The Many–And Wrong–Definitions of ‘Gender Ideology’

Earlier this month, the bishops of Panama met with Pope Francis, and the conversation turned to the Vatican buzzword of “gender ideology.”   It is difficult to define exactly what is meant by that term which only church leaders seem to use.  It has never been clearly defined.  In a Crux news story about the meeting, Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín  initially defined gender ideology as:

“. . . [A]ttempts by Western governments and NGOs to impose a permissive sexual morality on poor countries as a condition of development assistance.”

Just two paragraphs later, she changed the definition to:

“. . . [T]he idea that sexual orientation and identity are self-determined rather than given in nature, and it’s seen as a cornerstone of a secular Western vision.”

Cardinal José Luis Lacunza

Cardinal José Luis Lacunza, bishop of David, Panama who publicly discussed “gender ideology” with the press after he met with the pope, seemed to put forward yet a different definition that deals with sex education in schools.  According to Crux:

“Lacunza too brought up the issue of gender theory, saying that in Panama, teaching a liberal, Western form of sexual education in schools is considered a human right, but ‘from our perspective of faith, this has nothing to do with human rights.

” ‘The human rights homosexual people must have are in respect to their dignity, their choices, and that they are not discriminated against,’ Lacunza said. ‘But to go from there to pushing so that society should accept those choices as something good, desirable, digestible, and that it is taught to little children, we are not willing to go there.’ “

One of the main problems of keeping the term “gender ideology” so undefined is that it allows users of the term to let it fit it to whatever idea they want to criticize.  So, while sometimes it is used to describe new ideas of gender roles, it is also used to denigrate gender transition and transgender people, as well as to oppose legal rights for lesbian and gay people.

No educational curriculum that I have read about forces people to make choices about their gender or their sexual orientation.  No one really chooses such things.  Rather, people discover these identities within themselves, just as they, in the normal process of adult development, discover other parts of their psychological and emotional make-up.

So, while the cardinal talks about accepting “choices as something good, desirable, digestible,” in fact he is not talking about the real lives of LGBT people, but about a myth and stereotype about them.

Archbishop José Ulloa Mendieta

Another prelate who met with the pope, Archbishop José Ulloa Mendieta of Panama City, defined gender theory in yet another way, and characterized it as “diabolical.”   The National Catholic Reporter quoted him:

“Ulloa said that gender theory, which argues that male and female characteristics are largely malleable social constructs, is ‘diabolical’ in that ‘it wants to break a bit with the reality of the family.’ “

Again, this is simply incorrect.  For example, transgender people do not say that their gender identity is malleable or socially constructed, but rather that their stable, interior identity does not match their physical body.

Diabolical? Nothing can be further than the truth.  Growth in self-knowledge is not diabolical, but, indeed, it is divinely inspired as people develop an awareness and acceptance of the way God has blessed them to experience the world and to love other people.

Using the term “gender ideology” is a rhetorical strategy.  First of all, using the term makes it sound like it is an alternative to something natural and de facto.  But, for LGBT people, isn’t the promotion of  heterosexual and cisgender norms a form of ideology?

Secondly, it is a strategy to make a set of ideas sound sinister.  Whoever thinks anything that is an “ideology” is good?  Furthermore, the term makes it sound like there is a master plan lurking behind the “ideology,”  when, in fact, what is behind most of our discussions about gender and sexuality are people who are struggling to live honest and authentic lives.

Pope Francis himself has used the term “gender ideology” as a reference to supposed programs about gender with which he disagrees.  Unfortunately, he, and many other church officials, are often misinformed about the reality of new ways of living out one’s gender.  Church leaders need so much education on gender and sexuality so that they will not use such meaningless and incorrect terms to describe the most intimate facets of people’s lives.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 25,  2017

QUOTE TO NOTE: Trans Catholic ‘Clings to Faith’ As Church Guidance is Absent

Earlier this spring, Commonweal magazine featured a pair of articles on gender identity, titled “The Church and Transgender Identity: Some Cautions, Some Possibilities.” You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of theologian David Cloutier’s piece here and theologian Luke Timothy Johnson’s piece here.

istock-499902638_0In response, a transgender person, who remained anonymous, wrote a powerful letter to the editor about their experiences with the church. “Anonymous” explained:

“I was a transgender child raised in a very religious Catholic family. . .the price of living ‘in the closet’ has been high: hundreds of hours of psychotherapy and spiritual direction, a lifetime of eating disorders and psychological suffering, and very little experience of deep, fulfilling friendships. When interacting with people, I am guarded, not myself. I feel as if I’m putting on an act, to spare other people from having to ‘freak out,’ as the people in my pre-school did.”

