Do you enjoy a good debate?
Can you engage in a long, impassioned discussion about which version of the Star Trek franchise is the best?
Do you appreciate a nice back-and-forth about whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich?
Do you have strong opinions about whether flight or invisibility would be the better superpower to possess?
Topics like these can make amusing conversation starters. Other, more consequential topics, such as politics and religion, can also enkindle lively debate, even if they do carry the potential for lost Facebook friends or ruined Thanksgiving dinners (pre-COVID-19, of course).
Despite the potential for escalation, though, many of us still enjoy debating.
I remember one evening, several years ago, when I was visiting my family for the holidays. My father and I started discussing our different understandings of the Bible, focusing mainly on our interpretations of Genesis.
We would have stayed up all night debating, too, had not my mother burst into the kitchen around 2 in the morning to say, “You two go to bed!”
Credit Jonathan Edwards for asserting that “there are always two sides to every story.” Those words appear in a printed collection of the 18th-century American theologian’s sermons.
You don’t need to have read Edwards to be familiar with this bit of wisdom, though. The idea that different people approach different issues with differing perspectives is an easily observable fact of life.
Why else would the old saying, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity” (often misattributed to Augustine) have become so oft repeated? Why else would “let’s agree to disagree” have risen to such a popular place in contemporary discourse?
People don’t always see eye to eye, and that’s OK. Sometimes, a good, healthy, even ferocious, debate is in order. But sometimes, it isn’t.
According to UN.org, the 1948 declaration “proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
Each of the UDHR’s 30 articles makes an assertion about human rights, including freedom of expression and conscience, freedom to seek asylum in another country, freedom to work and enjoy leisure and many more.
Each of the declaration’s articles speaks to an issue that is, I believe, undebatable.
Maybe it’s acceptable to argue about whether or not pineapple belongs on pizza. Maybe it’s acceptable to debate about when or how Christians ought to baptize. Maybe it’s acceptable to argue about which political party deserves to be in power.
When it comes to questions of whether or not people are entitled to rights irrespective of “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” (Article 2), or whether “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law” (Article 6), or whether “all are entitled to equal protection against discrimination” violating their universal rights (Article 7), there’s simply no room for debate.
I can’t speak for every trans person, but I get the impression that many – if not most – of us are weary of public discourse that regards our rights, our identities and even our existence as just one viable position in a two-sided debate.
According to Pew Research, about 63% of American Christians say a person can’t be a gender other than the sex they were assigned at birth. In other words, nearly two-thirds of professing Christians in the U.S. don’t believe trans people are who we say we are.
Among white evangelicals, the number climbs to 84%. White evangelicals are also the most likely, at over 60%, to maintain that society has gone too far in accepting trans people.
These positions are irresponsible and harmful, not to mention indefensible.
The notion that trans people are somehow confused, mistaken or even deceitful about our identities helps to form society into a place where we are subjected to stigma, discrimination and even violence.
Trans people around the world took notice last December when a U.K. judge dismissed an employment tribunal claim brought by a woman whose employment contract was not renewed after she was found to have posted transphobic content on social media.
Her posts (which, interestingly, reflected the convictions of many American evangelicals as cited above) maintained that a person’s sex can’t be changed and that trans women are really men.
The woman felt she was being discriminated against for her convictions. The judge found otherwise, writing that her transphobia did “not have the protected characteristic of philosophical belief.”
The judge further ruled that, inasmuch as the woman’s approach to gender identity could create “an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” for trans people, it was “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”
In celebrating the universality of human rights, we recognize that certain issues are not up for debate – that certain positions are not worthy of respect in a democratic society.
These include ideas that were once hotly argued or defended on the basis of religion, such as whether it’s acceptable to enslave people, whether indigenous people have the same rights as settler colonialists or whether women should be able to vote and attend school.
Our world becomes a better, more humane, more compassionate place when debates such as these are settled once and for all.
On this Human Rights Day, during this season of hope, I am hoping for the day when my identity – and the identity of my trans siblings – is no longer seen as a matter of debate.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for Human Rights Day (Dec. 10). The previous article in the series is:
Do We Observe Human Rights or Practice Hypocrisy? | Wendell Griffen
In this age of social distancing, June Joplin, an ordained minister, is finding her way as an itinerant virtual preacher. She recently preached in Austin and Berlin on the same Sunday morning, all from the relative comfort of her suburban Toronto home. Her sermons and other content can be found at her website, PastorJune.com She is a member of the Good Faith Media strategic advisory board.