Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In Massachusetts, An Unfolding Dream

It's been a tense, exciting day in the Boston area as the legislation known as the "Transgender Equal Rights Bill" makes its way out of the Judiciary Committee for the first time in six years.  The bill is heading to the legislature with a vote expected tonight or tomorrow as the winter recess approaches.  

Yesterday the Boston Globe and Boston Herald reported on the impending vote, and this morning both papers reported on dueling press conferences in which the bill's opponents called the vote a "distraction" from economic issues.  When one such representative argued, "The goals of the advocates is to have this litigated in the courts,” he was confronted by Ken and Marcia Garber.  The Garbers' transgender son was, as the Globe explained,"bullied and discriminated against before he lost his life to a drug overdoes at the age of 20." When the representative "said he did not have time to answer their question because he was late to a meeting," the Garbers, faithful members of Dignity Boston, "challenged Lombardo’s contention that the transgender bill is a distraction from bills that would protect the state’s economic future, [saying] 'Some of these people will never have a future if they don’t do something' to pass the legislation."

The trans community had strong victories late last Spring with Connecticut and Nevada added to the ranks of the now fifteen states and 132 counties and cities  with nondiscrimination and hate crimes protections.  

This drama happens to be unfolding during Massachusetts' "Transgender Awareness Week," in which a number of colleges, universities and other community spaces are holding trans-themed events.  The culmination of the week is the twelfth annual observance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR).  Though international in scope, the TDOR movement was sparked by a death here in Allston, about a mile away from where I write.   Rocker Rita Hester was murdered on November 28, 1998 almost three years to the day after the loss of Chanelle Pickett on November 20, 1995.  A growing number of Episcopal (and other) congregations have been hosting TDOR events in solidarity with trans communities, even as the observances themselves usually avoid the languages, music or imagery of specific (or at least any one) religious traditions.  Indeed, in his TDOR welcome at a packed Cathedral Church of St. Paul last November, Bishop M. Thomas Shaw offered an apology to the gathered community for the ways in which Christian communities in particular have failed to welcome trans people and have, as he put it, "misrepresented God" to us.  I posted a piece about that TDOR here.
This Sunday the Boston TDOR will take place once again at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. 

Today Bishop Shaw reiterated his support, that of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts (as of its 2008 Convention), and that of The Episcopal Church (as of the 2009 General Convention) for the legislation.  His statement reads,

"Hopeful that after six years the transgender equal rights bill will come to the Massachusetts Legislature for a vote this week, I continue to urge lawmakers to support it.  Now is the time to carry civil liberty for all people another step forward by safeguarding the equality and honoring the human dignity of transgender people.  Passing the bill this week will serve as a powerful sign of hope, particularly as Transgender Day of Remembrance is being observed at our Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston this Sunday.  I pray that Massachusetts will open this new door this week so that we might step through it together toward social justice for all." 

The full text of the statement is available on the Diomass website, here.

As it so happens, Sunday is also one of the major examples of what I call "hinge days" in the liturgical year, those days in the Christian calendar that form us with peculiar intensity as we move from one liturgical season to the next.  November 20th marks the last Sunday after Pentecost, otherwise known as the Feast of Christ the King or the Reign (or perhaps, as Verna Dozier might put it, the Dream) of Christ.  Sunday's gospel text from Matthew 25 issues the ultimate challenge of justice from the Son of Humanity, enthroned in eschatalogical splendor:  will we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned?  As we "do it unto the least of these," we "do it unto" Christ, we are reminded with unsettling specificity. 

As the battle over this legislation heats up, I find myself seeking to be present to it as a holy time and space, as an invitation to be, as Bishop Shaw often puts it, opened.  It strikes me that this openness is not simply a static state of welcome and inclusion, but an ongoing process of being opened, transformed by God, ushered into new ways of being in the world, into a new time and space that Christians name as the reign or dream of God. That notion of openness is unsettling and challenging indeed, but hopeful and promising beyond our wildest imaginings.  May it be—may it become – so.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Chaz on Becoming

In a banner week in which the governor of Hawaii signed a workplace nondiscrimination bill into law, and in which the legislature in Nevada is debating a similar measure, the biggest transgender-related news is coming from Chaz Bono. That’s because the documentary about his transition, Becoming Chaz, premiered Tuesday night on the Oprah Winfrey Network, and Chaz has been everywhere this week promoting it.

