Thursday, October 29, 2009

Going to God School

Studies at the Missouri School of Religion

I apologize for being "away" from the blog duties for awhile. But I do want to write about my latest endeavor - pastoral studies, or as I usually call it "God School". I entered the program through the
Missouri School of Religion Center for Rural Ministry last January and have been able to keep on track with the unique program for the entire year. This has been an amazing journey for me for sure, but also for my teachers and classmates that probably had never encountered a transgender woman before. And yes, I'm their "first" - I get a lot of "firsts" in my life.

The program is with the
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who, I would learn to overcome my ignorance, is in close harmony with the United Church of Christ. Indeed, one major common undertaking is a joint Global Ministries program. Earlier this decade there apparently was some talk about merging the two denominations.

One difference I have learned is that Disciples practice full immersion baptism (though DoC will accept any baptism performed earlier). Another is most Disciples congregations practice Communion every Sunday, while many UCC churches do so once per month. And the last difference - and what may have been the hurdle not cleared regarding merger - is full, formal affirmation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Hmmmmmmmmm......

My first task then was to determine just how "welcome" I would be in the program. The classes are roughly one weekend per month, so we arrrive Friday evening, stay the night and have a full day of class time on Saturday. Some classes are Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Not only am I with my classmates in class, but we're together before and after, at breakfast, at lunch, at dinner. There isn't much chance to "hide" for sure.

Just prior to the first class, I talked with the director of the program who felt there wouldn't be a problem with my attending. She seemed quite pleased the school's first openly gay student had enrolled just five months earlier. I assured her my intent was to learn, not push boundaries or people's buttons - but that I wasn't going to "hide" either. If there were problems or concerns reported to her, I would be happy to leave the program.

The experience has been absolutely wonderful.

I'm on the verge of completing the first year's round of classes. There are 18 modules we must complete to obtain our Certificate of Pastoral Ministry. The program is crafted to help small, usually rural, congregations who cannot afford a fully ordained, Masters of Divinity minister to find pastoral leadership. Each module is offered only once in the three year cycle, but MSR has now developed a full load of on-line classes so that missing one for whatever reason won't cause someone to necessarily wait for another three years for the class to be offered again.

In fact, with the on-line program schedule for 2010, it will be possible for me to attend all the on-site classes and on-line classes and actually graduate in just two years. I'm going to give it a shot, even though I have thoroughly enjoyed, and been enriched by, the classes at the center.

As each class is taught by a different area minister, all with M.Div's and some with Ph.D's, I am exposed to many different thoughts, perspectives and experiences. In turn, I realize that my presence is bringing to them a unique color of God's rainbow.

One classmate, who lives north of Kansas City, is now my carpool buddy. It takes a little more than two and a half hours to get to school. Having a friend along for the drive is nice and we've had many theological, spiritual conversations. And others about more mundane things like Big 12 football, family members and cars.

Will I get called to serve a small, rural congregation here in the State of Missouri? Probably not, but can you imagine the statement that brave little congregation would be offering about God's love for ALL if they did so. For now, I'm quite content to simply learn and grow and share. I genuinely look forward to each time I am in class, with friends - no FRIENDS - who have through their welcome expressed their belief in the ministry of Jesus. Amen!!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Biblical Perspective

Just What Does That Mean?

A recent article about faith leaders talking about health care quoted a local minister who felt it was important for pastors to help their congregations understand the issues surrounding health care reform "from a Biblical Perspective". And I've been scratching my head ever since to understand just what that means. Now, I'll also add that this particular minister isn't a firebrand, ultra conservative type - he's known as a fairly moderate voice in both faith and politics.

There is no need for me to decry the embarrassing - and organized - vitriol coming from those who are opposed to any reform proposal - and in my opinion NOT because they might be good or poor ideas, but that they would be President Obama's ideas. Sadly, many of these voices who are trying to dominate and dictate - not discuss or debate - are from faith. So what does "from a Biblical Perspective" mean regarding our broken health care system?

Scripture clearly calls for healing of all types. Some of the more well known miracles of Jesus were in healing medical ills. Further, by his example, healing was meant for and given to all without cost or qualification. So does "from a Biblical Perspective" mean creating a system by which ALL can have access to reasonable health care? I would hope so. And that is precisely where the American health care system falls apart. That and the unbridled cost. Premiums that rise 15, 20 even 33 percent (I'm on the board of an area non-profit...these are not made up figures!) are obscene. If one uses the story of Jesus overturning the tables of the money-changers that "facilitated" access to the Temple, then the argument is easily made that these outrageous costs are also unBiblical.

