Macau Daily Times

World’s major religions take varying stances on policies toward trans people

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THE Vatican has issued a new document rejecting the concept of changing one’s biological sex – a setback for transgende­r people who had hoped Pope Francis might be setting the stage for a more welcoming approach from the Catholic Church.

Around the world, major religions have diverse approaches to gender identity, and the inclusion or exclusion of transgende­r people. Some examples:

CHRISTIANI­TY

The Catholic Church’s disapprovi­ng stance toward gender transition is shared by some other denominati­ons. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention – the largest Protestant denominati­on in the United States – adopted a resolution in 2014 stating that “God’s design was the creation of two distinct and complement­ary sexes, male and female.” It asserts that gender identity “is determined by biological sex, not by one’s self-perception”

However, numerous mainline Protestant denominati­ons welcome trans people as members and as clergy. The Evangelica­l Lutheran Church in America elected an openly transgende­r man as a bishop in 2021.

ISLAM

In Islam, there isn’t a single central religious authority and policies can vary in different regions.

Abbas Shouman, secretary-general of Al-azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars in Cairo, said that “for us, ... sex conversion is completely rejected.”

“It is God who has determined the ... sex of the fetus and intervenin­g to change that is a change of God’s creation, which is completely rejected,” Shouman added.

In Iran, the Shiite theocracy’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a religious decree, or fatwa, decades ago, opening the way for official support for gender transition surgery.

HINDUISM

In Hindu society in South Asia, while traditiona­l roles were and are still prescribed for men and women, people of non-binary gender expression have been recognized for millennia and played important roles in holy texts. Third gender people have been revered throughout South Asian history with many rising to significan­t positions of power under Hindu and Muslim rulers. One survey in 2014 estimated that around 3 million third gender people live in India alone.

Sanskrit, the ancient language of Hindu scriptures, has the vocabulary to describe three genders – masculine, feminine and gender-neutral.

The most common group of third gender people in India are known as the “hijras.” While some choose to undergo gender reassignme­nt surgery, others are born intersex. Most consider themselves neither male or female.

Some Hindus believe third gender people have special powers and the ability to bless or curse, which has led to stereotypi­ng causing the community to be feared and marginaliz­ed. Many live in poverty without proper access to healthcare, housing and employment.

In 2014, India, Nepal and Bangladesh, which is a Muslim-majority country, officially recognized third gender people as citizens deserving of equal rights. The Supreme Court of India stated that “it is the right of every human being to choose their gender,” and that recognitio­n of the group “is not a social or medical issue, but a human rights issue.”

BUDDHISM

Buddhism has traditiona­lly adhered to binary gender roles, particular­ly in its monastic traditions where men and women are segregated and assigned specific roles.

These beliefs remain strong in the Theravada tradition, as seen in the attempt of the Thai Sangha Council, the governing Buddhist body in Thailand, to ban ordination­s of transgende­r people. More recently, the Theravada tradition has somewhat eased restrictio­ns against gender nonconform­ing people by ordaining them in their sex recorded at birth.

However, the Mahayana, and Vajrayana schools of Buddhism have allowed more exceptions while the Jodo Shinshu sect has been even more inclusive in ordaining transgende­r monks both in Japan and North America. In Tibetan Buddhism, Tashi Choedup, an openly queer monk, was ordained after their teacher refrained from asking about their gender identity as prescribed by Buddhist doctrine. Many Buddhist denominati­ons, particular­ly in the West, are intentiona­lly inclusive of transgende­r people in their sanghas or gatherings.

JUDAISM

Reform Judaism is accepting of transgende­r people and allows for the ordination of trans rabbis. According to

David J. Meyer, who served for many years as a rabbi in Marblehead, Massachuse­tts, Jewish traditiona­l wisdom allowed possibilit­ies of gender identity and expression that differed from those typically associated with the sex assigned at birth.

“Our mystical texts, the Kabbalah, address the notion of transition­ing from one gender to another,” he wrote on a Reform-affiliated website.

It’s different, for the most part, in Orthodox Judaism. “Most transgende­r people will find Orthodox communitie­s extremely difficult to navigate,” says the Human Rights Campaign, a major U.S. Lgbtq-rights advocacy group.

“Transgende­r people are further constraine­d by Orthodox Judaism’s emphasis on binary gender and strict separation between men and women,” the HRC says. “For example, a transgende­r person who has not medically transition­ed poses a challenge for a rabbi who must decide whether that person will sit with men or women during worship.”

Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for the Orthodox Jewish organizati­on Agudath Israel of America, wrote a blog post last year after appearing on an Israeli television panel to discuss transgende­r-related issues.

“There can be no denying that there are people who are deeply conflicted about their gender identities. They deserve to be safe from harm and, facing challenges the rest of us don’t, deserve empathy and compassion,” Shafran wrote. “But the Torah and its extension, halacha, or Jewish religious law, are unequivoca­l about the fact that being born in a male body requires living the life of a man, and being born female entails living as a woman.”

“In Judaism, each gender has its particular life-role to play,” he added. “The bodies God gave us are indication­s of what we are and what we are not, and of how He wants us to live our lives.”

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