Still, the letter’s author has no clear answers about what the church or society should do with transgender children. The author only knows that their identity was “inborn” and nothing could change it. The letter concluded:

“Over the years I have longed for better guidance from the church. Nowhere does the vast literature of Catholic spirituality ask how a transgender person can lead a Christian life. All I can do is cling to the faith that, if the Creator made the kind of universe in which transgender people are possible, then the God ‘who wills everyone to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth’ must have a plan even for me. I just wish I knew what it is.”

Letters like this one clearly indicate how much the church must improves its pastoral care for trans Catholics and their families. To read the full letter from  “Anonymous” in Commonweal, click here.

To read the latest updates on transgender Catholic issues, see Bondings 2.0’s “Transgender” category in the right-hand column or click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 28, 2017

Nuns As Queer

Nancy Corcoran, CSJ

Today’s post is from guest blogger, Sister Nancy Corcoran, CSJ. Students at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, first introduced themselves to Nancy as trans or gender-variant in her role as the Catholic Chaplain at the school. Recently retired, she is on a sabbatical, exploring a ministry of presence and accompaniment with other queer folk.

 

Before I became a Sister of St. Joseph, I visited New York City to meet Sister Anne Brotherton who was getting her doctorate at Fordham University.  As we toured Greenwich Village together, I asked Anne if she felt funny walking around in a traditional habit. “Oh, no”, she responded, “I feel quite comfortable.  We’re all queer here”.

Merriam-Webster defines the word “queer” as  “differing in some odd way from what is usual or normal.”  And today, the term “queer” is being reclaimed as a source of pride to folks who disdain the rigid binary classifications of being either female or male.  So why do I think of nuns as queer?

Presently, I am on a sabbatical exploring ministry with LGBTQIA folks after working at a women’s college that graduated a few men every year.  The students exposed me to the rigid binary construction of female and male.  The way they used their clothing and hair styles in ways that did not fit the gender binary politicized my consciousness.

When I no longer had the energy to keep up with the 18-22-year-olds as their Catholic Chaplain, I retired, and I am now on sabbatical. During this time, I have learned that rather than “peculiar, bizarre or weird”, the term “queer” has come to mean “unconventional, unorthodox folks who make visible that maleness and femaleness are social constructions rather than divinely assigned categories”.

Believing that one cannot minister with humans that we believe to be “other” than ourselves, I began reflecting on how I and my religious sisters have also challenged the binary. Let me share some examples which have existed in convents. In an age when a woman’s glory was her long hair, nuns cut theirs off before they pronounced vows. They often were given names reserved for men. Richard Joseph, Francis Regis, John Kenneth, James Patrick, Christopher, Leo, Paul are names of some of my sisters who are alive today.  If sisters did not bind their breasts, they often wore bib like material to disguise their natural form.  Like males, most sisters did not wear makeup. When in habit they went “stealth” at times, especially at the beach.

When I was a child in the 1950-60’s, religious women did the jobs that men did. They were presidents of colleges, principals of schools, administrators and financial officers of hospitals. Some sisters note that when they wore a habit, they were no longer perceived as a woman. We were given instant authority, instant deference.  They were perceived equal to priests–or at least of higher privilege than other women.

Like the experience of many transgender and gender non-conforming humans, many of our parents were not pleased with the choice of our entering the convent.  Our parents’ dreams of traditional weddings and grandchildren faded with our choice.  So I find I have a lot more in common with folks who claim the term “queer” than I had thought possible.

