Crossing the T

Life at the intersection of Church and Trans with Rev. Allyson Robinson

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“Day of Silence” meets “Golden Rule Pledge”

This Friday marks the twelfth consecutive annual observance of the Day of Silence.  From the official site:

The Day of Silence, a project of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), is a student-led day of action when concerned students, from middle school to college, take some form of a vow of silence to bring attention to the name-calling, bullying and harassment — in effect, the silencing — experienced by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students and their allies. This year’s Day of Silence will be held in memory of Lawrence King.

DoS has become a hotly contested front in the culture war, as evidenced by all the strategizing among conservative Christians on how best to deal with the DoS (which they see as an attempt to legitimize behavior they oppose).  Some conservative leaders have called their followers to keep their children home from school on Friday.  Others have sought to institute a “Day of Truth” to draw attention to their beliefs about sexual identity and gender expression and to counter the message of those who keep silence.  The American Family Association has asked parents and teachers to use their influence against schools that support the DoS and to force students to abandon their vows of silence or face disciplinary action. 

Recently, Warren Throckmorton and Michael Frey announced a different approach: the Golden Rule Pledge.  From Dr. Throckmorton’s website:

We believe the teaching of Christ in the Golden Rule should guide our actions and attitudes regarding all. We also believe that we should work to make school a safe place for all students.  Thus, we advocate students spread a message like this on the Day of Silence:

This is what I’m doing:

I pledge to treat others the way I want to be treated.

Will you join me in this pledge?

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31).

The Day of Silence cards passed out by the students observing the event will ask, “What are you going to do to end the silence?” meaning what will you do to help secure a safe environment for GLBT identified students. This group advocates that we answer that question with a commitment to their safety and the safety of all based on the teachings of Christ.

A safe zone is where the teachings of Christ are truly observed. GLBT students and peers as well as other who appear different have been the target of harassment, violence and scorn. We believe this is wrong. The church should lead the way in combatting violence and harassment in schools. A variety of options exist on the DOS, including silence. Whatever option one chooses, we do not encourage protests, divisive actions or criticism of others. One way to live out our faith is to treat others fairly and with respect.

This, I think, is a good thing.

Edit:  Maybe.  Alex Blaze makes a very good argument at the Bilerico project that this is unethical  “counterprogramming”:

The idea is that Christians are supposed to against all violence, and that they don’t have to be OK with the gay to be against anti-gay violence.

Of course, in the process, they erase queer identity from the day, students who specifically are targeted for expressing themselves. These students need specific protection because the problems they face are unique, so countering that is problematic since it looks like an attempt to sweep the violence they face under the rug.

But it’s more than that – it’s counter-programming. And when someone already knows what one group of people has scheduled and sets up another celebration, event, or remembrance for the same time and the same people, no matter what it is, the intention is clear: to prevent people from participating in the previously scheduled event.

I need to think more about Alex’s argument.  When I first read about the “Golden Rule Pledge,” my context for thinking about it was very personal.  Many of my friends and colleagues (and even a few family members) disagreed with my decision to pursue gender transition on religious grounds, and I respect their feelings on the matter.  And yet none of them would sanction violence against me.  How, I’ve wondered, can they express their opposition to violence against me without compromising their beliefs?  Having read Alex’s article, I’m wondering how joining me in my observance of the DoS would compromise those beliefs.  Is it really necessary for someone to say, “I agree violence against LGBT people is wrong and should be stopped, BUT I still think homosexuality and gender variance are sinful?”  Why not just say, “I agree violence against LGBT people is wrong and should be stopped?” 

I would hope that Christians on both sides of this issue can at least offer one another sufficient grace to cover the complexity of it. 

Another edit:  Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin has written an excellent critique on the “Golden Rule Pledge” that has pushed me over the edge on the topic.  He lists four problems with this response to DoS:

  1. It is counterprogramming.
  2. It appears to be motivated by opposition to homosexuality rather than opposition to violence.
  3. It perpetuates the false Christian vs. LGBT dichotomy.
  4. The “Golden Rule” cards do not actually address violence; they are too susceptible to exploitation for the purposes of hate.

