Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Trans Episcopalian Stands Up Against North Carolina's Amendment One

In North Carolina a fierce battle is unfolding over the fate of Amendment One which would a) amend the state's constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman and b) end the legal recognition of domestic partnerships (same or opposite sex) curently on the books in some cities and counties.  Two days ago, the bishops of North Carolina -- The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, Diocese of North Carolina; the Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel, III, Diocese of East Carolina; and the Rt. Rev. G. Porter Taylor, Diocese of Western North Carolin --released a joint letter opposing Amendment One.  Their statement (which can be found here) read in part,

“We oppose Amendment One because the love of God and the way of love that has been revealed in Jesus of Nazareth compels us to do so. We oppose Amendment One because every time we baptize someone in The Episcopal Church, the entire congregation vows to ‘strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.’* We oppose Amendment One because it is unjust and it does not respect the dignity of every human being in the State of North Carolina."

Yesterday, the Chapel Hilll News added the voice of another Episcopalian to the debate.  Viviane Taylor (writing under her current legal name, Sam) is a graduate of UNC, a recent Boston transplant from North Carolina, a writer,  and an Iraq War veteran who has come out as transgender.  Viviane (whose transition is reported ina two-part article -- here and here) has had  a column in the Chapel Hill News since her deployment.  In yesterday's piece, she comes out strongly against Amendment One.

Published: Apr 24, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Apr 24, 2012 06:49 PM

Let’s talk about ‘The Law’


North Carolinians are better than Amendment One. But I get it, there are a lot of Christians in my beautiful home state. There are a lot of people who put following the will of the Lord above all other things.
So let’s talk about God.

God is famous for, among a few other things, giving man The Law. Now folks today sure do like to hunt and peck with the Law, pick things they like and drop things they don’t.

If this thing The Law is going to be so important to people, well, we might as well give some small amount of energy to trying to understand what The Law is, what The Law means.

The Law is mainly found in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Folks like some of those five books. Genesis? Everyone knows Genesis, most have number some sort of fight over it. Exodus? It’s the model for every revolutionary group, whether it be America taking our independence from Britain or the folks of African descent fighting their way out of slavery, or hey, even gay and trans folks like me. And Leviticus and Deuteronomy? Some one is always trying to whip out that big old rule book to pop somebody else over the head.

But I’m going to direct you to everybody’s least favorite book of the Pentateuch, of the whole Bible even. The Book of Numbers. I know folks who have spent their entire lives studying the scriptures who avoid Numbers. Why? Because it can be powerfully, powerfully boring. It seems like nothing but W begot X begot Y begot Z begot and so and so on, right?

Turns out, No. There’s a story I want to point you to in Numbers chapter 27, verses 1 through 11. It’s a story about five women demanding their Rights.

Story goes that there was a man named Zelophehad who had five daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah and no sons. He died. The Law of Moses, the Law of God said that his property was to go to his nearest male relative. His daughters were to get nothing. Nothing.

The daughters saw how unjust that was. They went before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and all the congregation and they told them that The Law was unjust, that they deserved their inheritance. Why should their family lose everything just because of the lack of a male to inherit it?

What happens? Does one of the leaders call them greedy? Or immoral? Or uppity? No, Moses takes their case to God. And God takes up for them. The Lord says, Those women are right. And The Law gets changed.

You see, The Law isn’t right because it’s The Law. The Law is only right so long as it is just. If The Law is being used to defend injustice, The Law is wrong and God wants it changed.

The man I believe is the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth is recorded saying when someone asked him which was the most important commandment “You shall love the Lord you God with your whole heart, soul, and mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second like the first, ’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Amendment One doesn’t work with the commandments Jesus gave us. It just exists to harm folks who aren’t hurting anyone, who are just living their lives as well as they can, just like everyone else.

I’m asking you to love your neighbor as yourself and vote against carving needless discrimination against your neighbor into our state’s constitution.

Sam Taylor served as a chaplain’s assistant in Iraq and is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill.

Transgender and Episcopal, in the Military Part II

The first part of this two-part article about Sam Taylor of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts (previously of North Carolina) was posted in early March.  Part two follows below.

Transgender ex-soldier finds a ‘far greater sense of peace’
Chapel Hill News, March 10, 2012

CHAPEL HILL - Second of two parts

On the road from rural North Carolina to the Boston suburbs, Sam Taylor has worn the shoes of a native son, student, soldier, and now, a young woman and religious leader.

“In some ways, I don’t see it as much of a change [but] as a continuation,” said Taylor, who is a transgender woman.
That’s not to say the road has been easy.

