I was surprised by this week’s monumental Supreme Court decision on LGBTQ rights. I cried when I read the headline in the Washington Post. Unlike the two minority opinions, the majority opinion written by Neil Gorsuch was clear, cogent and consistent. The discrimination to which I have been subjected is, in fact, about my sex. I wish Aimee Stephens, whose job loss led to the lawsuit, had lived to see the decision. She is a hero.
It is important to note, however, that the decision would have done nothing to stop me from being fired, because religious institutions are exempt from anti-discrimination laws. The separation of church and state provides a safe haven for those who would continue to discriminate. That is not going to change, at least not for anyone identified as clergy. Evangelical churches might try to tell you that their religious freedom is threatened by this decision, but let’s be very clear. It is not.
Nor does the decision immediately guarantee health care coverage for transgender people, something the administration withdrew this past week. Nor does it immediately change the ban of transgender people serving in the military or guarantee fair housing across the nation. The decision does not have any effect on employment in companies with fewer than 15 employees. They are already exempt from Title VII.
When I mentioned my initial response to the decision on my Facebook account, there were a lot of comments and likes, over 500 and counting. I even heard from a physician who was very kind to me on the day I was fired from the Orchard Group. I am humbled by your encouraging words. They mean the world to me.
The decision will not much affect my day-to-day life. I am fortunate that I have found sources of income that are not dependent on my gender identity. But I do have many friends and acquaintances who are greatly affected by the decision. They are breathing big sighs of relief.
There are a lot of ways in which I am at a disadvantage as a transgender woman. I do have to be concerned when I go to a new medical provider. It is not always a positive experience. When I travel outside the United States, I restrict myself to Western European nations and other countries with a positive history toward transgender people. For my own safety, there are parts of the United States I avoid. And for my own sanity, I stay away from evangelical churches. But all in all, I do not face the same difficulties many other transgender people face.
I was a comfortable and successful white male. As I often say, I brought a lot of that privilege with me. I have a beautiful home in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. I have a loving family, a wonderful church, and good friends. I am able to earn a living doing what I love to do, preaching, speaking, counseling and writing. While it is true that my income is a fraction of what it once was, I am still far more financially comfortable than most. I am aware of my privilege every single day.
Twice a year or so, the views of my TED talks increase exponentially and garner thousands of views a day. Cumulatively, they’ve had over 5 million views. When their popularity soars, I hear from a lot of people who are considering transitioning, at least one or two souls every day. I try to answer every piece of correspondence I receive, though I am usually unable to do more than provide a brief reply. People often say, “Well, you transitioned, and it worked out well for you. I’m thinking it’ll work out well for me too.” I encourage them to be cautious. I remind the people that I have been incredibly lucky. A single TED talk changed my life in ways I never imagined and gave me a platform far larger than I experienced in my previous life. I now earn four times as much for a single speech as I was ever paid for speaking when I was Paul. That is not the experience of most transgender people.
A lot of people write and tell me how brave I am. I very much appreciate their kind words, and I do know I am brave. But my bravery pales in comparison to trans women of color, or those in Central and South America, Africa, and the Middle East. I am very aware of my blessings.
This week, a lot of LGBTQ people in the United States are breathing easier. But until housing, healthcare and military service are added to the good news of this week’s Supreme Court decision, our work in the US is not finished. And until LGBTQ people around the world have basic civil rights, and systemic racism is dismantled across the globe, we will be far from having the just and generous world this fragile planet so desperately needs.