Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dessert in the Wilderness

We got our first snow of the season here in Boston on Saturday, that magical first couple of inches before the January days when people go nuts over street parking. It was the perfect accompaniment to a day filled with drama and wonder as the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles followed the election of its first woman (suffragan) bishop, Diane Jardine Bruce, with a second woman, Mary Glasspool, who is also openly gay. Both of these elections, like all such elections, must now be confirmed by Standing Committees across The Episcopal Church. And if that does indeed happen, Gene Robinson will no longer be the only openly gay bishop to have been elected as such in the Anglican Communion.

I was even more excited about this election because Mary Glasspool is the former rector of the congregation I serve, St. Luke's and St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Allston. She was there from the late 1980s to the early 90s. During her time at SLAM, as it is affectionately known, the congregation became one of really only two parishes in the Diocese of Massachusetts to be truly welcoming to LGBT people at that time (the other was St. John the Evangelist on Bowdoin Street in Boston). Now many congregations here are welcoming.

Mary has been the Canon to the Bishops in the Diocese of Maryland for the last several years after serving a congregation in Annapolis. When she did a sabbatical fellowship in the Boston area in 2006 I was glad to have a chance to have lunch with her, as I'd heard a lot about her from folks around the diocese and in SLAM itself.

We met at the Casablanca restaurant in Harvard Square and chatted about her time at SLAM and some of my experiences up to that point, having just started earlier that year, as well as about Harvard Divinity School where she was doing her fellowship.

But what I really remember is the dessert. Or, rather, the arrival of dessert. For some reason I can still remember what I had for lunch (this is unusual for me)-- it was a salad with pears, carmelized pecans and crumbled blue cheese. And more weirdly still, while I can't tell you what I had for dessert, I remember clearly the moment our server put our desserts before us. They looked absolutely incredible (whatever they were), and I remember an odd thought flashing through my head: we should say grace all over again. Again, not my usual train of thought. But then Mary actually said, "I almost feel like we should say another grace!" We didn't, but dessert was certainly eaten with gratitude.

Throughout Saturday, in between errands with my partner around town, I checked the election results on my laptop. Around 5pm, as I was bringing parcels in from the car, Donna Cartwright (of TransEpiscopal and the Diocese of Maryland) called and shared the news with me. Needless to say, I was ecstatic and, after reading up on the happenings, sent out an email to folks at SLAM. The next day, the second Sunday in Advent, as I preached about the ways in which hope comes to us in the wilderness, I couldn't help but talk about Mary's election. I only wish I had thought to include the dessert-arrival vignette.

Because, the more I think of it, that's how that moment felt to me: like being offered an oasis of hope in the midst of the wilderness. Perhaps you've heard the saying, "save your fork, the best is yet to come?" I obviously don't know what will happen with the consent process, with this ongoing Anglican conflict, etc. But I do think we should save our forks, and not simply for "pie in the sky by and by" but also for dessert in the wilderness in the here and now.


Monday, November 30, 2009

A November to Remember for LGBT Episcopalians in the Diocese of Massachusetts

I wrote this piece for the Walking with Integrity blog

November in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachsusetts has been quite the month on the LGBT front with big ticket items during our Diocesan Convention, to Transweek and Transgender Day of Remembrance, to this weekend’s announcement about the role of clergy in same sex marriage.

At our Diocesan Convention during the first weekend of November, a resolution was overwhelmingly passed expressing our hope that Bishop M. Thomas Shaw III would give clergy permission to legally solemnize same sex marriages. +Tom has long been a supporter of LGBT people in general -- – and speaking as a trans priest whom he ordained, I mean it when I include the T – and equal marriage in particular, stepping out in support of equal civil marriage during this state’s protracted battle over it.

But once gay couples were legally allowed to wed, Episcopal clergy were still limited to blessing said couples. And while I realize just being allowed to do blessings would be a coup in some dioceses, here being limited to blessings felt like a pastoral nightmare. I can’t tell you how many clergy have had repeated conversations with couples about how they could solemnize some marriages but not others. Some clergy have refused to solemnize any marriages in the in-between time of the past five years. And so, while the conversation about whether we should even “be in the marriage business” as legal representatives of the state goes on, that is a conversation that I suspect will take this church a long time to sort out. It’s a lot more difficult to disentangle than I think people on all sides of the debate realize. In the meantime, to me it has made no sense to refuse to let same sex couples in the solemnization door while we figure out whether we want to restrict our involvement in all marriages to blessings.

Another way I have personally faced this issue is in doing trans marriages. We who are trans also face limitations in our ability to wed. Much depends not only on whether our partnerships are gay, bi, or heterosexual – just like everyone else -- but also on whether our legal documentation (e.g. drivers licenses) accurately reflects our gender. And when I say accurate, I mean whether it reflects our identities, not the meanings that others might write on our bodies. In some states changing appropriate identification is easier than in others (for instance, Ohio is notoriously difficult). So when a couple with a trans member has approached me to do their wedding (and I have now done several), one of the things I have had to ask at some point is what the gender markers their drivers licenses say. In some cases I have been able to bless only and in others I have been able to bless and solemnize. Each time I have been aware that I am part of the ongoing transformation of marriage in this time and place. Because, as I see it, marriage is not now and has never been static. Its meaning and form has long been changing. What was the miracle that Jesus undertook at Cana? The transformation of water into wine. Our relationships are to be sacred vessels in which we walk together through the changes and chances of this life.

But I have to say—and I say this as someone who obviously cares a lot about the marriage debates -- all the energy we pour into marriage can get pretty irritating to the trans community. Because even though we are impacted by the rules regarding marriage as well, marriage is not the most important thing to the trans community (insofar as we can say there is a single trans community—there are indeed numerous communities). Protecting our most basic human rights are. Keeping members of our community safe from violence – as our sisters of color most often experience – and free from often blatant discrimination on the job, in schools, housing, credit, and medical care, is what we are most concerned about. And so we are pleased that the Matthew Shephard Hate Crimes Act is finally now law, but we wait eagerly for the passage of a fully inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act and the passage of local and state laws that safeguard us in our various communities.

November is a month that the trans community around the globe is increasingly claiming as its own. The main impetus for this is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) which takes place every year on November 20th. Fourteen years ago, an African American Bostonian named Chanelle Pickett was murdered here in Boston on that date. I remember it well because I was a first year MDiv student interning at the Victim Recovery Program at the Fenway Community Health Center at the time, and it was also my birthday. Three years later, on November 28th, 1998 another African American woman named Rita Hester died in Brighton, MA, three blocks from the congregation I now serve, St. Luke’s and St. Margaret’s. This murder sparked a vigil on Brighton Avenue across from the place she was last seen. One year later, the trans community in San Francisco marked that anniversary with the first ever Transgender Day of Remembrance. And so the TDOR tradition, which is now international, was born.

Last year for the first time Boston’s TDOR was held at St. Luke’s and St. Margaret’s, in a secular event that packed the small church. This year, once again, we were asked to host this event (read about it here in the Allston/Brighton TAB; photos by Marilyn Humphries are here). It was a particular honor to be able to share with the gathered community that at its General Convention this past summer The Episcopal Church went on record in support of our full civil rights. And in another important demonstration of support and encouragement, the Crossing, the emergent church style congregation at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston, held a special service in honor of TDOR on Thursday evening, November 19th, also hosting Transcriptions, the local trans/queer themed open mic. More and more Episcopal congregations are opening their arms to trans people.

And then yesterday lay and ordained leaders in Diomass received a beautifully clear letter from our bishop declaring that as of Advent I clergy in this diocese are indeed authorized to solemnize the marriages of same sex couples (read about it in the Boston Globe or Bay Windows) . No more do gender markers on licenses As I talked about it on the phone with a friend and fellow trans priest, I said, “what a relief!” He replied, “I know—now I wanna run out and find a gay couple to marry!”

And so life here in Massachusetts continues to move forward with blessings amid all our complexities. But to me the greatest gift of all this November is my son who was born in mid-October. Today, literally as I wrote this piece, he smiled at me for the first time. God is so good.


