Friday, June 29, 2012

Rev. Susan Russell on "Putting the T in Equality"

Former IntegrityUSA President, Canon Susan Russell of All Saints Pasadena just wrote this heartfelt post on Huffington Post.  In it she shares not only the work we are about to embark upon at the General Convention of The Episcopal Church but also the journey of her wife, Louise Brooks on Trans Equality.  I am proud to have been a part of this journey with fellow trans Episcopalians who were present at GC 2009, and very much look forward to continuing the journey in just a few days.


Episcopalians Work to Put the 'T' in Equality
Rev. Susan Russell
Episcopal priest and activist from Pasadena, Calif.

When the Episcopal Church gathers in Indianapolis next week for its every-three-year General Convention, transgender inclusion will be on our "to-do" list. The last time we met, in Anaheim in 2009, we adopted some important resolutions supporting trans-inclusive federal ENDA and hate-crimes bills, adding gender identity and expression to nondiscrimination canons for lay employees and calling for church data forms to provide for inclusive self-identification. Not a bad start!

What we failed to accomplish was adding gender identity and expression to our nondiscrimination canons for ordained ministry -- and that's the work we'll be about in Indianapolis from July 5-12. But it won't just be the work of passing legislation. It will be the hard and important work of giving voice to the witness of transgender Episcopalians in sharing stories, touching hearts, and changing minds, because what we found in Anaheim in 2009 was that the presence of members of TransEpiscopal testifying in committee hearings, participating in round-table discussions, speaking their truth, and sharing their lives created a profoundly teachable moment that quite literally changed lives.

And one of those was my wife. Now, I have a hard-and-fast rule to never blog about my wife, but this blog is going to be the exception that proves the rule. A long-time activist, journalist, documentarian, and media consultant, Louise was convinced that gay, lesbian, and bisexual equality was a hard enough row to hoe without adding the "T" into the mix. "Let's fight one battle at a time" pretty much summed up her position -- that is, until the 2009 General Convention and the powerful witness of the transgender folk who so courageously shared their stories, their experience, their journeys, and their reality with her. She left Anaheim committed to finding a way to get their voices out beyond the relatively small audience of an Episcopal General Convention team -- and the idea for the documentary film project Voices of Witness: Out of the Box was born.

"Gender identity and gender expression are issues that can easily be misunderstood and cannot be wrapped up in a neat little box," said Louise. "So the goal of Out of the Box was to answer some of the most frequently asked questions. We have been blessed by a truly amazing cloud of witnesses who shared their stories and their lives with us. It has been a privilege to work with them to take this project from a dream to a reality as we offer their voices of witness to the church and to the world."

And so nearly three years later, the 27-minute documentary she produced and Douglas Hunter directed for IntegrityUSA has had over 5,000 views on YouTube and been mailed by DVD to every bishop and deputy in the Episcopal Church.

Response to the project has been overwhelmingly affirming, and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that it is doing exactly what Louise hoped it would do: answering questions, touching hearts, and changing minds. One of the most recent comments by a viewer was simply, "Thank you for lifting my veil of ignorance. This is a profound gift from people with profound personal courage and integrity."

Read the rest here

Countdown to General Convention: A Video Look at 36 Years of Mission & Ministry

As we prepare for General Convention next week, a  review of our LGBT history in The Episcopal Church from our friends at IntegrityUSA

Countdown to General Convention: Resolutions D002 & D019

Countdown to General Convention: Resolutions D002 & D019, reposted from Walking with Integrity

Commentary by Deputy Sarah Lawton, Diocese of California

Resolutions D002 and D019 seek to add "gender identity and expression" to the list of categories protected from discrimination in the church, including access to the discernment process for ordination (D012) and also more generally to the life, worship and governance of the church (D019).

Gender identity is one's inner sense of being male, female, or something more complex; gender expression is the way in which one manifests that gender identity in the world. These resolutions are based on our growing understanding and practice in church to respect the dignity of transgender persons (transsexuals, and others who differ from majority societal gender norms).