The few reviews I’ve read have found their way into the film via people other than Chaz. His partner Jennifer has been a fascinating figure for some, and Cher has for others. I haven’t read any reflections on his siblings, but they would be bridge figures for still other viewers of the film like, say, my sister. It makes sense—if you’re not trans (and even if you are), you might have a hard time relating to Chaz, but you could more easily imagine yourself in the position of those who have a relationship with him.

But as a transman myself, Chaz was the one on which I knew I would be primarily focused. Because he’s the son of celebrities, having grown up under completely different circumstances than did I or anyone I know, I honestly wasn’t sure how well I would relate. More than that, I was concerned that because of its celebrity connections, this film had the potential to feed into the mass media’s sensationalistic appetites. Given all that, I was fascinated how little this film actually does falls into that trap, and how Chaz and Jenny come across as remarkably down to earth and authentic, very human amid a fair bit of drama. Chaz is very clearly and simply himself, take it or leave it. So too is Jennifer. The two of them have been through a lot both individually and as a couple, and they’re remarkably honest about that.

I was intrigued — and oddly relieved — to hear that there nevertheless were aspects of the film that stretched their own comfort zones when they saw it after the fact. In the interview with Rosie O’Donnell after the Oprah channel premier, Chaz talked about the difficulty at first of seeing an argument that unfolded over kitchen preparations for Jenny’s graduation party. But then as he watched it again, he came to see the argument as a real portrayal of where he and Jenny were at that moment. That comment to O’Donnell conveyed a revealing sense of perspective, a sense that Chaz knows he was in a different space then and will be in a still different one down the road. Comments like those suggest to me that he takes his “becoming” very seriously, and in a much broader and deeper sense than transition alone.

Chaz has been through some seriously choppy life waters, and while he doesn’t put it this way, his remarks about previous eras of his life suggest that he has had to make a practice of seeking perspective. He has had to make a practice of accepting himself for who he is. When he said at one point that he didn’t want to lose anyone because of his decision to transition but knew that he had to make the decision regardless, I thought, yeah, I know what you’re talking about. You don’t get to a place like that, you don’t arrive at such a crossroad, without having done a ton of work-- discernment.

I also appreciated how Chaz did not present himself as speaking for every transman, let alone every trans person. In one scene, as he spoke at what I believe was a Transgender Day of Remembrance event in West Hollywood, I was impressed with the way he got up and described himself as a newcomer to the community, not presuming to speak for others, and acknowledging that tons of organizing and community building had preceded his arrival on the scene, in many ways making that arrival possible.

That said, there were some assertions in the film with which I disagreed. The misleading graphic listing the side-effects of testosterone failed to distinguish those that affect transmen alone (e.g. the need to monitor liver function) from those that all nontrans men have to watch (e.g. cholesterol). I wasn't crazy about the film's repeated use of “breast removal” language; as a result, many reviewers are now using it in a way that can subtly reinforce the judgment that this surgery is merely a form of “amputation” (or, worse, “mutilation"). Simply sticking to the term “chest reconstruction” would have been more straight forward. Chaz also made a few universalizing comments about the relational effects of testosterone, saying things about his insights into male/female difference that reminded me of remarks I once heard on the infamous testosterone episode of This American Life. All I could think was, Stop! Don’t go there! Trans folks don’t know any more about what “really” differentiates the sexes, where “really” means “biologically,” than anyone else. What I think we do have a chance to see at particularly close range is how gender gets culturally organized, how intricately, concretely, differentially, intersectionally each of us is woven into an ever-shifting socio-cultural fabric.