Friday, November 13, 2009

On the Threshold of Transweek, a Theological Reflection

Here in Boston, we are marking the coming week as Transweek in preparation for Friday's Transgender Day of Remembrance, which my congregation, St. Luke's and St. Margaret's, is honored to host again this year. My field education student this year, Kori Pacyniak, shared this wonderful theological reflection with me in our meeting this week, and it struck me as a moving way to begin stepping into the space of the coming week, which seems to me to be as much about the grief with which our community struggles every day and our determined hope to build a better world as it is about mourning those whom we have lost. And so I share this with Kori's permission.



Kori Pacyniak
Theological Reflection

“I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” – Romans 9:1-2

Prof. Charles Stang preached on this passage from Romans last Friday at Harvard Divinity School, and it was a passage that seemed to skip the intellect and go directly to my soul. The month of October has largely been a great struggle. September found me struggling against one physical illness after another – there was a span of three weeks where I was just sick, whereas October, by contrast, was filled with internal struggle. It was a busy month from the onset – with preaching, organizing the Noon Service at Harvard Divinity School for national coming out week, a trip to NYC for a film festival and then a speaking engagement at Suffolk University. To top it all off, it was the month I decided to come out to my parents as trans.

It was in coming out to my parents and the time that followed where this verse from Romans really hit me. My parents’ initial reaction was one of shock and disbelief. That disbelief led me to cling to this verse when I heard it. I wanted this verse to legitimize my pain and internal struggle. I needed my faith to support me. Following my parents reaction, I fell apart. I had known it would be difficult to tell them (even though I took the easy way out of writing a letter). I had known that the letter would only be the beginning of the watershed, but I don’t think I was truly prepared for what came next – or to the extent that I would internalize the struggle. My parents’ disbelief and attempted denial of my trans identity leads me to want to throw this verse at them. At the very least, I cling to it in hope.

There is a viewpoint that being trans, is, in a way, all in my head. My parents would like me to just ‘give up on this nonsense’ or grow out of this phase. For them, I believe, the fear and shock leads to disbelief and denial. But the denial only serves to wound me deeper. At times I think it’d be easier if there was acknowledgement and rejection, but then again, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Truth be told, it’d be an incredibly difficult journey regardless of my parent’s reactions – mostly because I have often considered myself to have strong empathic tendencies. Sometimes it really sucks to be an empath – to feel other people’s pain so easily. Personality tests classify me as the healer or the helper. To feel other people’s pain and be able to share it is both a blessing and a curse. A single phone call or voicemail message can send me into tears, feeling the pain of the other individual. This has, in other scenarios, been construed as me just being a very emotional person. I cry at books, movies, songs – it’s very easy for me. But I internalize a lot. At times this has been criticized as melodrama, and I’ll admit that sometimes I can make things bigger than they actually are, but with regard to the anxiety and tempest of emotions inside me around my gender identity, I don’t think it’s fake.

For me, coming to terms with my gender identity needed a spiritual component. This isn’t something I could have done without a religious and spiritual support network. (Or, as I commonly refer to them, my Godsquad). For many years, I struggled to keep sexuality and gender identity as far apart from each other as I could. They were two extremes that I bounced between and while I dreamt of somehow reconciling them, I didn’t have the faintest idea of how to reconcile them within myself. In January of 2009, the HDS Episcopalians went on a one day retreat to the monastery of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in Cambridge and I ended up spending over an hour in the small chapel there – I just needed to be. In front of the icon of Jesus with the Beloved Disciple, I begged God for a sign that I was okay. That the gender identity issues that were surfacing and that I was struggling to name – that somehow it was okay. I needed a sign that it was okay to be trans. I did get the sign, in the end. Praying and meditating on the icon, I felt myself become the beloved disciple and heard Jesus say to me – “You are my beloved and you are mine.”

That was back in January. I haven’t thought of that time at the monastery for quite some time, but now it seems appropriate paired with the Romans verse. Choosing Christ doesn’t save you from experience angst and hard times, but it does give you something to hold on to. There is a sense of belonging and a sense of validation. It’s that validation that I draw on in trying to resolve things with my parents – and in a way, it’s the validation I need for myself. Because there are plenty of times when I need someone to witness to my pain, to share in it with me and agree that is allowable and not just self-created.

In Prof. Stang’s sermon, he wonders if our conscience “is not sufficient even to report on our own sorrow or anguish.” There are times that I feel this way, especially in regard to gender identity. There is no tell-all book, no ‘Transgenderism for dummies’ book out there or any sort of manual to guide me through the process. Though I have found support in other individuals, there is still part of this journey, this process of self-exploration that remains largely personal and individualistic.

At one point in his sermon, Prof. Stang suggested that “… without the indwelling of Christ we cannot speak the truth of our own lives, we cannot even know the contours of our own despair. If this is right, then I – who cannot in good conscience echo Paul in Gal 2:20 – and perhaps you too, we are barred from the truth of our own pain.” This comment of his seemed to tie in the anguish of October with the reassurance of my prayer at the monastery in January. It also fosters my deep intrinsic yearning to connect with the verse from Romans. I truly think that I would not have been able to come out to my parents without feeling that this was actually the will of God for me at this point in time at my life.

Prof. Stang’s sermon concluded with a startling revelation: “By letting Christ in, we are not delivered from our sorrow or anguish, but rather delivered into them. Christ does not save us from despair, but gives us access to our despair and becomes a corroborating witness to our shifty heart’s anguish.” It’s hard to discern the purpose of certain challenges and hard times that we encounter in our lives, but I think what Prof. Stang is trying to get at, and what I’ve started to come to terms with in October, is that by relying on Christ (or even just including him, as total surrender and reliance on Christ is something that doesn’t come easily to most of us), we are able to bear the challenges we encounter, to validate our pain as real and legitimate, and more fully live in Christ through those challenges and pain.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Today, in Your Hearing

As Congress gears up to begin hearings on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) tomorrow (September 23, 2009), I am grateful to recall how decisively The Episcopal Church declared its support for transgender civil rights in general, and a fully inclusive ENDA in particular, this summer at its 76th triennial General Convention.

I remember the various stories that came out over the course of the Convention about trans people, our vulnerability to discrimination and violence as well as the progress we are making in all areas right now. The stories came from TransEpiscopal members, several of whom testified at General Convention hearings, and on the floor of the House of Deputies. Stories came, seemingly out of the blue, from people I had never met. And I remember how bishops rose, one after another, to speak in support of Anti-Discrimination protections such as ENDA. It was incredibly moving.

But what’s incredibly sad is, as the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force recently learned in a joint study, 97% of those who are gender non-conforming and/or transgender identified have experienced mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination in the worplace. As long as there is no federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act, that statistic is in danger of staying right where it is, because gender identity and expression are not protected categories in most states.

But even more important than a statistic is the impact of that statistic, and the experiences underlying it, on a community that so needs hope. How many trans people give up on their dreams because they fear not simply discrimination itself but the lasting emotional impact of discrimination? I’m talking about a sense of self worth, a sense of confidence in oneself and the knowledge that one has an important contribution to make in this world. Hope is as much at stake in ENDA as the concrete issue of job retention or opportunity.

That’s exactly where The Episcopal Church’s actions add a small contribution-- hope and solidarity. We cannot make nondiscrimination a reality simply with our words. What we can and did do is to add our voice to a growing chorus, specifically a chorus of people of faith.

And I think those words, that chorus, can do more than we might imagine.

If you are trans, and you are reading this, I invite you to imagine yourself, as the gospel of Luke portrays it (Lk 4:16-20), in the synagogue at Nazareth, as Jesus steps forward and reads from the prophet Isaiah (61:1, 2):

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Imagine Jesus rolling up that scroll and sitting down. Imagine your own eyes fixed on this person who read this proclamation of hope with such intensity. And then hear him say to you: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Imagine that today, in your hearing, you are released from the weight not only of discrimination and violence itself, but also from the fear generated by it. Imagine that you can simply be yourself as God has created you and calls you to be.

Passing ENDA is absolutely essential, and will go a long way toward alleviating the pressure that weighs on all whose gender identity and/or expression does not conform to social norms. But even ENDA cannot by itself put an end to that pressure with which we wrestle every day.

