The 2009 Transgender Religious Summit

Yesterday I was privileged to co-lead a workshop for the National Center for Transgender Equality’s annual Religious Summit and Policy Conference at All Souls Church, Unitarian. This year, for the first time, the Religious Summit is being held in conjunction with the organization’s lobby days in Washington, DC. Adam Gerhardstein from the UUA Office for Advocacy, Steven Baines of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and I spent the morning with about 20 brave and dedicated transgender religious leaders, their family members and friends discussing the basics of lobbying and the important impact that people of faith can have on public policy.

Conference participants also attended the church service on Sunday at All Souls, and it felt wonderful to work with this group of passionate leaders and to welcome them into the sanctuary that I am learning to call a spiritual home. I feel deeply blessed that my congregation truly strives to be a place for all souls who seek refuge there.

During Sunday afternoon’s keynote address at the conference, Kate Bornstein spoke of the pain that arises when people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, particularly transgender people, are not seen as legitimate members of their own religions because their lives and appearances do not seem to match up with traditional religious expectations. Kate has coped with this exclusion by continuing to do the work that is required of all Jews: performing mitzvahs. According to Kate, a mitzvah is an act that fulfills the Jewish commandment to do God’s work by selflessly helping others who are different from you.

In my experience, Unitarian Universalism welcomes me as a whole person and a “real” member not just despite, but because of my queerness. I have been blessed and lucky to encounter others who see my unique existence and perspectives as cherished and sacred. People in my religious community have never made me feel less or wrong because of who and what I love or desire. I am also deeply aware that many of my fellow humans have not experienced the same welcome. I feel an obligation, as a member of a religion that claims to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, to work towards the day when our Unitarian Universalist institutions and congregations truly reflect our radically inclusive and justice-seeking values. We have worked hard, but much remains to be done.

I’ll step down off of that soapbox for the moment.

Today, the 150 or so participants in the Religious Summit and Policy Conference combined lobbied on Capitol Hill sharing their personal histories, stories, and their conviction that everyone deserves full and equal protection under the law in their communities and workplaces. They are asking their members of Congress to support the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLHCPA) and the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Take action today, and add your voice to theirs.

A Move Forward towards Equality for Trans people–Colorado Jury’s Historic Decision

Reflections from Keith Kron, Director of UUA Office of BGLT Concerns

Today, a Colorado jury became the first in the nation to find someone guilty of a hate crime against a trans person. Up until now, people were able to use a “trans panic” defense, saying that they were deceived and panicked when learning the person they were meeting was transgender. See a news report on the story.

This is historic and can now help prosecute other hate crimes in other states that are trans related. Colorado is one of 11 states that includes trans people in its hate crime legislation.

Many UU congregations observe the National Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov 20th), and the UUA has resources to help.

The decision comes down days before the National Center for Transgender Equality hosts its Lobby Days where many, including many UUs and the UUA, will gather to support a federal legislation to support trans inclusion in hate crime and nondiscrimination laws.

There is still much work to be done before we see full equality for trans people, but today’s decision is a significant step in a better direction. The decision begins to signal that being afraid of trans people will not excuse violence toward trans people. It’s high time.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is International Transgender Day of Remembrance. This day was created to memorialize those that have been killed due to anti-transgender hatred and violence. It began in San Francisco in 1999 as a candlelight vigil in honor of Rita Hester who was killed on November 28, 1998. Events are now held all over the world in honor of those who are too often forgotten.

At least thirty people this year have been killed due to their gender identity. Of those thirty deaths, the majority identified as women and four have been in the last twenty days. However, few media outlets have reported on these deaths.

Take the time to think about the people whose lives have been lost. There are many vigils going on across the country this evening. I encourage you to attend one if you can.

The Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns also has a great resource called Between and Beyond: Common Questions About Transgender Identity. Take the time to look at it and discuss transgender advocacy with your friends and family.

If you would like to become more involved with transgender advocacy check out the following organizations:

The National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce http://thetaskforce.org/
National Center for Transgender Equality http://www.nctequality.org/default.asp