Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Boston Transgender Day of Remembrance, 2008

Last Thursday, November 20th, my parish, St. Luke’s and St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church (or ‘SLAM,’ as it is affectionately known) hosted Boston’s Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). For coverage of the event by the Allston/Brighton Tab, click here, and for coverage by Bay Windows, click here. Bay Windows photographer Marilyn Humphries took some wonderful photos, which you can view here.

I can’t express strongly enough how proud I am that we hosted this event. As a member of the trans community, I’ve been attending TDOR for several years in other locations. The event’s origins also emerge out of the two metro areas that I have called home: Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area. TDOR was started nine years ago by San Francisco trans activist and writer, Gwen Smith, to mark the one-year anniversary of the murder of transwoman Rita Hester. Hester, meanwhile, had been murdered in the Boston area on November 28, 1998. And, in a realization that sent chills down my spine, she was murdered only blocks from my parish, in Allston, MA. When I first came to SLAM as their priest in 2006, I had not quite made this connection between my parish’s neighborhood and this event that has become a catalyst for transgender activism around the world. But as the ten-year anniversary of Rita Hester’s murder approached, the realization hit me like a ton of bricks.

Personally speaking, part of the gravitas I was overwhelmed by was the intersection of my worlds. I came to SLAM as an openly transgender man as well as an Episcopal priest, and while I don’t tend to overly compartmentalize my life, these facets of myself have never before been so simultaneously, fully present. The event M.C., Judah Dorrington, put it best in inviting all those gathered to allow all of themselves to be present that evening.

It was a night more evocative of January than November, hovering in the mid-twenties, but the chill couldn’t keep people away. From 6 p.m. on, people kept filing into the church. We had set up extra chairs, enough for about 175, but by start time, we were beyond capacity. People were standing in the aisles, sitting on the floor, piled toward the back. Without a doubt, I have never seen so many people in my parish — certainly over 200 -- and I wonder when the numbers have been matched in parish history.

As the event began, with Judah singing Marvin Gay’s “What’s Going On,” I wondered if I would be able to speak without loosing it, being one of several slated speakers. I had something brief written out, but when I stood up and really took in the sight of all those people, I decided to just go with the flow. I talked about how proud I and the parish was to be hosting the event. I reflected on how Judah’s exhortation to bring all of ourselves to the evening’s event rang more clearly for me that night than ever before. I talked about how pervasive and psychically pernicious anti-trans violence can be. And I recalled when I first really became aware of that culture of violence.

My partner and I had moved to Boston the summer of 1995, unaware that transwoman Debra Forte had been killed three months before. That fall, as I began my Master of Divinity Degree, I became an intern at the Fenway Community Health Center’s Victim Recovery Program. Part of my duties involved being a Victim Advocate, at the other end of one of the phones when someone called to report an instance of anti-lgbt or same-sex domestic violence. Then Channelle Pickett was murdered. I remember it particularly clearly, not only because I was interning at the VRP at the time, but also because she died on my birthday, November 20. It was overwhelming and horrifying to be at the nerve center of the LGBT community response to an anti-trans murder just as I myself was beginning to grapple with my own gender identity.

When Rita Hester died in 1998, I had graduated from divinity school. I was a new postulant in the ordination process in the diocese of Massachusetts, and was working full time in homeless services. In the three years between these murders, my own gender quandary had begun to feel like a shadow; I knew ducking from it was ridiculous but I couldn’t help trying. By November, this escapist strategy was beginning to wear thin, but not enough to change course. That’s probably why I didn’t attend the rally in Allston that year. I wish I could say otherwise.

I also have found, over the years, that going to a TDOR not only requires confronting the death of Rita, Channelle, Debra and way too many other community members. It also calls upon us to confront the myriad other losses that we undergo, past, present, and sometimes worst of all, potential/future. We can’t help but be reminded of our vulnerability.

And yet, ten years later, we have come so far, far enough to transform our future with hope. Numerous speakers echoed that truth, particularly Diego Sanchez, who reminded us all that we are not victims but victors. Ten years ago, the tasks that lay before us appeared like a mountain we had barely begun to climb. Now we are halfway up that mountain. Of course, I don’t know how big the mountain truly is. But I do know that we have made huge strides and that as we continue our ascent, our resolve and solidarity will need to keep growing. As the Rev. Kim K. Harvey of Arlington Street Church put it (and I paraphrase), regardless of our differences of belief and identity, regardless of our losses and grief over them, we can and we must claim a shared vision.

After the speakers, everyone filed out of the church with candles, making our way down Brighton Avenue with a police escort, to Union Square. We made a huge circle in front of the Jackson Mann School and read the names of the dead. The list comprised transpeople who died around the world this year plus those who have been killed in MA in any year, for a total of forty-eight names. From the school, we walked to the side street on which Rita Hester lived. Quietly, we stood outside her apartment building and held a moment of silence. A small, single candle was placed outside the door. Then we returned to the church for hot drinks and refreshments.

Though their tone certainly couldn’t derail the spirit of the evening, we were confronted by hecklers, both on Hester’s side street, and as we passed the Brighton Avenue bars on the way back to the church.

But what struck me repeatedly throughout the evening was a strong feeling of community solidarity and determination. I was so moved to meet a number of parents, friends, and other allies of the trans community—it felt like there was a larger than number of allies at TDOR this year than in years past, which strikes me as especially important. In one case, parents introduced me to their son, the mother explaining to me that she was using his chosen name for the very first time in that moment. I met other young people, some still in high school, just coming out. I talked with veterans of the Boston trans community, some of whom I have seen around but never officially met. I also enjoyed getting to catch up with old friends. And I was moved as I talked with several people about our various faith traditions and the challenges of being trans people of faith.

For me, there was something truly cosmic and transformative about Thursday night. By being present at that particular time, and in that particular place, we were able to be present to a horror, and, as several people put it, to re-member the humanity of those we have lost. In that process, and in that movement — in our words at the initial gathering, our walking and reading of names, our marking of Rita’s home, and our return for warmth and conversation -- we seemed to take on a new resolve, to claim even more strongly, our own humanity.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Diocese of Massachusetts Passes Resolution on Transgender Inclusion

I’m sitting in the living room reflecting on the end of a long, long week, and listening to a cd called “Songs @ the Crossing” that I bought at diocesan convention yesterday. It has a chanting, soulful quality, kind of like Taizé, but with a jazzy feel-- a nice backdrop for sifting through a wildly intense week.

Between the death of a longtime parishioner, giving a paper at the American Academy of Religion meeting in Chicago last weekend, the elections, and the parishioner’s funeral Friday morning, it was already packed.

Then, with hands still dirty from casting earth on the coffin, I drove to Hyannis, Massachusetts, where the annual diocesan convention of the Diocese of Massachusetts was taking place this year. I was anxious to get there as quickly as possible, since I was co-sponsoring a resolution on transgender civil rights and inclusion in the non-discrimination clause of the national church canon on ministerial discernment.

(Eastern) Massachusetts is not the first diocese to consider such a resolution. Prior to us, the Dioceses of Newark, Michigan, Maryland, New York, and California have all passed similar resolutions, while the diocese of Connecticut rejected one about three years ago. The diocese of Michigan passed additional resolutions on October 24-25, calling for a transgender-inclusive federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and transgender inclusion in the national church, non-discrimination ministry canon. While previous conventions here have included resolutions on gay and lesbian people, including the question of blessing and/or solemnizing same sex marriages, trans issues have never before been on the table at the Diocese of Massachusetts' annual convention.