Religious bodies have a crucial part to play in freeing us from this captivity, because it is so often religious traditions that are invoked to undermine our sense of human worth. And because of their role in creating anti-transgender messages, one of the important modes for this work is proclamation. In many and various ways, trans people need to hear: today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. You are set free from stigma and stereotypes, you are released from prisons of gender conformity, you are invited to hear this as the year of God’s favor.

Religious bodies, including the Episcopal Church, have only just begun to take up that work, but when they do, it is powerful.

And so, tomorrow the voice of ENDA renews its cry in the wilderness-- prepare the way.

But today, today may we hear words of hope.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Congratulations, Rev. David Weekley and Epworth UMC

Yesterday Rev. David Weekley, who transitioned from female to male in the 1970s and was ordained as a pastor in the United Methodist Church 27 years ago, came out to his congregation. I was honored to meet David this past June at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference-- I moderated a panel of trans clergy on which he sat.

One thing I want to correct from the otherwise accurate below story is that this sentence -- "the Methodist church also will withhold church membership from anyone who is openly gay"-- is incorrect. Plenty of openly gay people attend United Methodist Churches and their memberships are not subject to removal.

But what an extraordinary story, on which the Regal Courier has taken the lead:

Congregation embraces transgender minister as his secret is revealed
Rev. David Weekley hopes his story will help change United Methodist Church doctrine

The Portland Tribune, Aug 30, 2009, Updated 11.4 hours ago

As soon as he raises the topic of gay rights to his conservative clergyman friend one day at lunch, he knows it’s a mistake.

He knows that the United Methodist Church long ago retained the right to turn away openly gay clergy members.

So Weekley listens to his friend espouse the opinion of the church, and buries his secret deeper. No one can ever find out that Weekley, a married father of five in Southeast Portland and a Methodist clergyman of 27 years, was born female.

Until now, there has been just one openly transgender Methodist clergyman in the U.S. to retain his ordination (That man, Drew Phoenix, 50, had his ordination challenged by members of the church after coming out publicly in 2007 to his congregation in St. John’s of Baltimore United Methodist Church in Maryland.)

Today, Sunday, Aug. 30, Weekley — who leads the congregation at the Epworth United Methodist Church in the Sunnyside neighborhood in inner Southeast Portland — became the second.

Just months after telling his own children that he was not their biological father, Weekley, who is in his late-50s, came out to his congregation of 221 members.

Standing behind his pulpit, Weekley began his usual worship service. About halfway through, he paused to share a personal message he called “My Book Report.”

He told them that in 1984, just nine years after undergoing extensive sex-reassignment surgeries, he was ordained by the Methodist Church without telling anyone of his original gender at birth.

Following his story, the congregation, who had remained silent throughout his talk, broke into thunderous applause. Church members then proclaimed their support for their pastor.

“It doesn’t change him; he’s still Reverend David, and that’s what counts,” says congregation member Robbie Tsuboi, who has been attending Epworth since 1964.

“I think it was a really, really positive reaction. From what I understand, it was 100 percent support within the church.”

Given the church’s stance on gay rights and its previous reaction to Phoenix’s revelation, Weekley hadn’t known what to expect. According to the Methodist “Book of Discipline,” performing a same-sex wedding, even in a state where it is legal, is an offense that could lead to discipline from Methodist church leaders.

Besides opposing the ordination of gay clergy, the Methodist church also will withhold church membership from anyone who is openly gay.

That’s why Weekley’s action is gaining national attention, including support from the one person who preceded him down this road.

“I’m very happy that he’s going through with this” Phoenix says. “It takes a lot of courage to do what David’s doing.”

Inspired by the past

Weekley’s original plan was to keep quiet throughout his career, waiting until retirement to finally come out. But a trip he took with church members in June 2008 changed his mind.

Weekley joined members of his congregation, which is 95 percent Japanese-American, on a pilgrimage to the remnants of a World War II internment camp for Japanese-Americans in Minidoka, Idaho, just outside of Twin Falls.

The experience touched him deeply. He had faith that a congregation like his own, many of them having experienced prejudice and alienation would be a safe place to come out, he says.

He was right.

“We at Epworth support him,” says congregation member Kazuko Hara, who has been attending Epworth’s services for more than 50 years. “I am supportive of him and will stand by him.”

“I think that they’re looking at his heart,” adds Kaau Ahina, who has been attending Epworth for three years. “They love him for who he is, and (his wife) Deborah.”

Following Sunday morning’s service, Weekley answered questions from the congregation about his decision and his life. One member asked: Was he relieved to have revealed the truth about his life? Weekley exhaled. “Extremely,” he answered.

“Twenty-seven years is a long time,” he says. “I have a lot to say and now I can finally say it.”

Despite anticipating that some of his congregation would leave the church, Weekley actually heard that some members plan to become more involved following his disclosure on Sunday.

“I don’t think I anticipated that so much,” he says smiling.

Weekley is accustomed to being a minority. In fact, he is a minority of a minority, serving as the second-ever Caucasian pastor at Epworth, a church first established in Portland’s old Japantown (today’s Old Town/Chinatown) in 1893, which later moved to Southeast Portland.

Although Weekley himself is not Japanese-American, many of his congregation members speak Japanese and offered mottos as themes for the pilgrimage to the internment camp.

They were: “Gambate,” meaning “Go for it;” “Shigatanai,” meaning “It cannot be helped;” and “Gaman,” meaning “Bearing the unbearable with dignity and grace, creating beauty from hardship.”

This motivation, along with the newfound knowledge that he wasn’t the only transgender clergyman in the world, inspired him to share the truth.

“I knew there were a few transgender people on the planet, but I didn’t think it was a large population,” he says. “It’s not something that you share. You don’t say, ‘by the way, were you born that way?’ It just doesn’t come up.”

In June, Weekley attended a health conference in Philadelphia for transgender people, where he met with more than 40 other religious leaders like himself.

“Jewish, Shinto, Pagan — every faith had at least one transgender leader there and (we) started a trans-religious network,” he says.

He and Deborah returned home ready to come out with the truth, they say.

“He’s not (been) happy,” says Deborah, 60, who works as a massage therapist. The two have been married for 13 years. “He’s becoming more agitated as the years are passing in hiding. He’s not thriving. I want him to thrive.”

Childhood as a girl

Born in Cleveland as a girl, Weekley always knew he was different.

“I always saw myself as a little boy,” he recalls. “My best friend was Gary. I liked sports. At a very young age, it didn’t seem like it was any problem.”

Going to school was more troublesome, he says.

“The teachers didn’t like me — each year that got worse,” he says.

From being blamed by teachers for things she didn’t do, to being slapped across the face by her fourth-grade teacher, Weekley says he didn’t feel he received any adult support until 10th grade, after being referred to a school psychologist.

“I really wanted to drop out of school,” he says. “It was a horrible time. I didn’t fit in, I didn’t look like a girl, I was different.”

As a young teenager, Weekly as a girl joined the marching band because she was comfortable in the unisex uniforms. At home, her parents just thought she dressed like a hippie.

His mother was a Catholic homemaker and his father worked in management and didn’t attend church. The two parents, political opposites, had one other son.

Things changed when Weekley was about 14, he remembers. While at a friend’s house, she overheard her friend’s mom talking on the phone to a neighbor about Christine Jorgensen, the first widely known transgender woman to undergo reassignment surgery in Sweden.

“I started listening and I got really excited,” he says. “After that day I knew what I would do: I would start saving my money and go to Sweden. That was the plan.”

Transitioning to a new life
When a family friend referred her to a doctor, she learned that she wouldn’t have to go as far as Sweden.

At that time, only two clinics existed in the U.S. that were capable of performing sex-reassignment surgery. One happened to be in Cleveland.

“It was a miracle,” he remembers thinking.

Before she could go under the knife, however, she had to endure a six-month process required by the clinic, which included thorough medical and psychological tests and interviews.

She eventually began hormone therapy.

“I went home and popped one and stood in front of the mirror and waited,” he says.

After three months and not much progress, she began non-reversible injections.

Before the surgeries, Weekley had to hire an attorney and go through the lengthy process of changing all of his legal documents.

The courts, he says, were “horribly prejudicial,” and “didn’t easily change the documents.”

