A Franciscan Reflection on Intersecting Injustices Affecting Transgender Persons

Written by  Br. Christian Leo Seno

A Franciscan Reflection on Intersecting Injustices Affecting Transgender Persons
© Christian Seno
30 November -0001

President Trump’s Twitter announcement last month of the U.S. military’s ban on transgender individuals and its eventual codification into national policy reopened wounds that, for many of our trans brothers and sisters, have yet to heal.

N.B: The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect CIDSE's official positions.

While many human rights groups decried this policy as yet another form of unjust discrimination levied on an already marginalized group, several prominent faith leaders backed Trump’s ban. Their affirmation and support of this ban revealed just how out of sync many in the Church are to the needs of those who are made most vulnerable and served as another example of discriminatory attitudes deeply entrenched by our pathologizing theological language towards persons of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity.

Whether it was North Carolina’s HB2 or President Trump’s recent transgender tweet, our trans brothers and sisters have been on the receiving end of discriminatory policies that undermine the dignity of their person and erode the protection of their human rights. Last summer, I lived at La 72 [1] , a migrant shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco, Mexico, 30 miles north of the Mexico-Guatemala border. Although my main goal that summer was to learn Spanish, the most transformative experience for me was the time I spent with LGBT migrants and refugees. Those who identified openly as LGBT account for less than 1% of the population at La 72, however, their stories revealed a lifetime of profound physical, psychological, and spiritual trauma. In Central America, as in other parts of the world, homophobic and transphobic attitudes are so acute that many LGBTs are forced to migrate and seek asylum elsewhere in order to escape the violence they encounter on a daily basis. It is an experience of violence that is compounded by complex, intersecting layers of injustice and discrimination. Economic, political, environmental, racial, and gender-based injustices pile one on top of another to create a deadly cocktail of violence and oppression that follows LGBT migrants and refugees throughout the entirety of their migration journey.

During my time at La 72, I worked closely with and befriended several members of grupo LGBT. A few have made it safely to the United States while others are still in Mexico or have returned to their countries of origin. I keep them all in my daily thoughts and prayers. Recent events in the United States, however, have raised alarms as to the level of safety they will encounter in their country of destination. As anti-immigrant, racist, and now transphobic attitudes are concretized into national policy, I cannot help but wonder if the United States is becoming as hostile to transgender migrants and refugees as the countries they left behind. This is an especially salient point when one considers that violence against transgender men and women disproportionately affect people of color. A quick review of statistics reveals that all of the transgender men and women murdered so far in 2017 (16) have been people of color [2]. Previous years tragically display a similar pattern [3].

As a Friar Minor (a Lesser Brother), I feel called to reflect on the ways I am to respond to the injustices facing those who are considered by society as least among us (Matthew 25: 40). In our country, this inevitably includes people of color, immigrants, and our trans brothers and sisters. How should Catholics, Christians, and all peoples of good faith respond to the increase in hate crimes, mass deportations, and gender-identity based violence that seem to be proliferating all over the country since last November? How do we respond to laws and policies that perpetuate discrimination and exclusion against our LGBT brothers and sisters? Are we leaning on our own personal prejudices and pathologizing theology as justification for our silence and inaction, or are we reexamining the ways in which our own faith has been complicit in and even responsible for the injustices experienced by those who are oppressed and marginalized?
Audre Lorde famously wrote, “There is no hierarchy of oppression.” [4] The resurgence of racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, homophobic, and transphobic attitudes in the United States is alarming and a threat to our collective safety. However, while we can get easily overwhelmed to the point of despondency at the thought of such mounting hate, we must remember that people of faith are called to advocate for all who are excluded and oppressed. Anyone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, therefore, must come to acknowledge and address the injustices facing the economically poor, women (in secular society as well as in the Church), people of color, migrants and refugees, the LGBT community, religious minorities, and others. The outcome of the 2016 election and the policies of the new administration, which have repeatedly worked to undermine the rights of many marginalized groups, will necessitate as much. Those of us who are involved in advocacy for immigrants, migrants, and refugees must come to acknowledge the impact of racism on people of color, not only in the United States but also abroad. Similarly, those of us who are advocating for women’s rights and gender equality must come to confront the oppression encountered by our transgender brothers and sisters, many of whom face the same (and graver) forms of discrimination, marginalization, and violence as women.

The injustices festering in the United States are especially acute for our trans brothers and sisters, those who because of their embodied minority and complex identities of oppression face multilayered assaults against the dignity of their humanity from multiple sources in society and our Church. Failure to acknowledge the intersectionality of injustice reveals an insufficiency of vision and a continued reliance on privilege of one sort or another. When we pick and choose the issues of justice that appeal to us as a faith community – having validated in our minds and hearts those particular issues and persons we deem “worthy” of a fight – we do so from a position of unexamined privilege. Our privilege. We fail those true minores, our brothers and sisters who encounter violence and oppression because they dare to live as God created them.

[1] http://www.la72.org 

[2] http://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-transgender-community-in-2017

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_unlawfully_killed_transgender_people

[4] https://lgbt.ucsd.edu/education/oppressions.html

About the author:

Br. Christian Leo Seno, OFM is a Franciscan Friar (Order of Friars Minor) of Holy Name Province. Based out of New York City, he has been involved in community organizing and pastoral ministry with migrants and refugees, LGBT, and young adults. He received his M.A. from the Pastoral Counseling Department at Loyola University Maryland. His thesis entitled, "Embodying Minority: Post-election Experiences of Minority Friars in Initial Formation and the Work Towards Racial Justice in Holy Name Province," analyzed the experiences of minority friars and the racial dynamics operating in a predominantly White religious community. He is currently working as Advocacy and Outreach Assistant at Franciscans International, an NGO representing the entire Franciscan family at the United Nations.



Last modified on Wednesday, 16 August 2017 08:59