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Christians in Social Work Need to Support Trans Youth

“My child was miserable, especially at school. No confidence, no friends, no laughter.”

This is how Brendon Boulware described his trans daughter before she transitioned. Not only is he the proud father of a transgender child, he is also a Christian, the son of a Methodist minister, and a lawyer. Brendon Boulware was speaking before the Missouri legislature in opposition to the transgender sports ban. Currently, there is pending legislation in a multitude of states excluding trans youth from participating on sports teams and/or prohibiting certain kinds of health care for transgender youth. Much of the lobbying on behalf of these initiatives has come from some evangelical Christian groups and individuals.

It needs no further elaboration to acknowledge that views on gender identity and gender transitioning (especially with respect to young people) vary widely in Christian communities of faith. However, given the current political climate, the issues of health care and participation in sports merit special consideration. In both cases, we need to look — first of all — at how science, along with Christian and social work values, might inform our opinion. In terms of the science, it has been clearly shown that youth who are resolute about identifying as the opposite gender will continue to do so during later development. These are the pre-adolescents and teens who, after careful and thorough assessment, qualify for treatment with puberty blockers and hormones. These are also the young people who, left untreated, are at a significantly higher risk of self-harm.

In addition, scientific studies have demonstrated the impact of non-medical gender-affirming approaches to combat gender dysphoria in this population. Allowing youth to participate on the same team as their peers of the gender they identify with is one such affirming strategy. By contrast, not allowing such participation signals non-acceptance, with all the negative repercussions of lowered self-esteem and an increased risk of mental distress and self-harm.

So what about values, religious and professional? There can be little debate as to where the NASW Code of Ethics comes down with respect to these issues. Social workers are supposed to actively defend the rights of marginalized communities and to support everyone’s right to self-determination. Finally then, how might Christians respond to the needs of trans youth? A couple of years ago, a senior BSW student, Anna Hagen, wrote on this blog what it means for her to be a Christian social worker: “As a Christian Social Worker, I will view each client as a unique child of God with gifts and strengths, worthy of dignity and respect.” And as the Christian and transgender activist Austen Hartke has noted in addressing the parents of transgender kids, children need to perceive our love for them to be “something that they can hear and feel and see” (Hartke, 2019). From a religious perspective, these two statements alone provide enough reason to back trans youth in the pursuit of their legitimate rights with regard to health care and athletic participation. If you are still in doubt, listen to the words of Brendon Boulware. He admits to “not getting it” initially, that he was teaching his daughter “to deny who she is.”  But then he listened to her, enabling him to give the heart-felt testimony against the sports ban that went viral on the internet (see YouTube link below).

My own teenage daughter asked me the other day: “How can Christians not accept transgender kids? Isn’t that against their core beliefs?” When I tried to talk with her about how we need to dialogue with people who have beliefs that are different from our own, she replied, “You can’t dialogue about human rights. There are no alternatives to that.” I could not argue with her. Human rights, social justice — these are concepts that are inalienable. They have to do with respect and safety. They should apply to how we think about gender identity and how we treat trans youth. There is no alternative to full acceptance and unconditional love.

I encourage the reader to get to know some of the young people in the transgender community, to peruse the resources listed below, and to stand up in support of our trans youth. They need our help in their fight for mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing!

Dirk de Jong, PhD, LMSW, is a former school social worker. He now teaches in the social work program of Siena College in Loudonville, NY. Dirk has been a member of NACSW for 5 years

RESOURCES

Brendon Boulware’s testimony (5 min. video):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h60YLGDJ6n0

About participation of trans youth in sports:

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbtq-rights/reports/2021/02/08/495502/fair-            play/

Rebekah’s Story (3 min. video):

 

Austin Hartke on parenting a trans child:

https://www.mykidisgay.com/blog/2019/8/23/christianity-amp-parenting-trans-kids

Health care for transgender youth 

Johanna Olson, MD (adolescent medicine specialist at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, CA) talks about research on transgender youth (2:30 min. video):

https://www.chla.org/profile/johanna-olson-kennedy-md

Two pediatric endocrinologists at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, CA, report on trans youth health care (4:00 min video):

https://www.hcplive.com/view/working-to-improve-care-for-transgender-youth

13 thoughts on “Christians in Social Work Need to Support Trans Youth

  1. I am only leaving this post for others who may read this and need to know it is ok to still call sin a sin and yes you can still fight for love and social justice at the same time. You can still believe that God sees marriage as the scripture tells us and be a competent social worker. I have no desire to be rude or confrontational on this post I just want to make sure people who read this know that. Grace and Peace to those who love His appearing

