Separation of Church and State of Mind – Discrimination Masquerading as Religious Freedom & Superiority

Gabrielle speaking in Church

My message is love
They say it’s best to avoid talking about religion and politics so as not to offend anyone. If I held my tongue every time there was potential for someone to find what I have to share offensive, I’d never speak publicly again. Having said that, it is my goal to offer useful information, insight and opinion in thoughtful, respectful ways least likely to be off-putting. When I get things wrong, I’m always grateful to be called on it. Feedback and criticism are welcome and appreciated. Some seek to shame and control people. My passion is to enlighten, inspire and empower, staring with you…

Religious denial of service
You may recall reports of Christian owned bakeries refusing service to gay and lesbian couples, citing religious beliefs. A few years ago, these reports were heavily debated in the news and social media. To some, the whole argument might seem trivial, I mean, why not just do business with another bakery, right? That’s not the point, but for most people it may seem like a complete non-issue. However, the consequences extend well beyond what appears deceptively simple on the surface.

The not-so-glamorous realities of public speaking
As a transgender woman, public speaker and human rights advocate, I meet all kinds of people. The overwhelming majority treat me with dignity and respect and seem genuinely interested in what I have to share. Conversely, some people go out of their way to let me know they will “never accept people like me”, tell me what a “terrible, terrible person” I am, explain why I’m the living embodiment of “sin”, intentionally misgender me, and unapologetically call me disparaging names. I’m happy to say this only represents a very small percentage of the people I share face time with during my adventures in outreach work. When you put yourself out there, some people are going to judge and take shots at you. Strangely, this seems especially true if your message is that of love, kindness, explaining human diversity and the many benefits to be gained by building inclusive, supportive, collaborative communities.

The behind-the-scenes psychology
People fear what they don’t understand and attack what they fear. To properly explore these issues, it will be helpful to first understand some of the human psychology at work.

Insane as it may sound, sometimes people are more comfortable remaining in fear of the unknown or misunderstood, rather than learning the truth about things. It’s called “willful ignorance“. Look it up and you’ll find plenty of useful, interesting information, and much written about the psychology behind it. UrbanDictionary.com offers one of the better-worded definitions, in my opinion:

willful ignorance (noun): The practice or act of intentional and blatant avoidance, disregard or disagreement with facts, empirical evidence and well-founded arguments because they oppose or contradict your own existing personal beliefs.

A major contributing factor of willful ignorance is the cognitive dissonance that sets in when information contradicts one’s beliefs, dogma or subjective “understanding” of things. It’s often the foundation of cause preventing people (of opposing views) from getting along and playing nice. The OxfordDictionaries.com definition:

cognitive dissonance (noun): The state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

Please keep this in mind as you continue reading – particularly, “attitude change.”

Cognitive dissonance can be so intolerably uncomfortable that most people will do just about anything to avoid it, including choosing to believe a lie over truth (as in: willful ignorance). It’s part of the human experience, but doesn’t have to prevent us from learning, growing and becoming better people for taking the initiative. The choice is ours. It’s not easy, but choosing to learn & evolve or at least keep an open mind is always the correct move. All knowledge is power and I’m all about empowering people.

Important clarification
Before moving forward, I want to make a very clear distinction between religion and a person’s subjective religious views, practices and belief therein. It’s a common misconception that religion (often noted: Christianity) is at odds with LGBTQ people. Some religious organizations and communities strictly adhere to a formal “decree against LGBTQ people”. I’m happy to say that as humanity grows and evolves, this is becoming less true. I’m regularly invited to speak at churches and places of worship by communities seeking to learn more about human diversity, become more inclusive and supportive, and let everyone know they are welcome to join in celebration of God, faith and love.

Upbringing and nurture
It’s equally important to note that what someone is raised to believe has significant influence over their thoughts, feelings, opinions and level of comfort about perceived differences in others. The older one gets, the more difficult it becomes to allow the introduction of new information and knowledge that contradicts life-long beliefs that have become integral to self-identity. Most young people today don’t stand in judgement of differences in others, but rather view them as (in)significant as differences in eye color or hand dominance. Older folks (myself included) can learn a lot by observing our youth with an open mind and passing less judgement.