In 2009, a group of eight transgender Episcopalians--four lay people, a deacon, and four priests, ranging in age from 19 to 70 and hailing from dioceses around the church--went to General Convention to urge passage of several resolutions. They were organized by TransEpiscopal , which coordinated its work with Integrity's legislative team. Also in 2009, Deputy Dante Tavalaro of the Diocese of Rhode Island was the first openly transgender member of the House of Deputies. It was a groundbreaking year.

Although 2009 was the first time that any resolution on transgender concerns ever made it out of committee and onto the floor of either House, several trans-friendly resolutions were passed by wide margins, including a resolution calling for national, state and local laws to protect transgender persons from employment discrimination and violence. However, the resolution on access to the ordination process ultimately failed.

It did pass the House of Deputies by a super-majority, but after much debate was amended in the House of Bishops to drop reference to all specific protected categories such as race, gender, national origin, etc., in favor of the word "all." Because "all" does not always yet mean all in the Episcopal Church, and because naming those protections has been a long struggle over years, TransEpiscopal, Integrity, and other groups recommended that the House of Deputies vote no on the amended resolution, effectively killing the resolution.

This year D002 brings back that same resolution, along with D019 to address access to the church's wider life. TransEpiscopal is sending another team of advocates, and Integrity has made passage of these resolutions a top priority for this convention. For a more in-depth look at the life and ministries of several transgender Episcopalians, check out the Integrity-produced video, Voices of Witness: Out of the Box on YouTube, or -- if you're going to be in Indianapolis -- attend the screening at the Convention Center on July 4th. 

D002 Affirming Access to the Ordination Process

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That Title III, Canon 1, Sec. 2 of  the Canons of the Episcopal Church be hereby amended to read as follows: No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons. No right to licensing, ordination, or election is hereby established.


Title III, Canon 1, Sec. 2 of the Canons of the Episcopal Church states "No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons. No right to licensing, ordination, or election is hereby established." This resolution would revise this canon by adding "gender identity and expression" to this list of protected categories of access, but not of right.

As we continue to grow in our understanding and embrace of all human beings, it is important for us to be
specific in our naming of difference. This proposed revision is based upon our increased understanding and practice to respect the human dignity of transgender people - transsexuals, and others who differ from majority societal gender norms. Gender identity (one's inner sense of being male or female) and expression (the way in which one manifests that gender identity in the world) should not be bases for exclusion, in and of themselves, from consideration for participation in the ministries of the Church.

D019 Amend Canon I.17.5 - Extending the Rights of Laity

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That Title I, Canon 17, Sec. 5 of the Canons of The Episcopal Church be hereby amended to read as follows: No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.


This resolution would revise Title I, Canon 17, Section 5 by adding "gender identity and expression" to this list of protected categories. This resolution is submitted as a companion to D002 (“Affirming Access to
Discernment Process for Ministry”) because it makes sense to change the Canons in Titles 3 and 1 at the same time. As with D002, this proposed revision is based upon our increased understanding and practice to respect the human dignity of transgender people - transsexuals, and others who differ from majority societal gender orms.

Gender identity (one's inner sense of being a man, a woman, or something more complex) and  expression (the way in which one manifests that gender identity in the world) should not be bases for exclusion from the life of the Church at any level. As transgender people and their families increasingly come out within or find their way to congregations, their specific naming in our Canons, along with other groups who historically have experienced discrimination, will encourage congregations to deepen their understanding and widen their welcome, that we all might be empowered “to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.”