The first surgery took place in August 1974, when he stayed in the hospital for three weeks after receiving a phalloplasty — cosmetic surgery of the penis. The second surgery took place the following December for chest surgery, and Weekley went back once more for additional treatment in June 1975.

While he says his family visited him in the hospital for just one of the surgeries, he kept a strong relationship with his grandfather. “(He) taught me how to tie a tie,” he says.

His insurance paid for all of the surgeries, but today most insurance plans wouldn’t cover them because gender reassignment is not considered a “life threatening” condition, Weekley says. “They have no idea how wrong they are,” he says.

For his new name, Weekley chose David, meaning “Beloved of God.”

Adulthood as a man

After his sex-change operations, Weekley studied psychology at Boston University and, while in graduate school at Miami University of Ohio, began to feel drawn to the church.

Weekley had previously stayed away from church due to the hateful things he had heard regarding homosexuals and other minorities. However, after feeling a connection to the United Methodist Church, he joined.

That connection, among other reasons, led him to attend seminary school at Boston University School of Theology. He earned a Master of Divinity Degree in philosophy, theology, and ethics.

This was something he never thought he would do, despite being passionate for preaching at a young age.

“I used to preach to my stuffed animals and I don’t know why,” he says. “My growing up was so horrific that I couldn’t speak in public.”

However, once he entered the Methodist church, he reentered the closet.

“One of the greatest ironies and pains is that the church is the place I’ve had to go back in the closet,” he says. “I’ve stood with colleagues who have said horrific things to me, and they don’t even know it.”

Weekley moved to Portland in 1993 to serve a local church, eventually ending up at Epworth United Methodist.

Gay rights within the Methodist church are undoubtedly political, he says. While the church has its own official stand, progressive members are tolerant toward gay rights, which clashes with the conservatives’ beliefs.

The majority of Methodists in the U.S. reside in the Bible Belt and are conservative, which enabled delegates at the 2008 general conference to pass a new rule stating that no United Methodist funds could be used to educate people on gay and lesbian issues.

At the last general conference, there was talk of the church formally splitting.

“Over the years it’s gotten less vociferous, but there is still no resolution,” Weekley says.

Some progress has been made at the smaller, localized annual conferences.

Weekley’s progressive Oregon-Idaho conference recently had the highest percentage of votes for an “All means all” declaration, which would amend the church’s bylaws to include everyone in the church.

The declaration was narrowly defeated nationally, however, showing that, “the conservatives have enough people and power to always defeat the rest of the denomination,” he says.

Weekley has advocated for inclusivity, not just to national audiences but also to much smaller ones, serving as dean of a summer church camp this year at Epworth.

Though the camp focused mainly on the civil rights movement, a portion focused on breaking traditional sex roles and accepting different kinds of families.

One parent withdrew children from the camp after learning of its liberal content.

“Can girls play baseball? Can boys play with dolls? Of course you can,” Weekley says. “And that was apparently enough for this person to decide not to bring their kids.”

Preparing for the worst, hoping for the best
Despite keeping his secret for the past 27 years, Weekley has led a “blessed” life, he says. “God got me through.”

He has been married twice, and his children and current wife Deborah provide a steady stream of support. The couple have five children (two from a previous marriage) ranging in age from 21 to 39, as well as six grandchildren.

Weekley is up for a national award at this year’s Reconciling Ministries Network Convocation, (a movement to increase the awareness of issues in the gay community and promote inclusivity in the church) and is writing a book about his coming-out experience.

The book’s working title is “In From the Wilderness: The Practice of Gaman.”

He shared his first manuscript with his congregation on Sunday as well. It features his experience at Minidoka and an annotated bibliography of resources for others out there in similar situations.

However, now that he has come out publicly, Weekley and his wife are preparing for any potential backlash. In fact, that’s why he’s asked that his birth name not be published — for fear that hate groups would use it as negative propaganda.

They have taken some necessary precautions in case of any trouble that could arise from aggressive prejudice.

“Trust God, but tie your camel,” Weekley says, quoting a Middle Eastern proverb.

Phoenix, the other openly transgender United Methodist clergy person in the U.S., had charges filed against him from clergy in his conference and was brought before the Judicial Council (the United Methodist Church’s equivalent of the Supreme Court).

The charges to have him removed from the church proved to be unfounded and Phoenix was able to retain his ordination. He is working in Anchorage, Alaska, in environmental health and justice and calling on Congress to pass legislation ending the discrimination he endured.

While the Book of Discipline forbids gays from joining the church, nothing explicitly turns away transgender people, which protects Phoenix and Weekley.

However, conservative Methodists have been battling the “All Means All” declaration, working to exclude transgender people.

Both Phoenix and Weekley could potentially face having their credentials taken away if legislation is passed at the next general conference (which takes place every four years) in 2012 banning transgender people.

“There’s always that possibility — just like there was in 2008,” Phoenix says.

Although Greg Nelson, director of communications for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference, thinks that it’s likely similar legislation will be brought up again soon, he believes that, “it’s important that this came out before the conference in 2012.

While Weekley and his wife are preparing for the worst, they are optimistic about the future of the church.

Weekley says that he has, for the past 27 years, thought about switching to a church that is more accepting of his choices, but ultimately decided to stay loyal.

“There have been many times I’ve thought about walking away and considering a different denomination,” he says, “but my heart has always caused me to remain in the hope of effecting change.”

He remains hopeful that the Methodist church can one day retain the same acceptance toward gay rights and perhaps pass legislation similar to the Episcopal Church, which recently adopted protections for gays and transgender people.

“This really puts it all on the line,” Weekley says of his decision to share his news with his congregation and the world. “I’m not leaving, I’m just coming out. I’m not walking away, but I’m not staying quiet and hidden anymore.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Episcopal Church Adopts Trans-Inclusive Policies

From the Bay Area Reporter

Episcopal Church adopts trans-inclusive policies
by Chuck Colbert
They were a party of eight, four transgender women, two transmen, a gay man, and straight woman ally. They told friends, "We're going to Anaheim," not too far away from Disneyland.

They were also change agents. By the end of their church's triennial gathering last month this band of sisters and brothers made Episcopalian history with the advent of trans-inclusive action and convention-floor testimony from a 19-year-old man believed to be the first openly transgender deputy.

"Members of TransEpiscopal made an incredible difference by giving incarnational witness to the "T" in LGBT and – in the process – moving the Episcopal Church further toward its goal of being a truly inclusive and welcoming church," said the Reverend Susan Russell of All Saints Church in Pasadena, California.

Russell is president of Integrity, the denomination's LGBT advocacy group.

Dedicated to spiritual enrichment and empowerment, TransEpiscopal ( serves as a support and advocacy group for the denomination's transgender members and significant others, families, friends, and allies.

Altogether, the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held July 8-17, adopted four resolutions. Two of them support enactment of civil sector anti-discrimination and hate crimes legislation protecting transgender people at local, state, and federal levels.

Voting in separate legislative bodies, the House of Delegates and the House of Bishops, convention deputies – lay persons, clergy and bishops – also adopted two other resolutions, one adding "gender identity and expression" to its non-discrimination policy for hiring lay employees and another calling for the revision of church paper and electronic forms to allow a wider range of gender identifications.

Bishop Marc Handley Andrus of the California Episcopal Diocese, an outspoken advocate against Proposition 8 last year, enthusiastically supported all four trans-inclusive resolutions.

A fifth resolution, an effort to add "gender identity and expression" to the church's non-discrimination canons, or church laws, passed in one house and was amended in another house by striking various categories – for instance, race, age, and ethnicity, among others – and substituting "all people."

That move "puts us back to square one in explaining 'all really means all' to those who want to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, etc, etc, etc.," explained Russell. "So we opted to let the resolution die by not bringing it back to the floor of the first house for concurrence."

"Anyway," she added, "we'll come back around that one next time out. I am convinced that by doing the education in the next three years, it will get passed in both houses."

Nonetheless, the trans-inclusive steps already taken are a remarkable turnaround from the last triennial gathering.

"We're taking the 'T' out of LGBT and letting it stand alone," said Dante Tavolaro, a convention deputy and college student from Lincoln, Rhode Island. Three years ago, an effort failed to bring even one resolution out of committee, he explained.