In addition to the resolutions from other dioceses that have gone before it, the MA resolution flowed naturally out of an evolving national and international context. This has been an extraordinary year for the transgender community in the United States, with a number of public conversations dovetailing on issues connected to our lives. I also sense a growing interest and ability within faith communities to talk about trans people in their midst and the implications of our presence and, conversely, within trans communities to talk about faith and spirituality (e.g. the For Such a Time As This event which was to take place in New Orleans this fall). Even beyond the United States, transgender topics have been increasingly emerging into public conversation (e.g. the ‘Listening to Trans People’ panel at the Lambeth Conference, and several posts re: trans African voices in July and August on this blog). The Employment Non-Discrimination Act debacle last fall has galvanized people in the trans community like never before. And here in Massachusetts, a non-discrimination and hate crimes bill was introduced last year. While it met an untimely death in a study committee, it will be reintroduced in 2009. It would be huge to be able to say that the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts supports the passage of such a bill.

Shortly after I arrived in Hyannis Friday afternoon, resolutions had to be introduced. I had three minutes to explain the resolution, after which there was time for discussion. Voting would happen Saturday. I began my explanation by talking about the murder of Rita Hester 10 years ago in Allston/Brighton, MA, where my parish is located. I talked about how trans women of color, in particular, are vulnerable to anti-trans violence. Bringing up recent cases of anti-trans discrimination that have been in the news, I explained that currently there is neither state (MA) nor federal protection against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression, and I talked about how pervasive the stigma against trans people remains, even as we are now making amazing gains as a community. And I concluded by saying that although already there are trans clergy around the country, myself included, it would be helpful to name our intention that trans people, like all people, be free to take up their vocations to various ministries in the church. Then time was called and I stood back from the microphone.

Two people then stepped up to microphones in the assembly of about 800. The first was a young woman from the Diocesan Youth Council. She explained that she has friends who are trans as well as lesbian, gay, and bi, whom she has in the past assured would indeed be welcome in the Episcopal Church. She felt strongly that we as a diocese should pass the resolution; otherwise she felt she would have been lying to her friends about the wideness of our welcome. The next speaker was a woman who shared that she is the mother of a trans person. She talked about how it was hard to have a son or daughter who is trans (in my overwhelmed state, I didn’t catch details about her adult child’s identity), and how important it was for us as a diocese to support trans people and the families connected to them. As I listened, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude at the completely unexpected witness of these two people. And, particularly while listening to the mother, I felt a huge lump grow in my throat as I thought about a family member whom I lost when I transitioned. After those two comments, the convention moved on to the next resolution.

As I made my way through the convention after that Friday session had ended, I was amazed at how people, both friends and people I’d never met, came up to me and said positive things about the resolution and/or what I had said. Then, shortly before dinner, I ran into a group of friends and acquaintances. One was a woman I had met when I visited a parish with a bishop years earlier. She asked if I was the Cameron who had co-sponsored the resolution, and when I said yes, she shared with me that her son is trans. I asked to make sure, but, no, she wasn’t the same mother who had spoken earlier that day. And before the convention would end, I would be approached by yet another person, this time a priest, whose congregation includes the parents of a trans person. The more such encounters I have (and I have had several others with parents of trans people, both through priests and through outside groups), the more obvious it seems that this resolution, and other faith-based outreach regarding trans people, may actually have the most quantitatively large impact on the families, and especially parents, of transpeople. I left the convention that evening exhilarated about the impact of the resolution, even with the actual vote yet to come.

The next day, after officially ‘moving’ the resolution to the Convention’s floor, I again gave a three-minute explanation of it. This time I added to the previous day’s comments that because the murder of Rita Hester had taken place in the vicinity of my parish, and because the Day of Remembrance this year will include a vigil walk recreating the one that took place a decade ago, my parish was asked if it could be the site of this year’s Boston Transgender Day of Remembrance. I talked about how proud we are to be able to serve as that site this year. And I talked about how the resolution speaks not only to the experience of trans people but to all those connected to us, especially family and friends, as had been movingly witnessed in the previous day’s comments.

In the discussion period, this time, there were no comments or questions. When Bishop Gayle Harris asked if we were ready to vote, she didn’t have time to specify that those in favor of the resolution should signify a yes by raising their yellow cards. Yellow cards just started rising, beginning with the left side of the hall. “Hey, what if I had started with the nos?!” she said. But the avalanche was unstoppable: a sea of yellow cards filled the room. When Bishop Harris asked those against the resolution to raise their red cards, I saw no more than 10, again, in a room of about 800 people. I imagine there were some quiet abstentions, but based on that sea of yellow cards, there can’t have been many.

So the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has now gone on record in support of transgender civil rights here in Massachusetts as well as at the federal level, and it has asked the General Convention next summer to augment its non-discrimination canon to include transgender people as part of the ministry of all the baptized. I am incredibly grateful for all the supportive comments and spirit shared this weekend, and I look forward to the further connections that this resolution may yet foster. Thank you, Diomass.


Here is the text of the resolution:

In Support of Transgender Civil Rights and Inclusion in the Ministries of All the Baptized

Name of Submitters
Rev. Cameron Partridge, Rev. Christopher Fike, and Rev. Canon Ed Rodman

Resolved that the 218th Convention of the Diocese of Massachusetts supports the enactment of laws at the local, state and federal level that a) prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or the expression of one’s gender identity, and b) treat physical violence inflicted on the basis of a victim’s gender identity or expression as a hate crime; and be it further

Resolved that the Secretary of Convention convey this resolution to the Massachusetts State Legislature, and the Massachusetts representatives in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives; and be it further

Resolved that this Convention submit to the General Convention the following resolution:

Resolved that the words “gender identity and expression” be inserted into Title III, Canon 1, Sec. 2 directly following the words “sexual orientation” and before the words “disabilities or age.”


The Diocese of Massachusetts has long been committed to social justice and to the eradication of discrimination in all its forms both in civil society and within the church. Although the "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community" are often referred to as a group, lesbian and gay people have made considerable advances over the last two decades, while transgender people — transsexuals and others who differ from societal gender norms — are still without legal protection for their basic rights in areas that include employment and health care. In 2007-8, Massachusetts House Bill 1722, "An Act Relative to Gender-Based Discrimination and Hate Crimes" failed to pass and will be introduced again in 2009. On the federal level, the Employment Non Discrimination Act of 2007 passed the House of Representatives on November 7, 2007 after it had been amended to remove “gender identity and expression.” The United States Senate did not take up the Act. Next session, it may be reintroduced with transgender-inclusive language.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has reported that since 1997, transgender people in the United States have experienced, on average, 213 hate crimes per year. 321 such crimes were reported in 2004. Slowly, states and municipalities are passing laws protecting transgender civil rights. Currently, 13 states have statutory anti-discrimination protection covering gender identity and expression, compared to 20 that have prohibited discrimination against lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. Massachusetts does not yet have such protection at the state level and at the local level only three of our cities do (Boston, Cambridge and North Hampton).

Despite this profound vulnerability, transgender people are increasingly visible as productive participants in workplaces and communities of all types, including Episcopal congregations. By passing this resolution, the Diocese of Massachusetts would stand with the Dioceses of Newark, Michigan, Maryland, New York, and California, continuing to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. Furthermore, by calling for a revision of Title III, Canon 1, Section 2, this Diocese would encourage transgender people, as it does all of God’s people, to bear witness to God’s transforming presence in their lives, and to discern the various ministries into which God may be calling them. Finally, the passage of this resolution would invite the Church to open its eyes afresh to see God’s hand at work in the world about us, and to deepen its inquiry into the holy mystery of the human person.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bishop Robinson to Participate in "Transgender Conversation" in Dallas

I just came across this press release and wanted to applaud Bishop Gene Robinson for coming to the table to talk with members of the trans community in Dallas. Below is a press release announcing the event:


Press Release : Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies Welcome Bishop Robinson for a "Transgender Conversation".

from [http://planetransgender.blogspot.com/2008/09/press-release-dallas-transgender_30.html]

For immediate release

Kelli Busey, Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies (DTAA)

Sept. 30, 2008

Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies are thrilled to welcome to Dallas the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire for a public conversation with transgender people.