There is so much more to say about this powerful film—more than I have time to write here. But the final thread I find myself pondering is that of narratives—with what stories we narrate our origins, the origins of our self-awareness, the origins of our decisions. Again and again, we were shown images of Chaz as a child on TV with Sonny and Cher, images that had the effect of asking the viewer to consider the narrative s/he supplied for that child. It makes me wonder, what narratives do we assume or project onto one another? How do we shift those narratives when our expectations are subverted? But that then raises the larger question, how do we narrate change without assuming the process moves in a straight line? There is something crucial about what it is to be human that is captured by Chaz’s process of becoming. Not only does it raise the question of how sexual difference fits into—indeed might change — one’s conception of the human person. It also asks us all, trans and non-trans, to consider how the process of becoming itself, how transformation, grounds and indeed defines our humanity.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Easter People in a Good Friday World

Cross-posted from the Walking with Integrity Blog:

Retired Bishop Barbara C. Harris has a saying that we are “an Easter people in a Good Friday world.” That’s what I find myself pondering as I think of the current state of affairs for trans people in the U.S. right now. If we are an Easter people—an Easter body—we are, as tomorrow’s passage from John 20 so strikingly depicts it, a risen body marked by wounds that remain open.

The U.S. trans community got some good news this week when the Department of Labor announced it has added "gender identity" to its equal employment statement. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's press release on the addition can be found here.

We also got some good news two weeks ago when the state legislature of Hawaii sent legislation to Governor Neil Abercrombi that would protect trans people in the area of employment. On Monday, April 18th, Hawaii’s House of Representatives passed Bill #546 which, as the Star Advertiser explained, “would bar employers from discriminating on the basis of gender expression, bringing Hawaii's labor law in line with similar protections in the areas of housing and public accommodations.” The governor is widely expected to sign this legislation.

That Hawaii already protects trans people from discrimination in several areas, particularly access to public accommodations, is also significant. In other states, public accommodations access is being hotly debated, with opponents of equal access often caustically terming such legislation “bathroom bills.” The specter these opponents raise in such debates is of vulnerable women and children being open to attack in women’s restrooms—if not by trans people, then by people posing as trans. With such fear tactics, they seek either to prevent the passage of laws that would safeguard trans access to public accommodations, or they seek to repeal legislation already on the books.

The state of Maine is currently considering just such a repeal, as shown by Integrity Maine member Ben Garren’s recent testimony against that repeal effort.

As of Monday, Texas became the home of another repeal effort, this one attempting to prevent trans people from marrying. As Bay Windows reported earlier this week, “The legislation…. would prohibit county and district clerks from using a court order recognizing a sex change as documentation to get married, effectively requiring the state to recognize a 1999 state appeals court decision that said in cases of marriage, gender is assigned at birth and sticks with a person throughout their life even if they have a sex change.” In addition to preventing future marriages, this legislation may well undermine the legal standing of existing ones—my own, for instance, if I lived in Texas.

Meanwhile on April 11th in Maryland, the Gender-Identity Discrimination Act (House Bill 235—which addressed employment but left out public accommodations) was effectively killed for the current legislative year when it was narrowly voted back to the state’s Judiciary Proceedings Committee. As the Baltimore Sun reported, “While the bill was being debated on the House floor, one delegate alluded to Cpl. Klinger, a comic-relief character from the TV show "M*A*S*H" known for wearing women's clothes while trying to get a psychiatric discharge from the Army. The delegate wanted to know if his colleagues wanted Klinger leading a day care center.”

On April 18th, one week after the bill was killed, a young transwoman named Chrissy Lee Polis was attacked by young non-trans women as she tried to enter a bathroom in a Baltimore MacDonald’s. The story of the beating, including a video taken by a MacDonald’s employee -- in which Polis can be heard asking “what bathroom am I supposed to use?!” -- went viral in the days that followed (youtube has now removed it). This story has been covered everywhere, from this call to action by Chris Paige of TransFaith online to an NPR story yesterday and a Washington Post piece earlier this week. A Baltimore Sun story from earlier today considers whether perhaps this horrifying event may be a moment we look back upon as a turning point.

As TransEpiscopal co-founder Donna Cartwright put it in a letter to the editor of the New York Times today, “Defiance of rigid cultural gender expectations still makes many people uncomfortable, and all too often we pay the price for others’ discomfort.” Nevertheless, she continues, “we can create new cultural space by being who we are, without apology.”

When I think about the process of creating that “new cultural of space,” I can’t help but be reminded of the mystical theology of Julian of Norwich, whose feast day falls on May 8th. I think of her vision of the body of Christ, its side mystically opened to all as to Thomas in the upper room—opened in a strangely infinite capacity as a place of refuge, a body of transformation, a passage of rebirth.

An Easter people in a Good Friday world indeed.

-Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge is a Lecturer and Interim Episcopal Chaplain at Harvard University

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Trans Faith Action Week Launches

Cross-posted from the Walking With Integrity blog:

Yesterday I participated in a press conference at the Massachusetts State House in which religious leaders called for the passage of "An Act Relative to Transgender Equal Rights," a bill that would add "gender identity and expression" to existing nondiscrimination legislation in Massachusetts. For the past three years this bill has failed to make it out of committee, despite a great deal of support in the legislature and from the governor. The main speakers at the press conference were the Right Reverend M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts; Sean Delmore, an openly transgender man who is the Assistant Minister at College Avenue United Methodist Church (Somerville) and a member of Cambridge Welcoming Ministries, and a candidate for the diaconate in the United Methodist Church; and Rabbi Joseph Berman of Temple B’nai Israel in Revere, MA. The press conference was part of a weeklong effort, dubbed by the Interfaith Coalition for Transgender Equality and the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition as "Transgender Faith Action Week," a week in which congregations from various religious traditions are calling for transgender equality.

An article by Lisa Wangsness about yesterday's press conference was on the front page of the Metro Section in this morning's Boston Globe, and is pasted below (the above photo by David L. Ryan was taken from it). This article comes on the heels of last week's Guardian article by Becky Garrison, which featured interviews with a number of transgender clergy in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the UK, as Rev. Dr. Christina Beardsley has explained in a series of blog posts for Changing Attitude, the week of March 21st featured seven short video interviews by 4thought.tv on Channel 4 (unfortunately not available for viewing outside the UK) at the intersection of transgender and religious identities. Garrison's article pointed back toward the UK video series and forward toward Trans Faith Action Week, here in Massachusetts.


Here is today's Globe story:

Religious leaders revive bid to pass transgender bill

Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and several other clergy yesterday called on Massachusetts lawmakers to pass transgender-rights legislation and asked religious communities to throw their support behind the bill.

Shaw said that virtually all transgender people have experienced discrimination or harassment and about one-quarter have been fired from their jobs.

“Supporting this legislation, and supporting transgender people in the life of the church and in secular society really has to do with the living out of my baptismal covenant,’’ he said.

The bill would prohibit discrimination in Massachusetts against transgender people in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and credit, and would expand the hate- crimes statute. Thirteen states and more than 130 cities nationwide have passed similar legislation.

A majority of lawmakers in both the House and Senate cosponsored the bill last year, but it never came up for a vote. Representative Carl M. Sciortino Jr. of Medford, a lead sponsor, said the political climate changed dramatically after Scott Brown won the special election for US Senate in January 2010.

“The level of willingness to take up controversial votes diminished after that,’’ Sciortino said.

The issue became particularly charged a year ago, when Republican gubernatorial nominee Charles Baker derided the legislation as “the bathroom bill,’’ a term opponents use to reflect their belief that it would give sex offenders greater access to children in public bathrooms by effectively making the facilities unisex. Supporters of the bill say that is not true: People would still have to use bathrooms that match the gender they present.

Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which opposes the bill, said yesterday that his organization remains concerned about “the privacy, safety, and modesty of all citizens.’’ He said there is no need to broaden the state’s nondiscrimination and hate-crimes statutes.

He noted that the number of sponsors had declined markedly this year — from 81 to 52 in the House and from 23 to 16 in the Senate, according to the website of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition.

Gunner Scott, the coalition’s executive director, said 35 former cosponsors either did not run again or were not reelected. Supporters of the legislation are talking to freshmen and hope to find additional support, he said, adding that the bill still has more cosponsors than about 95 percent of other bills.

Governor Deval Patrick also backs the legislation and this winter issued an executive order protecting transgender state employees from discrimination.

Representative Byron Rushing, another lead sponsor, said religious groups supporting gay rights showed their political strength in 2007 when they helped defeat a proposed ban on gay marriage. “I think what religious groups offer is their theological perspective on justice . . . but it’s also very important that we hear from those denominations that have begun to end discrimination against transgender people within their own denomination,’’ he said.

Other religious groups, including the Massachusetts Conference of Catholic Bishops, fought against the gay marriage bill in 2007. The bishops also opposed the transgender legislation last year.