My concern, though, is that "from a Biblical Perspective" is also - and in fact already is - being used by the ultra-conservative voices of Christianity. They are already raising the "specter" of surgeries for transgender people (even personally attacking one noted transwoman), the "horror" of access to abortion and forced euthanasia. Where in Scripture is this found? It isn't, but that doesn't matter when you are trying to instill fear in people in order to drain money from their pocketbooks.

Care. Compassion. Inclusion. If those are part of "Biblical Perspective" then I may be in the wrong school studying the wrong things as I work toward a Certificate in Pastoral Ministry. Those are the very reasons why I am pursuing those studies. The voices of exclusion, condemnation, hateful judgment are what kept me away from the Church for more than four decades. No longer.

I am not an expert on our health care system, nor have any ideas to best resolve the issues of cost and access. I need to leave those ideas to others. But something, several somethings, need to be done. Hyperbolic scare tactics are not the way to achievement.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


APA shoots down "reparative" therapy

First - an apology for my rather lengthy absence, I'll try to be a bit more active on current things and I appreciate those that continue to stop by this blog.

Today, the American Psychological Association issued it's strongest opposition to date regarding "reparative therapies" for gays and lesbians - and with that likely us transpeople as well. The statement plainly states that therapists should not ascribe to this hurtful, harmful approach to helping an LGB/T member through the challenges of coping with the condemnations and conflicts posed by their faith. But the APA stops short of where it needs to go.

The statement suggests that therapists recommend celibacy to LGB/T people in faith conflicts, or suggesting switching to a different faith journey. I don't see how celibacy is a viable option - would the APA suggest celibacy to hetero people who might be in conflict with their religious teachings? Many Catholics do use birth control in conflict with church teachings for example. Surely the APA understands, and should support, the notion that a healthy, active sex life is important to the overall mental health of all of us. Yes, some are, indeed, celibate - no quibble with that. But to suggest "celibacy" is a viable option for those that do desire sexual relationships, to me is callow and probably trading one "misery" (faith conflict) for another "misery" (no sex life).

Pointing someone toward a different faith path is a bit more appealing, but, I think, minimizes the importance of one's existing faith journey. Yes, many faiths are not kind to LGB/T people in their approach to our identities and lives - but that is only one, and some might even argue, small facet to the overall faith experience. So, while better that offering up celibacy as an answer, this isn't as potentially satisfying either.

Interesting that I encountered someone today who overheard a conversation I was having with a couple of other people. "Vince" identified himself as gay - and conservative - and Catholic. And he spoke of the marginalization he felt from the LGB/T community for his political and religious beliefs. It would have been easy for me to say, "like duh!" aren't ALL LGB/T people "liberal"...and not in less than supportive churches? And that was his point - a point I understood and supported. A therapist is to tell "Vince" he needs to leave the Catholic church?

The final point here is that the APA stopped short of where it needed to go - outright condemnation of "reparative therapy" including loss of licensure for those that practice this incredibly archaic and unproductive approach to mental health. "Aversion therapies" such as those made famous in "A Clockwork Orange" have been well proven to be ineffective at best and excruciatingly harmful at worst. Many of the "techniques" used by those that practice reparative therapies - and under the cloak of "religion" hence beyond regulation or the law - are roundly condemned by the APA and others and can, in fact, result in loss of license.

Read the article in the hotlink above and you'll find that some of the reparative therapists are finding some wiggle room with this new proclamation. There should be none. Period.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

N as in....

...New Hampshire, Nevada and - No.

The recent passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the House of Representatives by a fairly substantial 249 to 175 vote was very encouraging. While 17 Democrats voted against the bill (also known as the Matthew Shepard Act), 18 Republicans supported it mitigating the Democratic defections. The law is clearly needed - a similar version is now in the Senate as SB 909 - but it is being viewed as a test case for future LGB/T votes, especially the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in which us transpeople were evicted. A trans-inclusive ENDA is expected at some point, probably this fall.

