Former Vice President Joe Biden has made an appeal for transgender youths’ well-being, involving himself in the national debate about on trans equality. Biden, the nation’s first Catholic vice president, adds his voice to other Catholics’ calls for respecting such youth and all trans persons.
Biden, who is Catholic, said, “Every single solitary person, no matter who they were, was entitled to be treated with dignity,” according to The Advocate. He continued:
“‘As much great work as we’ve done, we face some real challenges ahead. We thought things were moving in the right direction. . .But there’s a changing landscape out there, folks, and we have a hell of a lot of work to do.’
“‘Instead of focusing on the fact that 40 percent of the homeless youth on the street are identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [and] rejected by their families out on the street, and what do we do about that, we’re now focusing on whether or not a transgender child, which bathroom they can use.'”
The misguided focus Biden identified is seen in North Carolina’s passage of HB2, an anti-trans bathroom law last year. More recently, the Trump administration rescinded federal education guidelines aimed at protecting transgender students. At the time, Catholic bishops applauded Trump’s decision, while some Catholic clergy offered mixed reactions to it.
Biden made his remarks while receiving a humanitarian award from Help USA, a nonprofit that assists people experiencing homelessness.
As Vice President, he was a noted advocate for LGBT equality who once said trans rights were “the civil rights issue of our time.” He vocally supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and he is credited with moving former President Barack Obama to support marriage equality. Biden even officiated at a staffer’s same-gender wedding in the vice presidential residence, despite bishops’ criticism. Biden has said that the criteria for marriage he endorsed was, “Who do you love?”
The former vice president’s recent address reflects the growing sentiments of many U.S. Catholics who support equal rights for transgender persons. In an op-ed for the Illinois Times. John Freml, coordinator of Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic organizations that work for justice for LGBT people, appealed for more Catholics to become supporters for trans people. Freml was responding to “multiple falsehoods about transgender people” made by Springfield’s Bishop Thomas Paprocki, who said there is “no physical basis for a person claiming to be transgender” and that transitioning is immoral and medically suspect.
In making such claims, Freml said the bishop was “ignoring multiple studies indicating a biological basis for transgender identity due to physical differences in the brain” and “exposing his lack of understanding of the transgender experience and the fluidity of gender.” Paprocki’s claims also contradicted mainstream medical understandings. Freml stated:
“There is actually no definitive Catholic teaching on transgender identity. . .Our bishop insists that the church must ‘reject the false ideologies being promoted in our secular culture and stand for the truth revealed to us by God,’ but I challenge him to recognize the face of Jesus revealed in the transgender members of our human family. Perhaps these individuals have something to teach all of us: The common thread in the diversity of transgender experiences is that transgender people, and especially transgender Catholics, seek to overcome what they experience as a barrier to living, loving and interacting from an authentic place. They seek wholeness in body, mind and spirit, something that Jesus certainly affirmed in his own ministry.
“As Catholics, we too are called to offer healing and wholeness to the world. If we fail in this regard, then we fail to live up to what God expects from us.”
Each week, there are more and more examples of Catholics seeing Christ in transgender people and acting in solidarity. A Jesuit priest in Canada recently spoke out for transgender equality legislation. Catholics in India helped found a school for transgender youth. More theologians are exploring gender identity in positive ways. Most recently, Fr. James Martin, SJ, spoke out in defense of transgender youth, in the midst of the U.S.’s latest “bathroom debate.”
The conversation about transgender issues in the Catholic Church is evolving, and it is exciting to see priests, politicians, and active lay people coming out in support of trans communities.
If you would like to engage the conversation more deeply, considering attending 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. There will be a focus session on “Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family,” featuring Deacon Raymond Dever and his trans daughter, Lexi, as well as intersex advocate Nicole Santamaria. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
You can find more of Bondings 2.0’s coverage of gender identity issues in our “Transgender” category to the right or by clicking here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 20, 2017