I have hope that by normalizing our “unconventional” and “unorthodox” choices, we might also claim our love and support of humans who likewise challenge the social construction of our society. Rigid constructions of our social norms do need to be challenged. Perhaps by looking at the choices made by nuns, we might expand our acceptance of other queer folk, and explore together how to be fully human.

Sister Nancy Corcoran, CSJ, May 20, 2017

Catholic Schools in Ontario Cancel Children’s Play on Gender Identity

Catholic schools in Ontario, Canada have canceled scheduled performances of a play because of concerns that its protagonist is a small child who explores gender boundaries.

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Photo of a “Boys, Girls, and Other Mythological Creatures” performance

Carousel Players, the theater company behind the play, announced the cancellations of “Boys, Girls, And Other Mythological Creatures.” According to Global Newsthe play “tells the story of 8-year-old Simon, who dreams of becoming a princess and feels boxed in gender stereotypes.”

Parents’ complaints about the content led the Niagara Catholic District School Board to cancel the show on the grounds that the play was “not age-appropriate” and students would not understand the issues it raises. The Board claimed Carousel Players did not include information in its promotional materials that the play was about gender identity.

Yet, CBC Radio reported the play, targeted at elementary age children, “was created in conjunction with representatives from several Ontario school boards to be in line with the province’s new sex-ed curriculum.” The Players were explicit in marketing their performance as such.

Not everyone is convinced the cancellations happened due to concerns over students’ ages. Jessica Carmichael, the artistic director for Carousel Players, released a statement which said, in part:

“I fear these cancellations may be based on misinformation, grown out of fear, intolerance, transphobia, homophobia and misogyny. . .The core message from the main character, Simon(e), in Boys, Girls, And Other Mythological Creatures, is that every child needs the support of friends and family no matter who they are, what they dress like, what toys they like to play with and what they imagine they can be. I wholeheartedly believe in this message.”

Carmichael further said the play has been well received when performed at other schools, where staff are “encouraging children to have conversations which promote acceptance” and where the magic of live theater “brings people together to work towards a better today and tomorrow and it encourages discussion.”

The Carousel Players have since staged a free performance, followed by a question and answer period so anyone in the local community who wished to view the play could do so.

Having not seen “Boys, Girls, And Other Mythological Creatures” myself, I cannot comment on the play’s contents, and whether it would be appropriate for elementary age children. But school officials should be aware that even young children are already grappling with questions about gender. Many trans individuals claim they had a consciousness about their identities as young as five or six years of age.

Whether through the Carousel Players or some other means, Catholic schools in Ontario and elsewhere should be addressing issues of gender identity as an essential aspect of their commitment to students’ flourishing.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 8, 2017

The Church and Transgender Identity, Part 2

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 began a two-part series about Commonweal magazine’s paired feature articles about “The Church and Transgender Identity: Some Cautions, Some Possibilities.”  The two Catholic theologians who penned the articles are David Cloutier, associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America and the author of Walking God’s Earth: The Environment and Catholic Faith (Liturgical Press); and Luke Timothy Johnson, emeritus Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University and the author of The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art (Eerdmans).

Yesterday, we reviewed and evaluated Cloutier’s article, which took a more negative view of current transgender discourse on identity and legal rights.  Today we will look at Johnson’s argument which takes a more positive approach. Johnson is not a newcomer to Catholic LGBT issues.  He spoke at New Ways Ministry’s 2007 and 2012 national symposiums, and his ideas were very positively received by the participants.

It’s first important to point out that though Cloutier and Johnson have opposing positions, they do share some ideas in common.  Just as Cloutier took a negative position, but also expressed sympathy and respect fo transgender people, Johnson takes a positive position but also turns a critical eye to some of what he sees as excesses of the pro-trans camp. Both lament the speed with which decisions on transgender issues are being made and both decry the hardening of polarized camps which the discussion seems to have fostered.  Johnson describes the contemporary situation:

“. . . [T]he pace of social change, or at least the agitation for it, is drastically accelerated by social media and the 24/7 news cycle, and that for users of Facebook and Twitter, immediacy is all.

