It’s not everyday that transgender people of faith are in dialogue with evangelical Christian leaders.
On Thursday, Dec. 17, I joined Basic Rights Oregon’s Policy Director Andrea Zekis, Finn Lambourn and Robin Knauerhase, all transgender people of faith, for an emotional meeting with Multnomah University President Craig Williford, Professor Brad Harper and Advancement Vice President Steve Cummings. This meeting occurred at the request of President Williford.
Multnomah University is one of dozens of Christian colleges and universities applying for Title IX exemptions following the Obama administration’s decision to include gender identity under Title IX, a federal statute that prevents discrimination on the basis of sex.
During our 90-minute conversation, we shared stories of our personal faith journeys. We found agreement on the destructive nature of conversion therapy, and universal support for last year’s banning of this discredited practice in Oregon. We agreed that LGBTQ people of faith are on every campus across the country, including Multnomah’s campus. We agreed that many faith communities, particularly Evangelical Christians, have a history of dealing immense injury to the LGBTQ community, for which there is no excuse.
From my experience as the first out gay student at George Fox University, Thursday was an unexpected and hopeful conversation for me. When I came out my junior year I did not have a safe space on my campus. So I created an underground student group called Common Ground to give LGBTQ students at George Fox a place where they could be their authentic selves. I received suspicion of my motives for this work from administrators and peers for the rest of my college career.
While Thursday’s meeting was very respectful, all BRO’s staff and transgender community members were firm in our belief that the University’s waiver request is harmful and should be rescinded. We explained that transgender people are some of the most vulnerable and misunderstood individuals in our society. They are followed by misconceptions that often paint them as predatory or dangerous, and deny their humanity.
As a result, they face disproportionate levels of violence, poverty and harassment. An unconscionable 40 percent of transgender Oregonians will attempt suicide in their lifetimes because of lack of acceptance. Pushing for exclusions sends the wrong message and has real consequences.
While we left the meeting encouraged by their commitment to continued conversation and humility, we remain committed to sending a message of acceptance, affirmation and love. Join us in sending a message of love by signing this petition requesting the university rescind its exemption request.
To the transgender Oregonians at Multnomah University and across the state: you are not forgotten. You are not alone. You were born perfect. You are loved.
By A.J. Mendoza, the Racial Justice Organizer at Basic Rights Oregon.