About 135 clergy are publicly supporting the bill this year, according to the Interfaith Coalition for Transgender Equality. The coalition this week is asking congregations to work for its passage. Appearing with Shaw yesterday were the Rev. Cameron Partridge, a transgender man who is interim Episcopal chaplain at Harvard; Rabbi Joseph Berman of Temple B’nai Israel in Revere; and Sean Delmore, a transgender man who is assistant minister at the College Avenue United Methodist Church in Somerville.

Shaw acknowledged that it might be tougher to rally as large a coalition for transgender rights as for gay marriage, if only because relatively few heterosexual people know someone who is transgender.

Getting to know transgender people personally, he said, has “taken me deeper into my own faith life and proved to me once again that unless everyone has equality . . . nobody is really free.’’

And here is last week's Guardian story:

Trans clergy are finally gaining greater acceptance
As we approach Transgender Faith Action Week, progress can be seen in attitudes to trans people within the church

Becky Garrison
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 30 March 2011 18.04 BST

Last week, the Rev Dr Christina Beardsley, vice-chair of Changing Attitude, a network of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual members of the Church of England, was one of the voices featured on 4Thought.tv's week of short films featuring trans people and faith.

While the US Episcopal church developed a maverick reputation within the Anglican communion for blessing same sex marriages and ordaining gay and lesbian clergy, the House of Bishops of the General Synod of the Church of England's report Some Issues in Human Sexuality, issued in 2003, contained a chapter titled "Transsexualism". Currently, one can find about a half dozen trans clergy in the UK and US. These numbers are imprecise, as some clergy do not wish to go public beyond the scope of their individual parish or diocese – a concern that's understandable given that the trans community seldom receives even the legal protections afforded gays and lesbians .

Beardsley, who was ordained for 23 years prior to her transition in 2001, observes that "some within the Church of England feel the issue of trans clergy has been settled" by citing such cases as the Rev Carol Stone and the Rev Sarah Jones. However, she says: "Not all trans clergy have been supported by their bishop, as these two priests were, and some have been excluded from full-time ministry because of Church of England opt-outs from UK equality legislation."

During the 2008 Lambeth conference, a decennial gathering of Anglican bishops, Beardsley organised a panel titled "Listening to Trans People". While only four bishops attended this gathering, it represented the highest number of bishops to participate in an Inclusive Network to date. Also, this panel helped consolidate Changing Attitude's networking with Sibyls, a UK-based Christian spirituality group for trans people, and the US-based online community TransEpsicopal.

The Rev Dr Cameron Partridge, interim Episcopal chaplain and lecturer at Harvard University, served on this panel as the sole US representative. He transitioned in 2002 during his ordination process and has been an instrumental player in guiding the passage of four resolutions supporting trans rights during the US Episcopal church's 2009 general convention.

The Rev Vicki Gray, a Vietnam vet before her transition, and currently a deacon with an emphasis on ministry to the homeless, noted that their goals at general convention were to assert that we exist as flesh-and-blood human beings, to demonstrate that we are here in the church as decent and devout followers of Jesus Christ, and to begin the process of education and dialogue that will lead to full inclusion in the life of the church, not only of the transgendered but of other sexual minorities such as the inter-sexed (known to some as hermaphrodites).

Following the murder of trans rocker Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts, in 1998, a vigil held in her honour became the impetus behind the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual event held on 20 November. Even though this day to reflect and remember those who have been killed by anti-transgender hatred or prejudice is not a religious service, in 2010 memorial services were held for the first time at Episcopal cathedrals in Boston and Sacramento.

The Rev Christopher Fike, vicar of Christ Episcopal Church in Sommerville, Massachusetts, who transitioned in 2003 after having served in a fairly high-profile position as a female cleric, believes that moving this memorial to the cathedral signifies that the church views this as a justice issue. He says: "The more we normalise people who are outside the typical in their gender expression, the more room there is for that range of expression. We no longer have to hide our real identity from the church."

The Rt Rev M Thomas Shaw, SSJE, Bishop of Massachusetts, admits that ordaining and providing pastoral oversight to trans clergy proved to be a life-changing experience for him. Initially, he struggled with the idea and the reality of having trans clergy until he saw they were doing the same ministry as everyone else.

