Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stirring Letter from a Retired Bishop

As I scanned the letters to the editor in the Boston Globe this morning, I was happily surprised to come across one by the retired bishop of Ohio, the Right Reverend J. Clark Grew, who now lives in Boston.

It reads as follows:

Gay themes tend to stir wrath of some on Capitol Hill
December 21, 2010

I WRITE to thank Sebastian Smee for his excellent Dec. 16 piece “Offensive? ICA lets the public decide,’’ about the removal of a video from a gay-themed exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It is a sad occasion when art in our country’s museums, much less anywhere else, is subjected to the political and religious right’s blatantly homophobic manipulations.

I agree with Smee’s emphasis that the public should decide what is or isn’t art, but there is another article that needs to be written, and that is one about the ongoing and increasingly nasty gay-lesbian-transgender-bashing that is so prevalent with some members of Congress.

The Right Rev. J. Clark Grew, Boston

The writer is a retired bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The Globe editorial that Bishop Grew refers to responds to the decision by Boston's Institute for Contemporary Art (and several other museums around the country) to show a video installation that was removed December 1st from an exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery entitled "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture." On the Smithsonian's website, the exhibit is described as "the first major museum exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture," considering "such themes as the role of sexual difference in depicting modern America; how artists explored the fluidity of sexuality and gender; how major themes in modern art—especially abstraction—were influenced by social marginalization; and how art reflected society’s evolving and changing attitudes toward sexuality, desire, and romantic attachment."

The offending video was created by New York based artist David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) in 1986-87 in response to the death of his partner, Peter Hujar, from AIDS-related complications, and from his own diagnosis with the virus that would ultimately take his life at the age of 37. The Smithsonian's version of the video (now having gone viral on youtube in the wake of this debate), which Smee describes as "a four-minute, surrealistic montage of footage shot in Mexico called 'Fire in My Belly,’" includes, among a number of other images, "intermittently recurring footage of ants crawling on a small painted crucifix that lies on the ground." Smee goes on to point out, "when it comes to representations of Christ’s death, the Christian tradition is full of base and wretched imagery, as anyone who has seen Matthias Grünewald’s shudderingly graphic “Isenheim Altarpiece’’ in Colmar, France, or for that matter Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion,’’ would know."

The Smithsonian decided to remove the video after being pressured by members of Congress and the president of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue. As Jacqueline Trescott reports in the Washington Post, the significance of this "skirmish" is that it "could forecast a renewed battle over arts funding when the Republican-led House takes over in January." Hollad Collard also notes in the New York Times that in this episode, "history is repeating itself, with variations;" in 1989, Wojnarowicz won a suit against Donald Wildmon, a Methodist minister who had disseminated to members of Congress a pamphlet with selective images from Wojnarowicz's collages, targeting his partial support by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Wojnarowicz may no longer be able to defend his work, but plenty of people are stepping into the fray.

Noting the protests that have proliferated since the removal of the video, Bill Donohue has now commented in a December 17th press release, "The artist who gave us the ant-crawling video, David Wojnarowicz, died of AIDS. So did his lover, Peter Hujar. Mapplethorpe died of AIDS, too. And now those who adore them are taking to the streets on their behalf. Think I'll just watch the Giants—kickoff is at 1:00 p.m."

Reading this comment, just days after the Senate's historic vote to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, it's impossible not to be reminded how much the struggle continues. And a huge part of that struggle is making sure that "the church" or "the religious" does not get monolithically represented by such voices.

Which brings me back to the profound sense of gratitude I felt this morning when Bishop Grew's letter showed up on my front porch, like a surprise Christmas present wrapped up in a newspaper.

The story of this video skirmish may feel more like Lent than Christmas, and yet in the end to me it serves as a reminder of the messiness of Incarnation, and of the critical importance of solidarity and hope in a season of intense joy and need.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Rev. David Weekley on Reviving the Conversation

This article and its photos are reposted from the United Methodist Church's media page, under the heading "Transgender Pastor Urges Sexuality Debate". Rev. David Weekley, whom I met at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference in 2009, is one of at least two ordained transgender ministers in the United Methodist Church.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

1:00 P.M. EST Nov. 18, 2010

The Rev. David Weekley prepares the elements for Holy Communion on his first Sunday morning at Sellwood United Methodist Church in Portland, Ore. A UMNS photo by Tina Todd, Sellwood UMC.

The Rev. David Weekley thinks it’s difficult for the church to have meaningful conversations about sexual and gender identity.

So, for years, the Portland, Ore.,-based United Methodist pastor, husband and father of five kept his own secret about having been born a girl but never feeling like one. Then, on Aug. 30, 2009, he decided it was time to start telling the story of his experience as a transgender man, beginning with his own congregation.

Now, Weekley wants to widen the discussion about sexuality throughout the denomination, despite what he perceives as an increasing reluctance to discuss such issues. The recent refusal of the United Methodist Judicial Council to reconsider its 2005 decision upholding a pastor’s right to reject someone as a member of his church is an indication of the urgent need for conversation, he said.

He has even written a book about his own experience, now in the final editing stages, which he hopes can be used as a conversation starter once it is published by Wipf and Stock of Eugene, Ore.

Some church members believe there has been more than enough conversation on the topic. The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, a United Methodist pastor from Wisconsin and a representative of Good News, an unofficial United Methodist evangelical caucus, said “the continued focus on sexuality issues” is a reflection of western culture rather than a theological imperative.

“What we need to focus on is becoming disciples of Jesus Christ and living that out in a variety of ways,” he added.

Conversation, however, can take issues of sexuality out of the cerebral and into the personal, says the Rev. Troy Plummer, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network. While some segments of society, as well as some churches, are having those conversations, “it mostly feels like the church wants to avoid conflict and discomfort” on issues of sexuality, he noted.

Such discomfort is familiar to Weekley, one of the few transgender pastors in The United Methodist Church. The denomination’s book of law currently has no prohibitions against ordaining transgender persons, and Weekley remains in good standing with the Oregon-Idaho Annual (regional) Conference.

Making the change

His own transformation – from female to male and from alienated Christian to ordained pastor – began in 1972, when the 21-year-old started the gender-reassignment process at University Hospitals in Cleveland. After completing the medical transition in 1975, he attended graduate school at Miami University of Ohio and started searching for a faith community.

Walking into a United Methodist congregation in Oxford, Ohio, and, like John Wesley, finding “my own strange warming of the heart experience there” on World Communion Sunday was the first step in Weekley’s faith journey, he recalled.

Volunteers from the Sellwood United Methodist Church and community cleaned the church kitchen in preparation for the Northwest Gender Alliance Thanksgiving Dinner. A UMNS web-only photo by Tina Todd, Sellwood UMC.

The journey took him from serving as a volunteer at the campus ministry center to studying at Boston University School of Theology to beginning the ordination process in 1982. He became an elder in the Oregon-Idaho Conference in 1984.

Weekley said he never buried his former identity, but often wrestled with the issue of when and how he should share his story.

“One of my hopes was by working quietly with people, trying to be a good pastor, it would give people a lot of opportunity to get to know me as a pastor.” Then, when he did share his story, he reasoned, “it would have a positive impact.”

A 2008 pilgrimage to Minidoka, a World War II internment camp in Idaho – with members of Weekley’s mostly Japanese-American congregation at Epworth United Methodist Church in Portland – made him start to think it might be the right time to go public about being a transgender man, especially since his children were now young adults and able to understand it.

“At the internment camp, I saw the impact of being able to talk about their lives and laugh and cry together about their experiences,” he said. “That congregation seemed like a place that could resonate with my experience.”

Indeed, the congregational support was immediate. “The day of the service, people broke into applause at the end of my message.” Later, however, a small group of members seemed to complain more often to him. “I was never sure whether it had to do with my being transgender and sharing that … but it eventually led to my decision that it was best to move,” he said.

Reviving the conversation

Today, Weekley appreciates being in a two-point charge – Sellwood and Capitol Hill churches in Portland – where members were aware of his transgender identity right from the start.