This time, however, Tavolaro, along with straight ally Sarah Lawton and Massachusetts state Representative Byron Rushing, successfully co-authored two resolutions, both of which were adopted. Tavolaro even testified in favor of trans inclusion at a committee hearing, as well as on the floor of the House of Deputies.

"For the church to take [trans-inclusion] on in such a supportive way gives me hope that the church I love so much has in a very clear way said that it does care about me and what those in the larger society think and say," he said.

For secular society, Tavolaro added, "The church sends to the LGBT community such a wonderful message that we are an inclusive church, not perfect, but we're trying hard."

A self-described "overall church geek," Tavolaro has served in Episcopal parishes in music, youth, and acolyte ministries. This summer he is a staff member for vacation Bible school. Tavolaro is also considering – "discerning" in church language – a vocational call to the priesthood.

Not the first
Comparatively speaking, the 2.1 million-member Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, is not the first to advance trans-inclusive denominational policy. And yet, with the adoption of four transgender resolutions in Anaheim, the Episcopal Church, often considered a denominational bellwether, is now the largest American church to go officially pro-trans.

For a church "most people think of as the closest to mainstream Protestantism," said national transgender activist and Episcopalian Donna Cartwright of Baltimore, the Anaheim convention is a significant development for the transgender community.

"It tells [us] that our stories and journeys can be honored in a religious way," said Cartwright, who was part of the eight-person group in Anaheim. "The body that grappled with sexual orientation is now doing so with gender identity. There is a path for all of us to full acceptance in the body of Christ."

By comparison, the United Church of Christ at its 2003 General Synod passed a lengthy resolution in support of transgender people. In 2007, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations adopted two trans-inclusive resolutions at its General Assembly.

Two years ago, Reform Judaism included several prayers for sanctifying the sex-change process in its publication "Kalanu," (Hebrew for "all of us.") First published in 1996, the original version of "Kalanu" was a 150-page collection of texts and resources for gay and lesbian inclusion. The 2007 update is comprehensively expanded, including liturgy for same-sex union ceremonies, a divorce document for same-sex couples, and a prayer for coming out.

Meanwhile, back in Anaheim, the power of personal story – its ability to transform abstract concepts like gender identity and expression into concrete human reality – seemed to win over hearts and minds.

"What blew me away," said the Reverend Cameron Partridge, a transgender priest and TransEpiscopal leader, "was how many people came out of the woodwork. More people are connected to the transgender community than one might imagine."

As Partridge, originally from the Bay Area, now serving as vicar of a Boston parish, explained further, "When we brought up the [resolutions] people stepped forward to say, 'My neighbor is trans, or my son or daughter is.' In other cases, and random places, people came forward and told me, 'I am so glad that you testified at that committee hearing. I would never have thought about [transgender concerns] before.'"

In sum, Cameron, another among the party of eight, added, "People were amazing."

For straight ally and convention deputy Lawton, gender identity and expression is all in the family. Her sister is a transgender woman, and Lawton spoke to delegates from the convention floor for two minutes, telling some of her sister's story.

"When someone comes out transgender in a family," Lawton said recently during a telephone interview, everyone "goes through a process. I know that my parish church was helpful to me in my own transition because you have to go through this as a family."

St. John's the Evangelist, located in San Francisco's Mission District, Lawton went on to say, "offered me as well as my sister pastoral support. I know how helpful that was. I rejoice in how much progress we made at this convention through education and visibility, and in raising our voices in welcome."


Wednesday, July 22, 2009



Last year, before I journeyed to Canterbury for the Lambeth Conference, I wrote of my low expectations for that every-ten-year gathering of the Anglican Communion’s bishops. Upon my return, I reported in sadness how it had lived down to my expectations.

In truth my expectations for the every-three-year General Convention of the Episcopal Church – our 76th – were not much higher. Indeed, given the tension and, among some, anger surrounding BO33, a 2006 resolution promising “restraint” on same-sex unions and the consecration of gay bishops, and the threats since by the Archbishop of Canterbury concerning our membership in the Anglican Communion, I was not the only one who feared an explosion of one sort or another this July in Anaheim.

That explosion never occurred. Instead, both the House of Deputies and House of Bishops passed by overwhelming majorities of two-to-one a positive, forward-looking resolution – DO25 – that allowed BO33 to fade into the mists of a fearful past, boldly stated the inclusive truth of the current consensus within the church, and charted a course for moving forward in continuing fealty to the Anglican Communion.

Against that background, the goals and expectations of the transgender community, of which I am a member, paled in comparison. As we gathered two blocks from Disneyland, we were probably were not even on the horizon of most deputies and bishops. The hope of our nascent transgender organization – TransEpiscopal ( ) – was simple and modest. Of the four trans-specific resolutions originally submitted, our hope was that one would make it to the floor of the House of Deputies where discussion of it would lead to recognition of our existence and begin an education process around the issues that confront us on a daily basis.

Our little team of eight, embedded in the larger and very supportive Integrity team (, succeeded, however, beyond our wildest dreams.

What follows is my attempt to chronicle what happened and to describe my feelings as events unfolded and, now, in their warm afterglow.


This adventure started for us in the chill of February. Communicating through the spring by e-mail and conference calls, we tracked the several resolutions being submitted by dioceses and obtained the support of non-trans allies such as Sarah Lawton and Byron Rushing, coordinated our efforts with key LGBT advocacy groups such as Integrity and the Consultation (, produced a brochure to hand out at convention and elsewhere, raised money, divided up tasks at convention, and steeled ourselves for the unknown.

And there was a lot that was unknown, for this would be the first time that there would be a visible, vocal transgender presence at a general convention. Would anyone notice? Would anyone care? Would there be a hostile backlash?

There were eight of us and we were, despite our common cause, amazingly diverse. We were five transwomen, two transmen, and a gay male ally; three priests, one deacon, and four lay people; and one of our number, Dee Tavalaro, a 19-year-old layman, would be the first trans deputy in the House of Deputies. We hailed, moreover, from every corner of the country – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, and, yes, California – and spanned the age spectrum from nineteen to seventy.

We also brought to the task a variety of skills that included expertise with computers and audio/visual equipment, writing, editing (the New York Times no less), and labor organizing. Leadership flowed rather naturally to The Rev. Cameron Partridge, a Massachusetts priest, ably assisted by Donna Cartwright, the editor/organizer from Baltimore and The Rev. Michelle Hansen, a retired priest from Connecticut. All three had been at earlier conventions and educated the rest of us on the ins and outs of the sometimes arcane legislative process. Cam and I had also shared the experience of Lambeth last year and, with Michelle, the Pacific School of Religion’s Transgender Religious Summit in Berkeley the year before.

And so we left our homes and families, telling our friends: “I’m going to Disneyland!”


Our arrivals were only slightly staggered with all of us on the ground for the start of the convention. The only one to drive, I arrived about 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 7, joining up with the others between an ongoing meeting of the National and International Affairs Committee (which had two of our resolutions) and a regular 10:00 p.m. meeting of the Integrity team. The latter, a Lambeth reunion of sorts, was followed by the first of a dozen or so meetings of our TransEpiscopal team.

At that first meeting, we divided assignments for testimony before the two committees that would be hearing our resolutions. The World Missions Committee would, we learned, consider our resolutions on Canon revisions opening up access to the ordination process to the transgendered (i.e., prohibiting exclusion of the basis of gender identity or expression)…and it would do so at 7:30 the next morning.

Getting back to my Travelodge room around midnight, I scribbled some notes on a yellow legal pad and, falling into a bed that would become familiar, enjoyed the sleep of exhaustion.

Four of us testified the next morning – Wednesday. It was the first act in a whirlwind of sixteen-hour days that soon became a blur – 7:00 a.m. committee meeting, bagel, 9:30 House of Deputies and House of Bishops meetings, Eucharist, a hot dog in the exhibit hall food court, 2:00 p.m. meetings of the two houses, 7:00 p.m. committee meeting, a veggie Panini at the Courtyard, 10:00 p.m. Integrity team meeting, 11:00 p.m. TransEpiscopal meeting to lay out plans for the next day. For Cameron, who also had responsibilities with Integrity and the Consultation, whilst all the while blogging non-stop, the schedule was even more intense.