Jim sums up:

The Golden Rule is one of those wonderful aphorisms which serve more as a Rorschach test than a standard. It can mean whatever anybody wants it to means, allowing it to a provide a “nice” cover for those who have no intention of changing their attitudes or behavior. It’s too easy for the Golden Rule Card to become a sanctimonious, self-righteous and passive-aggressive reaction to the Day of Silence. It allows them to claim the moral high ground — a high ground which by their definition is not a level playing field.

Thank you, Jim and Alex, for helping me think through this.

(Thanks to Box Turtle Bulletin.)

Action alert: Demand investigation into murders of trans-women in Columbia

I just received this alert from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission:

On March 23, 2006, 19-year-old Darlyn Acevedo Ramirez was murdered in the city of Santiago de Cali, Colombia. This is one of 13 unsolved murders of trans women that have taken place in the past two years. Besides these terrible crimes, the physical, psychological and ethical mistreatment suffered by trans women in Santiago de Cali is a serious and continuous problem, and a daily violation of the human and constitutional rights of this community.

Among the rights violated in this case are:

  • The right to life;
  • The right to and security of the person;
  • The rights to be free from discrimination;
  • The right to equal protection before the law; and
  • The right to simple and prompt recourse to a competent court for protection

ACTION

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and Santamaria Foundation GLTB of Colombia ask your support in seeking the urgent resolution of these crimes as well as in instituting measures to prevent them from happening in the future. We request that letters be sent immediately to the Colombian authorities, demanding immediate action to investigate and prevent these terrible human rights violations.

Read the entire alert here, where you can also find a sample letter you can cut and paste along with email addresses for Columbian government officials. 

In the past two years, the community of over 3,000 Cali trans women has experienced 13 homicides and over 30 attempted murders.  That means that a trans woman in this community has more than a 1-in-70 chance of being a victim of a life-threatening attack.  And before you object by noting that Columbia has one of the highest murder rates in the world, note also that a trans woman’s chance of getting murdered is over 20 times the national average.  And that not a single case has been solved. 

Please take a moment to send some emails.  If you won’t do that much, please take ten seconds to pray that this violence will end.

Coming to a megachurch near you: Soulforce’s American Family Outing

I received the following today from Soulforce, the organization that sponsors the annual Equality Rides. I volunteered with Soulforce last year and have been impressed and inspired by their deep commitment to justice and non-violent action.

American Family Outing Aims to Find Common Ground with Families in Six of Today’s Largest Mega-churches

Recently supporters of the Family Research Council received an envelope stamped with the words “EXPOSED: Radicals’ plan to attack churches!” What was the nature of the “plot” that had FRC in such frenzy? Well, in December of 2007, Soulforce, COLAGE, the National Black Justice Coalition, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches sent letters to:

  • Joel Osteen and the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas
  • Bishop T.D. Jakes and The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas
  • Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. and Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland
  • Bishop Eddie Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia
  • Rev. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois
  • Dr. Rick Warren and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California

In these letters we expressed a desire to share a meal with leaders and families in their congregations on a designated weekend between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day 2008 (see complete schedule at www.soulforce.org/afo). Our goal is simply to traverse any division and try to find common ground, despite our differences on the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. We seek first to understand, and then to be understood, as we engage these congregations — all with pastors who have been ranked by Christian organizations as among the 50 most influential Christian leaders in America. These churches have large memberships, some exceeding tens of thousands, and each leader has an enormous influence on American culture through speaking engagements as well as best-selling books, radio and television programs that reach millions of homes each week.

I’m committed to praying for these families and the churches they’ll be visiting, and I hope you’ll to do the same. As the sacrament teaches us, reconciliation can begin with the sharing of a meal.

Hope: the knowledge that someone is listening

Earlier today I pointed my readers to a video and companion essay by transgender activist Joelle Ruby Ryan entitled “Casualties of Gender” in which she calls attention to the ongoing violence against those who defy society’s gender conventions.  Commenting on the piece, I decried the silence with which conservative Christian leaders have met these acts of violence, which I see as giving tacit approval to the use of violence to enforce gender norms.