From 3-10 April, Transgender Faith Action Week will be held in the Boston area in the hope of bringing forth faith leaders from different traditions to increase awareness of the trans community in religious circles. Partridge, one of the organisers, says: "We call upon the church to consider carefully its vision of theological anthropology, its theological vision of the human person. How does gender factor into our conception of the human?" After all, in Genesis 1:26, God created ha-adam, a nonsexual term that means "human being". Then, after he created humanity, she declared that it all was "very good".

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sonia Burgess (1947-2010)

Although it happened almost six months ago many people here in the UK are still devastated by the sudden death of Sonia Burgess. The circumstances were incredibly shocking. On Monday 25th October 2010 Sonia was on her way to a lecture at St Martin-in-the-Fields. She had attended the previous talks in the series ‘Bible Opened for All’ and on this occasion Lucy Winkett would speak about ‘Being Biblical, Being a Woman’. The topic would have been of particular interest to Sonia, who had at this stage in her life lived mainly, though not quite exclusively, as a woman; but Sonia would never hear this talk. She was seen arriving on the underground platform at Kings Cross Station just prior to 6.30pm, accompanied by a younger woman, with whom she was talking excitedly. Within minutes Sonia fell to her death in the path of the arriving train. Her companion, Nina Kanagasingham, also a trans woman, was arrested at the scene on a murder charge and taken to a male prison. Her trial is scheduled for July.

Sonia was a friend. I had met her in January 2009 at a Rainbow Space (the LGBT group) event at St Anne’s Church, Soho, London, which was the church she belonged to at that time. Warm-hearted, petite and pretty, she seemed younger than me, though in fact she was a few years older, and she communicated well with the young trans people who had joined us for the meeting. When we chatted afterwards Sonia was somewhat apologetic about the fact that she still worked in male mode ‘as a human rights lawyer’. I remember saying that her job sounded demanding; she nodded but was in no way forthcoming about her work. I encouraged her to join Sibyls – the UK organisation that promotes Christian Spirituality for Transgender People – which she did, and I had the pleasure of meeting her at the bi-monthly meetings in London when Sibyls gather for prayer followed by a meal. The last time we spoke, at one of these occasions, I discovered that she had been brought up in the north of England, as I was, and that she had studied in Cambridge, a few years ahead of me. Slim and fashionably dressed – she had just been shopping at Zara – it was hard to believe that she was in her early sixties, and once again I saw her rapport with the young (in particular, a new Sibyls member who is also disabled).

So when, in late October 2010, headlines began to appear in the newspapers about a ‘man in a dress’ or ‘transvestite’ who had (allegedly) been ‘“pushed” under train’ never for a moment did I think that they were referring to Sonia. Although I knew that Sonia worked in male mode, I had not met ‘David’ (nor had most of David’s colleagues ever met Sonia), but in any case, to me, as to her many friends, including those at St Martin-in-the-Fields where she had begun to worship, she was a woman, kindly and vivacious: Sonia. Indeed, early reports of her death referred to her correctly as ‘a woman’; it was only when the police discovered documents on her person that related to her male identity that the crude and inaccurate headlines began to appear. The British press has a long-standing habit of sensationalising trans people’s lives, but on this occasion there was a huge outcry in protest, led by Trans Media Watch, which only this week gathered journalists from the press and television to launch its Memorandum of Understanding which seeks to improve the coverage of transgender people and issues in the media.
It comes too late for Sonia, but the handling of her story by the media has been the focus for an important discussion about the need for greater sensitivity and respect when discussing transgender people’s lives.

After the breaking news of the death of a transgender woman came the shock, for her friends, of hearing that it was Sonia. Nowhere, apart from her family, was the grief more deeply felt than by the congregation at St Martin-in-the-Fields, where a meeting was called and a vast number of people gathered, along with her children, to share their memories of Sonia – and of David. One friend who attended it told me that the use of both male and female names and pronouns didn’t seem to matter as people spoke about their love and admiration for this remarkable person.

