LGBTQ+ people have been persecuted by religion for decades. Therefore, creating an on-going and complicated relationship between religion and the LGBTQ+ community. We take a look at how Christianity has impacted views on queer and trans people.
Pope Francis’ relationship with the LGBTQ+ community
In August 2022, according to the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis who is the head of the Catholic Church in the Vatican City State, met up for the fourth time with trans individuals who had previously found shelter at a church in Rome. This group of unhoused trans people were taken in by the Church during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Pope Francis also made sure they received covid vaccinations at the Vatican.
Pope Francis is the first Pope in history to meet personally with trans people in this manner. He had previously also stated ‘who am I to judge’ when asked about his opinion regarding gay priests.
However, he has also declared that LGBTQ+ marriages cannot be blessed by the church. According to his Christian belief, marriage is between a man and a woman, regarding same-sex marriages as a sin. Furthermore, in 2021, the Vatican opposed a bill introduced in Italy which would protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination. While some trans people have benefitted from the Pope’s help, his kindness is limited to individuals and does expand to the wider LGBTQ+ community.
The Church is open to ‘everybody’
More recently, in August 2023, Pope Francis explained to reporters that the Church is open to all. However, a reporter challenged this statement given that women are not allowed to become priests and LGBTQ+ marriages are not recognised by the Church. ‘The Church is open to everyone but there are laws that regulate life inside the Church’, the Pope clarified. While this means that queer and trans people cannot take part in every religious and sacred activity, each person is seemingly accompanied with love inside the Church.
Research confirms Christianity affects views on LGBTQ+ people
A 2022 survey done by the Pew Research Center found a significant difference in opinion on trans issues depending on religion. We focused in particular on Christianity. The survey highlighted that over 75% of Christian Protestants believe that gender is determined by the sex assigned at birth. The percentage of Christian Catholic people has also increased to 62% regarding this matter. However, the majority of people who are atheist, agnostic, or otherwise religiously unaffiliated believe that gender is different from sex, acknowledging the existence of trans people (the bare minimum).
Half of all Christians also believe that trans people should use public bathrooms that align with the sex assigned at birth, not with the gender they identify as, exposing trans people to more violence. Comparatively, only a quarter of religiously unaffiliated people agree with this sentiment.
The majority of all Christians, both Protestants and Catholics, were strongly against adding more gender identity options in official US documents. However, less than half of atheists, agnostics and otherwise non-religious people were of the same opinion. While the number is still high, there are significant differences between religious and non-religious people’s attitudes towards the transgender community that cannot be ignored.
The most telling finding of this survey was that over half or all Christians admitted that religion has had at least some or even a great deal of influence on their views on gender and sexuality. However, 80% of religiously unaffiliated respondents confirmed that religion did not have an influence on their views on gender at all.
Religion has the potential to do good
This survey proves the extent to which religion has influenced people’s views on the trans community. This is not to deny the existence of the many pro-trans Christians and religious LGBTQ+ people, but more to shine light on the continuous use of religion to excuse anti-trans beliefs.
It is important to remember that other religions which move away from the Western gender binary, such as Hinduism, have always included multiple genders. In South Asia, the Hijra, a third-gender group consisting of trans, non-binary and intersex people, have been officially recognised by the government in Bangladesh as a third gender since 2013. This is not to say that queer and trans people do not face any violence in South Asia, but it highlights the different gender expressions and identities within non-Western religions. This is especially important given that trans and non-binary people have existed since the beginning of time.
This glimpse into non-Western religions highlights how religion as a whole has the potential to be used for good, thriving on gender diversity instead of limiting itself through an invented binary of identities. Instead of division, religion and Christianity are supposed to bring people together through core values such as kindness and selflessness. However, due to how religion is used within politics, the LGBT+ community continues to maintain a complicated and often painful relationship to religion.