Religious superiority roadblock
Last fall during a medical conference at the University of Rochester, I wound up on the receiving end of a rather condescending complaint made by one of the vendors. One of the two women with whom I was conversing on and off, appeared noticeably uncomfortable with me. I’m used to being misunderstood and welcomed the opportunity to allow her to get to know me a little and hopefully ease her discomfort. She challenged me on aspects of being transgender, which I was happy to explain.

Even as I attempted to thoughtfully and carefully address her questions, she continued looking for fault. The exchange seemed productive at times, but my failure to make a connection and open her mind was becoming clearer with each passing moment. In what felt like an effort to let me know that I was an undesirable “other”, she concluded our conversation by contemptuously expressing, “how terrible that any business might be required by law to provide a service to a gay couple.”

A common confusion
Gay” and “transgender” are two very different things. The former is about sexual orientation (who you want to sleep with) and latter has to do with gender identity (who you want to sleep as). Everyone has both a sexual orientation and gender identity, regardless of how they identify.

Disgust, condescendence and judgement
Before walking away, the (self-identified) Christian woman felt it necessary to justify her discomfort and disapproval of me by expressing how wrong she felt it was for a Christian-owned catering service to face legal action for refusing to do business with a couple because they’re gay and believe that to be a “sin against God”. How nice it would be if these issues were limited to just wedding cakes and pastries.

You are “not worthy” of medical treatment
How about denying someone medical treatment based on personal opinions and the right to practice “religious freedom” in doing so? Should doctors, nurses and medical care providers be allowed to legally refuse treatment to people on the grounds that doing so violates their religious beliefs?

Ruling on “material cooperation with evil”
December, 2016, District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the government can’t require medical providers or insurance companies to treat or provide coverage for things that “violate their religious beliefs”. The Christian medical associations and insurance providers behind the lawsuit argued that providing gender transition-related, abortion and abortion-related healthcare services would constitute “material cooperation with evil”, and that the law should recognize these beliefs to be of greater importance than a patient’s right to receive such medical treatment.

Discovery of this ruling was rather alarming. I’m used to random strangers targeting me in the crosshairs of judgement with various forms of disdainful sentiment because I’m transgender and visibly so. It’s not pleasant and I have a pretty thick skin, but this kind of primeval culturally ingrained arrogance does indeed have numerous negative consequences that cisgender people (meaning people who are not transgender – 99.5% of the population) are privileged to never experience. Unless of course, they’re mistaken for being transgender, which I touched upon in last month’s column about anti-transgender bathroom legislation and consequences of legalizing discrimination.

Enough of this political mortal enemy bullsh*t already!
While researching Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling in greater depth, I discovered that the original report I read contained what I refer to as “freight-framing” of information that was probably intended to scare and enrage transgender people and women who have had abortions. It was certainly very stress-inducing to me. Although factually reported, I don’t think the fear-framing treatment was necessary to effectively raise red flags. Reading the actual ruling was very concerning on its own.

I’m tremendously grateful for the efforts of LGBTQ rights (human rights) advocates, activists and allies but don’t appreciate intentional use of fear tactics to do so. In my opinion, that kind of “advocacy” does more harm than good. To say I’m beyond disgusted with the whole political-reporting game of smoke and mirrors, fear mongering and sensationalism (from both sides) would be a profound understatement. It’s incredibly difficult to make progress with so many focused on demonizing the other side rather than engaging in important discussions about the realities and figuring out how to bring diverse communities together in ways that support and strengthen the potential for everyone to collectively thrive.

Human interference causes suffering, not God
It’s very troubling that the exercise of “religious freedom” can play any role (legal or personal) that inhibits ease of access to medical care and foster the illusion of “sin against God” based on a person’s state of being, or suggest that fellow human beings are “abominations” because of subjective interpretation of religious texts, practices and consequent upbringing.

The current negative perception of transgender people significantly limits access to affordable medical treatment necessary to successfully transition. Those of us who need to transition but lack the means necessary, end up suffering the effects of gender dysphoria with greater severity and intensity over time. This causes depression, feelings of hopelessness, contributes to social rejection, increases potential to underperform at work, difficulty obtaining employment and consequently becoming a burden to the very system that stacks the deck against us by design. About 1 in 2 transgender people have or will attempt suicide. My own suicide attempts landed me in a psychiatric hospital years ago. Transgender people are not genetically predispositioned to self-destruct, but rather many of us lack the means to successfully transition, and struggle with the agonizing effects of gender dysphoria and frequent social rejection.

