The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known informally as the Mormon Church, has never been supportive of transgender identity, but now it has fully spelled out its anti-trans positions in a new handbook, available online.
"Gender is an essential characteristic of Heavenly Father's plan of happiness," says the General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, released Wednesday. "The intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation is biological sex at birth."
"Church leaders counsel against elective medical or surgical intervention for the purpose of attempting to transition to the opposite gender of a person's birth sex ('sex reassignment')," the handbook continues. "Leaders advise that taking these actions will be cause for Church membership restrictions."
The book also takes a stand against social transition -- changes in dress, grooming, names, or pronouns intended to reflect a gender identity different from the one assigned at birth. That will result in restrictions "for the duration of this transition," the document reads.
Those restrictions could include limits on temple attendance, although trans people are welcome to be baptized or receive communion, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. And the Mormon priesthood, which is reserved for men, will not admit trans men, the book makes clear. It builds on a statement by a top church leader last fall that gender assigned at birth is eternal.
The book replaces two earlier ones and reflects the views of the church's two highest governing bodies, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The earlier, printed books were available only to faith leaders, while the new one, published online, is accessible to all.
"There are a number of moral policies that we've now put on paper of where the First Presidency and the [Quorum of the] Twelve stand," Elder Anthony D. Perkins, executive director of the church's Correlation Department, which oversees the creation of the handbook, said in a press release. "One of those moral policies that is new is around persons who identify as transgender. The reason that policy has been added is we've had an increase in questions coming from bishops and stake presidents saying, 'What can a transgender person do? What are the guidelines?' The transgender policy states that everyone is welcome to attend our meetings and that we should create a warm, welcoming environment for all -- including persons who identify as transgender. At the same time, the policy clarifies that some of things in the church are gender-specific."
Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons, Families, & Friends, a support group for LGBTQ people who are current or former members of the LDS Church, did not care for the new handbook.
"Affirmation continues to stand aligned with the medical and psychiatric communities regarding the essential characteristic of gender identity, and that self-determination is the only means to establish gender identity," the group said in a press release. "No person, group or institution has the means or the right to determine gender identity for any individual. Narrowly defining gender as the biological sex at birth negates the lived experience of transgender individuals."
The organization also objected to the use of the term "same-sex attraction" regarding lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. The term "is an ineffective descriptor created by people and organizations outside the LGB community rooted in a belief that sexual orientation is a behavior and therefore amendable to conversion therapy to change such behavior," Affirmation officials said. "Using this as a blanket identifier for LGB individuals is a step backward."
Affirmation did praise the fact that the church will no longer consider same-sex marriages "apostasy" (rejection of church teaching) or deny baptism to children whose primary residence is with a same-sex couple. These policies have been denounced widely since they were announced in 2015, and the church indicated last April that it was backtracking on them. However, "the fact that legally married same-sex couples are still considered in serious transgression within the church still leaves lesbian and gay members of the church facing incredibly painful choices," the Affirmation release said.