Since his revelations in 2009, the transgender pastor has received hundreds of responses “from people all over the country, even outside the country, telling their stories to me, thanking me for speaking for them.”

What troubles him is probably 90 percent “had their own stories of feeling estranged and alienated from their faith communities.”

Weekley was disappointed when the denomination’s top court declined to reconsider Judicial Council Decision 1032 at the end of October. Decision 1032 stated that a United Methodist pastor has the right to determine local church membership, even if the decision is based on the person’s sexual orientation.

The Rev. David Weekley speaks at an “All Means All”
training event in Eugene, Ore. A UMNS web-only
photo courtesy of Deborah Maria.

While he understands not wanting to usurp the authority of the pastor, “when I think about the bigger picture, I wonder if the case would have been the same if it had been about ethnicity or race or gender,” he said.

“As a pastor, I can’t imagine telling someone who wants to be part of our faith community that they weren’t welcome,” he added.

Lambrecht, who had participated in the Judicial Council’s oral hearings on the matter, said he felt the council acted with integrity “in terms of upholding church law and recognizing the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial areas of our church.”

Evangelicals are satisfied with the church’s current positions on human sexuality, he said, but he expects that efforts will be made to change those positions at the denomination’s 2012 legislative assembly.

“The continued discussion of this issue, we feel, detracts from focusing on more important issues like the Call to Action report and the movement of encouraging vital congregations,” Lambrecht said.

The Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial group that advocates for United Methodists of all sexual orientations, filed briefs related to several of the petitions before the Judicial Council. Plummer argued on the organization’s website that undoing a judicial decision such as Decision 1032 falls within the bounds of the council’s work.

“This intentional refusal to right an obvious wrong is the latest act of discriminating hurt directed by The UMC toward LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people,” he declared.

Weekley wishes the denominational discussion on sexual identity would adhere more closely to the Wesleyan quadrilateral, which uses scripture, tradition, reason and experience as a basis for theological reflection.

He believes the church is ignoring the current scientific research related to the issue of choice and the origins of sexual orientation and gender identity. “It seems that reason and experience are missing from this conversation,” he said.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Light Shining in the Darkness: Transgender Day of Remembrance in Boston

Early yesterday evening, as the nearly full moon rose above the Boston Common, my partner, our thirteen-month-old and I headed to dinner with a friend and then wandered around the corner for Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). Upon arriving at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, I was amazed at how many people were already there, even a half hour before the start of the event. Before the night was over, between 325-350 people would crowd into the space, including the balcony (and I got those numbers from the ultimate source, Jim Woodworth, one of the cathedral’s longtime sextons).

One of my favorite things about TDOR is the way it draws people together—I love touching base with people I haven’t seen in a while, and this year I was struck by the variety of contexts from which I knew people: from the Greater Boston trans community, current and former students, and Episcopalians from the Diocese of Massachusetts. In the latter category was the Reverend Stephanie Spellers, priest and lead organizer of the Crossing, and Penny Larson, drummer for the music team of the Crossing, which for the second year in a row hosted an open mic on Thursday for the local collaborative “Transcriptions.” Penny gave some very moving remarks later in the event, which are reposted below.

Also present at TDOR for the first time this year was my bishop, the Right Reverend M. Thomas Shaw III. He had just come from a eucharist celebrating the 100th anniversary of the clothing of the sisters of St. Anne-Bethany, and was present to deliver a welcome message.

When the MC for the evening, Mesma Belsare, called Bishop Shaw forward, I have to say my heart was absolutely pounding, and I found myself wondering why. I think it was because of the intense way my worlds were intersecting in that moment. And while TDOR was hosted by my congregation over the last two years, and I myself spoke in the slot that +Tom was now occupying, last night’s intersecting worlds felt more intense to me. This was probably because the event was unfolding in this same space in which I was ordained in 2004 and 2005-- actually, as I write this, I’m realizing that last night I was sitting just about where I sat and then stood during my ordination to the diaconate, which +Tom did. But mainly I think I was nervous because I know that members of the trans community have been hurt very badly by people of faith, and especially by churches—in the name of my God. And I was, I admit, concerned that Bishop Tom not say anything to exacerbate that hurt.

He started out by saying that before he welcomed everyone, he wanted to offer an apology. He wanted to apologize for the way in which Christians in particular have hurt transpeople, how Christians have, as he put it, “misrepresented God” to transpeople. Then he went on to reference the work of trans people in this diocese, at which point he referenced me and my colleague Chris, both of us transmen and priests here. I was very moved and humbled by what he had to say about us. He went on to say that both the church(es) and the world are made more whole by the full participation of transpeople in their midst and in their lives. He closed by saying it was therefore a particular honor for the Cathedral to host TDOR.

The applause for +Tom was sustained and, I sensed, at least from those sitting around me, that people were quite moved and perhaps even a little surprised by their positive response to +Tom’s remarks. Of course I can’t know how anyone other than myself, and those who later commented to me, felt—but that was the sense I got.

A number of speakers got up and spoke from their hearts throughout the event, ranging from transpeople to non-trans allies. There were people who spoke of having avoided coming to TDOR in the past because it was too scary, or felt too potentially victim-oriented to them, but who now felt differently. Particularly moving to me were the remarks of young people—one non-trans twelve-year-old spoke of one of her parents, a transwoman, and how lucky she felt to have her as a parent. Two young transmen spoke about the importance of reaching out to trans youth, and to watch especially closely for warning signs of suicidality. Two parents of a young man who died here in MA a few years ago spoke very movingly about their commitment to and love of the community. Several people spoke of people they knew who had taken their own lives, or attempted suicide, and several people came out as suicide survivors. In the wake of the intense reflection in this country about LGBT suicides this fall, this sequence of speakers gave a very important reminder that the T is very much part—indeed, likely even more at risk – of this wider pattern. But risk and loss were counterbalanced by resilience: people spoke of how they have reclaimed their lives, and of how important it is to protect and nurture one another’s unique humanity. One person spoke of this need with beautiful metaphors of light.

That image resonated yet more at the conclusion of the event, when the huge group split into two for the candlelight vigil. One group went across the Boston Common to the State House to read the names of the dead and then walked to the gazebo at another spot on the Common for a final gathering, while the other group went directly to the gazabo. As the groups left, my partner and I decided we needed to take our wiggly little guy home, so after chatting with other stragglers for a few minutes, we gathered our things together and made our way to the back of the cathedral. As we exited the swinging glass doors and stood with Jim out on the cathedral steps, we watched a long train of candlelight slowly make its way across the common, majestically moving from the State House to the gazebo.

The light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.



Penny Larson’s remarks, which are also posted at her blog are below:

Good evening. Thank you for coming, and welcome to my home.

I showed up on these steps four years ago, less than six months after my transition, and I was welcomed as an equal sister. I drum here, and I worship here. The Crossing community has prayed for me and laid hands on me during my process. They have marched with me and lobbied with me. This past Easter Bishop Shaw received me into the Episcopal Church as I delivered the sermon during the Cathedral’s Easter Vigil. I feel blessed and humbled to be a part of The Crossing community, and I am profoundly moved that my family is helping to host this Transgender Day of Remembrance.

As you know, this is a somber time, when we remember those that have been lost in the last year to violence. Sometimes the price is high when one lives an authentic life. There is fear, and misunderstanding, and hatred. Whatever the number of people we recognize this evening as lost during this last year, I suspect that the true number is higher. We simply are the victims of violence far more often than could be explained by mere random chance. We are targeted.

I have a dear friend who wonders why we do this every year, I believe she says something to the effect that we are celebrating our victim hood. And I admit that the heaviness of this day weighs upon me, even though this is only my fifth Transgender Day of Remembrance. It might be easier to just let this day slide by with barely a notice, to pretend that a day to remember our dead was unnecessary. But then the easy thing isn’t always the right thing. So while I’m very happy to have been involved with a special open mic night co-hosted by The Crossing and Transcriptions as part of Trans Awareness week, which was far more positive and celebratory, I think the importance of this night can not be overstated.

This past August, I volunteered at the inaugural season of Camp Aranu’tiq, a camp specifically for trans and gender-variant kids between the ages of 8-15. I got pretty attached to those kids, and I’m sure I’ll be back next year. Those kids were amazing, and it was a joy to be around them. This is our next generation. Many of them were experiencing the thrill of being themselves for the very first time at camp. Those kids just want to live happy lives being the people they truly are.

But the reality is stark. And the world that exists presents all sorts of difficulties for those who are perceived as different from some arbitrary standard. I want the world that those kids grow into to be so much closer to perfect than the world I grew up in, and yes, even the world as it stands now. I want those kids to grow into a world where they won’t have to go to a camp to be met with unconditional understanding and acceptance. My mother, when I was very little, taught me to always know that I am no better than anyone else, and I am no worse. I believe that we can all live together, celebrating each others similarities while basking in our uniqueness.

And so it is on this night, more than any other, that it becomes of paramount importance that we stand to fear and hatred, whether from within or without, and refuse to be anything less than our full selves. It is on this night that we should embrace the rich diversity that exists within our world of community, allies, supporters, friends, family, and loved-ones. It is on this night that we must change the world.

Thank you for joining us!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Signs of Endings All Around Us: Transgender Day of Remembrance

This is a strange, liminal time in the liturgical year, when signs of endings are, as the hymn puts it, all around us, even as we look forward to the harbinger of hope and new birth soon to be announced in Advent.

For those of us in the trans community, this is a liminal time in another way—a time when we actively remember and face the ongoing reality of our vulnerability to violence and death, particularly for transwomen of color. And it is a time when we seek to galvanize ourselves and our allies, to take our horror, grief, and outrage and harness it for change. To that end, this Saturday, November 20th, marks the 11th annual, International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR).

Brief History

As it so happens, TDOR started with a local murder here in Boston. On November 28, 1998 Rita Hester was found dead, having been stabbed multiple times by an assailant who has never been identified. In the days following her murder, a vigil was held down the street from my former parish, St. Luke’s and St. Margaret’s in Allston, MA, where Rita lived. Across the country, San Francisco activist Gwen Smith then started the Remembering Our Dead website, which began keeping track of transpeople around the world who had died due to transphobic violence (that work is now carried on by Ethan St. Pierre at this site). Gwen also organized a vigil in San Francisco in 1999 that inspired similar events around the world. The most common date for holding TDOR, November 20th, marks the death of another Boston transwoman, Chanelle Pickett, who had been murdered on that date in 1995. TDORs now happen around the globe, and in some cases expand to include educational events. Here in Massachusetts, this is Trans Awareness Week, with multiple activities happening across the state.

What Your Congregation Can Do This Week

* go to a TDOR in your community and be an ally. Listen, support, be present as an ally

* host a TDOR in your community—more and more churches are opening their doors in this way, though the events themselves are not usually religious services. Indeed, it is important to be sensitive to the fact that many members of the trans community feel deeply alienated from religious traditions and communities. Simply opening your door, making space for the trans community to come together and organize its own event, is incredibly powerful. More and more Episcopal parishes and cathedrals are hosting these events-- here in Boston, for instance, TDOR will be hosted by the Crossing and the Cathedral Church of St. Paul this Saturday at 6pm). In Sacramento, California, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (@ 27th & Capitol) will be hosting the city's TDOR with a candlelight vigil at 6:30 p.m.

* Host another event in trans week (or at another time of the year), like an open mic night, or a film viewing.

* Consider making a special space in your service this Sunday to honor the trans community. Perhaps in your Prayers of the People, for instance, you might name those who have died this past year and/or compose a special collect; perhaps you might mention this event in a sermon—be creative, open and compassionate (and if you’re willing to then share what you did and how it went, it would be great to include such vignettes in future blog posts).

* However and whenever you are able, please pray for the trans community. Pray for our strength and stamina in this newly challenging political climate, as we continue to fight for basic nondiscrimination and anti-violence legislation, as we strive for equal access to health care, as we make our way in all sorts of vocations, families, and faith communities.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Over the Columbus Day weekend, October 8-11, I attended the Believe Out Loud Power Summit in Orlando, Florida, representing TransEpiscopal and, together with Oasis California chair Tom Jackson and St. Aidan’s San Francisco Rector Tommy Dillon, the Bay Area Oasis/Integrity community. It was an inspiring, empowering conference in which the transgender – and specifically TransEpiscopal – community was seen and heard…and welcomed as full participants. My participation was funded in good part by Integrity and Oasis and I am grateful to both.

The conference, sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources, brought together 300 members of eight mainline denominations. These included:

– the ELCA’s Lutherans Concerned;
– the UCC’s Coalition for LGBT Concerns;
– “More Light” Presbyterians;
– Gay and Lesbian Affirming Disciples (GLAD) within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ);
– the United Methodists’ Reconciling Ministries Network;
– the Welcoming Community Network of the Community of Christ;
– the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists; and
– our own Integrity.

The goal of the conference was to exchange denominational experiences of resistance and success and to explore collective values, vision, and modes of collaboration with an eye to increasing the number of Believe Out Loud (i.e., welcoming) congregations and developing LGBT leadership within our faith communities. The conference also provided a golden opportunity for networking across denominational lines and, in our TransEpiscopal case, within Integrity and in the transgender caucus pulled together by Barbara Satin, Faith Work Associate of the NGLT’s Institute for Welcoming Resources. I and my Bay Area Lutheran colleagues, for example, cemented our ties and undertook to build a closer working relationship.

The Integrity contingent numbered about 60 people, including the new Executive Director Max Niedzwiecki, President Rev. David Norgard, Stakeholders Council Chair Rev. Susan McCann, and the entire Stakeholders Council. As a representative of TransEpiscopal, I participated in the Sunday evening meeting of the Council and the Eucharist presided over by Susan McCann.

Based on the discussions at the stakeholders council meeting and one-on-one conversations with Max, Susan and others, it is clear that Integrity and TransEpiscopal are very much on the same wavelength concerning issues facing us at the 2012 General Convention. In particular, we are of the same mind concerning revisiting CO61 which would add gender identity/expression non-discrimination to the ordination canon. There was also great receptivity to ensuring that the work underway to collect new liturgies for blessing same-sex couples be broadened to include rites to mark major steps in gender transition.

The transgender presence was visible and welcomed at the Summit and two trans people participated in the general worship service. Eight people attended the Saturday evening transgender caucus, including one gender queer person and the father of child just beginning the FtM transition. There were several other trans/gender queer people at the Summit who, perhaps less ready to come out, chose not to attend the transgender caucus.

Much of the weekend was devoted to attending one of the four break-out sessions offered on campaigns, communications, leadership development, and – the one I and sixty others attended – “Barriers, Resistance, and Conflict.” Spanning over nine hours in four sessions that stretched into the evenings, participants in the latter learned how to identify and deal with conflict and resistance in our congregations and the church at large. Though ample scope was given to differences in context and styles, emphasis was placed on graceful engagement.

Around the edges of the Summit, several organizations offered a variety of resources that might be helpful in congregational and denominational settings. Among those available from the NGLTF’s Institute for Welcoming Resources (http://www.welcomingresources.org/) were the visually stunning “Shower of Stoles” of LGBT clergy; a half-hour DVD “So Great a Cloud of Witnesses;” and “TransAction,” a down-loadable three-session “transgender curriculum for churches and religious institutions.” The Family Diversity Project also offered four exhibits/books: Love Makes a Family: Portraits of LGBT People and Their Families; In Our Family: Portraits of All Kinds of Families; Pioneering Voices: Portraits of Transgender People: and We Have Faith: Portraits of LGBT Clergy. The Project seeks new faces and stories to add to these exhibits. They can be contacted at www.familydiv.org.

Looking to the future, the next major event of this sort will be “Practice Spirit, Do Justice,” a national multi-faith gathering at the “Creating Change,” the National Conference on LGBT Equality in Minneapolis, February 2-6, 2011. Information on that conference is at www.CreatingChange.org. Also worth noting is the ongoing National Religious Leadership Roundtable of the NGLTF. You can find out more by e-mailing Dave Noble at dnoble@thetaskforce.org.

For its part, Integrity will be sponsoring a series of one-day “Believe Out Loud” workshops around the country. Information is available at www.integrityusa.org. In the Bay Area, Oasis California (www.oasisca.org) will team up with Integrity to hold a one-day training session for “Believe Out Loud”/Welcoming Congregations at St. Paul’s, Oakland on January 12. It is also planning a conference later in the year devoted to issues of aging in the LGBT community. Stay tuned.

In closing, it should be noted that the October 9-11 Believe Out Loud Power Summit in Orlando took place at a particularly difficult moment for the LGBT community, as news spread of the bullying, murders, and suicides that have afflicted our young people. Indeed, the uniformly positive media coverage of the conference focused on the reaction of conference participants to the horrible murders that had just unfolded in the Bronx. Typical was Orlando’s WESH-TV interview with Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, the NGLTF’s Faith Work Director (http://www.welcomingresources.org/videos.htm).

As Rev. Voelkel’s colleague Darlene Nipper told USA Today, the New York murders were “heavy on the minds” of those gathered in Orlando and “touched us all.” The names of the victims were read and silence observed at the opening worship October 9 and many participants recorded messages for the “It Gets Better” project.

And, thanks to the sort of solidarity exhibited in Orlando, it will get better!

Submitted by the Rev. Vicky Gray

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Stigma and the LGBT Suicides -- a View from Harvard

Reposted (and slightly updated) from the blog of the Harvard Episcopal Chaplaincy (where I am currently the Interim Chaplain) and Walking with Integrity:

Almost two weeks ago I made my way from the Episcopal Chaplaincy building on Garden Street, through the chill evening to Harvard’s Memorial Church. As I rounded the corner by University Hall, the light of over two hundred candles flickered ahead of me on the steps that face Widener Library, the same steps from which the liturgics of commencement are enacted every spring. This was a vigil to mark, cry out against and be galvanized by the recent rash of LGBT suicides across the United States over the last several weeks. This series of events, and the unprecedented public conversation that has circled about them, has been devastating to many in the Harvard community, particularly LGBT and allied students.

I came to this vigil to represent the Episcopal Chaplaincy (as indeed Episcopal Chaplains across the country have been responding to this rash of violence), which was one of several co-sponsors of the event, and to reach out to LGBT students across the University at this difficult time, letting them know that they are not alone. Voices of people of faith too often stoke the broader cultural dynamics of violence at the root of all of this, and it felt important to be visible as an Episcopal priest standing against that violence. I was also present as a Lecturer currently teaching—and having previously taught—a number of LGBT students deeply impacted by the rash of suicides. Though I’m not sure how many other chaplains were present (there was at least one other), I know I was far from the only professor or staff member there, and that sense of institutional solidarity and support moved me.

But it was also personally important to me to be there as someone who has experienced that broader culture of violence as a member of the LGBT community. Following the example of previous speakers, I spoke in the brief open mic period at the end of the vigil of coming out. In my case, I explained, I happen to have come out twice—first, my sophomore year of college as gay, and then in graduate school as a transgender man (having transitioned from female to male in 2002). I spoke of the importance of community, real community based on authentic relationships, and how important it is right now to reach out to one another across the borders—particularly of faith traditions — that too often separate us.

Two days before the vigil, the combination of the Sunday lectionary readings and the rash of suicides already had me thinking about what it was like to be a young person struggling with the intersection of faith and social stigma. The theme of leprosy in the lectionary readings inspired me to open my sermon with a story of how, when I was in fifth grade, I stumbled upon a library book, Damien, the Leper Priest about Damien de Veuster, a Roman Catholic priest (recently included in the new collection Holy Women and Holy Men) who had served a community living with what is now called Hansen’s Disease. Damien went to this shunned community, fought bureaucrats to get them basic living supplies, built them a physical infrastructure (water supply, housing, etc), bound up their wounds, worked to de-stigmatize the disease, and ultimately contracted it himself, dying as a “leper among lepers.” This was the one book report I did that year that really meant something to me (and the icon at left by Robert Lentz is one of my favorites) There was something about the shape of Damien’s ministry in relation to the dynamics of social stigma that rocked my ten-year-old world. It didn’t hurt that as a gender nonconforming kid, stigma was very familiar to me.

The intersection of stigma and faith emerged in another recent Harvard event, a Divinity School panel entitled “Queer Youth and Religious Debates Over Sexuality." When I arrived, I was struck first of all by the Harvard police who stood guard at the doors to the room where the panel was held. Even in its absence, this visible reminder of potential disruption felt overbearing; I could feel it actually raising my heart rate as I listened. While all the remarks were moving, I was struck particularly by those of Professor Mark Jordan who spoke of how “the fights about [LGBT youth] often try to claim them for one camp or another — either religious or queer, but rarely both.” This is one of the peculiar challenges for those of us who are indeed, and have long been, both.

And so as this moment of grief and anger— at Harvard and far beyond—begins to fade from media coverage, we must refuse to forget this episode. I don’t want any of us, whatever our age, sexual orientation, or gender identity, to lose sight of the violence—psychic and physical-- that underlies and emerges from the workings of stigma in all its forms. I'm particularly cheered to read the several statements that communities and individuals across the Episcopal Church have made (see Episcopal Cafe for a collection of them)-- reading them makes me grateful for the support I received as a young person, and galvanized to continue extending that support here and now.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hope for Trans Folk from Harvey Milk

I've just returned from a rally for transgender equality in front of the Massachusetts State House organized by Join the Impact Massachusetts. Today's event was part of a week-long celebration of the legacy of Harvey Milk, who would have turned eighty years old today, had he lived.

I was one of several people who spoke on a range of topics related to pending trans legislation, from an overview of the national and state movement for trans equality, to how we are all impacted by the gender binary, trans or not. After the speeches, we marched down from the State House, to Government Center, to Downtown Crossing and then back up the State House, providing Saturday shoppers with an unexpected interlude.

I pray and, in the tradition of Harvey, hope that our legislators will hear us and finally get ENDA and the Massachusetts Trans Civil Rights Bill out of committee and passed.


JTIMA Harvey Milk Day Rally for Transgender Equality
State House Steps, Boston, MA
Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hope from Harvey Milk

In his book The Mayor of Castro Street: the Life and Times of Harvey Milk, openly gay journalist Randy Shilts (may he rest in peace) described a San Francisco Sunday morning scene in 1978 when, with Harvey Milk sitting in the back pew, the Reverend William Barcus, priest of St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church, got up and denounced Proposition 6. This “Briggs Initiative” called for the removal of gay and lesbian people and possibly even their supporters from working in the California public schools. In an unusual move for a priest in that context, Barcus not only spoke of the God who stands with the marginalized, not only berated the fear-mongering, dehumanizing rhetoric of the Initiative and its backers, but he also witnessed to these truths with his own life, coming out as a gay man. He challenged people to, as he put it, “morally put yourself on the line, not after the fact, not after November 7th, but now” (pp. 241-242; for more on Rev. Barcus's sermon, see this LGBT chronology for the Episcopal Diocese of California by Rev. Kathleen McAdams).

On that morning I was across the Bay in Berkeley where I grew up, possibly in Sunday school, possibly sleeping in. I had no idea of the import of what was going on across the Bay and around my state. I was a shy new kindergartener, a little girl growing up to be a transman, a spouse, a dad, an academic and an Episcopal priest. What Harvey Milk inspired in William Barcus and countless others, I too came to appreciate as one who also knows something of what it feels like to be dehumanized.

What Harvey Milk goaded us into remembering with relentless wit and grit is the crucial importance of hope. Hope. “You gotta give ‘em hope,” he said again and again. He wasn’t the biggest fan of organized religion so-called, but by God he knew how to preach. Hope, he knew, is as essential to human life as the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. Without hope we shrink into ourselves, our capacities squandered, our stature cut short. Our ability to hope, as human beings, is intimately tied to our dignity.

When others deny transgender people our dignity, they attack the heart of our humanity. This happens as much in quiet, behind the scenes ways as in the bold, openly violent ways we mark every year at Trans Day of Remembrance. I am thinking of the violence of intentionally identifying us with wrong names and pronouns; the violence of quietly tossing our resumes in the proverbial circular file; of falsely telling us the apartment is already rented; of telling us we must wait our turn to ensure being treated with dignity and respect; and particularly in this climate, of shamelessly labeling legislation that would safeguard our basic civil rights a “bathroom bill.”

I’m honestly not sure how much transgender people were on Harvey’s radar in the late seventies, but I have no doubt that our struggle today would inspire and galvanize him. He would tell us that no matter what indignities we have suffered, no matter who might have rejected us, we do not have the option of giving up hope. In his Hope Speech, he said, “if there is a message I have to give… it's the fact that if a gay person can be elected, it's a green light. And you and you and you, you have to give people hope.” Harvey knew his election was a foot in the door for all who are marginalized. But he also knew that the hope he inspired was not automatic. It was something he called on each person in his audience to give. And I would submit, Harvey’s legacy renders that hope as something we must also claim.

The program for his memorial service at the San Francisco Opera House contained a line from Victor Hugo that he had recently hand-copied and posted on the wall of his office: “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come” (Shilts, 286). Trans people of Massachusetts, from around the nation and indeed the world, partners, allies, families and friends, lawmakers, people of all faiths: the time for full equality for transgender people has indeed come. The time is now for all of us — and particularly, I would say, for religious leaders of all traditions— to “morally put ourselves on the line,” as Reverend Barcus put it, for the dignity that is our birthright. The time is now for our legislators beneath this gleaming dome to finally take up the Massachusetts Transgender Civil Rights Bill, and for our legislators in Washington to take up ENDA, and pass them. Thank you.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Service-- and Sermon-- of Renaming

The week before last at my congregation, we celebrated in the context of the Sunday Eucharist the legal name change of a community member, Anderson Michael C. I put together a liturgy drawing from several sources, including Justin Tannis's book Trans-gendered: Theology, Ministry, Community, the Standing Commission on Liturgy Music's book called Changes: Prayers and Services Honoring Rites of Passage, and a prayer written by another parishioner who is working on a liturgy for people in transition.

In addition, Anderson preached the sermon and gave me permission to share it on this blog. Anderson also created the graphic (pasted below where it was in his original text) which he put on invitations to friends and community members, and which I also used on the cover of the worship booklet.


Sermon – Anderson C's Rite of Naming – 9 May 2010

I am very happy to see you all here today. It means a lot to be able to share this special day with you and celebrate the claiming of my name, so I thank you for coming. I also thank Cameron and you for giving me this opportunity to preach the sermon today.

I think we are fortunate to have this particular Gospel reading today from John: Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you… Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

With those words, the resurrected Jesus comforted the apostles just before he left them, and before they left each other to go out into the world and spread God’s word. I hope that we, too, can find comfort in those words for ourselves with whatever difficulties life presents as we go out and live in the world in our daily lives.

For me, one of the things I take with me when I go out from here will be my name, which I claim today. For you, the members of this congregation and also my friends who are here today for this Rite of Naming, I would like to offer to you my story because you all have played a part in it. And in this story is a lesson that I would like to share with you so that you can take it with you.

Last year at about this time, I was in this church for the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, and something happened to me that had never happened before in my life. As I listened to the words, the description of what Jesus endured that day had an impact that I had never felt before. Prior to last year, the readings were just a story, like in a novel or a screenplay. Intellectually, I understood the series of events and their significance, but emotionally, I never felt them, until last year. It was then that I could see the events in the context of Jesus as a real person rather than, as I had in the past, just a character in a story. I could feel His vulnerability and suffering even though I had not been able to before.

Similarly, just as I had felt the pain of Jesus’ crucifixion, I also experienced the glory of His resurrection days later. The questioning when the tomb was found empty, the surprise when He appeared in a locked room with the apostles, the skepticism of Thomas, the relief, happiness and wonder when they realized He had triumphed over death.

You might wonder why I hadn’t experienced this emotional connection to the humanity of Jesus until just last year at the age of 48, or why I was even detached from it in the first place. The answer is that this was a consequence of my being transgender.

For some people who grow up as transgender, they learn how to present a persona that the rest of the world wants to see. There are so many signals to children about how they should be as people, and for some transgender children, the signals can be that the person they really are is “bad.” For example, in kindergarten, I was once yanked by the sleeve from the line of boys waiting to use the bathroom (which is where I thought I should have been because, after all, I was a boy) and I was towed over to the line of girls. The teacher’s aide who did the yanking said to another, “She did it again! Why can’t her parents teach her which bathroom to use?” So with that little remark, I received the message that if I did what I felt inside, not only was I wrong, but my mom and dad were bad parents. That is a really difficult and confusing message for a five-year old to grapple with.

So what happens in some of these cases is that some transgender children, to the best of their ability, construct a persona that matches the name and sex on their birth certificate and that meets the expectations of everyone around them, especially the people they love and want to please most -- their parents and siblings, their teachers, their friends. In doing so, their true self can become buried inside, their emotions silenced for the sake of survival, and they sometimes are unable to feel.

I was unable to feel. The analytical left side of my brain put the smack-down on the emotional right side when I was a child and held onto control for dear life. I went through the decades as a detached observer of my own life rather than as a true participant. Loneliness came from the inability to feel not only what was going on inside of myself, but also the emotional connections that people in my life tried to make with me. Intellectually, I could see how I affected others and how they valued me, but I couldn’t feel it. And the worst part of all of it was that I didn’t know that I couldn’t feel it. I thought that seeing it was feeling it. So I took the role of the observer, and somehow made connections with people by mentally translating their actions into crude emotional representations.

That held true for God’s love as well. I would sometimes lay awake at night as a child and remember what I had been taught about God’s love, and I would close my eyes and try to feel it, because I knew that if I could, it would feel wonderful. When I was unable to connect with it, I comforted myself as best I could by knowing that Jesus said that he loves us and so it must be true.

Eventually when I got older, I left the church. That’s not a big surprise considering I could not emotionally tie into God’s grace or even really connect with the other members of the congregation. I didn’t lose my faith though. I thought about it, reasoned it, analyzed it, but couldn’t act on it. Eventually, after years of being away, I returned because of an ache for the spirituality and communion of religion.

I attended a church that was down the street from my house. I was content for a while and derived comfort from attending services and the occasional church event. Then one day during mass, a woman sitting near me refused to share with me the sign of peace. I watched her extend her hand to everyone around her but then she looked me in the eye as I extended my hand toward her and she refused to take my hand in hers. Now all my life many people have assumed, based on the way I presented myself, that I was a butch lesbian, and this woman might have had the same judgment of me. Certainly, the way she acted was not in keeping with Jesus’ own peace that he left with his apostles and with us, as we heard today. I left that church that day and didn’t go back.

It was around that time that I experienced a small event that led to a momentous epiphany. The small event was a cab ride in San Francisco – the cab driver called me “Sir.” I analyzed that small event for several weeks until, in a defining moment of clarity that came while I was washing the dishes at my kitchen sink, all of the puzzle pieces of my life that had been suspended in a disorganized floating jumble suddenly aligned and snapped together, forming a picture of my true self. My mind could no longer support the persona that I had built for myself over the decades, could no longer pretend to be the woman that I and everyone around me thought I was. I suddenly realized who I was not, and I also thought that I was the “wrong” kind of person. I had worked for 45 years to smother the true person I was, so accepting and loving myself was a concept that was foreign to me.

And so the real work began, peeling back the layers upon layers of persona to reveal the real me, a painstaking process in which I was engaged when I came to this church for the first time. I came after attending Transgender Day of Remembrance here in November of 2008. I had no church to call my own, this one looked really nice and I knew the vicar. With an ache to once again belong to a spiritual home, I contacted Cameron and asked him what time that services were held on Sundays.

As I continued to attend this church, with Cameron’s help, I had the courage to be here as my true self, and it was the very first time in my life I lived simply as me. I cannot even tell you how validating and affirming that was. But a funny thing was happening at the same time. Apparently, I began to matter. I didn’t realize it, but Cameron would tell me that I did. He would take me aside and try to point out the impact that I was having in this congregation, but I didn’t get it. I couldn’t feel it, and so I would brush aside what he was telling me. And then we would look at each other, both of us perplexed, he, I think, because he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t see what, to him, was so apparent, and me because I couldn’t understand how he could be so sure about something that I couldn’t feel myself.

At the same time, my therapist was working on a similar project, trying to help me realize that I mattered, that people cared about me and that I was deserving of their love. I didn’t feel that either. It bounced off of me because I was unable to let it in. How could I accept love from others when I couldn’t even love myself? But my therapist kept trying, coming at it from different angles and using different methods, trying to help me accept and care about myself and see my own value in the world.

There were also close friends in whom I had confided and told about my “situation,” members of a support network I had formed in order to stay afloat as I navigated the sometimes treacherous waters of this process of finding myself. Some of those people are sitting in this room today. And those people, by accepting me after I told them the truth about who I was, also, in their own way, gave me the freedom to be myself. Their acceptance, your acceptance, helped me to accept myself.

So there was a continuous stream of caring from all sides. From members of this congregation, from my therapist, from my friends, who all worked, knowingly or unknowingly, to eventually erode the shell in which I had been abiding. Without the shell, my emotions were exposed, raw and sensitive, but I could feel. In addition, I became able to accept myself and to love myself and thereby also allow the love from those around me to penetrate, to come inside and allow me to stand free in the warmth of love.

God has been patiently waiting for me while I have journeyed to this point. And today, like Simon Peter when he heard the Lord call, I swim to meet Him and I clothe myself in my new name, to present myself to Him, and to you, as my true self. I would not have been able to do so without all of you.

And now you know my story, how I came to this church in the fall of 2008, how one year ago, I came to more fully understand Jesus’ humanity, and how I have reached the point of claiming my name. With this story, as I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon, there is a lesson for all of us, including me, which is:
When you help someone to love them self, you give them the ability to feel the love of others and the love of God and to allow that love to enter into their heart.

This is what everyone in this room has done for me. You gave me your peace, my heart is no longer troubled or afraid, and I feel loved. In this way, I can claim my true name of Anderson Michael C. For this gift, I thank all of you.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bishops' Letter Contributes Momentum on Trans Civil Rights in MA

As the Massachusetts Judiciary Committee pushed back its deadline for reporting on the Transgender Civil Rights Bill to early June, Boston-based LGBT paper Bay Windows has reported on two new voices of support, Boston City Council and the letter sent last week by Bishops M. Thomas Shaw and Roy "Bud" Cederholm (Bishop Gayle Harris did not sign because she had not yet returned from a leave of absence). Read the whole article here. Excerpts are reposted below.

I would like to add that the article cites Virtue online as the place from which it got the text of the letter. Virtue Online reprinted without acknowledgment my exact post (which I posted with permission from the Communications Office of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts to three blogs: TransEpiscopal, Walking with Integrity, and the Interfaith Coalition for Transgender Equality). This made it look as if Virtue Online actually had permission to post the letter, which it did not.


Transgender Rights Bill receives more support, extended deadline
by Hannah Clay Wareham
Associate Editor
Tuesday May 11, 2010

Amid resolutions and commendations, hopes are high for bill to pass.

Support for "An Act Relative to Gender-based Discrimination and Hate Crimes" (S. 1687/H. 1728), known as the Transgender Civil Rights Bill, is growing in Boston. The City Council last week passed a unanimous resolution backing the bill and joined the Episcopal Diocese of Masscahusetts in publicly voicing their support. The Transgender Rights Bill will remain under consideration by the Judiciary Committee for at least another month.

Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), said that the organization "is grateful for the continued support of the Boston City Council and hopes that our state leaders will follow this wise example and extend civil rights to our state’s transgender citizens."

The Transgender Civil Rights Bill offers crucial employment protections for transgender people and outlaw anti-transgender workplace discrimination. If the bill is passed, the category of "gender identity and expression" will be added to the Massachusetts hate crime, employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and public education non-discrimination laws.

The legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary on May 6 extended the bill’s deadline, giving it at least another month to remain under consideration. The original deadline required that the bill be reported out of committee by May 7.

"As they say on ’Monty Python,’ we’re not dead yet," DeeDee Edmondson, political director of MassEquality, said. "The Judiciary Committee and our coalition [of organizations working together to pass the bill] now can get down to the business of producing a piece of legislation that can put transgender people back to work and bring stability and dignity to families throughout the Commonwealth."


On April 30, Episcopal Bishops M. Thomas Shaw and Roy "Bud" Cederholm of the Diocese of Massachusetts sent letters to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo urging the lawmakers to pass the Transgender Rights Bill. Attached were resolutions stating the full support of both the Episcopal Diocese of Masschusetts and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

"As bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, our eyes are open to the realities of transgender people and their families," Shaw and Cederholm wrote in the letter, which was subsequently printed by VirtueOnline.org. "Many of them serve faithfully in the congregations and ministries of our diocese, as lay people, as deacons, and as priests. They are dedicated and loving parents, children, siblings, friends, and community leaders."

The letter encouraged lawmakers to act quickly in passing the bill. "Adding gender identity and expression to the state’s nondiscrimination and hate crimes laws is no isolated concern of a special interest group," the letter read. "The disproportionate suffering of transgender people should grieve the hearts of all who love justice and liberty."

The Transgender Rights Bill received an intensified focus from a wide variety of mainstream media outlets after Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker pledged on Saturday, April 17, that he would veto the bill if elected.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

MA Bishops Send Letter to Legislators in Support of Transgender Nondiscrimination Bill

Bishops M. Thomas Shaw and Roy ("Bud") Cederholm of the Diocese of Massachusetts this week sent letters to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo pressing them to pass the state's Transgender Civil Rights bill. "An Act Relative to Gender-Based Discrimination and Hate Crimes" (House Bill #1728 and Senate Bill #1687) is slated to either make it out of the Judiciary Committee or die there for a third straight year this Friday, May 7th.

The bishops' letter follows unprecedented coverage of the bill by Boston area newspapers (including a supportive op ed by the Globe), after Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker announced that he would veto the legislation if it crossed his desk. His team handed out fliers referring to the legislation as "the bathroom bill," taking up the rhetoric of the virulently anti-LGBT group Mass Resistance (and groups battling similar legislation in other states) which tries to stoke fears that such legislation will make women and children vulnerable in bathrooms and locker rooms.

The bishops' letter (posted with permission) follows:

April 30, 2010

The Hon. Deval L. Patrick
Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
State House, Room 360
Boston, MA 02108

Dear Governor Patrick,

We write to express our strong support for an act to add gender expression and identity to our Commonwealth’s antidiscrimination and hate crimes laws, and to ask you to work to ensure its passage.

As bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, our eyes are open to the realities of transgender people and their families. Many of them serve faithfully in the congregations and ministries of our diocese, as lay people, as deacons and as priests. They are dedicated and loving parents, children, siblings, friends and community leaders. Again and again, we hear how they have struggled against incredible odds and pressures to be true to their identity as beloved children of God, made in the image of God.

It pains us that even as transgender people claim their identities and step into newness of life, they face discrimination and violence that undermines their human dignity. A November 2009 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 97 percent of respondents had been harassed or mistreated on the job, and 26 percent had been fired for being transgender. You will recall that in November 1998, an Allston transgender woman, Rita Hester, was murdered and her killer never found. This local tragedy led to an annual Nov. 20 international Transgender Day of Remembrance, for transgender people who have died, especially those who have been killed or taken their own lives. It is fitting that our state should model amendment of life and hope for a future that is better than this sad past.

Adding gender identity and expression to the state’s nondiscrimination and hate crimes laws is no isolated concern of a special interest group. The disproportionate suffering of transgender people should grieve the hearts of all who love justice and liberty. Both the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church are on record in support of full equality for transgender people (resolutions attached).

So many of the arguments against the full inclusion of transgender people in our society are driven by unfounded fear. Transgender people are simply seeking the removal of barriers that prevent them from flourishing as full members of and contributors to society. One need not fully comprehend what it is like to walk in their shoes to provide them with the protections every citizen—every person—is due. Please act to ensure their rights.


The Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE

The Rt. Rev. Bud Cederholm
Bishop Suffragan


Resolution D012: Support of Transgender Civil Rights

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church supports the enactment of laws at the local, state and federal level that a) prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or the expression of one's gender identity, and b) treat physical violence inflicted on the basis of a victim's gender identity or expression as a hate crime; and be it further

Resolved, That the Secretary of Convention convey this resolution to appropriate congressional leadership to the Chair of the National Governors Association, the President of the National Conference of State Legislatures, and to the President of the U. S. Conference of Mayors.

Voted by the 223rd Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, Nov. 7-8, 2008, Hyannis:
Resolution in support of transgender civil rights and inclusion in the ministries of all the baptized

Resolved, that the 223rd Convention of the Diocese of Massachusetts supports the enactment of laws at the local, state and federal level that a) prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or the expression of one’s gender identity, and b) treat physical violence inflicted on the basis of a victim’s gender identity or expression as a hate crime; and be it further

Resolved, that the Secretary of Convention convey this resolution to the Massachusetts State Legislature, and the Massachusetts representatives in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives; and be it further

Resolved, that this Convention submit to the General Convention the following resolution: Resolved that the words “gender identity and expression” be inserted into Title III, Canon 1, Sec. 2 directly following the words “sexual orientation” and before the words “disabilities or age.”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Observing Easter as Exodus

The following is a sermon that my seminarian for this year Kori Pacyniak and I composed and delivered together. We were inspired to do a combined sermon because of our discovery in conversation that we were both puzzled by the same, somewhat obscure, facet of Sunday's gospel passage. In addition, I had already planned to incorporate a story told by Rhiannon O'Donnabhain at an event we put on at St. Luke's and St. Margaret's to honor her and GLAD's February legal victory (which I mentioned in a recent blog post about recent major happenings in the transgender community). We shared Rhiannon's words in the sermon and in blog form with her permission.



St. Luke’s and St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church
Easter 3: Sunday, April 18, 2010
Cameron Partridge & Kori Pacyniak

An Exodus Observed

CP: Welcome to the third Sunday of Easter, day fifteen of the Great Fifty Days. In these poignant days we encounter again and again, in manners both mundane and mysterious, the reality of resurrection life. On Easter Sunday itself we stood before the empty tomb and met in the Gospel of Luke an exodus of the body. Last week in the Upper Room we stood in awe with Thomas and the terrified disciples and received an invitation into a body marked by exodus. This week, by the Sea of Tiberias, we observe an Easter exodus in progress. We watch as Peter responds to the revelation that Easter is neither something that simply happened to his beloved Jesus, nor something from which he should run away, but rather an event toward and into which he must move. Easter as exodus transforms resurrection into action, into movement outward, into freedom and newness of life. Peter enacts the dynamics of this Easter Exodus encounter with his very clothing; he must put on resurrection like a garment lest, as Paul puts it in Second Corinthians, he simply be found naked (2 Cor 5:3). And yet…

KP: What was the one line that leapt out at me when I looked at today’s readings? “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.” How could it be that I didn’t remember ever hearing this line before? I think I would have remembered something this odd and perhaps even shocking. Slightly disturbed by my faulty memory, I glanced through various translations and discovered that the version I would have grown up with did not mention nakedness at all. Was it really just a translation issue or did some authorities not want to deal with the questions that this would inevitably bring? Why was Peter naked while fishing and why did he put on clothes to go swim to the Lord? Though I have no answer to the first question, it seems less consequential than the second question. Why did Peter put on clothes before jumping into the water to swim to Jesus? It seems contrary to every aspect of common sense. It was just after dawn, the water would still be cold and more wet clothes would mean one would be colder longer. Generally speaking, you take off your clothes to go swimming. What was it about this instance, about being told that it was Lord on the shore that makes Peter seem to defy common sense and reason?

CP: Of course, I too was struck by — even stuck on — Peter’s nakedness and how he responds with such seeming lack of logic to the presence of his risen Lord on the beach. Now, commentaries suggest that perhaps “naked” doesn’t mean “buck naked” but simply scantily clothed; Peter may have been wearing a only fishermen’s smock which he then tucks into his cincture before jumping into the water (see Raymond Brown, citing Barret, Lagrange & Marrow, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI. The Anchor Bible Commentary (New York: Double Day, 1970), 1072). But regardless, when presented with the presence of the risen Jesus, he does two things that pull in different, almost opposite, directions: 1) he covers up his nakedness, his unreadiness, the vulnerability with which he was caught offguard; and, or rather, but 2) he still leaves everything behind and dives into the water, wanting nothing more than to be with the one who had called him with the words “follow me.” What we are observing here is a resurrection exodus in progress, in all its messiness. This is an ordinary person like each of us responding to the invitation of Easter that calls us out from our routines, disrupts our patterns of life, exposes our vulnerabilities, retells our stories in the ever-new frames of salvation history, as our current Prayers of the People puts it, as in the liturgy of Easter Vigil.

KP: We heard one such story here recently. On Thursday evening, April 8, you may recall, SLAM hosted an event to honor Rhiannon O’Donnabhain and the attorneys from GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the folks who helped bring Massachusetts equal mariage) who represented her in the case O’Donnabhain vs. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. The IRS had audited Rhiannon’s 2002 tax return and had deemed as “cosmetic” rather than “medical” the expenses she had written off related to her transition from male to female. They had asked her to pay back her refund, but she had refused. The case went to trial here in Boston in July, 2007, and on February 2nd the decision was announced: she had won. This was a huge victory for the trans community across the US, an early legal building block for victories yet to come.

CP: But what struck several of us, as we sat where you are and listened to Rhiannon and GLAD lead attorney Karen Lowey, were their stories. How Rhiannon’s courage propelled her out from routine and complacency into a terrifying limbo. And how that in-between place became a place where her community rose to the challenge, where her connection with community buoyed her and enabled her to move forward, even amid fear and anxiety. This was not the first time she had moved outward in this way; the story she told was a very personal one about her original decision to transition, which she has written out and given us permission to share today.

KP: “For a very long time, I felt that I was treading water in a very cold and deep ocean, barely keeping my head above water. I was afraid to start swimming for fear that someone might laugh at the way I swim… I couldn’t even see the shore…. It was always so far away. I didn’t even know which direction to swim. I was drowning! Finally, I realized what I had to do to live…… I had to start swimming! To save my life! I took a risk and started swimming because I didn’t want to drown. I wanted to live! I had been swimming for what seemed like forever and I could finally make out a distant shore! It was still a long way off, but at least I could see it! I was still not a very good swimmer. I made mistakes along the way. I had never done this before! But I was determined. I would reach that far-away shore! Finally the shore got nearer and nearer. I had never been a quitter, and I was determined to succeed at what I set out to do! In my mind, I visualized that I emerged from the water riding a white horse up onto a beautiful sunny beach. In my visualization, I had already done it…! And I did do it! I rode up and out of the water on that beautiful white horse onto the beach and rode into to a new life!”

CP: Resurrection is about living, swimming, riding, into new life. It means being willing to move outward from our history into our future, always bearing that history with us—indeed, sometimes burdened by it—even when the shore is further than 100 yards away, even when we can’t see it. Resurrection is something into which we are thrown like the deep end of the pool. It is an event and a process, indeed, an Exodus that leads to life more beautiful and mysterious than we can imagine. At its beginning we can only catch the smallest of glimpses, but it is there, waiting for us. We have to be willing to be vulnerable, to take the risk of diving in and swimming-- even if we stop to cover our nakedness first -- to leave behind the familiar to encounter the living Christ, knowing that we will never be the same.

KP: Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he showed himself in this way. Amen.

