.
“Our first general rule as United Methodists is to do no harm,” Moore said. “These bills are putting our trans children, youth and families at risk of serious harm. In the end, they seek nothing less than the erasure of our trans population.”
This is not just a political issue, he added. “This is a gospel issue. I acknowledge that some people don’t understand transgender and gender non-conforming people. But Jesus didn’t call us to understand others. In fact, on more than one occasion he rebuked the disciples when they tried to ‘lean on their own understanding’ and treated marginalized people with scorn. Instead, Jesus is clear that he is calling us to love and serve others.”
Co-organizer Scott Gilliland, senior pastor at Arapaho UMC in Plano, Texas, said, “As both a pastor and a parent, I am inspired by the teaching of Jesus to care for the most vulnerable amongst us, and especially children. I’m proud to join with other United Methodist leaders, in the midst of our diverse beliefs and convictions, to clearly say that trans persons are beloved children of God and that our faith inspires us to protect their access to life-saving health care.”
Texas is among several Republican-controlled states pushing through anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans legislation this year.
The Texas Senate already passed SB-14, which outlaws gender-affirming care for anyone under age 18; its mirror bill, HB-1686, was given a public hearing in the Texas House Public Health Committee. Testimony for the House bill lasted more than eight hours and still didn’t accommodate the nearly 500 people who had registered to testify.
By the end of the day, about 2,800 visitors had registered their opposition to the bill, outstripping those supporting the bill 30 to 1.
Although the UMC as a whole has been conflicted about its stances on gender and sexuality, the UMC’s North Texas Conference has not. In 2022, the conference adopted by a 98% vote a resolution on trans youth and families pledging UMC churches would be safe sanctuaries for trans children, youth and their families.
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