Tuesday, December 16, 2008

HRC's Trans and Faith Curriculum

Thanks, but no thanks

The Human Rights Campaign's "Gender Identity and our Faith Communities" curriculum has finally been released. Can't say I'm very impressed and if you are a pastor or rabbi or considering utilizing this "congregational guide for transgender advocacy" please don't do it on my account. Understand that HRC has two ultimate goals in this endeavor. The first is to try to curry favor with the transgender community it so willingly cast aside, and thus alienated, by excluding us from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the fall of 2007. To this date, Joe Solmonese has not apologized for abandoning part of his professed constituency, but has also pledged to do it again should a non-inclusive ENDA move again in Congress. The second goal is to have you - the faith leaders - do the work they are unable or unwilling to do and that is to lobby Congress on my behalf. Thanks, but we're capable of doing that ourselves.

As to the curriculum itself, the lead editor of the project, Rev. Chris Glaser, begins with an introduction that blatantly belies HRC's past. In the introduction, Rev. Glaser writes:

"I was disappointed that “gender identity” had been dropped from the list of protected categories in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007 before Congress, however temporarily. Voicing my opinion, I was met with HRC’s commitment to grassroots education in religious communities to support an ENDA that includes gender identity when it again comes up for a vote."

Talk about rewriting history! Here's what Joe Solmonese told the Detroit PrideSource in its April 2008 issue: "In that context, did I think then that it (a non-inclusive ENDA) was best for the community that the bill pass? Yes," Solmonese said. "Do I still support that position? Yeah. What was best for our community was that the bill pass rather than fail. Sometimes it is hard for people to see the whole picture, but sometimes you are faced with choices." This is a position from which he has yet to publicly disavow. Then again, this "curriculum" isn't about trans and faith, its about glossing over HRC's past.

If you don't believe my viewpoint, then consider the advice in the Planning Your Time segment that states: "Remember that the curriculum is an advocacy training manual first and foremost. Throughout the curriculum, we have guidelines about how to cut or shorten the exercises if you are running out of time. You do not, however, want to give short shrift to the third section on advocacy training!". In other words, this is about Politics and not Faith.

The whole notion behind this blog and my ministry, Chrysalis Mission, is to bring the Transgender and Faith Communities together. I simply want transgender people to find caring and accepting faith houses if they so desire, and to help faith communities understand and welcome transgender people. I have friends who feel so badly harmed, one physically, by their faith traditions that they no longer pursue any journey whatsoever. Surely for some congregations, Social Justice work is an important part of the life of their tradition. And there is much Social Justice activism to be done to benefit transgender lives, and voices of faith are needed in this endeavor. But, HRC's outreach seems most politically unctuous.

I was simultaneously disappointed to see some transgender people participate in this effort (don't they understand the depths of the damage done?) and the fact that it wasn't completely the effort of transgender people. Major parts of this curriculum uses "they/them" instead of "us/we". This should have been written in our voice, not on our behalf. That feels somewhat patronizing. Even Rev. Glaser acknowledges this: "It is no longer sufficient simply to lump the transgender experience together with the lesbian, gay and bisexual experience. The transgender experience deserves and requires its own focus.". Then why not let us define and express that focus on our own?

One other thing chafes my sensibilities and that is the lengthy essay written by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott entitled "Seven Reasons Why Congregations Should Embrace Their Transgender Members". If the title isn't long enough for you, it takes her seven full pages to present her case - a bit too much methinks. Anyway, in her essay she tries to make the case that Jesus was intersexed and a bisexual, then says the Magi weren't really Kings, but queens. This kind of pontificating isn't helpful and won't win over many of the minds or hearts of the "movable middle". Further, it attempts to define, and thusly limit, God's omnipotence. The Christian belief, and Mollenkott is Christian, is that God's power, authority and wisdom is something that we truly cannot fully comprehend. Yet she purports to do just that:

On Jesus being Intersexed: "If Matthew 1:23-25 is read literally, the virgin birth of Jesus was a birth without male input, so to speak (parthogenetic). In that case, he was chromosomally female; and according to the Gospel account, he was outwardly male. (The male appearance, science tells us, can occur through a late-term sex reversal.) So anyone who takes the virgin birth literally must acknowledge that Jesus was intersexual (a form of transgenderism) and thus a perfect incarnation of the entire sex/gender continuum."

On Jesus being Bisexual: "If we take seriously the New Testament description of Jesus’ relationships with Mary Magdalene and with the Beloved Disciple (John? Lazarus?)(John 13:25, et al.), we might conclude that Jesus was bisexually oriented."

