In just one week four stories relating to LGBTQIA issues have been in the new headlines:
Managers of an Australian rugby team who decided, without consultation, to embalzon its jersies with the rainbow flag had to apologise after seven players refused to play wearing them.
London lawyer Allison Bailey, who identifies as 'Lesbian', won a court case against her chambers, the court ruling that she had been discriminated against by her chambers for criticising the policies of activist group Stonewall on transgender (although the court did not uphold her case against Stonewall, despite their stance being the basis of her case against her chambers).
The Commonwealth Games opened in Birmingham, with diver Tom Daley entering the stadium to hand over the torch surrounded by rainbow flags. BBC News reports around the Games questioning the continuing relevance of the Commonwealth expressed concerns that many member countries have laws against homosexual practices, but defended the Games on the basis that athletes will be allowed to fly the rainbow flag from the podium.
It was announced that the NHS is to close the UK's only dedicated clinic for children with gender dysphoria after a long-running investigation raised after complaints by former patient Keira Bell that she was affirmed in a transgender identity pushed towards use of puberty blockers without any attempts to challenge her thinking. Confusingly, the announcement was welcomed both by Bell and by Stonewall, but on completely different grounds - the former because she hopes it will protect children in future and the latter because they hope the replacement of the single clinic with two regional centres will shorten waiting lists!
I hope as you read the summaries of these stories you spot the contradictions. I don't think it is too strong to suggest that our culture is seriously muddled over LGBTQIA issues and especially over transgender. Let me spell out some of the reasons why I think that:
There is a clear difference between the traditional arguments for 'gay rights' which are based on the idea of equality between diverse groups and the more radical transgender ideologies that dismiss the very concept of distinct groups. If gender is fluid and on a spectrum, the idea of discrete categories like man and woman disappears, but how can we then argue for the rights of any distinct group?
The version of the rainbow flag waved around Tom Daley (although not the one on the Australian rugby shirts) is the one that not only includes the colours of the rainbow in stripes, but also has triangules near the flagshaft in yellow, pink, light blue, brown, black and white, to include race issues and gender identity issues in the mix. This is completely muddled. Each of these issues is too important for them to be lumped together in this unhelpful way. Each should be considered on its own terms and no one should be forced to endorse prevailing views on all of them because they wish to stand for one of them. The fundamental contradiction I identify in my first bullet point should make us stop this careless approach and be more discerning.
It seems that Britain is no less imperialistic than ever. We may have hoped the Commonwealth could be a community of nations meeting as equals with mutual esteem and humility in respect to cultural differences. But the Commonwealth Games seems determined to stand in judgement over those nations that have not followed the 'motherland' in its shifting values since the late twentieth century. We can't change their laws (we don't send gunboats and governors any longer) but we can shame them and try to manipulate change by waving flags at them (and allocating aid on the basis of policies around these issues). How arrogant we remain!
There is a clear issue with the clash of rights, both to speak freely about our convictions about gender identity (the Bailey courtcase) and to choose not to have to endorse beliefs we do not share in the course of our daily work (the rugby case). Christians should not discriminate against people or treat them differently because their beliefs differ from ours. We are commanded by God to love and honour everyone. But we must also speak truth as God has revealed it in His Word - with compassion, humility and gentleness and also listening well to others, yes, but still we must be honest. But these cases were not simply about the right to believe what we believe or even to communciate it. They were about the expectation that people must endorse the agenda and beliefs of others. That cannot be right. It is not only Christians who should be troubled by such discrimination. I am heartened by the fact that in these cases the courts and managers of a rugby team were too and admitted it. I can only hope this signals a shift towards a more reasonable position in which freedoms of religion and belief as well as to freedom of speech (so long as it is not inciteful of hateful actions) are protected against discrimination just as much as sexuality and gender identity are. It's interesting they aren't on the flag!
If you are part of a church or Christian organisation in Ireland wanting help to think further about these issues and a Christian response to them, the Centre for Christianity in Scoiety (of which I am a trustee) can help by providing a speaker on the issue. You may also find the Centre's position on sexual ethics and family helpful as an expression of biblical beliefs and how Christians can relate to our confused society. You can also find papers on on my website on sexual ethics and transgender (the latter needs an update, but that will come out through the Centre in time, so join its mailing list to stay in the loop).