Resolution D022: Churchwide Response to Bullying

Countdown to General Convention: Resolution D022 (reposted from Walking with Integrity)

Commentary by the Reverend Cameron Partridge

Over the last two years since the rash of suicides that followed Tyler Clementi’s death in 2010, people across the United States and around the world have been wrestling with the problem of bullying. As an Episcopal Campus Minister, I was proud to stand with our chaplaincy that fall as it co-sponsored a vigil on Coming Out Day—we wanted to stand with LGBT youth and young adults, and with all who have experienced the profound “othering” that bullying reinforces. As Christians, we needed to stand together and say “enough,” to lift up the dignity of all human beings, to refuse to countenance the notion that bullying or hazing is something that all must pass through on their way to adulthood.

Bullying preys upon all manners of human difference, including but by no means limited to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. For too long, churches have contributed to the hostile climates in which bullying is condoned. Resolution D022 , inspired by a similar effort in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, seeks to counter that trend. Integrity and TransEpiscopal therefore strongly support it.

D022 Churchwide Response to Bullying

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 77th General Convention calls for a church wide response to the epidemic of bullying, particularly of those perceived as being “different” by virtue of economic, ethnic, racial or physical characteristics, religious status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention encourage new partnerships among our congregations, dioceses, campus ministries, National Association of Episcopal Schools, public schools, counseling centers, and governmental organizations in order to support and offer preventative programs addressing bullying, harassment, and other related violence, especially with higher risk populations; and be it further

Resolved, That these partnerships be encouraged to create or join with existing preventative programs which:
- utilize positive, inclusive, empowering and developmentally appropriate materials
- raise participant’s awareness about the issue
- focus on prevention
- seek to change bystander behavior into ally behavior
- create partnerships between youth and adults


In the fall of 2010 the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, followed by numerous others, opened the eyes of people across the country to the widespread and longstanding problem of bullying. Untold numbers of young people – people whose sexual orientation or gender expression, whose skin color or body size, whose clothing or religious practices mark them as different from their peers -- often suffer in isolation, forever scarred by their experiences. For far too long bullying has been viewed as a kind of inevitable “rite of passage” that those who are different should learn simply to survive.

As Christians we can do more than to say “it gets better,” powerful as the video project of that name has been. We can help make it so in the here and now. Christ calls us to welcome the stranger, to bind up the brokenhearted, to be agents of reconciliation, healing, and empowerment in this world. Working together, we can help transform the perilous, expanding terrain of the transition from childhood to adulthood. Our churches can be—as indeed many already are—spaces where young people can come to know what a blessing it is to be the people God has created them to become, and where adults can be equipped to support and celebrate this growth.

Committing to a churchwide response to end bullying will equip congregations and institutions with resources and partnerships to live out the baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being as we minister to the at-risk youth in our communities.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Please Help

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church begins first-thing in July.  That is about two weeks away.  TransEpiscopal will be sending a delegation of faithful Trans Esiscopalians  to be present at the convention.  We hope to send as many as twelve to fifteen individuals for at least part of the 8-day Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Most of the TransEpiscopal Contingent will be footing a good portion of the expense on their own (travel, housing, food, Convention Registration.)

For many years I served as a moderator for a long-standing Trans support group.  Over an over I heard how trans people were ostracized from their families, jobs, friendships and worst of all their Churches.  I have long hoped that the Episcopal Church, the church of my baptism, confirmation, marriage and ordination would be an accepting and open home for everyone, including trans people.  When I transitioned my own Bishop stood by me as did the other Priests I worked with.  Though it was challenging most of the people in the congregations accepted my changes and accepted my continued ministry.  I have a hope that The Episcopal Church can be accepting and nurturing of all Trans people everywhere.

For these reasons, I look to this General Convention to affirm the right of Trans people to be full participants in or church.  Three years ago, at the Convention in Anaheim, CA great strides were made.  This year I hope we can  to firm-up the rights of everyone to be considered for ordination.  Collectively we hope to educate the Church about who we are and what we experience.  Together we hope to meet the leaders of our Church.

To do all the above TransEpiscopal needs your financial support.  For those who have already given, I and TransEpiscopal thank you.  If you haven't yet given or if you plan to give more please do it now!  There is a Donate button to the left.  You do not need a PayPal account.  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.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Transformed/ing Belonging

or x Monsters in My Family....