“. . .[L]iberals are not simply wrong, they are demonic; conservatives are not merely in error, they are evil. In a paradoxical twist, agitators for the recognition of sexual difference in the name of diversity demonize any appeal to norm or nature as oppressive; they seem unaware of the way in which ‘diversity’ easily becomes an equally hegemonic norm.”

In his essay, Johnson sets out to examine “whether Christian theology has anything to offer our present situation. My effort focuses on gender, identity, and the body, and begins by addressing a theological tendency I regard as profoundly unhelpful, precisely to the degree that it pays no attention to actual human experience—and thus, in fact, fails to ‘respond’ at all.”

Luke Timothy Johnson

Before presenting Johnson’s theological critique, I want to point out that his preference to pay “attention to actual human experience” is exactly the point where he and Cloutier diverge.  Although Cloutier does not discuss human testimony, I pointed out in yesterday’s post that his writing exhibited a lack of knowledge about transgender personal experience.  Johnson’s approach, on the other hand, values human experience as an important source of theological reflection.

Johnson critiques the heavy emphasis on gender division and gender roles expounded in the writings of Catholic theologians like Hans von Balthasar, John Paul II, and Angelo Scola, as well as Protestant theologians Karl Barth and Stanley Grenz.  He provides a succinct and careful analysis of the main trends in their theologies and concludes that their approach is

“. . . based neither on observation of human behavior, nor on genuine philosophical reflection on the behavior of real people in conversation with all the texts of Scripture, but rather on elevating selected texts of Scripture perceived as possessing a distinct and absolute revelatory character.”

Johnson, who is primarily a Scripture scholar, takes a more dynamic view of Scripture than these traditionalist theologians:

“However important Scripture is as a witness to God’s activity in the world, and however truly Scripture participates in divine revelation, it is wrong to proceed as though revelation were contained in it alone. If theology has to do with the Living God, then it must pay attention to the ways in which God continuously manifests his power and presence in the world. Catholics have always regarded tradition as a second source of witness to God’s work—in liturgy and Creed, to be sure, but above all also in the living testimony of the saints. For where holiness speaks, the church must pay attention.

“. . . . Regarding subjects like sex and gender, theologians risk seeming deaf to the voice of the living God if they do not listen carefully to what God might be up to in the sexual experience of actual humans and in the study of sexuality and gender offered by philosophy, anthropology, psychology, and—for goodness sake!—biology.”

Unlike traditional theologians who have clear definitions of gender and gendered bodies, Johnson believes that “bodily expression is always ambiguous, always difficult to decipher. If we believe, however, that God lives and continues to touch us, then we must learn something of the grammar and syntax of real bodies.”  This awareness is especially true because human beings reveal  “a variety of ways in which “male” and “female” can be individually embodied and expressed.”  He proceeds into an informative discussion of people who are intersex, meaning that they may have been born with ambiguous genitalia or other hormonal or secondary sex characteristics that can not easily be classified as male or female.

Most important to the Catholic discussion of transgender issues, Johnson asserts that gender is not a moral or religious classification, but a biological and social one.  As such, he says it is a relative, not an absolute, good, “not constitutive of humans but is rather an accidental (if extremely important) dimension of being human.”   He continues:

” . . . [T]he desire to change one’s gender is not itself a moral issue. It is not in itself a disordered drive, or a form of rebellion against the creator. It could be, to be sure, but it need not be; like the discovery of one’s sexual attraction to persons of the same gender, it may in fact be a recognition of oneself that is deeply respectful of the Creator.”

Similarly, he notes that gender change is not a religious issue per se, but can be considered such only on the basis of an individual’s motivation for change:

“. . . [I]f I make gender change an absolute good (I cannot be myself in this body) rather than a relative one (what counts is serving God and others in any body), I may in fact reveal a disordered desire, a form of idolatrous impulse. The moral or religious issue is not our gender, in other words, but what we make of it.”

And while it is sad that Johnson has to highlight the following idea, the tenor of the current political debate on transgender issues does make it necessary to do so:

“Openness to gender change does not equal openness to sexual vice.”