  2. Thank you for your post and for not being confrontational. I really appreciate that. I guess it’s difficult to debate differing interpretations of scripture. My only suggestion (or request) would be to listen to those in the trans community — they have too often not been listened to and they have much to tell us.

    Dirk

  3. I am a Christian. I am a grad student working towards my MSW. I am also gay.

    I find it disheartening to listen to people condemn members of the LGBTQ+ community solely on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. I find it especially disturbing when so many seem to single out being LGBTQ+ as their “sin of the day,” but have no problems with people who get divorced, eat shrimp, or wear mixed fabrics. It is even more problematic when they justify these specific examples as being under a new law because of Jesus, but exclude LGBTQ+ people from that same compassionate understanding of the New Covenant.

    Jesus was not about hate or “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” The Bible was not meant to be used to beat somebody with (“Boy Erased” not withstanding). John 3:16 is not a policy statement to exclude anybody.

    Science is showing us some new understandings as to what being LGBTQ+ is. Our understanding has changed over the past 50 years, 100 years, 2000 years. The Bible is not anti-science, but seems to feel that science must be forced to conform with their individual understanding of the Scriptures.

    I am in my 60s. I remember, just a few years after I got saved, a minister stating “God hates homosexuals more than He hates child molesters.” That statement has stuck with me for about 40 years now. It helped to drive me away from Christianity and from Jesus.

  4. Hello William,

    I am so sorry about the experience in the church that you describe in your post. I agree with your belief that Christianity is about inclusion and I am glad you made your voice heard via this blog.

    Dirk

  5. As a Christian of 32 years, I believe that being gay, queer or whatever name you want to call it is a sin, that God made 2 sexes/gender only, male and female, and that gender always lines up with sexual organs. I also would never deny service to someone who identified as a member of the queer community. However, as a new medical social worker, I am struggling with the idea of serving clients in such way as to (not sure what word to use here) enable? sin of any kind. For example, finding a speech and language pathologist for a transitioning youth so that they can lower their voice, arranging a medical trip for a client to have an abortion, etc. versus helping a gay client get on disability assistance or find a homeless shelter (those I have no problem with). I am looking for article suggestions, comments, advice…

  6. Galatians 5:19-21
    Colossians 3:5-6
    1 John 3:4-6
    .Mark 7 21-23
    Romans 2:11 For God shows no partiality
    2 Peter 2 1:3
    2 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
    John 1:1 In the beginning was the word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
    Sola Scriptura

  7. Hello Everyone!! I am currently doing my undergrad in social work and I have felt called to do this line of work. I have been questioned by 2 professors so far about social work being the right path for me because I am a Christian, prolife, and don’t agree with the LGBTQ+ society. I know that I can be objective to a point but the Trans issue I just don’t get. I know that we are to love one another but we are also suppose to be disciples of Christ and go into the world and preach the gospel. So if we are to do that then how can we as Christians help someone get access to an abortion clinic or helping them transition? One day we will have to answer for the things that we did and didn’t do. So if God was standing in front of you in the flesh and asks you why did you help empower someone to accept their identity as LGBTQ+ when his word says “do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” (LEV 18:22 NIV) and then further down it talks about how the land was defiled so he punished it for its sin (LEV 18: 24-29 NIV). How can we then state that we are Christians when we are going against God’s word? If someone could further explain this for me that would be great.