Sheraton Dallas Hotel
Seminar Theater
400 North Olive Street · Dallas, Texas 75201 · United States

Map and Directions

November 22, 2008 from 1:00 until 2:00pm

Bishop Robinson will attend a "Transgender Conversation" with the Dallas Transgender Advocates, and Allies(DTAA) to share with us his wisdom and faith and to learn of the transgender struggle for equality.

Bishop Robinson has bravely stepped forward to answer questions regarding religion and it's influence on progressive social action, and to share with us what he has learned from the recent Lambeth and how his diocese situation parallels the Queer and Transgenders class struggle against social, religious and political exclusionary and revisionist agendas.

Who are the Dallas Transgender and Advocates Queers and Allies?
We are Transgender Questioning Intersexed Asexual Queers and allies. We comprise a nationwide network of diversity in ethnic, social, educational, economic, religious, gender identities, sexual orientations and political views. Our goal is to unite the Transgender Questioning Intersexed Asexual Queer community through realization of potential in soul and mind and moving forward as a whole in the cause of social, legal and religious equality.

Hosting entity
Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies

Donations are encouraged and appreciated to defray expenses. All remaining funds will forwarded to Carmens Place, an Episcopal home and outreach for LBGT youth, Astoria, New York
Carmens Place

Allied and concerned organizations

Queer Today

Left In SF

Organisation Intersex International, OII-USA



Saturday, October 11, 2008

Same Sex Marriage in Connecticut

State Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage


October 11, 2008

The state Supreme Court on Friday delivered gay and lesbian couples the validation they have long been seeking — the right to marry.

In a 4-3 decision, the court ruled that same-sex couples cannot be prevented from marrying — and that civil unions, those marriage-like legal arrangements that Connecticut has offered to gay people since 2005, are not an acceptable substitute.

"Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the ... same-sex partner of their choice," Justice Richard Palmer wrote. "To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others."

The 85-page ruling means that thousands of gay couples soon will be able to marry in Connecticut, perhaps as early as next month. It also provides fresh fuel to opponents of same-sex marriage, who are pushing for a mechanism that would permit them to amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex unions.

Connecticut will join Massachusetts and California as the only states to permit gay partners to wed. Meanwhile, high courts in New York and New Jersey have opted not to expand the legal rights of same-sex couples.

Friday's landmark decision was met with cheers and tears of joy from gay activists throughout the state and nation. Janet Peck held the hand of Carol Conklin, her partner of more than three decades, as they walked to the podium at an afternoon press conference at the Hilton Hartford hotel.

"For 33 years, my heart has ached for this moment," said Peck, 56. The Colchester couple, one of eight plaintiff couples in the case, chose not to get a civil union because they considered it inferior to marriage.

On Friday, Peck called Conklin "my soon-to-be spouse."

The ruling culminates a long march toward acceptance for gay and lesbian couples, a journey that has shifted from the halls of the state Capitol to the chambers of the state's highest court. Through the years, legislators held countless hearings, and political support kept building — but gay rights activists decided last year to wait until the courts had weighed in.

"For nine years, the Connecticut legislature and the Connecticut courts have been moving along a path where they have considered a whole host of decisions pertaining to same-sex couples," said Rep. Michael Lawlor, a Democrat from East Haven and outspoken supporter of same-sex marriage. "Both the courts and the legislature have evolved. ... This is a topic most people didn't even think about 15 years ago."

The majority opinion, written by Palmer and joined by Justices Flemming L. Norcott Jr. and Joette Katz, along with Appellate Judge Lubbie Harper (sitting for Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers, who recused herself), rejects the notion of a "separate but equal" system of civil unions.

"Although marriage and civil unions do embody the same legal rights under our law, they are by no means 'equal,'" Palmer wrote. "As we have explained, the former is an institution of transcendent historical, cultural and social significance, whereas the latter most surely is not."

In other words, "separate but equal is not OK," said Susan Schmeiser, professor of family and gender law at the University of Connecticut School of Law. "Nothing short of marriage is going to satisfy the equal protection concern."

The court's ruling significantly expands the judicial protections afforded to gays and lesbians, Schmeiser said. "The bulk of the opinion is devoted to establishing that gay men and lesbians warrant protected status under the Connecticut constitution ... based on the history of discrimination that gay men and lesbians have suffered."

In a statement released minutes after the decision was posted on the judicial branch website, Gov. M. Jodi Rell said that she disagreed with it but would uphold it. She said that she was proud to sign the state's civil unions law in 2005, the first in the nation enacted without a court mandate, and thought it was "equitable and just," but that she does not support same-sex marriage.

And yet, Rell added, "the Supreme Court has spoken. ... I do not believe their voice reflects the majority of the people of Connecticut. However, I am also firmly convinced that attempts to reverse this decision — either legislatively or by amending the state constitution — will not meet with success. I will therefore abide by the ruling."

Other opponents, however, are already ratcheting up their campaign to stop same-sex marriage. They are pushing for passage of a ballot question asking voters if the state should convene a constitutional convention. Their hope is to use the convention to allow the state constitution to be reworked to allow for something called "direct initiative," a mechanism that permits citizens to force a vote on matters of public policy, such as same-sex marriage.

"The court has just usurped democracy in Connecticut and redefined marriage by judicial force," said Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut. Connecticut voters will have one opportunity on Nov. 4 to reassert their right to self-government, he said.

Dissenting opinions were written by now-retired Justice David Borden, who was acting chief justice when the case was heard in May 2007, Justice Christine Vertefeuille and Justice Peter Zarella.

Senior Justice William J. Sullivan, one of the more conservative members of the court, removed himself from the panel just days before the case was scheduled to be heard. He did not give a reason.

Borden said it was far too early to say that civil unions signify second-class status. "Our experience with civil unions is simply too new and the views of the people of our state about it as a social institution are too much in flux to say with any certitude that the marriage statute must be struck down in order to vindicate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights," he wrote.

In his dissenting opinion, Zarella invoked that traditional view of marriage. "The ancient definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman has its basis in biology, not bigotry," he wrote. "The fact that same sex couples cannot engage in sexual conduct of a type that can result in the birth of a child is a critical difference in this context."

Most of the eight couples in the case, Kerrigan et al. v. Commissioner of Public Health et al., are parents — in fact, there are 14 children spread among them.

According to an analysis of a U.S. Census Bureau survey by the Williams Institute, about 30 percent of the 9,546 same-sex couples in Connecticut are raising children.

Courant Staff Writer Bill Leukhardt contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2008, The Hartford Courant

I know, that's a long quote, but it is important. I live in Connecticut and this is another victory for human rights in this state. The struggle to have legal same sex marriage has been a long one and now it is successful. The next battles are clear, keep the Constitution in tact (no Constitutional Convention to dismantle it) and to protect the rights of all people from all forms of prejudice (namely protect rights to jobs, housing and services for Gender nonconforming people.)

As far as I can tell there have always been same sex couples living in committed relationships. There has just in the past been no legal recognition of their existence or rights. There have always been gender nonconforming people in society. They have lived and worked and some have thrived, but their ability to thrive has often been limited to their ability to "pass" (I really hate that term, but most people understand it.) Legal recognition of the right to have relationships, the right to work, the right to get housing, and the right to be in society is so critical.

One of the things I hate in the news is that it brings news of societal violence and tragedy. I find it so tragic when I see another transgender person who has become a victim of violence. I find it so tragic when I see news of another transgender person who has committed suicide. What we often do not see in the news though is the people who have been beaten or victimized, but not killed and the trans people who attempted suicide, but didn't succeed. Even more we don't see news of the trans people who have to work on the street because they are denied all other jobs. We don't hear of the ones who decide to work in the porn industry because they aren't allowed to work elsewhere. We don't see that homeless Trans individuals are denied access even to homeless shelters.

