Two recent instances of transgender people being turned away from church-run facilities demonstrates tensions between some religious groups and transgender civil rights and the need for greater gender identity protections across America.
This weekend, 26-year-old Isabella Red Cloud, a person who identifies as Two Spirit (a native American gender-variant individual), was turned away and escorted out of the Union Gospel Mission soup kitchen in Sioux Falls, South Dakota after being told that she was “dressed inappropriately” and could return if she “dressed like a man.”
The soup kitchen director contends that her clothes were “disruptive” and that a “[trans woman] creates an animosity” and a potentially unsafe place for others.
Cloud’s story came to light a few days before the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced their lawsuit against the Catholic-run Dignity Health’s Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael, California. The medical center allegedly cancelled a hysterectomy procedure on 35-year-old Michael Minton, a transgender man undergoing gender reassignment surgery.
Though the hospital says it has not yet received the ACLU’s complaint, they say that they “understand how important this surgery is for transgender individuals” and would happily “provide Mr. Minton and his surgeon the use of another Dignity Health hospital for his surgery within a few days.” Mr. Minton however has already had the surgery done elsewhere.
Is transgender discrimination legal?
Right now, there’s no federal anti-discrimination law protecting transgender people, so it’s largely left up to individual states.
In Cloud’s South Dakota case, yes, the discrimination is legal. South Dakota lacks a state law explicitly forbidding discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation or gender identity. Sioux Falls does have an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but not gender identity. While a 2010 state case ruled against requiring “female dress” for South Dakota’s private employees, a similar case has never been brought against a religious charity in the state.
As for Minton’s case, the ACLU contends that the hospital’s alleged cancellation of surgery violates the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act (UCRA), a 1959 law updated in 2010 to prohibit discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation, among other attributes. By allegedly denying a man a hysterectomy, the ACLU could argue, the hospital committed sex-based discrimination. The UCRA has no religious exemptions, making church-run public facilities subject to its law, though it’s unclear whether a church has ever been litigated under the law.
Will the laws change to be more trans- and gender-inclusive?
A 2016 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 72 percent of Americans favor anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people. Despite that, a 2015 study by the Transgender Law Center found that 32 states have insufficient legal protections for transgender people. State citizens should push their legislators to expand protections and speak to the trans community about the best ways to do this.
(Featured image by llewellyn_chin via iStock Photography)