Sunday, July 19, 2009

“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 Dee 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.

CP

(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)

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