I rejoice in the legal victory in Connecticut because it means that attitudes are changing, but we must all remember that there is far more yet to do.

God's Peace,
Mother Michelle Hansen

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

‘A Canterbury Tale’

is the title of a 1944 film written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, starring Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price and Sergeant John Sweet (U.S. Army) who plays an American soldier. Sweet’s character, who is brash and cheery - a stereotypical English view of Americans at that time - works with the English, a gentle sergeant and an attractive land army girl, to track down the ‘glue man’ (who under stealth of night and the blackout tips glue over the hair of young women), and their collaboration is playfully observed.

At Lambeth 2008 the Inclusive Church Network was a coalition of African, American and English organisations which was not without its tensions as people played up to and defied the stereotypes. One example of the cultural differences between England and America that I observed, as I compared what I was experiencing with the accounts in various blogs, was the way that people’s openness becomes so heavily politicised in the US, while LGBT clergy (and bishops) are rendered almost invisible in the UK. Perhaps it has something to do with the vehemence of the conflict between ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ (sorry, I know that the labels are crude, but they will have to do) in the US compared to here in the UK. I realise that things can get nasty here, but British pragmatism - some would argue duplicity or hypocrisy – often takes the heat out of the controversy, and also, sadly, the passion.

Such differences are both fascinating and troubling; add to them the very different cultures and ethos of the other continents and provinces of the Anglican Communion and it is easy to appreciate why the search for unity is proving so long and hard. At Lambeth, the Inclusive Church network organisations, together in one place for three weeks, had to wrestle with the ‘principalities and powers’ that could easily have undermined their co-operation, but like the characters in A Canterbury Tale they remained united in their task.

In the film the English and the American unite to expose the identity of the ‘glue man’, but when they solve the mystery they are confronted, not with a monster, but a local worthy, Thomas Colpepper J. P., who is keen to hand-on the cultural heritage to the next generation (of men); a good person in many respects, but with a complex relationship to women. Sound familiar? We keep being told that (partnered) gay bishops and same-sex blessings are only ‘the presenting issues’, and that the real controversy is over the interpretation of Scripture; but the fault-lines exposed by the recent vote in favour of women bishops in the Church of England, and the relatively tiny number of women bishops in the Anglican Communion, suggests that ‘the woman issue’, like the scope of biblical criticism, is as troubling today as it was for Victorian Anglicanism.

Sitting in the Cathedral, at the Eucharist on the second Sunday of the Conference, when the Dean preached, I wondered how such a genteel religion, moderated by English compromise and diplomacy, could have spawned the factious Communion we know today; then I recalled how the missionary societies had transported the fierce religious divisions and controversies of the Victorian era to those parts of the globe that were once marked in pink to denote their membership of the British Empire. Again, we will miss the complexity of the current Anglican dynamic if we neglect the history and impact of colonialism.

The real star of A Canterbury Tale, as has often been noted, is Canterbury Cathedral itself – the interior had to be faithfully recreated in the studio, due to wartime restrictions – where the happy outcomes to the hopes and longings of the young characters, their lives dislocated by war, are celebrated. Early on in the film there is a flashback to Chaucer’s pilgrims wending their way to Canterbury ‘the holy blissful martyr [St Thomas á Becket] for to seek’, and although I did not visit the actual shrine, I was conscious of its proximity that morning in the Cathedral, which, as the Dean reiterated, was a place of hospitality, where people have always been made welcome and at home. Presumably he intended this description as an image of how the Communion should see itself, and Lambeth 2008 was a place where it was possible to believe that this might happen, despite high security fences and tight protocols. As Colpepper says in the film, ‘pilgrims to Canterbury often receive blessings.’

The day before this service, lured by the panpipes of the Melanesian Brotherhood, I had made my way over to the lawn where the bishops were gathering for their group photo, and took the opportunity to meet and talk with conservative bishops; just as, in the afternoon, in the marketplace, I visited the stalls of the more conservative organisations, and spoke with their representatives. It’s easy to demonise one another on a blog, or from another side of the globe, but not when we to meet person-to-person, as the bishops discovered in their indaba groups. But the most moving moment of the Conference for me, and the most blesséd, came a few days later, when I returned to the campus to meet someone who had lodged with me for a month in 1980, and is now a bishop in West Africa. We had not set eyes on each other for twenty-eight years, and what happened when we met is another Canterbury tale, but far too personal to be told here.

Christina Beardsley
25th August 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Transgender Africans Speak of God

Some of the most inspiring words I heard at the Lambeth Conference came from Viktor Juliet Mukasa, a transgender activist who heads up the group Sexual Minorities Uganda. Only, Viktor was not at Lambeth. Not in body anyway, but most certainly in spirit along with LGBT comrades from several African countries whose voices rang out in the film Voices of Witness: Africa, a preview of which was shown at Lambeth on July 23 and 28. I first heard of Mukasa last summer, when I read and blogged about a press conference organized by Sexual Minorities Uganda, a group he founded. Group members wore colorful masks to dramatize what it is like to be a sexual minority in Uganda right now.

In Voices of Witness: Africa, Mukasa and others (including Mia Nikasimo, a transwoman and lesbian from Nigeria who posted to this blog last week) talk about a number of topics, but what struck me the most was the impassioned way they talk about their relationship with God. Mukasa recalls, “at some point I just felt that I was free, I was reconciled. I knew that God was not mad at me. I knew that he loves me and he delights in me… because I used to see him as a lion, a lion that is going to eat me up all the time… I was scared of facing God so many times. And now I see a friend who just brings me peace.”

Another transgender Ugandan in the film, Pepe Julien Onziema, speaks of “Prayer. Prayer keeps my head up. I pray to God in the morning, I pray when I’m receiving my meals — I pray all day, yeah? For me it’s prayer, I thank God for everything that I have.”

In response to the question, “what do you want to say to the church?” an animated Mukasa responds, “ask me how I live! Talk to me and I’ll tell you! How do I relate to my God, the God that you talk about so much — how do I relate with him?!-- before you go proclaiming me a sinner, you know? I think the fathers of this world should really go back to God, too, the way they ask everyone to go back to God? They should continuously go back to God and seek his wisdom about homosexuality.”

Mukasa’s words ring with that much more power because of the hell that Christian churches of various denominations have put him through. According to the New Internationalist article “Trial By Fire” (which wrongly uses female pronouns for Mukasa), he went through a horrific ordeal at a Ugandan Pentecostal church in which ministers stripped him and abusively laid hands on him in an attempt at “healing.” This experience, among others, convinced him that “the church in Uganda plays a big role in the oppression of people belonging to sexual minorities. ‘They are violating the human rights of many without anybody raising a finger. I feel they have diverted from what they were called to do, because if you take me through something like that you’re making me sad, humiliated, making me hate myself. This is not what God wants – as a practising Christian, even if I do not go to churches, I know God’s attributes of love, patience and tolerance.’”

In an essay posted on the International Lesbian and Gay Association's website, Mukasa further explains, "Some people, like myself, are born with a sense of ourselves as male in some ways, even though we are biologically female. As a transgender person, I am constantly demanded to explain and justify why I am not fitting into other people's idea of what a woman or a man should be. As a Human Rights Defender, I am working to protect the space for people to exist freely without facing harassment, threat, or violence for not fitting into traditional gender categories."

Back in Voices of Witness: Africa, Onziema adds, “I hope, at this meeting [the Lambeth Conference], I hope there will be some changes. I know my country is boycotting it, but that is not going to stop us from believing in God and from continuing in our struggle.” And on that eloquent note, the film preview ends.

