Letter Regarding DHHS Establishment of Legal Definition of Gender

Dear TUS Members and Friends,

In the midst of a continuing inundation of troubling, hate-filled, and violent developments on the national and international scene, I reach out to you about an issue of deep concern and dear proximity.

Nearly four decades ago, the Unitarian Universalist Association began speaking out against discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. As a religious denomination, we began to actively work towards securing their civil and human rights in the United States.

In 2004, we at The Unitarian Society became a “Welcoming Congregation.” This means we have learned how to work against homophobia, are learning to fight transphobia, and that we continually strive for radical inclusion.  Just this past Sunday we had a wonderful service celebrating National Coming Out Day, with one of our members telling his coming out story as a gay man.

We intend our congregation to be a place that embraces and celebrates the sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions of all of our members, friends and neighbors, including our children and youth. This is work that is never fully finished.  Yet we are committed to it as a community of faith that affirms the inherent worth and dignity of each and every person.

The federal government is now threatening the lives of our transgender and gender nonconforming congregational members, friends and neighbors. The current president and his administration show no respect for the inherent worth and dignity of those who are transgender or gender nonconforming. According to The New York Times (October 21), in a memo they obtained, the Department of Health and Human Services is working to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance. The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft reviewed by that newspaper.  This does not square with Unitarian Universalist understandings of honoring the inherent worth and dignity of each and every person.

If you are afraid or hurting in the wake of these hateful actions on the part of our government, know that TUS is here for you. As your minister, I am here for you. Please, reach out. Please, reach out to each other.  You are not alone. 

I send out my gratitude to those of you who are engaging in the democratic process in ways that seeks to stabilize or grow protections for those targeted by the hateful rhetoric from the current federal administration.  In every way possible, in every walk of life, in every corner of our hearts, our Unitarian Universalist faith calls us to show up with and for our transgender and gender non-conforming friends, family members, neighbors and congregation members who are caught in the crosshairs of hate, threatening their bodies and their lives, and thus, threatening us all.

With love and courage,

Rev. Karen G. Johnston

(*with gratitude for role modeling and many borrowed-with-permission words from Rev. Suzelle Lynch)