1Sam. 8:4-15; Ps 138
2 Cor. 4:13-5:1; Mk 3:20-35
Episcopal Divinity School
June 11, 2012

I recently made the mistake of downloading for my two and a half year old one of my very favorite records from my own childhood, The Sesame Street Monsters: A Musical Monster-osity.  I say it was a mistake because its catchy tunes are now liable to pop into my head at any given moment, since we have to listen to it every time we drive together in the car.  His favorite song at the moment,  “Five Monsters in My Family,” dramatizes the asymptotic growth of an ever-expanding clan:  “five is such a scary number, I’m awfully glad that I’ve five...” but then “make it six, counting uncle Fred…” and counting “Jerry and Aunt Mary…Better make it, eight instead.”  It goes on from there, fading out with the shouted question “eleven?!” and a raucous give and take over further untold members.  I find it oddly, hilariously profound to hear “the lovable monsters of Sesame Street” openly singing to their audience about their “scariness,” about their expansiveness, and about the tensions in negotiating their belonging.  How common that dynamic can be in families of all kinds, including (hello?!) our churches.  How do we expand and transform our churches, our notions of family, our experiences of belonging?  In this amazing and anxious time, how might we both acknowledge whatever—whomever – might represent “such a scary number” and yet be willing to dive in and grow?  

            Our readings this morning underscore the power and challenge of this process.  Here we are just over a week removed from celebrating the Mystery of the Triune God, two weeks removed from the Feast of Pentecost.  We enter now the “long green season” of the Spirit, sighing with relief at the onset of summer (even if it is not yet technically upon us).  We open our thirsting hearts to the refreshing stream of God’s outpouring Spirit.  And what does God offer us but to be transformed.  It sounds so wonderful—and truly, to me, the centrality of transformation is one of the most inspiring features of our faith.  But believe me, I know —particularly as a transman— that as empowering as transformation can be, it is also unspeakably difficult.  It is the kind of challenge that we cannot undertake alone.  Indeed, it is a vocation that is ultimately accomplished by God working within in us, among us, in our midst. 

The challenging character of transformation comes front and center in our gospel passage from Mark.  In the verses just prior to our reading, Jesus has retreated onto a mountain from the thronging crowds and appointed his twelve apostles.  Now he has come “home” only to be assailed by the masses once more; so closely and massively do they press upon him that he is unable even to eat. (Insert line from Monsters song: “family dinners are really great, we eat the food and then the plate!”) His apparently alarming behavior in this context alerts his family, who come to restrain him, as well as the Scribes. Has he “gone out of his mind”?  Does he cast out demons by the authority of “Beelzebul?”  No, Jesus parabolically suggests.  To read his actions through a demonic lens is to blaspheme against the Spirit itself.  For the work of the Spirit is to cleanse, to re-configure, to re-create.  The Spirit drives us into territories we cannot comprehend, to wilderness terrain we may not wish to travel. 

It is in this same Spirit that Jesus challenges even the very notion of family.  Just as the people had communicated Jesus’ apparent insanity to his family at the beginning of our reading, now the crowd plays telephone for Jesus’ mother and brothers.  But Jesus’ reply confounds all: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” In one sense, the question might come across as offensive—particularly to his family of origins.  It’s hard not to wonder what it was like to be the sibling or parent of such a person.  And to have him turn around and respond to their concern in such a way?  Not exactly sensitive.  But, as usual, Jesus is after something deeper. Some scholars of early Christianity (particularly Elizabeth Clark) have termed Jesus’ words here “anti-familial.” It is far from the only such instance in the synoptic gospels – there is the statement about Jesus bringing a sword that will cleave families (Mt 10:34-39); the especially harsh statement in Luke, “unless one hate his” father, mother, sister, brother, one cannot be a disciple (Lk 14:26); phrases about neither marrying nor being married in the kingdom (Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:35) and more (e.g. Mt 19:10-12).[1]  In fact, as Clark notes, such statements form part of an important, ascetic thread that has been particularly confounding to Protestant Christian communities that place ideas of family in a central position.  But perhaps we might look at it this way:  Jesus takes this pressing moment as teachable, asking us to consider in what ways our very definitions of family might be constraining the work of the Spirit.  In other words, the point is not finally to erase but to transform our understandings of family.  It is to refuse to be held captive to rigid definitions of it.  It is to ask, how are we connected to one another?  How might we deepen that connection?  And how might that interconnectivity facilitate our greater growth into the heart of God? 