I thank God for all transgender Africans, and particularly for the witness of Mukasa and Onziema: for the clear distinction they articulate between church and God, and for their willingness as trans people to speak of God and their respective relationships with God even in the wake of horrific, religiously-based oppression. I pray that they would keep seeking and proclaiming their truth, that they might know how important it is for others to hear their experience, and that they might be empowered to keep walking forward, knowing that people around the world hear and stand with them.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Lambeth: a Look Backward - and Forward- from the Fringe

by the Rev. Vicki Gray

Now more than a week after its closing Eucharist, I remain hesitant to write about the results of Lambeth, primarily because the nature of those results remains so unclear from a perspective of someone still very much on the fringe. I hope, therefore, that you will accept what follows as the very personal reflections of one pilgrim on a continued journey.

In Canterbury, the nature of that fringe was quite literal, with “fringe events” being listed as such at the end of the official program and most often being held away from the University of Kent campus where the bishops met daily under a blue circus tent and in smaller Indaba groups. The fringe event on sexuality and mission that I spoke at with South Africa’s Nomfundo Walaza, for example, was held at St. Stephen’s, Hackington, a lovely parish church a few miles away.

St. Stephen’s, by the way, was home to the two dozen LGBT organizations that made up the Inclusive Church Network at Lambeth. From its parish hall, our communications center, the Network produced a very professional daily newsletter, The Lambeth Witness, that was much in evidence on the Kent campus. Speaking of witness, our hosts at St. Stephen’s deserve our special thanks and blessings, having received a flood of hostile messages for their hospitality.

Adding to the sense of marginalization were the fences and police presence that cordoned off the blue tent. Then there were the color-coded lanyards that restricted access to that and other venues. Lacking an official one and feeling playful, I bought a multi-colored lanyard at the Lindisfarne booth in the “Marketplace.” It bore the message “A Christ Centered Life.” That, however, proved insufficient to gain admittance to the closing Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral. Having journeyed six thousand miles for the occasion, I was almost moved to tears as the Cathedral’s massive West Gate was slammed shut before me. I stood more than a few minutes in the drizzle, contemplating the huge green copper Christ above the gate, his face and out-stretched hands seeming to say “I did the best I could.”

To be sure, a degree of security is always necessary at such events and the bishops needed and deserved the opportunity to get to know each other in peace and quiet. Still, the panoply of barriers bespoke symbolically of the exclusion felt not just by members of the LGBT community, but by the laity in general. I for one felt very uneasy…like an object rather than a subject. Having one’s life in the church discussed without a voice or without even being privy to the discussions is alien to being an Episcopalian.

But we were there to witness, to convey to the bishops and anyone else who would listen to the lived experience of being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered in an Anglican Communion that continues to judge us harshly. The opportunities to do so were limited, the venues often imperfect, the responses sometimes hostile. But we did the best we could and I am satisfied that our voice – however faint – was heard…especially in one-on-one conversations that are the stuff of relationship.

During my week on Lambeth’s fringes, I had several such conversations with bishops from Africa, Canada, England, and, yes, other dioceses in the United States. And, despite the complaints of folks like Egypt’s Bishop Mouneer Anis, we did not “chase” or “shout” at anyone. We engaged others quietly - in Bible studies on John that paralleled the bishops’, around the Marketplace, and on walks around the campus. On one such walk I observed more than one bishop intently reading our Lambeth Witness. On another I was pleasantly amused when a young woman, spying my collar and rainbow ribbon, urged me to “keep up the fight,” adding, as she strode off, “There are a lot of ‘normal’ people behind you.” But I knew that. Kate Salinaro was there with us; Geoff Diamond sent special greetings; and your prayers were felt.

As my bishop, Marc Andrus of the Diocese of California, and other bishops have already attested, perhaps the greatest gift of Lambeth was the opportunity to build face-to-face relationships, to put a face, hopefully Christ’s, on an otherwise abstract issue. For my part, I left Lambeth with wonderful new relationships and old ones renewed. And I found new strength in solidarity with LGBT sisters and brothers from around the world, gaining immeasurably from their experience in places that are not always as hospitable as the Bay Area and sometimes downright dangerous.

How good to hug Davis Mac-Iyalla of Nigeria upon learning that he had just won asylum in Britain; to bask in the quiet courage of Kenya’s Michael Kamindu; to take communion bread from Uganda’s Bishop Christopher Senyonjo; to hear the fresh perspectives of New Zealand’s Jenny Te Paa; to stand in witness with Nomfundo Walaza;. to share poetic insights with England’s Nicola Slee; and to renew acquaintances with old friends like South Africa’s Bishop Rowan Smith, who shared my amusement about lanyards, and Cameron Partridge, a transgendered priest from Massachusetts who has done so much to expand the space for transgendered people within the church and within the LGBT community.

But what of substance? We have to ask: Have we moved forward or backward or sideways on those issues of sexuality that have so divided the Communion? More importantly, can we feel the Spirit moving in our midst? Do we know where that Spirit, blowing ever stronger, is moving us?

I have the feeling that, in his last minute insistence on a Covenant and a tri-fold moratorium on same-sex blessings, the ordination of gay clergy, and inter-provincial “invasions,” the Archbishop of Canterbury “seized defeat from the jaws of victory,” ignoring, it seemed, the bishops’ more pastoral Reflections paper and pushing aside the seeming consensus to kick the most troublesome issues down the road another decade. Moreover, by insisting on a meeting of primates within the next several months to consider these matters, he may inadvertently damage the unity we all still seek, perhaps speeding up the birth of what Presiding Bishop Katherine has called “something new, which none of us can yet fully appreciate or understand.” She is right in saying that “the Spirit continues to work in our midst.” And Bishop Marc is right in affirming that, at least in the diocese of California, we cannot turn back on same-sex blessings, and in calling for a “Communion-wide commitment to safeguarding the civil rights and safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people." But both are also right in calling for patience, generosity, and a commitment to remaining in conversation “to both understand the position of those to whom that moratorium is important, and to convey the reality of our life together to the world.” As the Communion teeters on the edge of a tipping point, we can do nothing less. God help us all in this crucial period so that, as Katherine put it, “all may more fully know the leading of the Spirit.”

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Stumbling Before I AM

One of the ways that Inclusive Church Network offered our voices to the Bishops gathered at the Lambeth Conference was through our daily newspaper, the Lambeth Witness. Each day, people from across the Communion wrote pieces related to events at Lambeth or to reflect on the bishops' theme of the day. Every morning, volunteers would distribute that paper to as many conference-goers as would take them. This process was neither always easy nor welcome; on more than one occasion, distribution sites got vandalized. But the paper carried on, and it appeared to make an important impact, striking a tone that many Conference- goers considered right on the money.

As part of my effort to help bring trans voices and concerns into Anglican Communion conversation, I wrote two pieces for the Lambeth Witness. The first was an edited version of my earlier post here. It appeared in the Witness on Monday, July 28th. The second piece, reproduced below, appeared in the eleventh edition on Saturday, August 2nd. It emerged out of a conversation I had with my Conference housemate Jon Richardson. We were talking about what my experience incarnating the T in LGBT settings was like-- how, even though "LGBT" often flows trippingly off the tongue in inclusive church parlance, actually saying "I am transgender" can cause people to kind of fall away in shock. As I desdcribed this to him, I mentioned how that reaction reminded me of the reaction of the soldiers in the Gospel of John's version of Jesus' arrest. They come looking for him, but when he says, "I am the one," they fall to the ground. Jon said, "you should write that down!" particularly since the "I AM" statements in the Gospel of John were a subject of reflection for the bishops throughout the Lambeth Conference. It took me a few days, and a number of my own stumblings, before I felt ready to shape my reflection (whose title is inspired, in part, by the documentary Trembling Before G-d).

