Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Coming Full Circle: Boston Trans Day of Remembrance, 2012


Though today, November 20, marks the official Transgender Day of Remembrance, many communities observed the day on Sunday evening.  In Boston, the Cathedral Church of St. Paul hosted the event, organized by a local planning committee.  In his comments below, TransEpiscopal member Iain Stanford reports on his experience of the evening, how it brought together his worlds. 

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This past Sunday afternoon the air was cool and crisp, and thelast of the leaves with their shades of orange and red still clung to thetrees, as I walked across the Boston Common to the CathedralChurch of St. Paul to help in the preparations for Boston’s annualobservance of Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). Joining with other membersof theCrossing community, signs were put up, linens were put out, and candles lit. This was the third year that the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts wouldhave the honor of welcoming the trans community into our cathedral.

In 1998 in the Allston neighborhood of Boston, friends, family,and allies had gathered to hold a speak-out and candlelight vigil in honor ofRita Hester, who had been brutally stabbed to death days before. This was thebeginning. Since then, TDOR has grown into an international observance toremember those in the trans community who have lost their lives due toanti-transgender violence and discrimination. Now in its fourteenth year, thenumber of deaths continues to rise. Sadly, this year’s TDOR remembered 265 people who lost their lives from November15, 2011 through November 14, 2012. Listening to the stories of loss and grief,I am always struck by the resilience and beauty of people embracing andsupporting one another. It is an evening filled with tears and aches, but alsowith laughter and joy. It is a time to see old friends and meet new ones.

As people took their seats and began to settle in for the startof the evening, I sat off to the side collecting my thoughts. Scheduled to givethe welcome with Bishop Shaw on behalf of the Cathedral, I could feel thenervous tension intensifying. Katie Ernst, the Crossing’s Minister for Mission,and liaison to the TDOR committee, came over to try to calm me. I was feelingsomething more than the usual adrenaline rush and nervous butterflies. Was itjust that this was the first time I would speak at the Cathedral? Was it thatthis was the first time I would speak to the Boston trans community? Yes andyes, but there was something more.

Two of my worlds were meeting this night. It felt a little likeinviting your friends and family to the same holiday event, where you are hopingfor more than mere toleration-- you are hoping that the two groups mightactually enjoy their time together. I am grateful that there are many who quite literally embody in ourlives both these worlds—I do not stand alone. Still, being Christian in thetrans community or being trans in the Christian community has its moments ofincongruity. The hurt to many in the trans community in the name ofinstitutional religion, particularly some Christian Churches, looms large.There is much work to be done. I am grateful that my own Episcopal Church is asupportive ally and counter voice to the hurt.

Charito Suarez, the master of ceremonies, set the tone of thenight as she sang, “Perhaps Love,” a poignant song of love and loss. She thencalled Bishop Shaw up to the microphone to speak. I was trying to listen, butmy heart was pounding.  +Tomwelcomed the trans community to the Cathedral, explaining how blessed he feltthat the trans community, had trusted him with our stories, how he had grownover the years to understand our lives and struggles more and more, and how hewas committed to being an advocate on our behalf. In particular he told thestory of young man just 14 years old who had touched his heart.

And then, it was my turn to speak: I walked up, took themicrophone, and turned around. All of a sudden, facing the people, the Cathedral had just become much bigger than the view from the seats. These weremy remarks …

* * *

Hello, my name is Iain Stanford. It is my pleasure to welcome youtoday on behalf of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, and especially on behalfof the Crossing community. We are one of several communities that call theCathedral home. We are a community that seeks to practice what we like to callradical welcome, embracing all people, communities, and the earth. 

I feel particularly blessed tonight to have two of my worlds cometogether, The Episcopal Church and the trans community. Two years ago, havingjust begun my own transition, I sat right over there, in those seats, for thefirst Trans Day of Remembrance held here at St Paul’s. I listened intently toBishop Shaw as he apologized for the way Christians – and especiallyinstitutional Churches -- had treated trans people.  As I listened to his words, my eyes filled with tears, asdid those of the people around me. It was powerful moment, and for many, ahealing one. It lingers still in my heart today. Thank you, +Tom!

Tonight that memory, combined with recent events, brings me fullcircle. It is with great joy that I can report to you the events of this pastsummer at our General Convention -- the highest governing body of The EpiscopalChurch. We changed the non-discrimination canons of The Episcopal church -- thelaws by which we govern ourselves -- to include gender identity and genderexpression.

We were able to accomplish this feat through the efforts ofTransEpiscopal members, several of whom are here tonight. But more importantly,we accomplished this through you. We could not have achieved this historic shift without the witness ofthe trans community writ large. As +Tom mentioned, he and the other bishops,and the people in the Church learned from and grew in understanding because ofthe trans community. Without your witness every day, day in and day out, TheEpiscopal Church would not have been able to turn its face. This summer itembraced us. So tonight, I want to say thank you!

And again, welcome to my home! 

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