In the “breaks,” there were opportunities to lobby potential allies, to meet folks at the Integrity booth, to make new friends, and to just soak in the Spirit that permeated the place, the people, the proceedings. Whatever exhaustion had crept in evaporated in the growing exhilaration. Running into House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson between meetings, I could honestly answer “Yes!” – to which I added a hug and a “Thank you” - when she asked “Are you having fun?”

And it soon became apparent that our decision to be in place for the start of convention was a wise one, for it was a very much front-loaded affair with regard to the resolutions we had put forward. Already the second morning, for example, we found ourselves testifying before the National and International Affairs Committee which had on its plate our resolutions on hate crimes and employment non-discrimination. The next mornings and evenings were devoted to following the discussion of the resolutions by the two committees.

Chaired by Bishop John Chane of Washington and including around the table familiar faces like Integrity’s Louie Crew and California’s Sarah Lawton and Bishop Marc Andrus, the National and International Affairs Committee seemed the more simpatico of the two groups. It was an impression reinforced by the nods and smiles that greeted our testimony. Despite a mild hiccup concerning the addition of “disability” to the list of protected classes in the resolutions under consideration and the perception of some that that might imply that LGBT people suffered from some disability, both resolutions passed with overwhelming majorities.

It was also clear that the World Missions Committee was an unlikely one to be asked to consider BO33 and our transgender resolutions. The rationale for the assignments seemed to be that BO33 related to relations with the Anglican Communion and that transgender issues related to BO33. That said, some members of the committee found their task awkward and unfamiliar and an early attempt was made to fob off our resolutions to the Commission on Canons…a move that would have been very understandable. The Chair, Gay Jennings, pointed out, however, that to do so would mean bumping our trans issues to the end of the line of a long list of issues facing Canons and losing them in the rush of last minute business as they were in 2006. “We have been dealt these issues,” she insisted, “and it is up to us to deal with them.”

And deal with them they did…in a movingly thoughtful and spiritual manner. There was, to be sure, considerable misunderstanding about what it means to be transgendered and the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. One bishop, for example, objected that there was no need for our resolution CO61, since “Sexual orientation is already in the canon.” In response, Ian Douglas gave one of the clearest explanations of the differences between identity and orientation, stressing the relational aspect of the latter. (Thanking him two days later, I added that even I, a transgendered person, had learned from what he said.)

Bottom line, the resolution passed 19-8 among the deputies, with the four bishops voting “No,” and, indeed, was strengthened by adding upfront words to the effect that all are welcome.

As our team drifted out into the hallway to take a celebratory breath and plan next steps, we were joined by the committee’s Michael Barlowe, tears behind his eyes, who spoke of how the Spirit had moved in the room we had just left. He then relayed a request from the chair for a list of authoritative definitions that could be handed out in the House of Deputies and a brief statement she could make in presenting the resolution to the House. We readily agreed to take on the task. In the course of the next hours, our Donna Cartwright obtained from Lisa Motet of the Washington office of the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force a list of definitions on NLGTF letterhead and Cameron Partridge produced the desired statement. With a helpful addition by Michael Barlowe, it was used by Gay Jennings in introducing the resolution.

Entering the third day, we had already exceeded our pre-conference goals – three resolutions would make it to the floor of the House of Deputies and two more, introduced by Dee Tavolaro, were wending their way through the committees. The latter concerned non-discrimination in the hiring of lay employees and making ordination forms less gender particular. Time to take a deep breath, savor the moment, and prepare to track what we had wrought.


Literally! Taking a seat for the first time in the visitors’ gallery of the House of Deputies, I was amazed by the solitary pigeon (aka dove) that hovered over the deputies, continuing to fly about the hall the next several days. And, it became clear, the Spirit was stirring not only above, but within the deputies.

First came the overwhelming 2-1 vote for DO25, the action on which then moved to the House of Bishops. Meanwhile those of us in TransEpiscopal awaited in tense anticipation for the introduction in the House Deputies of our trans-specific resolutions, the first of which would be DO12 on hate crimes legislation. We waited and waited…and waited through the afternoon of Monday, July 13. Getting the impression that it would not be brought up till the next morning and hearing that the bishops were in the midst of the historic debate on DO25, Donna and I made our way upstairs to the House of Bishops…arriving just in time to hear the impassioned intervention of Rochester’s Bishop Singh who spoke of how the church had been planted and prospered in India among the untouchables, the outcasts. Soon thereafter the vote began. Of all the votes, the one that rang clearest to my ears was the crisp, unwavering “Aye!” of the Presiding Bishop.

The deed was done, the final vote being 99-33. It was as if a festering boil had been lanced. One could feel the tension, the fear, the pain leave the room, leave the church. The doors opened and the people rushed out too, making their way – in silence – down the long, steep escalator. Bishop Steven Charleston and I shared a silent, smiling high five as he stepped onto its moving corrugated metal.

Making my own way down to the lobby, I made my way back to the House of Deputies, there to learn that our resolution DO12 on hate crimes and violence had made it to the floor and that Dee, Sarah Lawton, and Michael Barlowe had spoken movingly on behalf of it, as had several others. While the omens were good, the vote had been taken by orders and the results, therefore, would not be made known till the next morning.

Sarah, Michael, and other members of the California delegation were in the midst of an impromptu celebration at the back of the hall. It was a moveable feast that made is way through the lobbies of the Convention Center and Hilton and up a freight elevator to Bishop Marc’s seventh floor hospitality suite. From there I caught a glimpse in the distance of Disneyland and its Matterhorn – as close as I would get – as the celebrating gave way to planning the next day’s and, indeed, the evening’s legislative work.

For my part, I had planned to leave first thing the next morning to begin my journey home by way of a visit with my mother-in-law in Ojai. I could not, however, leave without returning to the House of Deputies the next morning to learn the vote. DO12 passed overwhelmingly! The tears welled up. Getting up to leave, I was exchanging farewell hugs with my transgender sisters and brothers, when Dee and World Missions Chair Gay Jennings rushed from the floor to join us. Squeezing out a feeble “Thank You,” I turned and walked through a now silent lobby and, stopping only long enough to share my joy with three new deacons, traced a well-worn path to the Travelodge…my car…and home
I was home a day on Friday when I got the telephoned news from Cam that the bishops had passed DO12 following what Episcopal Life called a “lively debate” – a debate that included supportive statements by Cam’s Bishop Tom Shaw and my Bishop Marc Andrus.
At home I also learned that our resolutions on ENDA, on non-discrimination in the hiring of transgedender lay employees, and on making church forms more trans-friendly had also been approved with flying colors. I learned, however, that there had been a long and contentious debate about changing Canon III concerning ordinations (our original CO61). The bishops could not bring themselves to add gender identity or expression to the list of classes that could not be excluded from the ordination process. Instead, by a very split vote, they eliminated any mention of any specific group and bounced back to the World Missions Committee and thence to the House of Deputies a resolution that opened the ordination process to “all baptized Christians.” With TranEpiscopal’s support, that was voted down in the House of Deputies in the hope that three years hence, after further education, we might succeed in getting “gender identity or expression” added explicitly to the canon.

Despite this last minute disappointment, we succeeded in getting four trans-important resolutions passed and the canon change is now on our horizon and the bishops’ radar screens. Above all we incarnated an otherwise abstract issue and educated a broad spectrum of the church about the reality of our lives. I have little doubt that, by continuing a visible presence in the councils of the church and ramping up our education efforts, we will, three years hence in Indianapolis, complete the job of fully including transgendered people in the life of the church.


This has been an important, inspiring start for TransEpiscopal and, as we look forward to Indianapolis and beyond, it is worth noting a little noticed Eucharist held in a small Integrity meeting room at the Courtyard Marriott the evening of Saturday, July 10.

Seeking to mark the departure the next morning of one of our team members Gari Green, we decided to hold a first Transgender Eucharist at General Convention. We were encouraged by our Integrity allies, especially Jim Toy, who recalled the first Integrity Eucharist in 1988 attended in just such a room by a handful of people.

And so we gathered – about twenty of us. Gari, assisted by Cam and Michelle, presided, I served as deacon, and Donna read the first lesson. In lieu of a sermon, everyone in the room reflected on the experience of the previous few days and the importance of what had already transpired to their own spiritual lives and to that of the church. We then formed a circle and passed the bread and cup to each other…one bread, one cup, one family.

