Opinion: Guest commentary: Transgender people need our support and compassion amid growing intolerance

San Diego LGBT Community Center volunteers help raise the transgender pride flag.
San Diego LGBT Community Center volunteers help raise the transgender pride flag for International Transgender Day of Visibility at Hillcrest Pride Flag on Thursday, March 31, 2022 in San Diego.
(Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

We need to acknowledge the science and recognize that transgender individuals cause harm to no one and have the right to be left in peace to find joy.


March 31 was International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day dedicated to recognizing the accomplishments of transgender and nonbinary people and raising awareness of the need for trans justice and further education.

In the news recently has been discussion about the Nashville school shooter allegedly being transgender. First, let’s remember that nearly all the mass shootings in this country have been carried out by cisgender males.

The national nonprofit YMCA says that its mission is putting “Christian principles into practice,” and recent months have stirred a debate over how the Cameron Family YMCA in Santee is doing that. Below, read the perspectives of a transgender woman whose legal use of the locker room at the YMCA in Santee drew criticism and support, and three pastors with different views share their perspectives about gender identity and the divine.

This Nashville case has no bearing on the fact that compassion and understanding are what’s needed for transgender individuals — not bullying, intolerance or hate, which can easily lead to self-loathing and acts of desperation.

At a recent informative presentation in Mission Valley by Kathie Moehlig, executive director and founder of the San Diego-based TransFamily Support Services and a leading professional on supporting transgender and nonbinary youth, Moehlig asked the audience, made up mostly of K-12 educators, how many of us were left-handed and when we chose to be left-handed.

One person missed the point and said it was in kindergarten. But it was obviously a trick question: No one “decides” or “chooses” to be left-handed, even though it’s a right-handed world.

Moehlig, who uses the pronouns she/her/hers, said the analogy to being trans is similar.

“We don’t decide to be transgender just like we don’t decide to be left-handed,” she said.

Who would choose this, she asked rhetorically, with all the anti-trans hate seen on a daily basis?

The presentation on supporting trans and nonbinary students, one of many sponsored by the San Diego County Office of Education’s Equity Conference in January, was well-attended and sought to provide educators with tools needed to help transgender youth at a pivotal time in their lives.

Moehlig said educators should check their personal values at the door when students experiencing gender dysphoria approach them for support.

What’s needed, she said, is to simply say, “Thank you for trusting me. How can I best support you?”

Too often, she said, teachers believe they are doing the right thing by informing parents of a student’s distress, when what can happen, and often does, is that parents confront their child with open hostility and rejection.

“At school, everyone has the right to feel safe,” Moehlig said, and that is not always the case at home.

Because one does not “choose” to be a trans person, gender identity is determined in the brain and has nothing to do with the sex assigned at birth, she said.

“Parents are kicking their transgender kids out of their homes,” said Evan Johnson, director of youth programs, at the presentation with Moehlig, adding there is a 17 percent high school dropout rate for trans students nationwide and a high rate of suicide ideation.

Just one sympathetic ear from an adult in a child’s life can change the downward trajectory and make a vast difference in a trans student’s life, and that can cut suicide attempts by 40 percent, said Johnson, who uses the pronouns they/them/their.

“We need to show our kids being trans is not something to pity or mourn,” they said.

In one of four essays about a transgender woman’s legal locker room use at the Santee YMCA published March 19 in The San Diego Union-Tribune, Trudy Robinson, lead pastor at the First United Methodist Church of San Diego, wrote that she looks to science to understand what it means to be transgender.

“Sexual anatomy and gender identity are determined by different processes, at distinctly different times, along different neural pathways, before birth,” she wrote. “Dozens of biological events can cause an incongruence between the two.”

It seemed a hopeful sign that the headline above another essay, by Mike Van Meter, pastor at Foothills Christian Church in El Cajon, read, “We are the creation of a personal God.” But in the end, he completely contradicted that.

Referencing biblical text literally rather than considering the Bible as a living document (after all, we no longer do animal sacrifices, at least one hopes not), Van Meter asserted that people are not able to “choose” their gender.

He concluded that marriage is between one man and one woman, and gender is “assigned to us by God.”

Apparently, for him, everyone’s “personal God” must conform to Van Meter’s definition.

Far better was La Mesa’s Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church pastor Marcus Lohrmann’s accompanying opinion piece which made an eloquent appeal for tolerance for all God’s people by saying the “Christian right does not hold a monopoly on Christian values.”

Lohrmann said the weaponization of the Christian story to serve a narrow set of political beliefs is anathema to true Christian values and that anti-transgender language in the name of Jesus is repulsive.

But opposition comes from many quarters, even from members of the gay community.

We need to acknowledge the science and recognize that transgender individuals cause harm to no one and have the right to be left in peace to find joy and fulfillment in their lives in a safe and secure world.

Tackling thorny issues with love in your heart, as pastor Lohrmann suggests, is a far better approach than bigotry and intolerance.

Marsha Sutton is an education columnist and presents her opinion.