Eigo eimi: “I am,” “it is I who am,” or “I am the one.” Those words, upon which bishops have focused in their Bible studies this week, thread themselves into key moments of encounter throughout the Gospel of John. In turn, this Greek phrase evokes the Hebrew Tetragrammaton — I am who I am, I was who I was, I will be who I will be -– which in Genesis and Exodus gestures toward the awesome uncontainability of the Holy One. Like Moses before the burning bush, numerous people in the Gospel of John encounter none other than the Living God in Jesus of Nazareth, and sometimes it knocks them to the ground.

In John’s version of Jesus’ arrest, for example, Jesus knowingly asks the soldiers, “For whom are you looking?” When they reply, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and Jesus responds “eigo eimi,” the soliders step back and fall to the ground. The sequence of question and answer then repeats, and Peter manages to cut off someone’s right ear before Jesus is finally led away.

I am curious about what the soldiers’ reaction actually betrays. Their falling to the ground is reminiscent of the prophets’ expressions of fear and awe in the wake of divine summons. But I wonder, how respectful is the soldiers’ fall? Could their fall not be characterized as “stumbling,” an action that Jesus urges his disciples to avoid? I wonder if the soldiers’ fall might truly be a stumbling form of respect.

Indeed, I wonder how many of us here at the Lambeth Conference may have fallen in the wake of a conversation partner’s unique expression of identity and experience. How many of us, when uttering our own eigo eimi — how we encounter the living God in and through the particularity of our humanity – have observed stumbling reactions in our interlocutors? I know I have had that experience here, more than once, upon sharing that I am transgender, here on behalf of TransEpiscopal (transgender and allied Episcopalians and Anglicans) as a representative of the T in LGBT.

But I have also observed myself unintentionally stumbling before the particularity of others. So vast and unexpected can the gaps between us be, that we may indeed fall as we seek to approach one another. And, as with the soldiers, our actions can be read in more ways than one: are we stumbling with respect, or falling away in dismay? As this Conference draws to a close and its intensity increases, we should not expect our stumbling to lessen, nor should we necessarily see it as a sign of failure. We are, it seems to me, bound to stumble as we continue to seek encounter with one another. As we look for the living God in and through the unique humanity with which each of us is gifted, we cannot but be overwhelmed. They key is not to become suspicious of that encounter and, having stumbled, arrest it.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

From Nia Nikasimo: We Are Transgender and We Are Proud

My name is Mia Nikasimo. As a volunteer for Changing Attitude at the Lambeth Conference I found myself in an opportune position to reflect from a translesbian (i.e. a transsexual woman who identifies as a lesbian not to be confused with above or beyond “lesbians,” or a transgender man) standpoint on the Anglican Communion and attempts to exclude the LGBT. I have purposely mentioned my trans status here because “transgender,” as an umbrella term (for transsexual female, male, sister, brother, mothers, fathers, any of whom might choose to cross dress, are intersexed, queer, kings, drag queens and more), can easily lose its identity in the mix. I also specify this identity because I can only share this reflection as a translesbian in the full awareness that some, like my LGBT African brothers, sisters and the rest of us, cannot. As the founder of an online support group called Transafro (which can be found on Facebook), I aim to give voice to our various narratives, Anglicans or otherwise, to promote, empower and raise consciousness in Africa, the Diaspora and allies.

Transgender, contrary to what is often believed to be the case, is not about sexual orientation. Rather it is about gender identity, as, for instance, in the case of transsexuals (i.e. who identify as female or male). Sexual orientation is something that happens gradually for transpeople, who understand it far more than heterosexuals are able to fathom. Even some transsexual people do not fully understand this distinction so I am not surprised that most members of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community do not understand the “T” or transgender enough to change their attitudes towards us never mind the wider Anglican Communion, which is why education, dialogue and reflection is important.

I am particularly grateful to Katie Sherrod and Rev. Dr. Cynthia Black of Integrity U.S.A., Davis Mac Iyalla and Colin Coward of Changing Attitude, and their voices of witness… Christina Beardsley, ‘…the conversation should not be about gay men at the expense of women, Lesbians, Bisexuals and transgender people…’ Cameron Partridge, ‘…the situation for transpeople in the US is not as dire as in Nigeria. Transgender people are becoming more visible than ever…’ Stephen, ‘…transgenderism is not fixable…’ Stephanie, ‘…I always knew and the church helped me realise who I am…’ and I, Mia Nikasimo, ‘…transgender people exists everywhere, and Africa is no exception: murder, violent attack, torture, rape or slurs against our names will not erase our experience…’ We are all ready to take on the responsibility of sharing our very unique transgender voices with Changing Attitude, with all our allies within the communion, and beyond with compassion, love and understanding. The consensus will always be that: WE DO EXIST, WE ARE TRANSGENDER AND WE ARE PROUD!!!

Primarily, in conjunction with members of Changing Attitude, this stance is saying that I am here, a transsexual woman and a lesbian of African origin (Nigerian, in my case) but also as a member of the wider lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community here to reaffirm our identity in the face of attempts to erase our presence from the Anglican Communion. However, the organisation’s mission statement which states that we are: ‘working for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender affirmation in the Anglican Communion’ is well intentioned we need to be proactive in our efforts.

On reflection, I have found that one significant question in particular seemed to manage to escape our attention. Although we have raised the stakes immensely in changing the bishops' attitudes, what are we as attitude changers doing to bring the same rigour to bear on ourselves? Before we can change attitudes among the bishops we have a lot of education, dialogue and reflection work to in our community (i.e. the LGBT) especially with regard to bisexual (although I cannot speak for them I am aware that they have little or no representation) and transgender people. Simple definitions (such as "what is a transsexual woman/lesbian?") still manage to confuse some lesbian and gay men who then amusingly or otherwise call a transwoman or a translesbian a gay man robbing her of her trans identity and of her sexual orientation simultaneously just for a laugh. Likewise, referring to a transgender/transsexual man as a woman denies him his status as a man. Attitudes within the Anglican Communion cannot be changed in an atmosphere of homophobia or transphobia because of deep rooted fear which is why there is a call for more education, dialogue and reflection.

Although my mother is an Anglican, which meant I could easily have chosen Christianity, I opted for Buddhism and this is not to say that Buddhists are without similar conditioning as the Anglicans but because it was a religion I chose with a full understanding of what I was doing. Rather than the impositions and guilt ridden disposition of the Anglican Communion towards gender identity (i.e. as a transsexual woman) and sexuality (i.e. as a lesbian), I left Christianity and became a Buddhist and found peace of mind, albeit formative. With a committed and concentrated practise of meditation, I was more able to get on with my life. This suited me. I read broadly about Buddhism, finding solace in the stories of practitioners like Tenzin Palmo and Milarepa, to mention just two. With meditation practise I also found a sort of peace of mind that meant I could let go of hatred, guilt and fear and approach the world from a position of compassion, love and understanding. I even wanted to become a Buddhist nun and spend the rest of my life in spiritual contemplation in a cave out in the wild somewhere, but I quickly realised that that would be indulging my desire to escape it all. Somehow, the city became my cave practise based on Plato’s Cave allegory. I began to see anew and in seeing saw the Anglican Communion and the human condition as both locked horns. I wondered where all the compassion, love and understanding had gone. At the Lambeth Conference, I followed the Anglican Communion-- as it observed its rituals, I did mine with Buddhist ones evoking the essence of compassion, Tara and/ or the Boddhisattva of fearlessness, Amoghasiddhi, and shared the experience at every opportunity in social engagement.

On a final note, I feel the service of the bishops is not about celebrity or notoriety. Rather their service is about the cultivation of the seeds of compassion, love and understanding in all the Anglican Communion and not just some of its parts. This must include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people too or the shepherd fails in his duty to all his flock of sheep. But this mantle is not for them to bear alone. We have our part to play in the affirmation of the LGBT without excluding the “T” as can happen and continues to.