On the Magi (though she references a book "Our Tribe" written by Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson of the Metropolitan Community Church): "the Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson writes about the three Magi who brought their gifts to the baby Jesus. She comments that it is highly doubtful that they were kings, but quite possible that they were “queens” — and probably eunuchs and shamans. My guess is that they were people who today would be termed transwomen."

Mollenkott also at times, confuses male/female with masculine/feminine in describing certain traits ascribed to Jesus and other Biblical characters. Being transgender is about my identity, not my gender role - and it certainly isn't about making some kind of socio-political, or queer-feminist statement, religious or otherwise.

The final insult - and yes, I do find this curriculum to be just that - comes at the very end in which HRC very conveniently provides you with a "sign-up sheet" which asks you to have everyone who participated in your lessons to provide their name, address, phone number and e-mail. Yep, the ultimate end to this is recruitment for HRC.

You want to engage a better understanding of transgender people so that your church may become more understanding? Engage us, we aren't that hard to find really. Let us define ourselves, let us explain ourselves. If you wish to lobby Congress, do so with your own Representatives and Senators, you don't need to take a trip to Washington DC for a photo op on the HRC website. And understand there is so much more than ENDA and the Matthew Shepard Act that is important to our lives. Yes, both are desperately needed. But HRC doesn't tell you about our problems with the Real ID Act, the exclusion of medical insurance coverage, the need for Gender Identity Disorder reform (get us out of the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual!!!) and the many legal black holes we fall into.

So Caveat Emptor. Sure, use this resource if you'd like (there are some positive parts to the effort), but don't do it on my behalf. I can speak for myself. And so can my transgender sisters and brothers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Making Up the Rules

A Trans Pastor is Called

This smiling face is Rev. Jay Wilson who has special cause for joy this week as he was formally called to service at First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco this week. It is always a joy when transgender people of faith are allowed to express their talents in their denominations and their congregations. Congratulations Pastor Jay.

There are many transgender ministers who serve, so in that regard, Jay's call isn't groundbreaking. But what is important is that he has had to accept a different path to ordination and call from the traditional process of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. In fact, ELCA won't ordain Jay even though they have no rules addressing transgender ministers. His call is through Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, an inclusive group that embraces and supports the pastoral gifts of lesbian, gay and transgender people.

In the ELM's news release, I saw this statement:

"Wilson was removed from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) candidacy process due to his status as a transgender person even though there is no official policy against transgender clergy."

Now, ELCA does not ordain lesbian or gay candidates who do not renounce their sexuality via celibacy - something that I oppose, but at least that's the rule and everyone knows it. But there is "no rule" regarding transgenders? Just how then do they deny ordination to someone who is transgender?????

I was involved in softball for nearly two decades as a coach, player and umpire. Can you imagine playing softball - or any sport for that matter - whereby the umpire could simply make up the rules as they pertain to you, and you only? Just how would you be able to fairly participate or compete? Can you imagine police officers who could simply make up the rules regarding driving a car as they pertain to you, and you only? Just how would you be able to effectively and safely drive your car? Such is the situation that Pastor Jay encountered with the ELCA. And that is all any of us, clergy and laity, faithful and secular desire, to be able to fairly participate in our careers and our communities.

Other denominations have explicitly or tacitly endorsed transgender ministers, both those who transitioned before ordination and those who did so afterward. Still, the ELCA certainly has the right to determine fitness for service, but to have no rules and then deny ordination without any Scriptural or denominational foundation is absurd. I won't even grant the ELCA any lattitude for not having considered transgender ministerial candidacies, we've been around too long now with too many other higher profile cases to plead ignorance...its more like intentional ostrichism.

I began this blog to make the case that there is no Biblical prohibition to gender transitioning and I'd like to think that I have done so persuasively. In fact, I have pointed to certain verses and passages that seem to understand and accept just who we are. And I frequently raise eyebrows when I suggest I have more respect for people like Fred Phelps, James Dobson, Peter Labarbera and the like than I do for those who claim support and betray that promise, or worse yet simply make up the rules as we go along. While I do not, and never will, respect the message offered by those divisive and spiteful detractors, they at least have integrity in their beliefs, however odious they may be.

I am unfamiliar with the polity of the ELCA, but my guess is that our status within the full life and participation of the denomination - including ordination - won't be something they will consider any time soon. Accept us, or reject us, that is your choice - but don't make up the rules on the fly. That's all any of us want.