Decided with prayer or just didn’t care
When married lesbian couple Krista and Jami Contreras brought their newborn baby, Bay, in to see Dr. Vesna Roi at Eastlake Pediatrics in Roseville, Michigan, they were instead greeted by another doctor. Dr. Karam said, “I’ll be your doctor, I’ll be seeing you today because Dr. Roi decided this morning that she prayed on it and she won’t be able to care for Bay.”

Jami explained that, “Dr. Karam told us [Dr. Roi] didn’t even come to the office that morning because she didn’t want to see us.”

After word of this spread, Dr. Roi apologized for not meeting them in person that day and added that, “I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient-doctor relationships that I normally do with my patients.”

Who would want to risk their precious newborn baby not receiving the best possible medical care from a doctor who has “prayed on it” and passed such a judgement, because the baby has parents that violate her religious beliefs… because they are lesbians.

So just work with the other doctor or find a different practice that genuinely puts humanity first, right? Again, that’s not the point. It’s like a privileged white person telling a person of color, “Why would you want to drink out of the whites-only drinking fountain when there’s a ‘colored’ drinking fountain around somewhere?” You know, because, “some people are just lesser than others and that’s what I was raised to believe and sucks to be you, so just deal with it.” What century is this again?

18th-century French illustration of trepanation.Stuck in the past?
In a time when people believed the world was flat, women suspected of witchcraft were routinely murdered, and trepanning (drilling a hole through someone’s skull to “let evil spirits out”) was performed to cure mental disorders, it’s understandable that religious belief and superstition were significant contributing factors in how people judged and (mis)treated each other. How is this still culturally acceptable today?

The short answer is that there’s a shrinking but still significant minority of people working diligently to perpetuate ideals they feel are righteous in spite of the tremendous hardship it causes others. Unfortunately, some of these people are highly influential elected officials or community leaders in positions of power who regularly (ab)use their ability to mislead, manipulate and control their followers.

Good news, everyone!
There IS good news. Research conducted by the Professional Relations and Research Institute (PRRI) drawn from a data set of 40,509 interviews conducted throughout 2016 as part of their American Values Atlas, reveals that most American religious groups support same-sex marriage and oppose religiously based service refusals. Americans are increasingly in favor of equality for all.

Enter another tidbit of applicable psychology explained by David McRaney of the You Are Not So Smart blog, book and podcast:

extinction burst: A predictable and common blast of defiance from the recesses of a brain denied familiar rewards.

Like a child throwing a temper tantrum, I think we’re entering into a phase of cultural and political “extinction burst” in regard to perpetuation and legal enforcement of many of these long-held practices of discrimination. In this case, a faction of the ruling elite is attempting to seize control, increase pressure and utilize forceful means to roll back the clock to more oppressive times. In response, more and more people are making it known such treatment toward fellow human beings will no longer be tolerated.

Be vigilant and do the research
Be mindful of influential “leaders” who prey upon good people by co-opting religion and faith with toxic rhetoric that divides communities and perpetuates “otherness”. And please, please do not stand in judgement of people who exhibit discriminatory behavior in what they genuinely believe to be “right” in accordance with their upbringing. Remember what I shared about cognitive dissonance. I can’t stress enough, the importance of having thoughtful, respectful conversations about these things in ways that do not alienate our fellow human beings in the process.

There’s a big difference between someone trying to intentionally deceive, and someone trying to live according to what they believe. The latter deserves the respect from each of us that we want to see extended to all of humanity, despite perceived differences. This does not mean we should tolerate discriminatory behavior. Ignorance (willful or unintentional) is no excuse. It means we figure out ways to correct poor behavior during a process of change that may feel uncomfortable and scary. It’s not easy, but very much worth the effort. Humanity is totally worth it!

Acting (not just talking) makes all the difference
We have to get involved and do the work. Together we will work through this, create a healthier, inclusive, supportive society and collectively thrive together. Believe.

~ Namaste ~

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *