It's been a tense, exciting day in the Boston area as the legislation known as the "Transgender Equal Rights Bill" makes its way out of the Judiciary Committee for the first time in six years. The bill is heading to the legislature with a vote expected tonight or tomorrow as the winter recess approaches.
Yesterday the Boston Globe and Boston Herald reported on the impending vote, and this morning both papers reported on dueling press conferences in which the bill's opponents called the vote a "distraction" from economic issues. When one such representative argued, "The goals of the advocates is to have this litigated in the courts,” he was confronted by Ken and Marcia Garber. The Garbers' transgender son was, as the Globe explained,"bullied and discriminated against before he lost his life to a drug overdoes at the age of 20." When the representative "said he did not have time to answer their question because he was late to a meeting," the Garbers, faithful members of Dignity Boston, "challenged Lombardo’s contention that the transgender bill is a distraction from bills that would protect the state’s economic future, [saying] 'Some of these people will never have a future if they don’t do something' to pass the legislation."
The trans community had strong victories late last Spring with Connecticut and Nevada added to the ranks of the now fifteen states and 132 counties and cities with nondiscrimination and hate crimes protections.
This drama happens to be unfolding during Massachusetts' "Transgender Awareness Week," in which a number of colleges, universities and other community spaces are holding trans-themed events. The culmination of the week is the twelfth annual observance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). Though international in scope, the TDOR movement was sparked by a death here in Allston, about a mile away from where I write. Rocker Rita Hester was murdered on November 28, 1998 almost three years to the day after the loss of Chanelle Pickett on November 20, 1995. A growing number of Episcopal (and other) congregations have been hosting TDOR events in solidarity with trans communities, even as the observances themselves usually avoid the languages, music or imagery of specific (or at least any one) religious traditions. Indeed, in his TDOR welcome at a packed Cathedral Church of St. Paul last November, Bishop M. Thomas Shaw offered an apology to the gathered community for the ways in which Christian communities in particular have failed to welcome trans people and have, as he put it, "misrepresented God" to us. I posted a piece about that TDOR here. This Sunday the Boston TDOR will take place once again at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul.
Today Bishop Shaw reiterated his support, that of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts (as of its 2008 Convention), and that of The Episcopal Church (as of the 2009 General Convention) for the legislation. His statement reads,
"Hopeful that after six years the transgender equal rights bill will come to the Massachusetts Legislature for a vote this week, I continue to urge lawmakers to support it. Now is the time to carry civil liberty for all people another step forward by safeguarding the equality and honoring the human dignity of transgender people. Passing the bill this week will serve as a powerful sign of hope, particularly as Transgender Day of Remembrance is being observed at our Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston this Sunday. I pray that Massachusetts will open this new door this week so that we might step through it together toward social justice for all."
The full text of the statement is available on the Diomass website, here.
As it so happens, Sunday is also one of the major examples of what I call "hinge days" in the liturgical year, those days in the Christian calendar that form us with peculiar intensity as we move from one liturgical season to the next. November 20th marks the last Sunday after Pentecost, otherwise known as the Feast of Christ the King or the Reign (or perhaps, as Verna Dozier might put it, the Dream) of Christ. Sunday's gospel text from Matthew 25 issues the ultimate challenge of justice from the Son of Humanity, enthroned in eschatalogical splendor: will we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned? As we "do it unto the least of these," we "do it unto" Christ, we are reminded with unsettling specificity.
As the battle over this legislation heats up, I find myself seeking to be present to it as a holy time and space, as an invitation to be, as Bishop Shaw often puts it, opened. It strikes me that this openness is not simply a static state of welcome and inclusion, but an ongoing process of being opened, transformed by God, ushered into new ways of being in the world, into a new time and space that Christians name as the reign or dream of God. That notion of openness is unsettling and challenging indeed, but hopeful and promising beyond our wildest imaginings. May it be—may it become – so.
Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge is the Episcopal Chaplain at Boston University and a Lecturer at Harvard University.