Part of the abandonment of us transpeople was based on math - that started at 30, then grew to 48 Representatives who were nervous-kneed about supporting "gender identity" in the bill. Since the LGB's willingly and publicly cast the T's aside, we've seen some others who run for cover when the opposition characterizes legislation to give us fair treatment in employment and society as "pedophile protections" or "bathroom bills". While there has been some turnover from the 110th to the 111th Congress - notably gains in the number of Democrats - the basic math is likely fairly the same.

If the nervous-kneed total 30 - the possible vote becomes 219 to 200 and ENDA passes. 48, however, remains an insurmountable differential. So will ENDA become EDA (Employment Discrimination Act - allowing everyone, including gays and lesbians to officially discriminate against transgenders) - this fall? Will Barney Frank and the Human Rights Campaign again push for an "incremental" approach to equality and introduce EDA and not ENDA? Following the House vote on the hate crimes measure, I had hopes for an inclusive ENDA, now I'm not so sure.

The New Hampshire legislature took up the issue of an inclusive non-discrimination statute on the state level and quickly cowered into a puddle of goo when it got painted by the opposition - and the local LGB leaders were unable to counter the media's acceptance of the phrase - as the "bathroom bill". In the end, no one...not one legislator...voted to keep the transpeople included into the bill - the final vote was 0-24, even though some Democrats decried how the measure was portrayed, they still caved in.

The Nevada legislature won't even consider "gender identity" at all. Their measure is sailing through Carson City, but only for gays and lesbians - and this is the home state of the Senate President Harry Reid. If eventually enacted, I wonder just how long gays and lesbians will be allowed to discriminate against transpeople before the gays and lesbians decide to "come back" for the T's.

If these two states are willing to abandon transgenders so completely, they are clearly providing cover and political excuse for Congress to abandon transgenders for a promised E*DA bill (* - it won't include the N part). Will they...will the LGB community...stand for complete equality and inclusion? I'm not going to hold my breath.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Justice for Angie

Thanks to the Defense!

The trial of the murderer of Angie Zapata has concluded with the best of all possible decisions: First Degree murder with a Hate Crime enhancement. And while it is heartening to see that the jury did not buy into the "trans panic" argument pursued by the defense team of Allen Ray Andrade...I'd like to thank them for trying!

Yes, like many other transgender women in America, I was quite nervous - even perhaps expectant - that the defense might succeed in some measure with their tactic. But what their effort did was to show to the world (thanks to TruTV's live coverage) just what this type of legal tactic entails and how we are often portrayed by others. At its very core, the defense team tried to kill Angie a second time as they never acknowledged who she was.

All throughout the trial they referred to Angie by her birth name of Justin. All throughout the trial they caller Her "him". It was very compelling watching the defense pose a question that said "Justin, He, Him" and then have Angie's incredibly loving sister respond time after time with "My sister.....". Yes, it was most painful to watch as the process unfolded. Each time the defense said the wrong name, my stomach tied into knots that felt could never be untied. But each time they did, they showed the world what Transphobia is all about - denying the dignity of a precious human life.

In criminal trials, it is a long standing tradition to blame the victim...indeed these lawyers tried to paint Mr. Andrade as the victim - the "victim" of some supposed deception. The victim is never to be blamed or diminished. History has shown that we frequently wrap ourselves up into our "righteousness" and work to demean, debase and demonize those with whom we do not like or disagree. And then we can destroy them. This time it didn't work. From this day forward we must ensure this kind of mentality does not see favor.

Even though there was periodic ineptness and incompetence in the discussions by program hosts and guests covering the trial, I do appreciate the live coverage provided by TruTV. I make no pretense to gloss over why they decided to cover this case...I know why. But the truth always shines through when the door is opened for all to see. Even many of their "experts" thought a lesser charge might be more appropriate or the likely jury decision.

Angie can rest now, her loving family will continue to struggle to recover. They showed the world what Love is all about. Allen Andrade showed the world what Hate is all about. Time for you to decide which represents you.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Now its only Five Years, actually Three

First Bulgaria, now Ireland

Less than two weeks ago, I wrote about the lack of adequate justice meted for the death of a transwoman in Bulgaria. She was chased down, stabbed forty times, had her head smashed in with a video player and despite calling her murder an "absolute desire to exterminate", the judge issued a sentence of but seven years to the "exterminator". And yet the Bulgarian judge is still a couple of years ahead of his counterpart in Ireland.

Vincent Murtagh, an apparently homeless man attacked a transwoman/crossdresser with whom he had a one night stand after meeting her at a nightclub. The news story <click here> describes the victim as "a male nurse, dressed in a miniskirt, high heels and makeup. He was a Filipino emigre working in Dublin. Once in the apartment, the story says the victim did acknowledge that he was male but that didn't seem to matter.....then. Four days - DAYS - later, Murtagh returned but this time it was to slash his neck, not once but twice. Despite some quick responses to his cries for help, he died.

So what was the "motive"? Murtagh was "in great turmoil" at having what he felt was a "gay" encounter and just had to eliminate - nay, exterminate - the person with whom he'd been with only a few days before. The judge, buying into this gay panic or trans panic defense, gave Murtagh a sentence of only five years - then suspended the last two. Three years? That's all this Filipino crossdresser's life was worth? Its been said by others that transpeople of color are given even less regard by others, this seems to fulfill that most accurate observation.

Just where in these sentences is the value of human life? How can we as transgender people hope for any semblance of justic in life if there is no justice in taking our life? We seek equity and fairness in employment. We seek legitimacy in our legal status. We seek assistance and understanding for our medical needs. All worthy goals. But at the very least we should be able to expect a minimum of value to our lives. We're not there yet.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Almost, but not quite

Getting it right

One of the hazards of being a minority within a group - in my case transgender within the larger gay/lesbian community - is that you are never sure just how inclusive and understanding the majority is, or wishes to be. The sellout of transgenders by the Human Rights Campaign in the ENDA disaster of 2007 was probably the most egregious example of a lack of inclusion or understanding. Two more, but a bit more subtle, examples have come across my desk this week.

The first is from The Evangelical Network - an LG (B? and T?) affinity group working with "evangelical" churches. TEN describes itself as "a group of Bible believing churches, ministries, Christian workers and individuals bound together by a common shared faith, united in purpose and witness and established as a positive resource and support for Christian gays and lesbians." By not mentioning "transgender", perhaps they've already made their statement clear. But they did include a workshop at their 2008 gathering entitled "Ministering to the Trans/Bi Community", so who knows?

What caught my eye is that TEN has scheduled its 2009 gathering for Charlotte, North Carolina. Well that's a huge message - Trans Not Welcome. Or at least understood. Charlotte - like Phoenix the year before - does not have anti-discrimination laws that offer transgender people any assurance that we will have access to appropriate restrooms, not be legally tossed out of a restaurant or hotel or allow our local sisters and brothers the dignity of keeping their own jobs. Why would I want to attend a conference in such a locale? Why would I want to spend my money in support of that economy? I simply won't, so attending this conference - regardless of the program content - is a no-starter. The 2008 conference had some intriguing speakers, too.

The other example hails from North Dakota where the legislature is considering a bill that would extend anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill, SB 2278, is currently listed as still in committee hearings. It would be wonderful to add another state to the list of those that are already transgender inclusive, and especially a state not known for rampant liberalism, too. And yet.....

The bill includes "gender identity" within the definition of "sexual orientation", specifically definition 19, which states: " "Sexual orientation" means actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, or gender identity or expression." While this language will likely suffice to effect the desperately needed legislation, I'm not thrilled that transgenders are essentially made a component of "sexual orientation". This is a common misunderstanding - our gender identities have nothing to do with our sexual orientation - that is very difficult to overcome and it is not helpful when we don't even get that message through to our "allies". Do they really understand? Did they have any transgender input into crafting the bill? My guess is no to both.

I've often felt that the T was simply a politically correct addition to most organizations that list themselves as being "LGBT". My experience has been that many have little or no understanding of what the transgender experience is all about. While it is personally flattering to be invited to join boards or groups or committees, the invitation usually comes with the preface of wanting/needing "a transgender" involved. "A"? One? Yeah, sometimes I feel like a token.

Transphobia is present in the LGB part of the community. And there certainly is Homophobia within the trans community. Both are sad commentaries on our alliance. The truth remains however that LGB/T groups are dominated by the L's and the G's and as such issues and needs most important to them take precedent. I just with they'd get the T part right when we are included.