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  • Doug Tjapkes

Transgender prisoners. Created in the image of God?

Transgender prisoners are on my mind. We’re hearing some positive news about transgender people these days. Shortly after taking office, President Biden signed an executive order allowing transgender people to serve in the military. In fact, on his first day in office the President reinstated protections for gender identity that had been earlier curbed. But progress for this group of people (all created in the image of God) has been slow. For example, on the day Biden signed that order, 2,100 miles away conservative legislators in Montana advanced a law to ban transgender youth from competing in girls’ sports. What does it mean to be transgender? Transgender people are persons whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be at birth. When we're born, a doctor usually says that we're male or female based on what our bodies look like. Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from the sex that they were assigned at birth. My intent today, with this column, is to focus on transgender prisoners. Can you even begin to imagine the problems these people face? The National Center for Transgender Equality says: Transgender people in prison are exposed to horrific rates of abuse by both staff and their fellow inmates, facing physical and sexual assault at much higher rates than their counterparts. As the USTS found, 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. Now I’m going to share something with you that makes me very proud. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS recently signed up its 40th transgender client, a resident of the Michigan prison system! We’re here for them, and they know it! Transgender prisoners are too frequently targeted for violence and abuse. Sadly, some of that violence and abuse comes from the very authorities entrusted with their safety. Transgender prisoners also face numerous other challenges behind bars, including denials of medical care and lengthy stays in solitary confinement. When a prisoner comes to HFP for help, we don’t check his or her rap sheet first to see what kind of crime sent them to a cage. We don’t screen for color, beliefs, or gender identity. That prisoner has a name and a problem. Our response is to care, and then to help if we can. I love Psalm 139. These words in verse 14 fit our discussion today: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I found this touching quote by a struggling transgender Christian, who referred to that Psalm: God made me transgender; that is the way that it is. He did not make a mistake, for it was in His plans that I am who I am.

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