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  • Doug Tjapkes

Proudly treating transgender prisoners as fellow humans!

As we enter Pride Month, I’d like to focus on the T in the popular term LBGTQ. Some of my friends, especially those who share my Christian beliefs, really don’t like to talk about these things. If we don’t talk about them we don’t have to think about them, and if we don’t think about them we don’t have to deal with the complexity of these issues. When contacted for advice regarding a transgender person in one of our prisons, a Christian counselor bluntly stated to us: "Lots of luck with that one!" First, a simple description of the word transgender. It’s an adjective, denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. In Pride Month, I’m very proud to state that HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS is working with at least 40 transgender Michigan prisoners! Consider, for a moment, just how difficult it must be for a transgender person to just survive in that environment! They face specific and unique problems due to ignorance, discrimination, and violence from guards and other prisoners. Therefore, they are exposed to horrific rates of abuse. The U.S. Transgender Survey found that transgender people are ten times as likely to be sexually assaulted by their fellow inmates and five times as likely to be sexually assaulted by staff. I spotted this headline recently in a Detroit Newspaper: A transgender woman says she has been shunned her whole life: by her parents, strangers and the prison system, where she was ignored until she got raped. HFP has been blessed to receive assistance and guidance from a small band of professionals, who have even agreed to become pen pals with some of our transgender clients. We not only do our best to help and encourage transgender persons behind bars, we also show respect by referring to their chosen sexual identity in correspondence and with the pronouns we use ("she" instead of "he," e.g.). Our imprisoned friends are so grateful for these simple demonstrations of kindness! How sad that transgender persons have become such a political target in our divided country! State legislatures in some 33 states are now entertaining bills that restrict their rights. And further checking reveals that the wording is almost identical. Some devious person, agency or group made a concerted effort to send a template to political operatives in each state. Shameful. I love Psalm 139. These words in verse 14 fit our discussion: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. May our transgender friends claim this today. And may the rest of us respect it.

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