When Christian Compassion Doesn’t Apply to Transgender People

by JJ Gufreda

During the holidays, I noticed a Franciscan Health commercial with the hashtag #FranciscanPeacePrayer. This beautiful prayer, attributed to St. Francis in the 13th century, was repeated during the commercial.

The visuals in the ad showed smiling people helping each other and showing love. 

Here is a link if you want to check it out.

I am a former Catholic and I grow more skeptical of the Catholic Church by the day. Franciscan Health (formerly Franciscan Alliance) is a Catholic healthcare provider in Indiana and parts of Illinois. This system prides itself in a “healing ministry,” guided by this mission: “Continuing Christ’s Ministry in our Franciscan Tradition. Each day, we commit ourselves to practicing the words of our mission in how we care for our patients.”

The Franciscan Health website continues:

In serving our mission we strive to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of our patients, families and staff. Our activities are built on a foundation of respecting different faith communities and cultures while providing compassionate, spiritual care. Together we can address spiritual needs that impact patient healing and wholeness.

This is a healthcare provider who claims to follow the example of Christ, in the tradition of Saint Francis. This is a healthcare provider who claims to respect differences and treat their patients with compassion and care.

My impression from their message is that if you use a Franciscan facility, you will be treated with love and respect. 

So what’s the problem? Across the country, there’s a growing trend for the protection of what some call Religious Freedom. I always thought that Religious Freedom meant that you were free to believe what you want and could practice any religion or belief—as long as you don’t infringe on another’s rights.

Now, some institutions want to expand “Religious Freedom” to cement harmful theology into law. For example, Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 2015, which allowed  that it could be used to refuse service to LGBT people.

After worldwide outrage, business backlash and threats of boycotts, the governor signed a “fix” in August 2015 that limited the effects of the law in cities that have non-discrimination policies protecting LGBT people. In cities without these protections, LGBT people still are not protected from discrimination.

A year later, in August 2016, Franciscan Health joined a group of five states and religiously affiliated health care organizations to file a lawsuit against the Federal Government.

In this lawsuit, they seek an injunction that would allow them to discriminate in the health care they provide.

The lawsuit, Franciscan Alliance v. Burwell, challenges a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regulation that says the Affordable Care Act prohibits health care entities that receive federal funds from discriminating against patients and employees because they are transgender, or because they seek reproductive care.

The lawsuit claims that this regulation, which is intended to protect patients and employees from discrimination, is a violation of their religious liberty.

Even though the medical community has generally agreed that gender confirming treatment is needed for transgender people, Franciscan Health is suing to ensure that they do not have to treat transgender patients. And insurance provided to their employees and their families will not cover treatment.

I am transgender. I transitioned from male to female ten years ago. If you have read any of my other blogs, you can see that I have had a difficult time experiencing discrimination, especially when it comes from a church, religious people or self proclaimed “Christians.” (I differentiate “Christians” from what I categorize as real Christians that follow the words and example of Jesus.)

I have to wonder: what services does Franciscan Health want to refuse?

Do they find hormone therapies for transgender people morally objectionable? What about gender-reassignment surgeries? Mental health and counseling services? What about other health services?

What if a transgender person gets hormone treatment or gender surgery from another facility but needs emergency treatment because they experience complications? Would they stop the hemorrhaging if it was related to previous gender surgery? What about treating breast cancer in a male to female transgender person? Do they also desire to refuse treatment to a transgender person suffering from a heart attack? Diabetes? Broken leg?

What of people who are intersex, who are born with physical traits that do not fit the typical definitions of female or male. Is being Intersex counter to the beliefs of the Franciscan Alliance?

If I am in need of medical services, what kind of risk will I incur if I go to a Franciscan Health facility? 

If I have their insurance, should I be deprived of coverage that others with non-Franciscan insurance would receive, just because I am transgender? Will Franciscan employees and providers read and follow the ruling to be sure of which services they can deny me and which they can’t?

There are plenty of horror stories from transgender people who have experienced discrimination as they seek medical and health treatment. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, one-third of respondents reported having at least one negative experience with a doctor or other health care provider related to being transgender in the past year. Nearly one-quarter of respondents reported that they had avoided seeking health care in the past year because they feared mistreatment as a transgender person.

A 2014 report by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute share that sixty percent of respondents whose doctor or healthcare provider refused to treat them had attempted suicide. According to surveys, 4.6% of the overall U.S. population has reported a suicide attempt. The rate for transgender or gender non-conforming people is 40%.

Franciscan Health may believe in the St. Francis prayer.

But apparently, they do not believe it enough to apply it to transgender people.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Photo by hjl

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