Johnson concludes with a hope for a process of Christian discernment about transgender identity, noting that what is needed is “face-to-face conversation; rather than the glare of publicity, intimate and honest exchange.”  And the Chuch can and should be the place where such a discernment takes place, as well as being, Johnson’s words, “the place where openness to change is a corollary of belief in the new creation and its endless inventiveness, even as it remains the place where the goal of change is greater than the discovery of the autonomous self.”

The discussion on transgender identity in the Catholic Church is just beginning.  Both Cloutier’s and Johnson’s articles are important reading for those who want to look at this issue through theological lenses.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 5, 2017

Lexi Dever, a young transgender Catholic woman, and Deacon Ray Dever, her father, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. They will join Nicole Santamaria, an intersex advocate, in a focus session on transgender and intersex family issues.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

 

 

 

 

The Church and Transgender Identity, Part 1

Last month, one of Commonweal magazine’s cover features was a pair of articles from two theologians on the topic “The Church and Transgender Identity:  Some Cautions, Some Possibilities.” The theologians were David Cloutier, associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America and the author of Walking God’s Earth: The Environment and Catholic Faith (Liturgical Press); and Luke Timothy Johnson, emeritus Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University and the author of The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art (Eerdmans).

In today’s post, Bondings 2.0 will present Cloutier’s argument, and tomorrow we will present Johnson’s perspective.

If we think of the pairing of these two articles as representing a pro and con position, Cloutier’s essay would have to be put into the con column.  I’m not sure that this is a totally fair assessment, though, for while Cloutier clearly questions a lot of transgender discourse, another dimension that comes through his essay is some sensitivity to people who identify as transgender.  He seems interested in finding a way that understands and respects them, even though it is obvious that he does not approve of what he sees as underlying assumptions of a lot of transgender equality rationales.

His introductory summary of the national transgender debate shows that he recognizes excesses on both sides of the discussion:

“One side views accepting an individual’s chosen identity as paramount and resistance not as simply erroneous, but downright offensive. Moreover, there is a (correct) recognition of the real struggle and suffering experienced by trans people. Yet the other side views the plain reality of male and female biology as so obvious (and often as a matter of religious truth) that it can envision no possibility of acceptance. What has increasingly resulted from this opposition are not reasoned arguments, but acts of coercion—whether in the Obama administration’s well-publicized anti-discrimination directives compelling schools and hospitals to accommodate “an individual’s internal sense of gender,” or in such backlash responses as North Carolina’s infamous ‘bathroom bill.’ “

Cloutier recognizes that the debate has revealed that “important things are at stake,” and so he sets out to examine two questions:  “What does a claim to transgender identity mean?” and “How does the debate over transgender identity and rights impact the common good?”

David Cloutier

To answer the first question, Cloutier examines some of the varying definitions of gender identity currently being used.  Unfortunately, he tends to focus on some of the extremes of this discussion, such as:

“. . . Facebook now offers fifty-six gender options. We seem to be rushing to embrace an ethic that dismisses the need to posit a real self, in favor of exploring the possibilities as they come.”

While some people may believe everything that is on Facebook, I don’t think many serious-minded people use that social media platform as the standard of legitimate evidence.

Cloutier is suspicious of transgender people’s personal testimonies that the body does not reflect “who I really am.”  He evaluates this kind of thinking negatively:

“. . . [W]e are essentially saying identity is a matter of free expression of an internal sense, and therefore what we are supposed to respect is the individual’s choice of the expression of identity feelings, regardless of his or her embodiment. . . . Both liberal and conservative Catholics have spent decades trying to rehabilitate the goodness of embodiment from problematic spiritualizations that understood our sexual bodies in particular as suspect sites of corruption requiring rigid regimes of mastery. We are committed to an ultimately sacramental worldview where the body and soul are a unity. From this perspective, an immaterial sense that one’s body is the ‘wrong’ one seems like a pretty big problem.”

Here’s one spot that I think that Cloutier is wrong.  From the many transgender people that I have encountered, I have not met many (maybe any) who said, in a totally serious way, that their bodies were wrong.  More accurately, they say that their bodies do not express their gender.  For those who seek some sort of biological modification, I have often understood that their decision to do so was because they appreciate and reverence their bodies and want them to be made whole, not because they saw them as wrong.