Growing up in a conservative Southern Baptist community didn’t allow much self-expression, Taylor said. Most of her family and friends didn’t learn she planned to come out until she returned with the 1-130th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion from a tour of duty in Iraq.

“If my dad had asked, I would have told him,” she said. “I’ll admit I was really nervous, not because my dad is in any way a mean person or a bad person, but I’ve just known so many people whose families have just absolutely rejected them when they came out.”
Most people have been supportive. A few have said her decision was wrong, or started acting differently around her.

Taylor was living as a man in 2008 when she met Becky Smith. The Massachusetts Water Program coordinator for the nonprofit group Clean Water Action, Smith was Taylor’s mentor during a nine-month internship with the Micah Project, an Episcopal service mission for social and structural justice issues. They soon became best friends.

Smith said Taylor – a “sister of my heart”– was courageous in coming out.

“I was really pleased that I had a friend who trusted me enough to be honest and trusted that I was a caring and thoughtful enough friend to be able to hold that information and still be the same friend that I was before I knew that,” Smith said.

Sgt. Jason Kalarchik, who served with Taylor in Iraq, said he feels the same way.
“I grew up in Montana, and I couldn’t imagine. I try to put myself in his situation, and I just can’t even … [the response] would be violent, I think,” Kalarchik said. “He’s got nothing to be afraid of from me. I’m still his buddy. He can call me anytime.”

Taylor’s circle of support continues to grow at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the Brookline suburb of Boston. She will talk with her priest later this year about seeking ordination with the Diocese of Massachusetts and, if he agrees, begin a two-year discernment process. This is the time when candidates reflect on whether to be a priest and talk about their plans with the parish priest, the parish’s governing body and diocesan officials. The process continues with up to three years at seminary before the candidate is ordained a deacon and, eventually, a priest.

In Boston, Taylor also found a mentor in Cameron Partridge, an openly transgender Episcopal chaplain at Boston University and a lecturer in Harvard University’s Divinity School and the department of women, gender and sexuality.

Partridge transitioned [from female to male] in 2002 and was ordained in 2005. He remembers struggling with a sense of isolation, but Partridge said he found a lifeline in the Episcopalian and Anglican group, TransEpiscopal.

When they met, Partridge said Taylor was struggling with her call to the ministry, her transgender identity and her military duty. They stayed in touch, and Partridge’s congregation read the newspaper columns from Iraq and prayed for Taylor. They were grateful when she came back safely, he said.

“She managed to do it with characteristic authenticity, integrity, honor and unique boldness,” Partridge said.
Some Christians say the Bible and literary history support transgender identity. Taylor pointed to the Ethiopian eunuch who accepts Christ in the eighth chapter of the book of Acts, becoming the first non-Jewish Christian, and to the male daughters mentioned in the Hammurabi code.

Partridge said the growing number of transgender young adults in the church is “a sign of the new realities emerging.”

“Not simply of the growing acceptance of trans people,” he said, “but of the growing presence of thoughtful, critically engaged young adults – indeed, people of all ages – who refuse to be boxed into neat and tidy categories.”

Others say transgender lifestyles are contrary to biblical precepts.

Chaplain Kevin Winemiller is a 14-year Army veteran who now serves part time as a brigadier chaplain with the 60th Troop Command of the N.C. National Guard, based in Raleigh. While serving in Iraq, Winemiller said he never suspected Taylor, his chaplain’s assistant, was a transgender person. He found out when Taylor emailed him in February.

Winemiller said Taylor will always be his friend, but his opinion is that being transgender is against nature and can promote homosexuality as described in Romans 1 and Leviticus 18.

“Of course, I’m a little sad for him,” Winemiller said. “I think he’s searching and may be confused, but he has to know that I’m his friend, and I’ll go the distance for him. I’m not going to speak bad about him.”
Being honest about her gender has given her “a far greater sense of peace” and led to better personal relationships, Taylor said.

“If I had tried to go into family life as broken, dishonest, desperately trying to hide basic facts about myself from those that loved me most, I can’t even imagine how much of a mess that would have been, how much pain my decision not to be right in the world could have caused my loved ones,” Taylor said.

After nearly three years of hormone injections, Taylor is not considering gender reassignment surgery yet, because the idea of any surgery makes her uncomfortable, she said. She does acknowledge, however, that “physical rightness is incredibly important to a lot of people.”

Taylor spends her time writing books and playing an acoustic guitar she bought in Iraq. She works out every day – an Army habit, she said.

One day, she would like to see a “herd of little Taylors running around and being too smart for their own good,” although the idea of children is a little terrifying right now.