It was only at this point that David’s extraordinary career as the leading immigration lawyer of his generation became known to those of us who knew only Sonia, as well as his role in landmark cases that had led to greater transgender equality in the UK. One might have expected Sonia to mention the latter, if not the former, to trans friends and acquaintances, but such was her modesty that she never spoke of either! You can read more about her life, as David, and as Sonia, in the links that follow. Journalist Elizabeth Day’s sensitive article was written earlier this year to give a more rounded picture of Sonia/David in contrast to the sensational tabloid versions. Legal academic and trans activist Stephen Whittle knew Sonia professionally, and as a friend, over many years, and his obituary of her, written at the time, is passionate and revealing. My own brief post about Sonia, on the Changing Attitude blog, reflects on her death from a spiritual perspective, and, as you’ll have gathered, her Christian faith was important to her.

Christina Beardsley 15.03.11

Rev. Dr. Christina Beardsley is on the Board of Changing Attitude , which works for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the Anglican Communion.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Winter Thaw for Trans Equality

Cross posted from Walking with Integrity

We are at the end of February, and this year’s very long season of Epiphany is almost at an end as well. Here in the Boston area, side streets are still littered with chairs and other detritus-- markers of the you-shovel-it-you-keep-it parking culture-- but snow banks are finally showing signs of letting go. Last week the state’s transgender community also received welcome news that perhaps the long-frozen nondiscrimination bill, too, might be starting to thaw.

As recently posted on Walking with Integrity, last week Governor Deval Patrick signed an executive order banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression for all who work for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Boston Globe both reported on the move and published an editorial praising it, and yesterday the local LGBT paper Bay Windows published a comprehensive article on it as well.

As reported in all three pieces, this development both creates a sense of momentum for the statewide bill which would add "gender identity and expression" to the categories of age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, and marital status, and prevent discrimination on those bases in employment as well as in housing, public accommodations, education, and credit.

The dire need for this protection was just underscored by the major new study released on February 4th by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality. They surveyed over 6,450 transgender-identified participants and learned the following, as summarized on NCTE's website:

"* Respondents were nearly four times more likely to live in extreme poverty, with household income of less than $10,000.

* Respondents were twice as likely to be unemployed compared to the population as a whole. Half of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment or other mistreatment in the workplace, and one in four were fired because of their gender identity or expression.

* While discrimination was pervasive for the entire sample, it was particularly pronounced for people of color. African-American transgender respondents fared far worse than all others in many areas studied.

* Housing discrimination was also common. 19% reported being refused a home or apartment and 11% reported being evicted because of their gender identity or expression. One in five respondents experienced homelessness because of their gender identity or expression.

* An astonishing 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to only 1.6% of the general population.

* Discrimination in health care and poor health outcomes were frequently experienced by respondents. 19% reported being refused care due to bias against transgender or gender-nonconforming people, with this figure even higher for respondents of color. Respondents also had over four times the national average of HIV infection.

* Harassment by law enforcement was reported by 22% of respondents and nearly half were uncomfortable seeking police assistance.

* Despite the hardships they often face, transgender and gender non-conforming persons persevere. Over 78% reported feeling more comfortable at work and their performance improving after transitioning, despite the same levels of harassment in the workplace."

An interview from the Bay Windows story shows both some of the unexpected ways that people's transgender status can come up in an employment application process and the reality that there are indeed workplaces where people are free to do their jobs and be themselves. Diane DeLap, who works for the Department of Workforce Development, explained how her application process inadvertently revealed her transgender status to her prospective employer: "'One of the interesting things was that the Massachusetts Employment Application requires the inclusion of discharge papers if you have a history in the military,' DeLap said. She had served in the Navy for four years, and included her discharge papers with her application. 'Of course, the military doesn’t change names for anything,' DeLap said, laughing, 'so it had my old name on there and all the other papers had the new name on there, so the fact that I was transgender became a topic of discussion very early in the hiring process. They determined that it shouldn’t make any difference.'"

DeLap clearly had a good experience in her interview process, and others I know also have had positive experiences coming out at work. Increasingly, there is good news of that sort to tell, and it is important to share it along with the alarming statistics and stories, as both are realities right now. The latter tells us how much work we have to do while the former encourages us that it has already begun and we can indeed do it.

As with marriage equality, which received a major boost from the Obama administration this week, I am hopeful that the ice is truly beginning to thaw for transgender equality, that momentum is finally building toward passage of key legal protections. It is up to us to keep that momentum going.

The executive summary of the NCTE/NGLTF survey can be found here, and the full report here.