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Another Voice: Society must adjust its understanding of gender

By The Rev. Joan Montagnes

The recent debate about transgender bathrooms is not about bathrooms, it is about fear.

People are afraid of change and what we don’t understand. But while we wait for the general population to catch up, transgender people are living as pariahs in society. Continued marginalization contributes to their harassment, murders and suicides.

This is a serious problem even for children. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 78 percent of respondents in grades kindergarten through 12 reported being harassed, 35 percent attacked and 12 percent sexually assaulted.

The Human Rights Campaign reports that more transgender people were murdered in 2015 than in any other year. These murders were disproportionately of people of color.

Suicide attempts are alarmingly common among transgender individuals; 41 percent try to kill themselves at some point in their lives, compared with 4.6 percent of the general public (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention).

Clearly the absurd debate about bathrooms points to a much more serious matter. Society’s fear of transgender people is uncivil and, in some cases, downright deadly.

Bishop Richard J. Malone of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, with his opposition to President Obama’s directive that transgender students be allowed to use the restrooms of the gender they identify with, has not helped. Neither has the editorial in The News that counseled a “wait and see” approach while our trans neighbors are living in danger. And the letter in this paper that stated, “There are only two categories of the human species. You are born male or female; you cannot be both,” is just plain biologically incorrect.

On the other hand, we could choose love over fear. Women got the vote. The civil rights movement changed how we see America. Stonewall began the long fight for BGLTQ rights. The arc of history is indeed long, but it bends toward justice.

Our church has bathrooms for men and women (regardless of the genitalia they were born with), and we have a private unisex bathroom. It may astonish the reader, but this has led to no controversy, incident or scandal. Offering your neighbors a little dignity can cost you nothing.

To be sure, change is scary. Society will have to adjust its previous notions about gender. I promise you, though, as frightening as this change will be, the truly frightened are transgender people who not only are unsure which bathroom to choose, but also fear for their very lives.

Buffalo really is too great to hate. Let’s join the 21st century and cease to discriminate.

The Rev. Joan Montagnes is minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo.