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!