We can, in fact, engage that transformation-- albeit with a strangely paradoxical agency.  We can seek to cooperate with it, to participate in it rather than the two extremes of either resisting it completely or accomplishing it all on our own.   Paul speaks of this process with beautiful, multiple images-- language of putting on and taking off clothing; of our “outer nature” “wasting away” while our “inner nature” is “renewed;” of “this earthly tent,” sacred yet ultimately provisional.  God accomplishes our transformation—the divine outpouring of grace multiplies our thanksgiving, and in turn our heartfelt response helps spread that good news beyond the bounds of our wildest imaginings. Earlier in this same letter (or collection of letters, as 2 Corinthians may ultimately be), Paul speaks of this transformation in positive terms— “all of us,” he says, “with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror,” are “being changed from one degree of glory into another” (2 Cor 3:18).  This process is a mark of the freedom that the Spirit gives us (2 Cor 3:17).  But as unfathomably wondrous as this process is, Paul wants us to remember its difficulty.  The last sentence of today’s passage, which begins the fifth chapter of Second Corinthians—one of my very favorite passages in all of Scripture—points to that challenge.  Paul evokes how we “groan” in “this earthly tent.”  That groaning points to the birth-like quality of transformation.  Paul uses this same language in his letter to the Romans where he speaks of how “we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”  He sets this redemption, this adoption, within the wider context of the re-birth of creation itself (Romans 8:22-23).  And in this context the Spirit intercedes for us with (again, one of my favorite passages) “sighs”—actually groans—“too deep for words” (8:26). 

Ultimately God draws us forward into a birth that changes us beyond what we can imagine, a transformation that calls us into deeper communion with one another, and with the God who draws us home.  We are and will in some sense always be, family to one another.  And even as we come to know this, our conceptions of the familial will transform.  An image from yesterday’s Pride parade cannot but rise to my mind.  Walking in downtown Boston with a large contingent from the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, such joy was mirrored from our ranks to the gathered community on the sidewalks, and back again.  The sun shone down upon us and confetti silhouetted the resplendent dome of the State House.  How many people walking and watching were intimately familiar with the complexity of the familial— how many of us call our communities “chosen family”?  And yet even that insight, often gained through deep pain, is just the lip of the cup that we are called to drink together.  Who are my siblings? Who is my parent or grandparent? (How many monsters are in my family?...) What new frontiers of community and family does God invite me, invite all of us, to explore together?  We know it will not be easy.  Indeed, we know we may groan in its labor.  Hopefully we will laugh along the way.  Yet whatever happens, however much we struggle, ultimately we know that there is no wilderness into which the Spirit does not accompany us.  We know that always, that Spirit will intercede for us with groans more profound than words.  Amen.


[1] Elizabeth Clark, Reading Renunciation (Princeton University Press, 1999), 177-178.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Truth to the Table

From Historic Trans ENDA Testimony to the "Stalling" of a 2006 Antibullying Guide in MA  

Today has been a historic day for transgender people in the U.S.  Kylar Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, became the first openly transgender person to testify before the U.S. Senate.  The subject of his testimony was the Federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act – ENDA—that has been stalled in Congress for several years now.  At our last General Convention in 2009, The Episcopal Church passed resolutions D012 and C048, putting us on record in support of an ENDA inclusive of gender identity and expression as well as of sexual orientation.