Mia Nikasimo / July 2008.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Beyond the Fringe

I’d been looking forward to the Lambeth Conference and our seminar ‘Listening to Trans people’. Months ago now Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude, encouraged me to apply to the Conference Fringe organisers to include the seminar in its programme and we were delighted when they agreed, though somewhat surprised to find ourselves among just a handful of LGBT events. Perhaps we were included because Trans voices had not been heard at a pan-Anglican conference before. Whatever the reason our participation caught the imagination of journalists, some of whom attended the seminar, though the event was not widely reported – presumably because there have been bigger issues to cover.

In his latest post Cameron has described the incredible range of meetings that took place at Lambeth. Once the Bishops’ programme was published on the internet I began to realise that we would be very fortunate indeed if any bishops were to turn up at our seminar as their official day seemed packed and relentless. In addition, the bishops were faced with the Self-Select options, at 16.00 each day, a choice of one from about ten topics, many of them dealing with the Listening Process, though none, as Cam rightly says, appeared to involve actual listening to real LGBT people, which was confined to the Fringe, so we were extremely grateful to those bishops who made the time to attend our seminar and other Inclusive Network events.

The concept of the Conference ‘Fringe’ seemed to be based on major arts festivals in the UK, like the Edinburgh Festival, or the Brighton Festival,where there is a main programme of concerts, theatre, ballet, and opera with world-class performers, and a fringe programme that is more experimental and alternative, and a show-case for new talent. When one of the Lambeth Conference Fringe organisers wrote to me afterwards for feedback he thanked me for arranging a ‘colourful’ event – a word that revealed a perception of Trans (or LGBT?) as exotic, or experimental, like a performance artist at an arts festival fringe. Often though a show or performer from a festival fringe will transfer to the West End stage in London, and what was once considered avant-garde becomes accepted as mainstream; so I replied to the organiser that our seminar ought to have been one of the Self-Select groups, and he conceded that the programme had not enabled many bishops to engage with an important topic such as ours.

Archbishop Rowan has called for a focus on ‘the centre’ but often, a centre implies that there is also an edge, or fringe, and when it comes to church politics, even LGBT church politics, Trans people can sometimes find themselves on the margins, or at the edge, but what an exciting, creative, and yes, ‘colourful’ place that can be; and from it we can move to the centre, and to the sides, and back again to the fringes: to wherever, in fact, God would have us be. Yesterday was LGBT Pride in Brighton. I can remember when it was attended by a handful of people; nowadays it is mainstream, a family day out that attracts many thousands. After Lambeth it felt good to be at Pride, enjoying the colour, the whacky costumes, the music, the festivity, and the sense that the movement for our inclusion is quite unstoppable.

Christina Beardsley

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Returning and Rest

It’s early evening Friday, August 1st, and I’m waiting for my flight in Heathrow airport with a coffee and a pain au chocolat. I took the train over from Canterbury earlier today and had a lunch debrief with Christina Beardsley in London before making my way here.

As I sit here, I feel out of the loop after a week of being more immersed in Anglican Communion politics than I’ve ever been before. Sometimes the sheer intensity of the events and reactions to them got overwhelming, and in that sense it’s a relief to be away. I also found that it took some time to get a feel for the rhythm of the Conference, to figure out how to “plug into” it.

Within this single event, there were several parallel conferences — at least three -- unfolding at once. First, the Bishops had mandatory events — Provincial meetings, addresses by the Archbishop of Canterbury, small group (about 5 people) Bible Studies, larger (about 40 people) "Indaba Groups," and so on. A second track, optional for the bishops, was labeled “Bishop Self-Select,” and consisted of workshops by scholars, discussion sessions on particular topics, and so on. This track included some sessions related to the Anglican Communion’s official Listening Process on human sexuality, but none of those sessions involved listening to actual, living, breathing openly LGBT people. Only in the third track, the “Fringe Events,” was there opportunity for bishops to do that, and they had numerous chances. As already discussed here, the “Listening to Trans People” panel was one such event. There were also viewings of For the Bible Tells Me So, two previews of Voices of Witness: Africa, the previously discussed panel “African Voices,” the hilarious and insightful Peterson Toscano interspersing commentary with excerpts of his play, Doin’ Time in the Homo Nomo House: How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement, two separate Eucharists that witnessed to the lives and witnesses of LGBT people, afternoon forums at 4pm at St. Stephen’s Church featuring speakers from across the Communion, and a powerful play put on by students from Western Michigan University called Seven Passages, which I saw last night.

In addition, on several evenings some bishops hosted Bishop Gene Robinson (who was not invited to Lambeth and was forbidden from preaching or celebrating the Eucharist in Canterbury during the Conference) so that other bishops and their spouses could have a chance to meet with him. These events were open only to bishops. Bishop Gene was also present at some occasional events, dropping into the Lambeth Marketplace from time to time, signing copies of his book (as did several other authors at the conference), and talking to people. I had a nice conversation with him in the Marketplace on Thursday, during which he inscribed a copy of his book for my mom: “Thank you for loving your son.”

There were also events that took place beyond even the official Fringe, which ranged from gatherings at pubs to protests. I suspect that much important work — the bulk of which was in the building of relationships – took place in those forums.

All of this leaves me with the question of how the Listening Process, and indeed how the fate of the Anglican Communion, may have moved forward during these last three weeks. Certainly the press seems to want signs of definite progress or dissolution (and I suspect there is more interest in the possibility of the latter). But the best outcome, it seems to me, is for the various constituents of the Communion to return to their homes galvanized to take up the Listening Process in ways that emerge, as one speaker articulated it yesterday, from the ground up, and not via institutional fiat. It makes no sense to declare moratoria as a condition for listening. Our interconnections and the differences that come with them are not conditional upon one another’s approval; they take place, and can only truly be understood, in real time.

And yet, moratoria could still be declared. This Conference is not yet quite over: the official end day is Sunday, August 3rd. Many, many times, events like these have seemed to be headed in a helpful direction, with various sides talking with one another, trying to understand their differences without ultimatums, only to have groups sabotage the process at the last minute, when people are tired and vulnerable. That happened at General Convention in 2003 with the infamous B033 resolution which did call for a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops (the language was more annoyingly vague, but that’s what it amounted to). That happened at Dar Es Salaam in 2006. Examples are numerous. And so my prayer is that the spirit in which this Conference was designed and has largely unfolded, would complete its course.

May all of us, heading home from this intense time, and praying that the hopeful progress achieved thus far continues, recall the words of the Isaiah 30:15:

Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and trust shall be your strength.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In a Rising Storm, African Voices

It's been an intense last thirty-six hours here at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England. Monday afternoon the bishops held a press conference in which they announced that the Windsor Continuation Group, a committee appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to recommend a way to hold together the various fractured provinces of the Anglican Communion. For more on the specifics of this report, see this report from Episcopal Life Online. The basic proposal was for a moratorium on consecrating any more gay bishops and on blessing same sex unions, on the one hand, and for a cessation of progressive diocesan boundary violations by conservative parts of the Communion. This report is now being discussed by the bishops as they meet daily in their small, relationally oriented Indaba groups.

What the bishops seek to do with this report remains to be seen, but whatever they do, it is important to remember that the power of the Lambeth Conference, while persuasive and significant, is not finally juridical. In other words, this Conference does not declare church law for the whole Communion, regardless of how much leaders in various parts of the world may wish it were so. We are an autonomous collective of churches around the world, descended from the Church of England, who value our common heritage and prayer as well as the variety of our contextual experiences and identities, very highly.

Nevertheless, Monday's report was very angering for the LGBT coalition here-- and galvanizing. That night, this coalition, including TransEpiscopal, released a response which you can find here. Printing it out and interpolating it within our already completed daily paper, the Lambeth Witness, made for a late night. By the end of the evening it had started to rain, marking a break in the warm, humid weather pattern that has added to the increase in tensions here over the last few days.