She remembers her dad reading stories from the Bible and Greek mythology every night at bedtime.
She wants to do that with her own children, Taylor said, “to show them the beauty and wonder and excitement of the world as I sometimes see it, and then learn what they find there, too.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Donations for General Convention 2012

 Three years ago, a small band of transgender Episcopalians and our allies made unprecedented progress at The Episcopal Church’s General Convention.  Against major odds, and with the help of our partner organizations, we won The Episcopal Church’s support in three areas:
 1)  secular anti-discrimination legislation at the federal, state and local levels (D012 & C048)
2)   ecclesial non-discrimination in lay hiring (D032)
3)   adoption of more transgender-friendly forms (D090)
 There was one resolution on which we fell just shy, however: the prohibition of discrimination against transgender people in access to the ordination process (C061). 
 As General Convention 2012 approaches in less than three months, a new version of that resolution has been filed:  D002.  Building on our groundbreaking success in 2009, TransEpiscopal is planning a stronger presence at convention this year, with a larger delegation, more varied and persuasive educational materials, and better preparation and coordination with our allies, The Consultation, Integrity-USA and The Chicago Consultation.
 Preparations are well under way. Working with our partners in Integrity, we’ve helped generate “Voices of Witness 3: Out of the Box” – a video and study guide which puts the "T" in LGBT.  Copies of “Out of the Box” will be given to all bishops and deputies to educate them to vote for resolutions coming forward for transgender equality.
 Knowing what a major difference our presence on the ground made at General Convention three years ago, we can’t wait to go back.  But in order to do that, TransEpiscopal needs your help.  We need to pay for our exhibit space, and educational materials, to cover travel and lodging for some of our members who otherwise won’t be able to join our effort in Indianapolis. In 2009 we raised several thousand dollars to help send an eight-person delegation to convention; this year, we hope to roughly double those numbers.
 A gift of $50, $100, $250 or $500 or any amount will make a crucial difference in our capacity to change hearts and minds this summer.
 If you contributed to our effort three years ago, we thank you and hope that you can help us move our work forward. If you are new to TransEpiscopal and its efforts, we would love to have you stand with us in expanding the borders of the body of Christ.
 Please give as generously as you possibly can.  To make your contribution online, simply click the “Donate” tab to your left on the web site.  Alternately, you can mail a check made out to our fiscal sponsor, Integrity USA -- just be sure to put TransEpiscopal in the memo line, then mail to:
               IntegrityUSA, 838 East High St. #291, Lexington, KY 40502.
Thank you again for your support, follow our progress online at our website or our Facebook page, and most of all, please keep us in your prayers.

This blog post will remain available on the Donations Tab of this site until after General Convention.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A New Deacon's Good Friday

This story (linked here) about The Reverend Deacon Carolyn Woodall appeared yesterday on the Sacramento CBS channel.  Reverend Woodall was ordained just about a month ago in a service in Stockton California, the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.  The ordination was filmed by a crew for IntegrityUSA which is finishing a video on Transgender Episcopalians called "Out of the Box"-- stay tuned for it's emergence in the next month or so.  On this Holy Saturday, we give thanks for all manner of signs of the power of resurrection that burst forth from the tomb.


JAMESTOWN (CBS13) - This story is extremely rare. In fact, there are only a handful of Episcopalian clergy members that are transgendered in the world.
Reverend Carolyn Woodall’s story, the deacon at Jamestown Church, began one dark night when she contemplated taking her life.
In the Spring season, the season of new life, Woodall has her own story of resurrection.
“God made me male on the outside, but female in my soul,” said Woodall.
Woodall, then named Clifford, came to that realization one night back in 2003, and felt she was left with two options.
“Quit living my life as a lie, and become who I was, which is Carolyn, which is who you see now, or just quit living,” said Woodall.
Carolyn made it through the night, and sought help.
After years of therapy, doctor appointments, and finally, gender reassignment surgery. Her relationship with God grew stronger.
“God sent his son into the world to save everyone, there aren’t asterisks in scripture,” said Woodall.
Carolyn’s love of God has brought her to this point. She continues to work as a public defender in Tuolumne County, and last month was ordained as a deacon in the Episcopalian church.
“I admire her for having the strength to go through what it cost her, especially living in a very conservative area,” said parishioner Betty Cordoza.
Carolyn has been called names and knows there are plenty who object to her choosing to live as a woman. But she says finally, she feels comfortable in her own skin. Almost reborn, as she helps lead her first Good Friday service, as reverend Carolyn Woodall.
“No one is outside of God’s love. Jesus ministered to the outcasts, to the people on the periphery,” said Woodall.
Woodall tells us she went on TV today to tell her story, because there are plenty of lessons of tolerance to be learned about her life.