The Time to Enact GENDA is Now: End Discrimination

Recently, I was heartened to read that Pope Francis had reached out to a transgender man, Diego Neria Lejárraga, and his fiancée after being called, “the devil’s daughter” and facing continued discrimination from their own church and community. Pope Francis responded by inviting them to the Vatican, where he embraced the transgender man and voiced compassion. The 48-year-old explained the remarkable story to Spanish magazine, Hoy, describing how he was born a woman but felt that, “my jail was my own body… because it absolutely didn’t correspond with how I felt in my soul.”


Diego Neria Lejárraga

Although raised a Catholic, he found the Church was unwilling to accept him. So when he heard reports of Pope Francis’ efforts to reach out to those marginalized by some of the Church’s traditional views, he decided to write the Pontiff a letter.

First, the Pope responded with a personal phone call (as he has been reported to do in the past). While Neria was still getting over being on the phone with the Pope, the Pontiff invited him and his fiancée to join him in a private meeting at the Vatican.

At the meeting, Neria states that Pope Francis embraced him and told him that, in no uncertain terms, there was “a place in the house of God for him.” Neria says this feeling of acceptance has had a profound impact on him and he now feels he has a place in the church he loves.

As an atheist, LGBT person, and feminist, I maintain a level head on the “Cool Pope Francis” hype. He is still the leader of a breathtakingly conservative church, he still opposes same-sex marriage, and has questionable ethics over the role of women in public life, he is not without room for growth. That said, as a human being, I have enormous admiration for someone who takes the time to make such a profound difference in the life of another. This wasn’t a sweeping gesture, it was a miracle in one person’s life.

It should be noted that I have the greatest respect for Pope Francis, as head of the Catholic Church with many conservatives factions the Pope has to tread carefully. He has to be political but, it is my feeling that he is for social justice for all and a man who does not judge based on sexual identification or orientation.

Those who are transgender continue to face horrible discrimination from those religious factions and others who cannot accept those who identify differently from the ‘norm’. In many parts of the world those who are transgender face jail, torture, and death. It is estimated that around the world, one transgender person is murdered every three days. These numbers do not exclude the United States.

Just last month at least four transgender individuals were murdered in the United States. Those included,

Bryan Ellicott, Transgender leader and activist; Member, Board of Directors, SDNYC

Bryan Ellicott, Transgender leader and activist; Member, Board of Directors, SDNYC

Alyssa”Goddess” Edwards a resident of Kentucky. Authorities in Kentucky refused to list her death with her gender of choice or her name of choice. She was given the name “Goddess” by Lourdes Hunter, the National Director of Trans Women of Color Collective. Other murders this past January included individuals in Virginia, Texas, and California.

Great Olympic athlete, Bruce Jenner has announced that she is transitioning. Her mother has stated, “I’m more proud of his transition than his gold medals”. Jenner, a born New Yorker, deserves admiration from all and she will soon be discussing her transition with Diane Sawyer.

Here in New York discrimination in housing, employment, and use of public facilities is not illegal in most of the State. The time is past due for the New York State legislature to enact GENDA, which will make it illegal to discriminate against those who are and identify as transgender.

Melissa Sklarz, Former President, Stonewall Democratic Club of  New York City; Leader in the Transgender Community

Melissa Sklarz, Former President, Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City; Leader in the Transgender Community

Melissa Sklarz, former President of Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City and a prominent leader in the transgender community said, “It is essential for religious communities to accept LGBT realities and revisit the idea that sexual and gender minorities are damned and have no place in the eyes of God.” Bryan Ellicott, a leader in the transgender community said, “I don’t practice the Roman Catholic faith. However I was baptized and received my first Communion at a younger age.”

Pope Francis took a bold step by allowing the visit of a transgender person who felt like his faith was rejecting him because of how he identifies. It was a bold step in the right direction. Transgender people just want to align their bodies with what they knew to be true all along…they don’t want to give up their beliefs or their faith. Pope Francis did the right thing and I hope that Diego Neria Lejárraga finds comfort in his interactions with Pope Francis and the acceptance of him as the leader of Roman Catholic faith.

While Governor Cuomo has committed himself to signing legislation for GENDA , I leave it to my transgender friends such as Bryan Ellicot and Melissa Sklarz to lead the fight for equality for those who are transgender, I will follow their lead in this fight for social justice for all.

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