But yesterday morning I awoke to a fresh, cool breeze, and a feeling that the tide could turn yet again. That feeling increased at an amazing event Tuesday afternoon called "African Voices." Like "Listening to Trans People," this was a panel, officially accepted by the organizers of the Lambeth Conference as a "Fringe Event" to which bishops could come. The event drew seven bishops as well as several episcopal spouses, not to mention numerous members of the media and other supporters. Prior to the panel, several LGBT people from Africa gathered on the lawn outside Eliot College where, accompanied by drummers, they danced exuberantly for about an hour. Several of us stood behind them holding a huge rainbow flag and a large yellow sign that read, "We're Here! lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender Anglicans."

One of the dancers and panelists was also one of our panelists on Friday, Mia Nikasimo. Mia, who identifies as a trans lesbian, is a woman of quiet, razor-sharp insight whom I have enjoyed getting to talk with over the last few days. In today's panel, as in our panel Friday, Mia talked of how transgender people particularly in Nigeria, but also in other countries on the African continent, struggle with extreme oppression. Because of a technical problem, the filming by Integrity on Friday did not capture Mia's presentation, but she has agreed to write something that I can post here, speaking particularly to her spirituality as a Buddhist as well as the group she has founded called Trans Afro.

Davis Mac-Iyalla (pictured between me and Christina Beardsley, below) was another participant in both the dancing and the panel. Davis, a gay man who heads Changing Attitude Nigeria, made news earlier this week when he was granted asylum in the UK because of death threats and attacks leveled against him in recent months. Davis's major point, which he says and lives with great power, is that he and his comrades are living proof against the claim often made by conservative bishops from Africa, that there are no LGBT people in their countries.

After Davis, another panelist, Sokari, added a crucial contribution to the conversation concerning critique of African bishops. LGBT-positive Anglicans need to be careful not to racialize homophobia, as if homophobia is somehow simply an African issue, which it clearly is not.

Later in the evening yesterday I heard from Mia again, along with Sexual Minorities Uganda leader Viktor Juliet Mukasa. They were interviewed as part of a film called Voices of Witness Africa, by Katie Sherrod and Cynthia Black, a preview of which was shown here last night (and can be seen at the Walking With Integrity Blog here-- definitely watch it). Bishop Mark Andrus of the diocese of California showed the preview to a packed room. I was so moved by the stories of strength and courage shared by all the incredible people in this film and on the panel yesterday. I thank God for their life-giving witness as the mood here continues to cycle between hope and anxiety.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Trans Panel Surrounded By Prayer

by the Revd Dr Christina Beardsley

Thank you for your prayers for Friday’s Lambeth Conference Fringe event ‘Listening to Trans People’ which Cam has already reported here. These are some of my impressions:

Once we’d set up the seminar room in Darwin College (at the University of Kent at Canterbury, where the Lambeth Conference is happening) the panellists – Cameron of TransEpiscopal; Mia, a Nigerian now based in England; and Stephen, Stephanie and myself from Sibyls (UK) – spent time together in prayer as we awaited the bishops.

Grateful that people were praying for us, we wanted the event to be surrounded by prayer so that we could find the courage to ‘speak the truth in love’ - to banish, not just the usual nervousness prior to public speaking, but the fear that we might be condemned for opening our hearts in this way. Some of us still recall the unhappy image from the last Lambeth Conference of a bishop attempting to exorcise ‘the demon of homosexuality’ from Richard Kirker of the UK Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement, which fed our anxiety that this conference too might be unsafe for LGBT people; especially for us as Trans people, since our journeys are not always understood by LGB people, let alone the Church community.

These apprehensions were completely unfounded, and both the seminar and the conference (during the two days that I was there) felt relatively safe. Presumably we had been included in the Fringe programme because we represented experience that had not been heard much during the Listening Process. Only four bishops attended, but this was the highest number to participate in an Inclusive Network seminar thus far. One of them told me afterwards that he and his wife were both committed to the listening process, and how deeply moved he had been by what he heard.

With room to spare, we took advice and opened the seminar to journalists, including conservative blogger Hans Zeiger, who posts for David Virtue. Although most of the comments on his post condemn us, his posting is mainly factual (there are just one or two errors), and my own conversations with conservative bishops whom I met around the campus, and the representatives of conservative organisations I spoke to in the marketplace, left me feeling hopeful that the faith which unites us is bigger and stronger than the issues that currently divide us.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Open Us, God

(Photo Credit: John Clinton Bradley)

It’s the end of my second full day here in England, and what a day it was: this afternoon I participated on the panel "Listening to Trans People." I was one of five people total: two transmen (female-to-male), three transwomen (male-to-female); one woman from Nigeria, one American, three British people; one Methodist, one Buddhist, three Anglicans. As I mentioned in my previous entry, the panel was organized by Rev. Christina Beardsley and sponsored by the Sibyls, a group that fosters Christian spirituality for trans people.

As it turned out, the bishops had a time conflict with our session, which curtailed their attendance. Nevertheless, we did have at least four bishops along with several other interested people, including some reporters. We only had an hour, a challenging limitation with four different panelists.

Christina, who served as M.C., began by introducing herself. She had been ordained in the Church of England for twenty-three years prior to her transition in 2001. She now serves as a hospital chaplain in London, but in the first years after transition, she felt as though her bishops were being cautious with her, leaving her with the feeling of having to prove herself to them. Working in a hospital has gone smoothly because equal opportunity policies must simply be followed and gender is not an issue, which makes it easy for her to get on with her job. Christina also reported that although the Anglican Communion Listening Process has officially focused upon homosexuality, it has included a few interviews with transgender people, including herself (I also participated in a Listening Process event with Canon Phil Groves in New York City last June).

Stephen then did a half-hour long presentation that emphasized how sex, gender and sexuality each exist on a continuum and interact with one another. By the end of his presentation, I sensed that people in the audience might have been reeling with information overload. But then the second half-hour emphasized stories, placing Stephen’s framework in context and humanizing what might otherwise seemed abstract and overwhelming.

Stephanie spoke movingly about her experience growing up and coming into her own as an evangelical Christian and transwoman in England. She spoke of how God has lifted her up through a number of challenges, being, as she put it, “a compulsive gambler who no longer gambles, and a stammerer who no longer stammers.” God’s uplifting has carried her through her transition, “to come into my gender identity, to live in truth, and be a true disciple of Jesus.”

Mia Nikasimo, who was born in England but grew up in Nigeria, spoke of how horrifically oppressive living in Nigeria is for trans people. She left twenty years ago, and returned to England where she has lived ever since, when she realized that not only her own life but also that of her family, might be in danger if she stayed. She spoke of "trans women and men who have to live underground," lest they loose their lives.

I spoke last. John Clinton Bradley of Integrity was able to video my comments and shared them with me (see below, and also his post on the Walking With Integrity blog). I ended by saying that I could understand if those listening to us were overwhelmed at the thought of adding transgenderism to a Listening Process that has, as I discussed in my last post, revolved around the issue of human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. But if adding transgender into the mix turns our attention to how varied and complex both gender and sexuality are, in an array of contexts around the world, that could actually help deepen a conversation that has gotten stuck in an overly black-and-white loop.

After all the presentations were finished, Christina asked if one of the bishops would end our meeting with a blessing. This was an unexpected request—the inspiration for it came to her in a flash, she later told me. There was a slight pause. And then my heart soared as my bishop, Tom Shaw, stood up and prayed (in words I'm grateful to have taped),

“Gracious God, we praise you and we bless you for the gift of life. Thank you, God, for all life. Especially we thank you for the lives of the people that we’ve listened to this afternoon. Open us, God. Open us to the whole of your creation. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you this day and always. Amen.”