Support for Transgender Folk

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently published two opinion pieces: “Bending gender in sports” by L. Brent Bozell III (11/28/10) and “Choosing one’s TSA groper” by Ralph R. Reiland (11/29/10).  Sadly, both articles chose to use ill-informed sarcasm and generally snarky tones to portray transgender folk as some new enemy for people to fear.

I drafted the following letter to the editor and submitted it for publication on behalf of the Westmoreland County LGBTQ Interfaith Network, a group of clergy and lay people who affirm the spirituality of all LBGTQ people and their friends and allies.  With a limit of 200 words, the challenge was daunting, but I hope it makes a good first step in promoting education and compassion in the region.

To the editor:

Two recent opinion pieces cruelly vilified transgender people, oversimplifying this complex issue. We encourage fairer and more balanced dialogue.

Our culture limits its understanding of sex to male and female, and gender to man and woman. “Transgender” as an umbrella term describes other gender identities. Specifically, transgender people are born one sex, but self-identify as a different gender. Many simply live their identity as crossdressers, third gender, or genderqueer.

Transsexuals actually make the physical transition from one sex to another. This well-defined procedure involves surgery and years of hormone treatment and psychiatric therapy.

Perhaps one in every 1,500 births results in an intersex child, in which both sexes are present. The Intersex Society of North America recommends assigning a gender without surgery, using medical procedures to sustain good physical health until the child can later decide on a gender identity.

Transgender folk do not make gender identity decisions frivolously. People deserve respect for their identities and labels they choose, particularly when making choices that result in discrimination. As marvelous creations in a wondrous universe, every person has inherent worth and dignity. Compassionate responses include first educating ourselves to facts, not allowing unfounded bias and fear to dictate our judgment.

Jeff Liebmann (Consulting Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Smithton) writing for the Westmoreland LGBTQ Interfaith Network

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