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 TaizĂ©, 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