The Episcopal Church Takes Bold Steps on Trans* Equality
July 31, 2012 by Guest contributor
This guest post comes from the Revered Dr. Cameron Partridge, the Episcopal Chaplain at Boston University and a Lecturer on Liturgy and Preaching at Harvard Divinity School. He is an openly transgender man.
“What a day, huh? If the glory of the Lord hasn’t shown today, I don’t know what day it would be!” declared Bishop Gene Robinson at the start of his sermon during the Integrity Eucharist at The Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention in Indianapolis. Seated in the altar party with Bishop Mary Glasspool and Deacon Carolyn Woodall, I could hardly believe what was happening. That day the Convention had passed two resolutions (D002 and D019) adding “gender identity and expression” to the Church’s nondiscrimination canons for access to lay and ordained ministry. Now people like Deacon Woodall and myself, along with the several rows of transgender people in this gathering of 1400, can know that The Episcopal Church stands with us. Now those coming out as trans* in our churches, those families of trans* people seeking a church home, and those discerning a call to ordained ministry, can know that the Church pledges to “have [our] back” as +Gene went on to say.
To be sure, +Gene warned, no one in this Church—including nontrans L/G/B folks – should “underestimate [their] learning curve” on understanding trans* people. Indeed, it isn’t that the Church thinks it has arrived at a full understanding. But it has understood enough to recognize the dignity of our humanity—a promise we make and frequently renew in our Baptismal Covenant.
As I write, much ink is being spilt, much snark purveyed, over speculation that the Church’s increasingly progressive political stances is causing it to decline numerically. But no one is noting how this forward movement on trans equality has come hand in-hand with progress on marriage equality, not at the expense of the latter. I don’t take any of this silence as a sign that trans* people are somehow less threatening than nontrans LGB people—rather, to these outside commentators, it is as if the real presence of trans* people in this Church somehow does not quite compute.
It took us some time to land on the Church’s own radar as well, though perhaps not as long as one might expect. TransEpiscopal, founded in 2005, has supported resolutions at General Conventions since 2006 and contributed to the Anglican Communion Listening Process conversations in 2007 and the Lambeth Conference Fringe Festival in 2008. The 2009 General Convention put the Episcopal Church on record in support of a fully inclusive ENDA and of trans nondiscrimination and hate crimes legislation at federal, state and municipal levels. Over these years we have been building both our own organizational capacity and our relationships with pioneering organizations like IntegrityUSA, the Consultation, and the Chicago Consultation, without whose support we would not be where we are today. Together we have sought to personify an otherwise abstract “issue,” to reveal trans* people as human beings already exercising ministries within the church even as we have been knocking on its door. The fruit of this collaboration includes the documentary Voices of Witness: Out of the Box, directed by IntegrityUSA’s Louise Brooks and shown twice at General Convention; my essay “Transgender People and the Church’s Transformative Mission;” the celebration of trans* people in the Integrity Eucharist; two Chicago Consultation sponsored trainings offered to bishops and deputies by the HRC’s Rev. Allyson Robinson; and a Chicago Consultation luncheon at General Convention featuring stories from a young transman and his mother in their Arkansas parish.
TransEpiscopal’s own spirited Indianapolis team had a deep impact on the actions of the 77th General Convention. At a hearing for one of our resolutions, a member of our team described having recently served as a chaplain’s assistant in Iraq and how difficult it was to be trans* in the army. And in the House of Bishops I heard powerful statements of support, including one from an upstate New York bishop who invited the Church to consider its own liminal embodiment through the lens of its trans* members.
Someone recently asked me what I thought enabled all of these individuals and groups to come together. What enabled our fruitful collaboration? I’m sure it’s more complicated than this, but I would note two things. First, we all share a commitment to the fundamental mission of the Church that, as our Book of Common Prayer puts it, is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” We pursue this mission together, lay and ordained, LGB and T, as we “pray, worship, proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace and love” (BCP, 855). The second factor is trust. That’s something our organizations have built over time—in meetings, on the phone, and in the trenches. In this intense mix of the political and the ecclesial, trust has to be cultivated and nurtured carefully. None of this has been easy, particularly in a decade of fierce Anglican Communion division over our “issues.” But we have been forged in that fire. We stand together because we are all propelled by the same Good News, we are inspired by the same call to name and transform oppression when and where we see it. We are all agents of the creative love of the God who made us.
I look forward with great thanksgiving to living into the bold steps The Episcopal Church has now taken.
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