Children Health

Gov. Abbott, we’re all God’s children, including transgender kids

This column is part of our ongoing Opinion commentary on faith, called Living Our Faith. Get weekly roundups of the project in your email inbox by signing up for the Living Our Faith newsletter.

In the midst of a historic pandemic and the ongoing suffering of his constituents, Gov. Greg Abbott chose to selectively target the transgender community in a special legislative session.

The governor included transgender issues in the special session that is supposed to focus on redistricting. And now, newly proposed legislation seeks to bar transgender children from the sports teams they want to play on, and to prohibit therapists and counselors from using methods that affirm transgender and nonbinary teens.

This legislation fails to consider the devastating statistic that over half of transgender and nearly half of all LGBTQ youth stated they have considered suicide, according to a national survey in 2020 by The Trevor Project.

One bill would force transgender children to play on sports teams identical to the gender they were assigned at birth. Hardly any participate on sports teams in the first place due to the fear of being discovered and ostracized.

Sports teams should be a shining example to children of how working together with people of different backgrounds can foster close bonds and help young people find success through teamwork. Giving transgender children a place on such teams could improve mental health by leaps and bounds and provide a network of friends who don’t see their differences as grounds for exclusion.

School should be an opportunity to make new friends, and many children do just that on sports teams. When transgender youth are excluded from a team based on their identity, it only makes the problem of feeling isolated worse.

Another proposed bill goes so far as to ban mental health counselors from types of counseling that affirm transgender and nonbinary youth. As previously stated, a large percentage of LGBTQ youth have reported feeling suicidal in the past year, and such a heartless move could indeed prove deadly for some.

As many transgender children are ostracized and abused by their families, counseling is the only safe space some have. Banning it serves no purpose other than to be cruel and say, “You don’t belong here.”

In these unprecedented times, it is mind-boggling that Abbott and Texas Senate Republicans are considering such legislation. Not only is it dehumanizing to children with differences, it hijacks the whole topic that the special session was meant to address: redistricting.

Even though this topic has been debated time and time again in our government buildings, Abbott insists on giving precious time to hurtful and damaging legislation. Why not pass legislation allowing schools to require masks in order to stop the spread of COVID-19, which often forces the closure of school sports teams?

The past year has seen an increase in nearly all sorts of hate crimes in this country. Whether it be against Asian American, Black or LGBTQ-identifying people, we have clearly seen that such hatred can lead to violence.

It breaks my heart that some see our differences as threats instead of gifts to be cherished. Our transgender children do not need to be excluded. Now, more than ever, they need to be validated and told they are perfect just the way they are.

In the COVID era, many people have reported feeling isolated due to being separated from others. Now imagine being a transgender child. Over half of them have reported experiencing some sort of rejection and subsequent isolation from family or friends.

As a pastor and a person of faith, I cannot stand by while the health of God’s most vulnerable children is threatened. We are all created in God’s image, and it is not Abbott or anyone else’s place to challenge that statement. Our congregation will continue to welcome all who feel like they need somewhere they can be themselves.

Abbott would do well to remember that God loves all of us because of our differences, not in spite of them.

The Rev. Neil Thomas is the senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope of Dallas, a member congregation of the United Church of Christ. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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