Cloutier’s line of thinking misleads him to inaccurately describe the goal of many transgender advocates:

“What I suspect is that the subjective sense of one’s own gender and sexual identity has become so important in our society that we are willing to sacrifice the body to it. In other words, the sense of gender identity being invoked here is construed as sacred. And the particular sense of the sacred has to do with a kind of radical self-determination. To stretch the metaphor, advocates of alternative gender paradigms are making a kind of ‘religious freedom’ argument for having their sacred sense of identity accepted.”

This characterization of gender identity as sacred seems to me to be in the mind of Cloutier, not in the minds of transgender advocates.  While many transgender people do acknowledge the spiritual dimension of their identity journeys, I don’t see them arguing in the public sphere for their equality on religious grounds.

In answering his second question, concerning transgender equality and the public good, Cloutier reveals a fear which was expressed many times during the struggle for lesbian and gay equality: What about the children?

In one spot, he states:

“. . . [W]hile it is reasonable for the state to tolerate, if not endorse, the wide exercise of individual autonomy, we also have a responsibility to ask questions about any potential damage done to our understanding of the common good, which also has real costs for individuals, especially children.”

And in another spot, he opines:

“. . . [W]hile it is reasonable for the state to tolerate, if not endorse, the wide exercise of individual autonomy, we also have a responsibility to ask questions about any potential damage done to our understanding of the common good, which also has real costs for individuals, especially children.”

I don’t believe that he intends simply to scare people. I think Cloutier is genuinely afraid that children will be easily influenced by encountering transgender people and issues. At one point, he writes:

“. . . [I]f we grant the persuasiveness of the ‘gender possibility’ argument in explaining the trans phenomenon, then it seems necessary to acknowledge that affirming and accommodating the transgender identity of one child will affect other children, in much the same way that gender stereotypes about alpha males and compliant females affect them.”

But his fear is unwarranted and the result of a faulty assumption. What’s wrong with this type of thinking is that Cloutier assumes that the idea of changing one’s gender identity is something contagious, attractive to others.  This kind of thinking seems to imagine gender identity as something easily manipulated.  It is the same kind of argument used in the discussion of gay and lesbian sexual orientation: the thinking ran that if a person, particularly a young person, became aware of gay and lesbian people or identities, then they would quickly abandon their heterosexual orientations to become gay and lesbian.  It was a ludicrous argument then, as it is now in the case of transgender people.

Cloutier concludes by advising caution (but not opposition) in discussing transgender topics in society:

“Given the conceptual difficulties involved in discerning the gender implications of ‘who I really am,’ plus the longstanding preference in both Christianity and in the general society for a unified body-soul anthropology, and the significant capacity for human folly and self-deception in these matters, at the very least we would seem to need a yellow light, not a green one.”

I will only remark here on the phrase about “significant capacity for human folly and self-deception in these matters.”  As the influence or contagion model of gender identity mentioned above in regard to children, this kind of thinking presumes that decisions about gender identity are matters of whim.  They are not.  For many people, they are the result of long, often painful, but sometimes joyful, discernments involving spirituality, personality, and relationships.

The remark about human folly and self-deception show a weakness evident throughout Cloutier’s essay:  he shows no evidence that he has seriously considered any transgender person’s testimony seriously, other than, perhaps, the wildly sensational story of Caitlyn Jenner.

As for Cloutier’s remark about the “longstanding preference in both Christianity and in the general society for a unified body-soul anthropology,”   I will make no comment.  I will it to Luke Timothy Johnson to answer that assertion as he does a much better and more erudite job than I could ever hope to do.   Tune into tomorrow’s post for a summary and evaluation of his Commonweal essay, which is the pro side of the Catholic transgender identity discussion.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 4, 2017

Lexi Dever, a young transgender Catholic woman, and Deacon Ray Dever, her father, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. They will join Nicole Santamaria, an intersex advocate, in a focus session on transgender and intersex family issues.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

For Transgender Day of Visibility: How Catholic Tradition Can Stop Trans Murders

Today is the International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to raise awareness about trans people’s accomplishments and fight back against transphobia. But amid celebrations is the sad reality that hate crime-related killings against transgender people in El Salvador are on the rise. Disturbingly, LGBT activists have claimed the Catholic Church in that country, and elsewhere in Latin America, contributes to this tragedy. But the people of God in that country can choose another path.