In his testimony, video of which can be viewed here, and a transcript of which can be found here, Broadus spoke of his transition (from female to male) as well as his work history.  Transition was for him “a matter of living the truth, and sharing the truth with the world, rather than living a lie and pretending to be somebody every day that I was not…. [I decided to] bring my full self to the table and to the world.”

He explained that as he came into a fuller sense of himself in the late 1980s-early 1990s, his work attire gradually shifted from women’s to men’s business attire, and his haircut significantly shortened.  His colleagues treated him well, but within six months of telling management of his decision to transition, he “was ‘constructively discharged’…. While my supervisors could tolerate a somewhat masculine-appearing black woman, they were not prepared to deal with my transition to being a black man.”  He concluded stating, “it’s devastating, demoralizing, and dehumanizing to be put in th[e] position” of being denied work because of being trans.

As it also emerged today, the same thing can be said for an anti-bullying guide produced under the Romney administration here in Massachusetts in 2006.  The Boston Globe reported this morning:  “Former governor Mitt Romney’s administration in 2006 blocked publication of a state antibullying guide for Massachusetts public schools because officials objected to use of the terms ‘bisexual’ and ‘transgender’ in passages about protecting certain students from harassment, according to state records and interviews with current and former state officials.”  While at the time aids to the governor publicly attributed the delay to a standard review process, in fact an email from May, 2006 revealed otherwise:  “Because this is using the terms ‘bisexual’ and ‘transgendered,’ DPH’s name may not be used in this publication,’’ wrote an official in the Department of Public Health.

In other words, the governor did not want to be associated with a guide for protecting youth who might grow up to be like Kylar Broadus, or any of the participants in Integrity’s new video Voices of Witness: Out of the Box. Gay and lesbian youth might be one thing, but bisexual and transgender youth were something else entirely.

A year and a half removed from the devastating landslide of LGBT suicides last fall, that covert distancing and delay looks even more unconscionable.  This afternoon Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley commented, “For the Romney administration to block a discussion on the impact of bullying on LGBT students was to fail to protect some of our most vulnerable children.’’

As General Convention draws near, one of the major priorities of both TransEpiscopal and IntegrityUSA is for The Episcopal Church to pass a resolution on the problem of LGBT bullying.  As Harry Knox recently reported, Integrity will be showing the film "Bullied" on July 8th.  Today's Senate testimony and Globe stories underscore the urgency of this work, particularly for bi and trans people, that, as Broadus put it,  all of us might be empowered to "liv[e] the truth and share [that] truth with the world."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Voices of Witness: Out of the Box

After years of planning, IntegrityUSA, in collaboration with TransEpiscopal, has created the documentary Voices of Witness: Out of the Box.  As Integrity Director of Communications Louise Brooks has described it,

"'Voices of Witness: Out of the Box' is a groundbreaking documentary giving voice to the witness of transgender people of faith courageously telling their stories of hope, healing and wholeness.

"Gender identity and gender expression are issues that can easily be misunderstood and cannot be wrapped up in a neat little box. So the goal of "Out of the Box" was to answer some of the most frequently asked questions. We have been blessed by a truly amazing cloud of witnesses who shared their stories and their lives with us. It has been a privilege to work with them to take this project from a dream to a reality as we offer their voices of witness to the church and to the world." -- Louise Brooks, Executive Producer

As one of the participants in the film I see this as both an intersection and an opening. It is an intersection  of trans people and church-- church as site of ongoing growth and striving, and potential source of empowerment. It is also an opening-- an opening for non-trans folks who have never seriously contemplated trans people before, an opening for trans people who have not been able to imagine church as an empowering communal space, and an opening even of trans narrative itself, a first fruits of a much larger process for all of us of listening to the variety of ways in which we identify and narrate our lives.

A huge thank you to IntegrityUSA, to the entire production team for Out of the Box, and particularly to Louise Brooks, for her incredible work on this beautiful documentary.  Please share widely!