Tonight I read a report in the Bowling Green State University News of a rally held at there to raise awareness of violence against gender-variant people.  Joelle, who founded the university’s transgender advocacy group, returned to speak at the rally.  But it was a comment from a participant at the end of the article that caught my attention:

Supporters from outside the group included Henry Koch, a Bowling Green resident, and David Ordorica, a campus minister at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, who both want to see the bigotry transgendered individuals face on a daily basis stopped.

Just because a person doesn’t agree with the way a person lives doesn’t mean that person should have to put up with violence against them, Ordorica said.

“I’m here to be a conservative Christian witness to the fact that we love LGBT people and stand against violence of any kind against them,” he said.

Thank you for listening, Mr. Ordorica.  You’ve given me hope.

Casualties of gender, casualties of silence

I hope you’ll set aside a few minutes to watch this video, highlighting the five murders and one suicide of gender-variant people that received media attention in February of this year.  How many victims must there be before it becomes an epidemic?

PhD. candidate and Point Scholar Joelle Ruby Ryan created the piece.  In a companion essay (available at this point only as a Word document),  she writes,

The tyranny of gender rigidity has a death grip on our culture.  And this system is not merely theoretical; it has very real casualties.  One of the things which troubles me the most is how few non-transgender people get involved in the fight for change.  How many transgender people have to die before you will get involved?  How many gender-variant youth will be brutally murdered or will commit suicide because they see no hope for a livable future for themselves, let alone a happy one?

I recognize and respect that many conservative Christians believe the binary gender system to be God-ordained and biblically endorsed.  I cannot believe, however, that any of them would endorse murder or suicide as justifiable means for protecting, enforcing, or advancing that system.  And yet those who speak for conservative Christians in America are largely silent on the matter of these deaths. 

To those who are prone to these kinds of violent acts, that silence implies that violence is indeed justified.  To the young straight man who has discovered that a gay classmate has a crush on him, the church’s silence says, “It’s okay to rough him up a little.”  To a twelve year old boy who has known all his short life that he needs to be a girl, the church’s silence says, “We’ll all be better off if you’d just put the gun in your mouth and pull the trigger.”  To the parents of a teenage girl who refuses to stop seeing her girlfriend, the church’s silence says, “Of course you’re justified in kicking her out of the house and onto the street.”  When the voice of moral authority refuses to speak, hatred and injustice hear all the permission they need to hear. 

For conservative Christian teachers, preachers, and leaders, speaking out against this kind of violence is risky.  Some in your congregation will wonder if your views on homosexuality have softened.  They’ll question your convictions against offering equal marriage rights to gays and lesbians.  There will be talk in the corners of the fellowship hall and around kitchen tables about whether you’re falling prey to the “Homosexual Agenda.”  Deacons might start receiving worried phone calls from influential church members.  Some members will confront you to your face.  Some will trust you less.  Some will start looking for another church.  The most hardened congregations will eventually suggest that maybe it’s time for you to move on, or will call for a vote to vacate the pulpit.

I recognize these risks.  I’ve faced them myself.  But I ask you, since when has preaching truth and justice been a risk-free proposition?  And I ask you, how much risk are you willing to take?  And I ask you, do gender-variant or questioning young people qualify as “the least of these” from Matthew 25?

And I remind you, as our Lord has said and will say again, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Can I Quote You? Bishop Gene Robinson on exclusion

It makes me wonder: if we can’t sit around a table and study the Bible together, what kind of communion do we have and what are we trying to save?

Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire and the Anglican communion’s only out gay bishop, on being formally excluded from the upcoming once-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops at Lambeth

None of us is safe…

…until all of us is safe.  And if you think gay teens like Lawrence King are safe in our schools, you’re wrong.

LOGO and GLSEN have put together a spectacular PSA on making our schools safe for everyone.  Click below to watch. 

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