Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Church needs gifts of transgender Episcopalians

[Episcopal News Service] We may not yet be apparent, but there are transgender Episcopalians.

I am one and, with several transgender sisters and brothers, incarnated an otherwise abstract "issue" at July's General Convention in Anaheim, California, as a member of the TransEpiscopal delegation that sought recognition of our existence and action on the real issues -- social, political, economic, and ecclesial -- that have adversely impacted our lives.

Among us were three trans-priests; one trans-deacon; a 19-year-old transgender deputy, Dee Tavolaro from Rhode Island; and several allies -- gay, lesbian, heterosexual and inter-sexed. We were embraced by and embedded in larger lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) delegations from Integrity and the Chicago Consultation, but felt the need to stake out our own profile within the LGBT community and, more importantly, within the church.

I, for one, have always felt the need for a bold, independent transgender profile within the church and society for we exist, not as some abstraction, but as living, breathing, feeling human beings. As Shakespeare's Shylock asks in "The Merchant of Venice," "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?"

In the context of the church, I have always considered the nature of our "otherness" a gift to the larger church in terms of stretching the spiritual envelope of those around us. But, like the late Rev. M. R. Ritley in her seminal book with the Rev. Dr. Bill Countryman, "Gifted by Otherness," I have to ask: "How can we be a gift, if they don't know we're here?" And, by extrapolation, I have to ask, in the context of society at large, "How can we demand our rights, if they don’t know we exist?"

Our goals at Anaheim were minimal -- 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).

To those ends, TransEpiscopal put forth four resolutions -- to which two were added in the course of the convention -- in the hope that one would reach the floor of the House of Deputies to begin the educational discussion. To our surprise and joy, four resolutions not only reached the floor but were overwhelmingly passed by both the deputies and the House of Bishops, putting the church on record with regard to trans-inclusive hate crimes legislation and employment non-discrimination nationally and, in terms of lay employment, within the church. [Those resolutions included C048, D012, D032, D090.]

To be sure, there was one key resolution that failed. It was CO61 that would have added gender identity and expression to those categories of people in our canons who could not be excluded from consideration for ordination. It passed overwhelmingly in the House of Deputies, but, after considerable discussion in the House of Bishops, was amended, in well-meaning fashion, to strike the whole explicit list of those who could not be excluded from such consideration and to substitute, in its stead, "all people." Would that all people understood what "all" meant. Fearing that might not be the case and, agreeing with others, that such wording might put us back at square one in terms of racial, gender, and other discrimination, TransEpiscopal joined Integrity in letting CO61 die by not bringing it up again in the House of Deputies.

That stance was intended as one of solidarity with all who have suffered discrimination in our church and society. It was a stance reciprocated by Integrity's the Rev. Susan Russell, who assured us that "we'll come back around that one the next time out and -- I am convinced -- by doing the education in the next three years will get it passed in both houses."

That is our TransEpiscopal goal for 2012 when the General Convention meets next in Indianapolis. In the interim, we will continue our own educational efforts and applaud those of our brothers and sisters in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) who, in their August 2009 Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis adopted a "social statement" on "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," which, among other things, pledges the church to "attend to the need for equal protection, equal opportunities and equal responsibilities under the law, and just treatment for those with varied orientation and gender identity."

That statement sets forth a compelling theological approach to human sexuality that seeks to "discern directions for living faithfully in terms of human sexuality…not in some abstract ideal realm, but amid the complexities, conflicts, sorrows, discoveries, and joys of actual social and individual life."

I pray that we Episcopalians may also seek such discernment, not in secret, nor within our sexual cantons, but together in Christ in whom "there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female."

-- The Rev. Vicki Gray is deacon at Christ the Lord Church in Pinole, California and a member of the Executive Council of the Diocese of California.

1 comment:

Matt from Oregon said...

Deacon Vicki speaks of the gift of otherness made known by getting to know trans folk in the flesh. She is 100% correct. Her Christian witness along with the rest of TransEpiscopal was wonder gift to me and countless others at General Convention. Thank you!