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.

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