  8. This post definitely had me wanting an open mind to this issue. I am a Christian and I am 22 and married. I consider often, what if having a child who dealt with this struggle with identity or sexual orientation is a reality for me in the future. Or maybe it would be a niece or a nephew, etc. I cannot assume I will be exempt from witnessing a youth close to me struggling with this issue at some point in my life. With this in mind, where is the line for supporting, aiding, and helping to improve their physical, emotional, and overall well-being, and enabling (as someone else pointed out) something I also feel to be a sin if not handled in a biblical manner. I totally believe that showing an unconditional love and acceptance is necessary. Otherwise how would we be a light to this community and successful demonstrate to them that God loves them so much! I am not sure that directly supporting medical efforts to change a youth’s anatomy is something I can do. However, having youth play on a team opposite their gender in order for them to feel more comfortable and happy I could definitely advocate for! I think that much can be done to help them feel more accepted and loved that does not involve medical intervention, and I would love to be a part of that.

  9. As a social work student and Christian what should be made clear is that trans youth are children of God. Therefore, their emotional and mental health should be the priority. In the world, we share we all have different beliefs, values, and faith perspectives. Our core beliefs may need to be dismantled, reevaluated, and self-corrected. When it violates the rights of others. The purpose of social work is to provide services to individuals with unique needs without judgment. Some service provisions may conflict with our core beliefs. Which can hinder the helping process for those who need love and hope. Do I believe trans youth deserve medical services to help improve their mental health? Yes. I come to this conclusion because of the risk factors that cause transgender youth to become isolated, have higher suicide rates, and suffer from depression. My hope is for transgender youth to have equality and a voice.

  10. It saddens me to know that individuals from the LGBTQ community feel that Christians do no accept them. Although there are some individuals that feel that maybe so, its sad to know that they are being judged solely on that. We preach about inclusion and love yet alienate a very specific group of individuals and even avoid helping them when it is much needed. Nonetheless, I hope this improves and one day the church opens their doors and the members of the LGBTQ community actually feel welcomed.

  11. This blog was extremely insightful. As a BSW and close to obtaining an MSW, as a Christian (who practices daily) and as a sister-in-law to a transgender male, I am seeing many conflicting areas within society today. My true belief, though it may be frowned upon by many Christians is that some things we learn are contradictory to what Jesus stood for and spoke on in His time here on earth. Was it not said to love God above all and then love one another as Jesus loves us? This would include those who are different from us, whether it be through race, gender, sexual preference, religion, political views, etc., am I wrong? I feel strongly about this as I truly believe God’s purpose for us is so simple yet we all make it so difficult. Isn’t it also said in the bible that God knew every hair on our head prior to us even being conceived? Therefore, my belief, is He would know the journey that some of His children are to take, meaning transgender. I truly believe that if we love one another and accept one another in the way that God intended initially, then we would have unity and acceptance and there would be much less judgement. As a social worker it is vital for us to support all walks of life, just as Jesus did and still does to this day. Thank you so much for this blog post!

  12. Thank You for this blog. I actually had a conversation with a sibling about this topic the other day. We were in high debate about what a Christian’s stance should be in regards to embracing the LGBTQ community. We discussed how transyouth need laws in places to protect them from potential discrimination economically, socially, and in various other ways. I think the concern for many Christians and Professionals is around the fear that laws will change too drastically since the idea is not to judge any sexual orientations I think a lot of political professionals are afraid that policies can change so drastically, that other agendas will be passed.

    As a Christian, I am still researching what my stance should be. As a Social Worker, I know that I have a legal obligation to embrace diversity and that’s what I intend to do. As a Christian and overall nice person, I will always respect anyone in the LGBTQ. Theologically we may not agree, but I do believe socially we can co-exist.

  13. Hi, Jennifer! I understand exactly where you are coming from. It is frustrating when incorrect values are assigned to Scripture on all sides of issues addressed. I believe we must treat the client how they would want to be treated, offering the client a range of options in order to “do no harm”. We are not responsible for one’s eternal salvation. God reaches out and many will choose not to respond. For those that do, God tells us we will harvest in a field we did not work in. Thus, I suggest Christian’s live by example; however, I do not believe in anyway people should attempt to make Christian’s say it is okay to go against God’s original design for man and woman and family. However, once again, we can view that internally and externally, we have to leave our subjectivity at the door and use objectivity and evidence-based practices at work in order to adhere with the Code of Ethics. For every person who we cannot help as we would wish, there are so many more we can. God bless you for your courageous response and honest reflection of your thoughts. I will pray for you, your clients, and my future clients. Blessings to all. Hang in there!

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