[Originally published in Unity Magazine Jul/Aug 2022 issue. Pic via Open Society Foundations]
Even though this column is titled “Love And Justice For All”, it’s emphasis so far has decidedly been about antiracsim, and how white supremacy cultural norms continue to thrive both consciously and unconsciously in us and our spiritual communities. It goes without saying that there are other traditionally marginalized groups that need more love and justice as well. And similarly, our individual and collective biases towards those groups are also largely unconscious, existing unseen and unchallenged.
Take, for example, a few months ago during announcements in a Unity church service at which I spoke. An upcoming women’s retreat was, in an attempt to be humorous, described as an “XX chromosome getaway” to discuss “secret XX chromosome things.” Undoubtedly no harm was intended, but it betrayed the unconscious and internalized heteronormative norms of our culture. The harmful impact of that message was that transgender women may have felt excluded.
Transgender people are those whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be at birth. Someone born with XY chromosomes might be assigned as biologically male, but feel entirely and authentically female. Similarly, someone born with XX chromosomes might be assigned as biologically female, but feel entirely and authentically male. Some transgender people identify as neither male nor female, or as a combination of male and female, and they may describe themselves as nonbinary or queer.
When someone doesn't feel seen, they won’t feel like they belong no matter how much they are told that they are loved and welcomed. It is conflicting to tell someone they are whole, perfect, and loved, but then also make comments that do not honor them as they are. When the mistake, really the injustice, is noticed is there the courage to speak to it by someone other than the affected? Is there an openness to learning and changing and doing better? Will public amends be made? Will new training and policies be implemented? And not just for staff but also volunteers and congregants? These are just some of the rubber-meets-the-road steps that are needed to create a truly welcoming space.
As it goes, perpetuating harm on any group disproportionately affects the women and people of color in that group. A study by the National LGBTQ Task Force indicates that Black transgender people have a 26% unemployment rate (twice as high as the unemployment rate for transgender people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, and four times as high as the unemployment rate in the general population), 41% of Black transgender people have been homeless (more than five times the general population), 34% of Black transgender people have household incomes less than $10,000 (more than eight times the general population), and nearly half of the Black transgender population has attempted suicide. Black transgender women are disproportionately victims of fatal violence because of the intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia and homophobia.
Spiritual seekers tend to look towards teachings for spiritual enlightenment. We also have to look at educating ourselves about our unconscious and internalized cultural norms. We may believe that being more spiritual will automatically eliminate them, but unfortunately that is not the case. We can be both loving and perpetuate harm at the same time. Are we humble enough to accept this and do the work to transform ourselves individually and collectively? If we aren’t, we will continue to experience “welcoming” communities that are not very diverse, ultimately doing more harm than good along the way.