Wednesday, March 5, 2008

In Support of Transgender Rights in Massachusetts

I gave this testimony at the Massachusetts State House before the Judiciary Committee yesterday. The Boston Globe reported today that over 300 people were present over the course of the day, and I can report that the vast majority of them were there in support of the proposed legislation. The Judiciary Committee was holding its hearing yesterday to gather information before making a recommendation about the fate of this proposed bill (among several others)-- it is up to this body as to whether the legislature has a chance to vote on it. It was very moving to hear the testimony of numerous other people-- trans people, parents, employers, members of the MA bar association, and on and on. There were only a couple of negative testimonials.


In Support of HB 1722, An Act Relative to Gender Based Discrimination and Hate Crimes
Massachusetts Judiciary Committee, March 4, 2008
The Reverend Cameron Elliot Partridge

My name is Cameron Partridge and I testify to you today as a Massachusetts resident since 1995 and a transgender man. My vocation takes place in two arenas, one as a doctoral student in the Religion, Gender, and Culture Program at Harvard Divinity School and the other as a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts serving in Allston/Brighton, where transgender woman Rita Hester was murdered in 1998. I am here in support of HB 1722 because I care deeply about the need to protect all people from discrimination and hate crimes. I care not only because I myself would be covered by this legislation in my secular work but also because many people I know and work with—friends, family, students, parishioners, fellow clergy and people of various faiths—want these protections to become law.

Since my transition from female to male six years ago, I have learned that although many people are not well informed about transgender people, they are able to learn, able to be respectful, and in many cases able to be supportive, in all sorts of settings. My transition as a first year graduate student interfaced with many different departments of the university, from my doctoral adviser, to the Registrar, to my physicians in the university’s health services, to the people who take photos for campus identification cards. In all cases people were more than accommodating. My favorite moment came from the Registrar who declared “I want to welcome you to the male gender—it’s served me well.” I am proud that since then Harvard has joined the growing group of universities and corporations across the country that are adding gender-based protections to their non-discrimination codes. Protecting people of diverse gender identities and expressions is clearly the right thing to do, and it also need not cause institutional confusion or interpersonal difficulty. The world won’t come to an end because we acknowledge and protect people of various gender identities and expressions.

I am extremely fortunate to have a family that is supportive of me. But on at least one occasion I heard concern that I might be rendering myself “unemployable.” The notion that transgender people are by definition "unemployable" is a poisonous perception, quite ubiquitous, that this legislation can help address. In fact, it need not be a huge deal to employ a transgender person. Thus far I have worked both as a teaching assistant and as a priest with no problems; in both of my lines of work, my experience as a transman has felt like much more of an asset than a liability. The question isn’t—and shouldn’t be—what unusual personal history I may have but whether and how well I can do the job. Some of us who identify as transgender may choose to be open while others may not. Some of us may not have a choice. The fact that I went to a women's college, for instance, will always show up on my resumé. But it shouldn’t matter. Thus while I have been extremely fortunate, I know I may not always be. None of us should have to fear that we may be denied equal access to housing, to education, credit or to jobs because our simple existence happens to challenge other people’s ideas about sexual difference. When we heard the argument earlier that because transgender people are such a small percentage we are less worthy of protection, I was reminded of the parable of the one sheep and the ninety-nine. The implication of the previous speaker's remarks seemed to be that the one sheep should be left out there. First, I disagree with that logic, as does the parable itself: in it, the shepherd steps away from the ninety-nine for a moment to bring back the one. But second, transgender people are connected to so many people, as we have heard from many others today: parents, spouses and partners, siblings, friends, colleagues, communities of faith, all of whom are among the ninety-nine. When one of us is snatched away, the remaining ninety-nine are injured as well. This legislation is part of the ongoing process of making it safe for *all* of us to become and to flourish as the people we are.

I realize that there are people of faith out there who believe that transgender people somehow deny or distort the goodness of our creation. What I can tell you is that for me, coming into myself as a transman has been and continues to be a sacred journey, something for which I give thanks and something that has opened my eyes both to the tremendous diversity of creation and to the many ways in which humans grow and change over a lifetime. I have been blessed to work part time in a parish and in a diocese that really means it when it says it supports all people. So let there be no mistake: there are many people of various faiths who are supportive of transgender people, and there are many transgender people who are people of faith. The baptismal covenant of my tradition calls for us to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being. As I see it, this proposed legislation participates in that ongoing mandate, and I am proud to support it. I urge you to support this legislation and to ensure that the legislature has a chance to pass it. Thank you.