Religious Freedom in Michigan and What it Entitles

Michigan’s House of Representatives passed a bill known as the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). According to MSNBC, the bill protects people’s religious freedom by preventing any laws that would hinder their ability to practice their religion freely. The exception is if a conflicting law “serves a compelling interest and accomplishes that goal using the least restrictive means possible.”

This bill will lead to discrimination and a possible decrease in resources and services offered to others. For example people can be denied any form of birth control due a pharmacist’s religious beliefs or hospitals can refuse to terminate pregnancies due to medical complications because of their religion. The bill can have a huge impact on the LGBT community since many religions condemn homosexuality. People part of the LGBT community can get turned down from businesses people regularly go to for services and commodities to being kicked out of their apartments because of the landlord’s religious beliefs. It can even be as serious as getting rejected from a hospital because of conflicting views on the LGBT community. This could be potentially life threatening for many people under serious circumstances where someone needs to get to a hospital quickly and the closest one is Catholic-owned.

The bill is a serious issue, but an even bigger issue is that the anti-discrimination laws in the United States only make discrimination illegal against people based on race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. These laws don’t protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Less than half of the states have passed laws that prohibit this kind of discrimination. Michigan is not on that list and so the LGBT community in Michigan is not protected from the sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.

It is important to allow people to exercise their religion but it is equally important to protect every single person’s civil rights. A step that should have already happened, but now needs to be taken next is include sexual orientation and gender identity under the country’s anti-discrimination laws.

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Celebration of the Third Gender in Bangladesh

Upon speaking with my friend about my blog, I was introduced to a third gender in Bangladesh called hijras. I was told that hijras are born intersex, but they choose a feminine gender identity. Unfortunately they are often shunned by society.

By doing further research on this topic, I came upon a Global Voices article about Bangladesh’s very first Pride Parade held in Dhaka nearly a month ago. The Pride Parade was held to mark the first anniversary of the recognition of hijras as their own gender. The article mentions that a hijra can also be someone who is born male, and like the intersexuals, identify with a feminine gender.

This accomplishment is outstanding considering Bangladesh is a very religious country, majority Muslim. Yet in secular, industrialized countries like the United States the progress is lacking. The only two genders that are acknowledged among institutions is male or female, forcing people to choose one even if they are agender.

This isn’t the first culture to acknowledge a third gender. When I was learning about kinship and gender roles in my Cultural Anthropology class, I found out that various Native American societies have recognized a third gender. Among the Cheyenne and Lakota this gender is known as berdache and nadle among the Navajo. The berdache or nadle is a biological male who takes on a feminine gender identity and fulfills the responsibilities that the women have in those tribes.

New Immigration Reform and What it Means for LGBT Families

On Thursday night, President Obama announced the actions he will be taking as president for the new immigration reform. According to ABC News, the reform will give millions of undocumented immigrants temporary legal status under certain conditions. The temporary legal status will protect these undocumented immigrants from deportation. Instead, President Obama wants the focus of law enforcement to be on those illegal immigrants who have commitment felonies or have entered the country illegally within the last year. To qualify for the temporary legal status, one must be a parent of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, have been in the country at least five years, and have not committed any felonies. The President will also expand the criteria for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which will incorporate immigrants of a larger age range and extend the legal status from two years to three years, with an ability to renew.

These immigration reforms will protect a lot of LGBT families from separation due to deportation. LGBT citizens and LGBT permanent residents whose parents are undocumented do not have to be afraid of being separated and losing their family because of deportation. Not only are LGBT children of undocumented immigrants affected by this but also those who are in same-sex marriages. Under these new reforms, same-sex couples will be protected from separation and deportation whether both are undocumented or one is of legal status and the other is not. Another major group that will be protected is those who are LGBT immigrants themselves and seek relief from deportation. This last part is especially important, because a lot of immigrants come from countries who are not tolerant of people that are a part of the LGBT community. This action offers those who fear deportation to less tolerant countries a sense of alleviation and protection from what they could have encountered in their place of origin.

While this action does offer relief to a lot of individuals and families, not all LGBT immigrants will qualify based on the criteria. It is also important to remember that while this reform does provide immigrants protection from deportation, they are only offered temporary legal status, not permanent status. Citizenship or permanent residency can only be achieved if Congress would pass a bill that will continue to correct and improve the immigration system that the President is trying to fix through this executive action.

Moving Forward with Gender Inclusion

I am a little behind on the news, but I have been recently made aware of the new gender options available on Facebook. As of February of this year, Facebook has provided users with 56 new gender options according to ABC News. The article mentions 58 gender options, which include the traditional male and female genders that are not included in the list of recently added genders. Here are a few screenshots I’ve taken of some of the possible gender options on Facebook:

Facebook Gender Options

Facebook Gender Options

Facebook Gender Options

Facebook Gender Options

The full list of available “custom” options is as follows: Agender, Androgyne, Androgynous, Bigender, Cis, Cisgender, Cis Female, Cis Male, Cis Man, Cis Woman, Cisgender Female, Cisgender Male, Cisgender Man, Cisgender Woman, Female to Male, FTM, Gender Fluid, Gender Nonconforming, Gender Questioning, Gender Variant, Genderqueer, Intersex, Male to Female, MTF, Neither, Neutrois, Non-binary, Other, Pangender, Trans, Trans*, Trans Female, Trans* Female, Trans Male, Trans* Male, Trans Man, Trans* Man, Trans Person, Trans* Person, Trans Woman, Trans* Woman, Transfeminine, Transgender, Transgender Female, Transgender Male, Transgender Man, Transgender Person, Transgender Woman, Transmasculine, Transsexual, Transsexual Female, Transsexual Male, Transsexual Man, Transsexual Person, Transsexual Woman, Two-Spirit.

To access these new gender options, one must go into their gender tab on Facebook, where a list of 3 genders will be available: Female, Male, and Custom. Once custom is selected, you can start to type in the gender you identify with and Facebook will provide you with gender options that match. Another feature that was added to complement the expanded gender options is providing people with the availability to select their preferred gender pronouns (PGPs). The options available for those are: him, her, and them.

I like that social media platforms are beginning to recognize other gender identities besides the two worldwide accepted female and male genders. Although this is a step in the right direction, I don’t see how these are “custom” gender identities. If this was truly custom, then users wouldn’t be forced to settle for preexisting options already set by Facebook. Also labelling them as custom further implies that they are not part of the norm. Sure these gender identities are not ones that many people are familiar with and accustomed to but the way to make them part of the norm isn’t by creating a label. They should just appear one by one like the female and male options.

All in all, I do applaud Facebook for making this change and expanding its options to make its community more inclusive. I hope to see these kind of actions to be incorporated not only in other social networks, but higher institutions as well, such as colleges and various government departments.

The beginning of Transcending Identity

I have always wanted to start a blog, but I had so many ideas floating around in my head that I couldn’t settle for just one. To my surprise I discovered my idea for this blog through my Introduction to LGBTQQIA Studies class.

As a final project for the course I was provided with several options like a research paper, film, art piece, creative narrative, or blog to address the readings, views, and theories on LGBTQQIA ideas and issues that are and will be discussed in the course. So naturally, always wanting to start blogging, I chose to create a blog for my final project. Through this blog I hope to discuss various cultural, political, artistic, and theoretical LGBTQQIA issues. I will seek inspiration for the blog posts from the course, society, government, art, cultural events, friends, family, and of course the readers.