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Trans advocates marching through San Salvador on International Women’s Day.

In February, Reuters reported, three trans people were murdered in just the town of San Juan Talpa, bringing the total number of trans people murdered in 2017 up to seven. Of one murder, the news service reported:

“The town’s latest victim was Elizabeth Castillo, a transgender woman, who police say was kidnapped in February after attending the funeral of two transgender women. Her body, showing signs of torture, was then found dumped on the roadside.”

Another 40 trans people, said Karla Avelar, director of group Communicating and Training Transwomen, “have been forced to migrate to other countries to safeguard their own lives.” Teresa, a trans woman in San Juan Talpa, has considered fleeing because of her fears, saying:

“‘I think that someone is coming to kill me. . .I live in constant fear. . .With a doubt, I’ve thought about being far away from this country because staying here the gangs find you.”

“The gangs don’t accept lesbians, gay boys or transgender people. Diversity doesn’t fit into their rules.”

Anti-LGBT violence is closely affiliated with the gang violence ravaging the country, which Reuters described as “one of the world’s deadliest countries outside a war zone.” Gangs maintain control of many communities through extortion, violence, and rape. But social stigma is also contributing greatly to the suffering now endured by LGBT people in El Salvador, and activists claim the Catholic Church is complicit in this regard. Humanosphere reported:

“Advocates say LGBT people face a double threat from such violence. They say anti-LBGT rhetoric from religious figures and politicians perpetuates already entrenched social prejudices, and that the influential Roman Catholic Church furthers anti-LGBT sentiment by publicly condemning gay marriage and sex.”

LGBT-negative stigmas are widespread in El Salvador. Reuters said a “2013 survey by the U.S.-based Pew Research Centre found nearly two-thirds of Salvadorans believed society should not accept homosexuality.” Reparative therapy is also commonplace; another survey found two in five LGBT people had experienced it. Given the church’s considerable, and at one time dominant, influence in El Salvador, these stigmas are derived, at least in part, from LGBT-negative statements and actions of Catholics. Avelar, herself the survivor of two attempted killings, summarized the situation:

“‘They are criminalizing us. . .They use the word of God and the Bible to judge us. It’s destroying us.'”

“Destroying” is not hyperbolic. Twenty-five LGBT people were murdered last year in a nation with a population equivalent to that of the U.S. state of Massachusetts.  After the first quarter of 2017, El Salvador is on pace to exceed that number.

Ireland : El Salvador
In 2015, Archbishop Romero was beatified on the same day that Ireland passed marriage equality. It was a great day for the laity! Click to share this graphic.

But the Catholic Church in El Salvador has another option: a liberationist tradition already being taken up by some Catholics in regard to LGBT people. The Universidad Centroamericana, where six Jesuits were martyred in 1989, hosted El Salvador’s first LGBT rights conference in 2013 (to read a reflection on this event from Bondings 2.0’s editor Francis DeBernardo, click here).

This liberationist tradition is rooted in the nation’s martyrs, including Blessed Oscar Romero who was not beatified, due to conservative opposition, until Pope Francis. Shortly before his assassination, Romero told a reporter:

“If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. If the threats come to be fulfilled, from this moment I offer my blood to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality.”

Trans Salvadorans murdered are themselves martyrs; they were killed for walking the path of holiness, for living openly as their authentic selves. In their blood, new seeds of freedom and hope take root to flourish. These children of God should have never faced violent deaths in the first place, but their murders now compel Catholics to be a leading voice for LGBT human rights and as a defender of crucified LGBT communities.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 31, 2017

Nicole Santamaria, an intersex woman and LGBT rights activist from El Salvador, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. She will join an international focus session panel of transgender and intersex advocates. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who heads Sexual Minorities Uganda, will be a plenary speak on “The Catholic Church, Criminalization Laws, and the LGBT Experience in Uganda.”  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.