Monday, April 5, 2010

An Easter Vigil Reception

I attended an Easter Vigil called "Rise Up" on Saturday night and heard a very powerful sermon by Penny Larson, the drummer for the music team at the Crossing, the progressive emergent church at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston. I asked Penny afterward if I could post her words to TransEpiscopal and she agreed, so below, reposted from her blog, is her description of the event, followed by her sermon.



An Easter Vigil Reception
April 5, 2010 at 1:22 am

So, last night was the Easter Vigil at church. I was received into The Episcopal Church, and I preached the sermon. It was a pretty amazing evening. The Darling Boyfriend and my mom and several of my dear friends were there to witness the night’s important moments.

Before I detail the service, I want to say that I took the step to formally rejoin a Christian church very deliberately (I was raised Lutheran, but haven’t considered myself a member of a church in twenty years). I have always turned to the teachings of Jesus when I’ve felt most challenged in my life. So, I guess in some ways I’ve been a Christian all along. But there is something about the Episcopal Church (and yes, clearly, The Crossing, ~my~ church is incredibly special) that has called me to join a community. For the last several weeks I took part in a catechesis study small group, and the more I learned about the Episcopal Church, the more sure I was that this was the right step for me to take. I don’t want to turn this into a history and explanation of the Episcopal Church, let’s just say the the Episcopal Church feels like a very good place for me to call “home.”

On to the Vigil…

We began in the bowels of the church in darkness. Liturgically we were still sitting with the fallen Christ, while Jesus was lost in Hell. The service started with a lighting of candles (“The Light of Christ”) and an amazing Blues version of the Exultant – I was already weepy. There was a light-hearted and fun spoken-word telling of the Creation story, a beautiful Psalm (with Crossing-style chanting), and an enactment of the story of the valley of the dry bones.

After the readings we moved to the group that was to be baptized or confirmed or received or to renew their baptism. There were several of us joining the church in one way or other, from one place or other. There was a woman who had been Muslim who was baptized in a full-immersion ceremony (~way~ cool!), a toddler who was baptized, and then a bunch of people that found the Episcopal Church from diverse paths (or grew up in it) who were deciding to make their commitments public. It was sort of interesting, in that I guess I’ve sort of been Episcopalian for a while now, in that I’ve believed and belonged for quite some time. My reception was merely a public acknowledgement of the connection that God and I already share.

After the baptism/confirmation/reception ceremony, the service progressed upstairs into the Sanctuary. The next thing I knew, the Gospel was done and I was up to deliver the sermon (I’ll include the text of my sermon at the end of this post). My sermon was very personal. I spoke about my journey, and how strongly I feel a connection to Jesus suffering and resurrection and triumph over death. I almost broke down a couple times, but I felt better about fighting the tears back than letting it go full throttle. I’m amazed by how comfortable I am with public speaking nowadays. I was sharing my deepest truths, showing people my heart, and I felt good and strong. I found it easy to make eye contact with folks in the congregation and I just generally felt pretty calm. Honestly, preaching the sermon is a bit of a blur, which always makes me feel like I was in the zone (to use a performance concept). I am so glad I did that, and I feel energized and empowered by the experience.

During the Eucharist the new members of the church distributed the bread and wine to the congregation. It was incredibly powerful to offer the body to people and say, “The Body of Christ.” The Eucharist is something I have grown to really love. There is something really powerful about sharing a meal together, and this meal is special for all sorts of reasons.

After that there was the sending (which I did also), and there were plenty of Hallelujahs and then we partied like God herself had come to party with us.

I was touched by how many folks sought me out to tell me how much they appreciated my sermon. I’m still slightly bemused by how much I seem to connect with people. I really sometimes don’t feel like I’m doing anything all that special. I’m just telling my truth. But, for whatever reason it often seems to have a powerful effect on people, and I admit that makes me very happy.

We partied and drank champagne and chatted and just had a wonderful time.

Then today my folks came over and we had a Easter feast!

It was a weekend I will never forget.

And now I am an Episcopalian. Yay!

Let the people say, “Amen!”


[here's my sermon:]

Good Evening.

Happy Easter!

This is a little overwhelming. Here I am, just received into The Episcopal Church, taking my first real steps back into Christianity and I’m preaching at the Eater Vigil. Why? What did I feel called to tell you all tonight?

Just about a year ago I was in a catacomb similar to the one we just emerged from. For me it was the culmination of a several-year process in which I finally had the facts of my life brought into congruence.

But I should back up a little first. When I was very little I knew that something was different about me; in the fullness of time it became clear that the difference was that I was born with the wrong body. To put it simply: I was born with a female brain inside a male body. It took me three and a half decades to find the strength, courage, and wisdom to undertake the process of putting that right.

I walked through some very dark places on my journey. I battled depression and anxiety that required medication and hospitalization. I was afraid to venture out into the world. Jesus sat alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I sat alone in my room.

I wish I could say that I consciously decided to give in to God’s plan for me when I decided to fix my body and my life, but the truth is that I just gave up – I couldn’t fight anymore.

On September 5th, 2006, I finally began living my life as it should have been all along, as a woman. Ironically, it was also in the fall of 2006 that I found myself attending church for the first time in many years. Though at the time I thought I was in church just to drum, it quickly became clear that it was beyond mere coincidence.

When I met Jesus again nearly four years ago I was raw and weak, but I was open to the truth. I had been hurt by all the anger and misunderstanding that others had thrown at me – and that I had thrown at myself – because I was different. Jesus’ suffering at the hands of the ones who would crucify him hits me very hard, though I have never been tortured by others, I have tortured myself.

What does Jesus suffering, death, and renewal mean? What’s so important about Jesus claiming victory over death? What does it mean to a mere transsexual woman that Jesus rose from the dead and cast off his tomb? It’s a great story, and a glorious way for God to make a point, but what does it mean now? Today? For me?

Christ’s victory over the ultimate death is magnificent, and promises us paradise. But what about life? When I was suffering through the worst of my days, either harming myself, or contemplating suicide, or purposefully isolating myself from the world because I thought that no one could ever accept this very unique girl – least of all God, I felt like I was dead already. I despaired. I understand how the women felt as they walked to the tomb that morning. They had just watched their friend die. We all know death; it’s a truism that by being living creatures we also know death – sometimes we use a softer word: loss. The desolation that those women must have felt that morning, walking to the tomb is an experience that is universal.

I also know their shock upon finding the tomb empty and Jesus’ body missing and getting the news from the angels. I remember getting the news that everything was all set for the surgery that would finally bring my body into line with my being. I was sitting right over there, drumming during a service of The Crossing. And I got an email from my surgeon’s office. I couldn’t believe it. I sat there for a second. I knew the news was coming, and yet I felt unprepared for it. I’ll bet that Peter didn’t run back to the tomb any faster than I did when I ran out into the stairwell and literally jumped with glee. I overflowed so much that a member of The Crossing noticed that even my drumming sounded especially joyous.

And that’s the wonder of Jesus triumph over death. It’s said in a nuanced way in Luke, but in Revelation he says it directly: “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” This is very difficult to believe. I get it. Indeed, even though Jesus had told everyone that he would be delivered to sinful men and killed and then rise three days later, the news was hard to believe. Even as the women were telling the others about the angels’ message their reaction was to scoff and call it nonsense. I remember being afraid that something was going to mess up my plans for surgery and speaking with therapist about it, and she said, “Penny, nothing is going to keep you from this victory.” And I started crying with the truth of the moment.

This night is when we honor the ultimate victory, not only because it was a victory for our friend Jesus, but because he shares the victory with each and every one of us. Every time there we suffer a loss, Christ has offered to turn it into a victory. It is pretty shocking. It takes some getting used to. And it’s easy to think it’s nonsense. Which is why it’s good that God is patient, even if it takes 35 years to get it, the promise of life is there.

When I emerged from that catacomb a year ago, the Department of Records at Boston’s City Hall, I had a corrected birth certificate that listed “Name of Child: Penelope Jane Larson” and “Sex: Female.” I had triumphed, and I am certain that God celebrated along with me.

Shortly after I got home from having surgery my family and friends threw me a party with a very special message: “It’s a girl!”

Tonight we throw a party to celebrate the most wondrous message of all: “He is Risen!”

And so are We All!