Thursday, May 1, 2008

Transgender Priest Testifies in Massachusetts

In Support of HB 1722, An Act Relative to Gender Based Discrimination and
Hate Crimes
Massachusetts Judiciary Committee, March 4, 2008
The Reverend Cameron Elliot Partridge

My name is Cameron Partridge and I testify to you today as a Massachusetts
resident since 1995 and a transgender man. My vocation takes place in two
arenas, one as a doctoral student in the Religion, Gender, and Culture
Program at Harvard Divinity School and the other as a priest of the
Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts serving in Allston/Brighton, where
transgender woman Rita Hester was murdered in 1998. I am here in support of
HB 1722 because I care deeply about the need to protect all people from
discrimination and hate crimes. I care not only because I myself would be
covered by this legislation in my secular work but also because many people
I know and work with—friends, family, students, parishioners, fellow clergy
and people of various faiths—want these protections to become law.

Since my transition from female to male six years ago, I have learned that
although many people are not well informed about transgender people, they
are able to learn, able to be respectful, and in many cases able to be
supportive, in all sorts of settings. My transition as a first year graduate
student interfaced with many different departments of the university, from
my doctoral adviser, to the Registrar, to my physicians in the university's
health services, to the people who take photos for campus identification
cards. In all cases people were more than accommodating. My favorite moment
came from the Registrar who declared "I want to welcome you to the male
gender—it's served me well." I am proud that since then Harvard has joined
the growing group of universities and corporations across the country that
are adding gender-based protections to their non-discrimination codes.
Protecting people of diverse gender identities and expressions is clearly
the right thing to do, and it also need not cause institutional confusion or
interpersonal difficulty. The world won't come to an end because we
acknowledge and protect people of various gender identities and expressions.

I am extremely fortunate to have a family that is supportive of me. But on
at least one occasion I heard concern that I might be rendering myself
"unemployable." The notion that transgender people are by definition
"unemployable" is a poisonous perception, quite ubiquitous, that this
legislation can help address. In fact, it need not be a huge deal to employ
a transgender person. Thus far I have worked both as a teaching assistant
and as a priest with no problems; in both of my lines of work, my experience
as a transman has felt like much more of an asset than a liability. The
question isn't—and shouldn't be—what unusual personal history I may have but
whether and how well I can do the job. Some of us who identify as
transgender may choose to be open while others may not. Some of us may not
have a choice. The fact that I went to a women's college, for instance, will
always show up on my resumé. But it shouldn't matter. Thus while I have been
extremely fortunate, I know I may not always be. None of us should have to
fear that we may be denied equal access to housing, to education, credit or
to jobs because our simple existence happens to challenge other people's
ideas about sexual difference. When we heard the argument earlier that
because transgender people are such a small percentage we are less worthy of
protection, I was reminded of the parable of the one sheep and the
ninety-nine. The implication of the previous speaker's remarks seemed to be
that the one sheep should be left out there. First, I disagree with that
logic, as does the parable itself: in it, the shepherd steps away from the
ninety-nine for a moment to bring back the one. But second, transgender
people are connected to so many people, as we have heard from many others
today: parents, spouses and partners, siblings, friends, colleagues,
communities of faith, all of whom are among the ninety-nine. When one of us
is snatched away, the remaining ninety-nine are injured as well. This
legislation is part of the ongoing process of making it safe for *all* of us
to become and to flourish as the people we are.

I realize that there are people of faith out there who believe that
transgender people somehow deny or distort the goodness of our creation.
What I can tell you is that for me, coming into myself as a transman has
been and continues to be a sacred journey, something for which I give thanks
and something that has opened my eyes both to the tremendous diversity of
creation and to the many ways in which humans grow and change over a
lifetime. I have been blessed to work part time in a parish and in a diocese
that really means it when it says it supports all people. So let there be no
mistake: there are many people of various faiths who are supportive of
transgender people, and there are many transgender people who are people of
faith. The baptismal covenant of my tradition calls for us to strive for
justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being. As I see
it, this proposed legislation participates in that ongoing mandate, and I am
proud to support it. I urge you to support this legislation and to ensure
that the legislature has a chance to pass it. Thank you.

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