Of all the splendid Eucharists that graced convention, including the Integrity Eucharist that had grown to 1,500 people, this was the one I will remember most. It is a memory I have carried home and will carry with me the rest of my life. It is a special memory of a time and place in which ours lives became more fully a part of the life of the church and an earnest that that communion will become fuller still.

By Vicki Gray


I am stunned. I have actually become increasingly stunned over the last 2 weeks or so. And that comes from a woman who prides herself in being able to "roll with the punches." I have had a lot of practice at that.

When I arrived in Anaheim on the afternoon of 7/6 I had no idea what to expect. Certainly we would testify. We would witness to our reality. But, accomplish anything. I had my doubts. My daughter calls me a cynic. I prefer "realist", as a descriptor. I found it necessary to leave on 7/12. Time to go back home, back to work, and to follow the events and those I had come to love from a distance.

Still I sit here on 7/17, the last day of the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, stunned, bemused, grateful, joyous, and above all thankful. The Spirit took the willingness of people to stand in their own truth's, not just us, but all those willing to stand and say as Luther did, "I can do no other", and blew through this institutional gathering with a freshness that happens only seldom in a lifetime. I clearly acknowledge there are those brothers and sisters in Christ who may disagree. Since we are now coming close to standing on level ground, we can certainly continue the conversation in that fashion.

I have long since lost track of the alphabet soup that corresponds to the various resolutions that received our testimony and support, but they have passed one after another in both houses of our beloved church, and by substantial margins in both houses.

All this will need to unfold in actual practice. As has been noted elsewhere we still have miles to go, but this General Convention was certainly a milestone in that journey. Yes, there are those that maintain the moratoria laid out in BO33 continues, but even that voice seems to be strangely muted.

I look forward to continuing this wondrous journey with the brothers and sisters I have known for some time and those sisters and brothers I met in the last couple weeks. .

The Rev. Gari Green

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Concluding Press Conference Comments on Transgender Related Resolutions

At the conclusion of the 76th General Convention, Neva Rae Fox, Program Officer of the Office of Public Affairs at the Episcopal Church Center, led the final press conference. Answering questions were the President of the House of Deputies, Dr. Bonnie Anderson, the Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the Bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, the Rt. Rev. Jon Bruno.

I was very grateful to Integrity USA for using one of their two questions to ask the panel about the historic passage of transgender specific resolutions.

The video of the press conference is embedded in the below post with TransEpiscopal's and Integrity's press releases, but because the trans question was the penultimate one, and because I have found the video difficult to scroll through, I have transcribed the question and responses below.

Anaheim, CA
July 17th


Rachel Swan with Integrity USA. I’m wondering if any of you—all of you—can comment on the passage of the resolutions that deal with advocacy for transgender people, kind of a first for our church.

Neva Rae Fox: Thank you. Bishop Bruno?

Rt. Rev. Jon Bruno:

Well, transgender people are part of the congregations in this diocese, and they’re part of the world community. And it’s a good thing that we’re dealing with this openly. We need to talk about the fact that humanity is different wherever you go, and that we are all called to be loved as children of God, and dealt with, with equity and love.

Dr. Bonnie Anderson:

Let me just add that in the House of Deputies we had testimony from transgender persons. It was very moving. It was very well received in the House of Deputies. I believe that it helped us to see and learn about that particular way of being. We welcomed that and did pass resolutions to include all people, including transgender persons.

Monday, July 20, 2009


What follows is the testimony of Vicki Gray before the Committee on National and International Affairs on DO12 concerning transgender civil rights:

I have been shouted at by angry, threatening men in a shopping mall.

I have had rocks thrown at me from a passing pick-up truck on the Golden Gate Bridge.

With the San Francisco Night Ministry, I have repeatedly encountered my transgendered sisters and brothers on the corners of Polk Street or Larkin…selling their bodies at two o’clock in the morning, because they have no other way to support themselves.

And I know that my transgendered brothers and sisters are killed in this country at the rate of one a month.

A few years back I attended the funeral of a young teen, Gwen Araujo, who was killed in Newark, California just because she was transgendered.

Also at that funeral were the “Rev.” Fred Phelps and his followers, shouting through their bullhorns “Gwen is burning in hell!”

As fate would have it – God’s serendipity – the students at Gwen’s Newark High School were at the time in the midst of rehearsing “The Laramie Project,” which features a chorus of angels. The members of that chorus came to the funeral in their angels’ garb – white robes and wings – and formed a cordon from the street to the church entrance to protect Gwen’s mom Sylvia and the other mourners from Phelps’ haters.

I tell you all this to impress upon you how vulnerable transgender people are to hate, discrimination, and violence. We desperately need the added protection that would be afforded by our inclusion in hate crimes and employment discrimination legislation.

I come before you to urge your support for two resolutions before you that would put our church on record in support of such legislation.

For me, this is not an abstract issue. It is a matter of life and death.

In closing, let me say I have heard those who have told us to “wait your turn.” I have also heard those who have advised us to “accept half a loaf.” To them and to you, I ask: “Do I look like half a human being?”

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Advent Approaches in the Episcopal Church

I’m on the plane heading back to Boston. It’s a quiet ride but for the man who just woke me up with his loud guffaws at Monsters vs. Aliens, but no matter. I haven’t had this much time to be quiet or really think in a number of days. My brain is full. I ran into Dante Tavolaro in the airport, looking for lunch, and as we waited in line for the most expensive McDonalds burger I’ve ever eaten, he exclaimed, “I am so tired of the letters LGBT. Right now I don’t want to hear a combination of letters remotely close to them-- BLT, you name it.” The woman in front of him secretly smirked. Later, at my gate, I overheard a woman behind me (and, I assume, on this flight) telling someone on the phone, “I can’t even think about going to church on Sunday!” Yep, we’re all tired—LGBT-ed/churched (even ubuntu-ed) out. But I have to say, my exhaustion is happy.

I don’t know how people away from the Convention have perceived it, but from where I sit, I feel like the Episcopal Church just turned a major corner. I feel an overwhelming sense of relief. For so long, questions and conflicts over a combination of gender and sexuality, refracted in confusing ways through our colonial legacy, have paralyzed us as a denomination. B033, the resolution that three years ago essentially imposed a moratorium on the consecration of LGBT people to the Episcopate, has now been superceded. And while it will take the actual election, consent and consecration of an openly LGB and/or T person as a bishop to complete the ending of that moratorium, to concretely embody our forward movement as a church, to my mind and those I have conversed with these last few days, we have prepared the way for that to happen. We are ready. It’s as though as a Church, we have been stuck in the latter part of the liturgical year, the days leading up to Advent when the readings assigned in the lectionary are peppered with weeping and gnashing of teeth. And now we are approaching the threshold of Advent. I am so ready for the fulfillment of that hope.

For those of you who have been following the bigger LGBT picture at this Convention, you will also know that in addition to D025, which supports an inclusive ordination processes for ALL orders of ministry, we passed C056, which officially moves us forward on blessing the marriages, domestic partnerships and civil unions of same sex couples. The short story on this matter is that in dioceses around the country we have been doing such blessings for years. It’s the official sanctioning of that work, and the official designing or gathering of such services on which the Church has been stalled. Now, with C056, we are finally beginning to move forward on this practice as a whole Church.

And obviously, if you have been following this blog, by now you know that at this Convention we made stunning progress on transgender issues. As we look back on the work of this Convention, I think it will be important to see this progress in the larger context of the forward movement via D025 and C056. But I also think our progress was part of the spirit of openness and relationality, and indeed of intentional, focused storytelling that were themes of this Convention (not to mention humor, as several bishops displayed during their session Friday). The spirit of the indaba groups that were featured at last summer’s Lambeth Conference also feels connected to this trend. People were careful not to demonize one another in their disagreements. People attended to one another’s humanity. Those of us who testified on the transgender related resolutions benefited from and, I hope and believe, contributed to that spirit.

And that is as it should be. That kind of attentiveness to one another’s humanity is at the heart of the Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church, which asks, “will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” and “will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?” The answer to these questions may seem easy, but sometimes they are not — which is why the response given in the Book of Common Prayer is “I will, with God’s help.” This Christian life we are about is a spiritual discipline that we all pledge to take up upon entry into this beloved community. And I know in my very gut that when we live into that discipline, when we do, with God’s help, we grow. Advent approaches indeed.


“Naming, Naming is Very Important”

An unbelievable four trans-positive resolutions passed at this General Convention. Two of them (D090 and D032) have been mentioned in earlier blog posts. But what happened with D012 and C048 in the House of Bishops? In the rush of Convention’s completion, grabbing a moment to give a detailed report on the unfolding of their passage proved impossible.

Just to be clear about their distinctions, D012 put the Episcopal Church on record in a broad support of non-discrimination and hate-crimes legislation at municipal, state, and federal levels. C048 spoke to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) currently pending in Congress. Both of these resolutions passed, but in different ways.

I had expected D012, which passed resoundingly in the House of Deputies earlier in the week, to come up in the House of Bishops on Thursday, but that didn’t happen. This made me worry it could slip through the cracks, as some legislation can in the massive crunch of this ten-day event. After the bishops’ session ended on Thursday, I approached my bishop, Tom Shaw, to ask if he might be able to help me locate it. He connected me with Bishop Johnson of West Tennessee who represented the official Dispatch of Business committee for the House of Bishops (the House of Deputies has a parallel person). Bishop Johnson took me to the office of the Secretariat of the House of Bishops, where I ran into two fellow Bryn Mawr graduates, one of whom was working for the office. We took a picture of ourselves in our bemusement. With the help of this office and the parallel office of House of Deputies and Bishop, we found the crack into which the resolution had fallen. And so, after some extra running around, D012 came up during the morning session of the House of Bishops on the last day of the Convention.

As it so happened, I was out of the room when the debate began, and I now know from viewing the notes of my fellow Integrity Legislative Team tracker, that my own bishop Tom Shaw, spoke first in support. I so wish I could have heard that. As I walked in, Bishop Love of the Diocese of Albany was speaking against the resolution. He had no issue with the nondiscrimination language, but wanted to remove the language of “hate crimes.” His concern was that preaching against particular “lifestyles” on moral grounds could be construed as a hate crime. He did not, however, move an amendment.

Bishop Marc Andrus spoke strongly in favor of the resolution, as he had with C061. He began by emphasizing how this resolution differed from C061. This was about basic civil rights for transgender people—nondiscrimination in the workplace, access to education and public accommodation, extra resources to law enforcement when investigating a hate crime. He spoke of the vulnerability of transgender people to job loss and violence. He was impassioned and eloquent. Bishop Andrus has been such an amazing ally throughout this Convention.

Bishop Barbara Harris, retired suffragan bishop of Massachusetts and one of my personal heroes, then spoke in favor of the resolution. She underscored the vulnerability of trans people to violence and in particular the high death rate around the globe.

Bishop Catherine Roskam of New York then spoke in favor of the resolution, including the hate crimes language, arguing that it was important for this resolution to have that specific language because of the profound vulnerability of trans people. She went on to say she knew from personal experience that this was not only an issue in the United States but also around the Anglican Communion. She had visited a congregation in India that has a partner relationship with a congregation in her diocese. This Indian congregation has a ministry to transgender people there, and she knows from visiting that they too are a vulnerable population. I have heard of this congregation and its relationship and was so glad to hear the bishop bring it to the House’s attention.

Bishop Catherine Waynick of Indianapolis then rose to speak in support of D012. She began by saying that she had felt some tension within herself about the way their previous discussion of C061 had used the term “all.” "All" does not means "all" to everyone. There was a time, she said, when we thought the word "mankind" meant everyone. Except we all knew when it didn’t. We need to be specific, she said.

Bishop Otis Charles, retired bishop of Utah, then spoke in favor of the resolution. He spoke as an openly gay man, having come out in recent years, after his retirement. From that perspective he underscored both the vulnerability and invisibility of trans people. He called on people to ask themselves what and whom they fail to see. He told of a time when he was dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, when a student had requested not to sing a particular hymn in the chapel. He had no idea what could be wrong with the hymn, only to realize as they went ahead and sang it that it was riddled with masculine pronouns. He had not previously been able to see to what made student object. “I know in myself I have been blind, and naming, naming is very important,” he concluded.

Bishop Charles turned out to be the last speaker. I have no doubt that Bishop Gene Robinson also would have spoken in support, as he did with C061, but he was in bed with a terrible fever for two days, and could not be present.

At this point, someone called the question, and a vote was held. It was nearly unanimous — I could only hear one “no.”

In my notes, I wrote “THANK GOD!!!”

After the session ended, Donna and I tried to personally thank everyone who had spoken in favor of the resolution, as well as others who had helped us in various ways along the road. I thanked Bishop Shaw and Bishop Barbara Harris, as well as my suffragan bishops, Gayle Harris and Bud Cederholm, for their support. Donna thanked bishops she has known from her time in the Diocese of Newark. We looked for Bishop Andrus, who was so very supportive throughout the Convention, but we missed him. We thanked Bishops Charles, Roskam and Waynick, as well as Bishop Chane of Washington D.C. who co-chaired the committee from which this resolution emerged. I was particularly moved when he spontaneously gave us a hug.

After descending the escalators once more, Donna handed me notes for the beginnings of a press release, which I completed later in the day. We then gave each other a big hug before Donna headed off to the airport. Donna is the one who got TransEpiscopal going after beginning to connect with other transgender Episcopalians in 2004, including some who had been involved in previous General Conventions, and this Convention marks a huge milestone in these efforts.

I was even happier to be able to leave her a voicemail later in the afternoon, letting her know that C048, the ENDA resolution, passed the House of Bishops without any further discussion. That marked the fourth and final transgender related resolution to pass at the 76th General Convention.

There was one last stressful moment before it was all over for this triennium, however—a coda of sorts. Resolution C061, as you may recall, had passed by a respectable margin in the House of Deputies, only to be transformed in the House of Bishops a day later. Not only had the language of “gender identity and expression” been taken out of the proposed addition to the nondiscrimination canon, but all the categories already listed in the canon were now threatened if the House of Deputies concurred. Our fear was that there might be some confusion in the House of Deputies about what they should do. We tried to get the word out that our preference was for them not to concur, so that the resolution would essentially die and we could try to add the trans-inclusive language again in three years.

Because the Deputies worked so efficiently, the resolution did indeed come back up in the late afternoon, just before the Convention drew to a close. I didn’t get down the escalator in time to hear the debate but learned that Dante Tavolaro had spoken and clarified our position about the resolution. I also understand that, among other speakers, at least one spoke in favor of concurrence. But the Deputies thankfully did not vote that way.

And that marked the end of our General Convention saga.


(with thanks to deniray mueller of Integrity's Legislative team for allowing me to check my notes against hers, and to Jon Richardson, also of the legislative team, for the photo of TE folks with Bishops Shaw and Harris)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

There and Back Again

I along with seven companions have traveled to a strange land, filled with the fearsome Smog. We were seeking a great treasure. There were challenges all along the way, but in the end we achieved great things. Sound a little familiar? Well there were no wizards, no Hobbits, no Dwarfs and no Dragon. We were not in Middle Earth, but at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. A small group of Transgender Clergy and Laity brought Transgender issues in front of the Church in a way that had never happened before. The General Convention happens every three years and consists of lay and clergy delegations along with their Bishops from each Diocese of the Episcopal Church. At the last Convention only one of our number attended for even a short while. That was the beginning. This year eight members of TransEpiscopal were there. Seven resolutions were presented and four of them passed. Since some of the resolutions were redundant only one remains a disappointment, changes to the Canon on Ordination.

What can we make of this development? Our treasure is a church that is more open and more caring. Along the way we met loving friends and allies and we didn’t find hate and prejudice. This is very special since all too often Transgender people find hate, intolerance and prejudice. The Episcopal Church is truly becoming a church of openness, tolerance and an instrument of God’s love. As a Priest in the Church and a Transgender person myself, I find all this extremely hopeful. My ordination and my ministry and my commitment remain intact and are in a way validated (I have been ordained the longest of any of the group, having been ordained to the Priesthood 38 years ago.)