A Message on Transgender Remembrance Day

Today is a day of mourning and remembrance for transgender people who have been killed by hate, cruelty, and ignorance.  As we mark this day, let our grief resolve into action.  Here are three simple things any of us can do to make our religious communities more hospitable and life-saving spaces for transgender people:

1.  Use language that includes all transgender people.  This means going beyond gender binary language such as “brothers and sisters” and “his or hers” in order to create an affirming atmosphere for multiple gender identities.  Here are some good alternatives to use instead of gender binary terms:  “people of all genders and all gender expressions,”  “our whole human family.”   In hymns and songs, “brothers and sisters” can be replaced by “people together.”  For example, “Come build a land where people together, united by God…” rather than, “Come build a land where sisters and brothers…”  Know that re-inscribing the framework of only two genders is salt in the wound for some members of the transgender community; it continues the “only two genders” framework that puts people’s lives at risk.  Learn to add the pronouns “ghe” and “gher” or “ze” and “hir” or “phe” and “per” to his and her – to acknowledge the there are are than two genders: “his/her/gher.”

2.  Educate yourself and others about transgender experiences.  Our stories are available in films (“Call Me Malcolm,” “Beautiful Boxer,” and “Transamerica”) and books (“Becoming a Visible Man” by Jamison Green, “She’s Not There” by Jennifer Finely Boylan, and “Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation” by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman). For basic information on “Transgender 101” see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender or http://www.fenwayhealth.org/site/DocServer/Handout_7-C_Glossary_of_Gender_and_Transgender_Terms__fi.pdf

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has created transAction: A Transgender Curriculum for Churches and Religious Organizations available at http://www.welcomingresources.org.

3.  Advocate for the affirmation and advancement of transgender religious leaders.  This is one of the best things we can do to enable our religious communities to become more welcoming and supportive environments for at-risk transgender people.  Unfortunately, many religious traditions, including Unitarian Universalism, remain contexts in which transgender religious leaders struggle to find or keep employment and contend daily with unspoken and explicit prejudice.  The people who know this best are transgender religious leaders themselves.  It is important that progressive people of faith listen to their own fellow congregants and transgender ministers as we work together to make our own religious communities into affirming, inclusive and safe space.  Supporting transgender religious leaders will enable our Unitarian Universalist movement to become a much more welcoming and supportive environment for at-risk transgender people.

For further resources and ideas: the Transgender Roundtable of the Center for Lesbians and Gays in Ministry and Religion (www.clgs.org ) brings transgender religious leaders and allies together.  TRUUsT (www.TRUUsT.org) advocates specifically for Unitarian Universalist transgender religious professionals.  We welcome your support.

Yours in struggle and hope,

Rev. Laurie J. Auffant, Rev. Sean Parker Dennison, Mr. Barb Greve, Rev. Paul Langston-Daley, Rev. Rebecca Parker, Rev. Josh Pawalek

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Newly adopted Vision and Mission Statements for TRUUsT

Our Mission

TRUUsT advocates for the gifts, safety, liberation, and leadership of transgender religious professionals in Unitarian Universalist ministries and institutions.

Our Vision

Born out of commitment to the gifts, safety, liberation, and leadership of transgender people, TRUUsT is at the center of a new spiritual awakening that transforms UUism through worship, pastoral care, theology, education, and community to the end that transgender ministers and their ministries are thriving, and a new culture of solidarity and common purpose among Unitarian Universalists committed to countering intersecting oppressions is flourishing.

TRUUsT’s countering oppression work includes but is not limited to: racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, classism, sexism, ageism, colonialism, sizeism.

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Rev. Sean Speaks at Rally on Utah Capitol

Remarks for the Rally for the Common Ground Inititative
January 24, 2009
Rev. Sean Parker Dennison

I am a religious leader, a minister. I am also a transgender man. To many, those two things seem to be at odds. But for me, they are deeply intertwined. My faith is at the heart of my story and at the heart of why I am here, looking for common ground with others in protecting the civil and human rights of people like me.

When I transitioned almost 12 years ago, it was not something I did in spite of my faith, it was something I did because of my faith. My faith told me to strive for honesty, wholeness, and health for myself and for all human beings. When I found that the word “transgender” described me, and that transgender people had a history and community, I knew that I could no longer live a lie. I knew that my faith called me to live with both integrity and joy, and that meant living honestly as a transgender man. I prayed, I sought the counsel of wise leaders, I weighed the risks, and I transitioned. I knew that God wanted me to live, and to live abundantly.

When I say that I weighed the risks, I mean that I had to think about many things: Transgender people are at least 10 times more likely to be murdered than other people; there are only a handful of transgender people who have been able to find employment in my field—ministry in liberal congregations and many who have found no work at all; transgender people are routinely unable to get housing; and there are ongoing and severe issues in getting any, let alone adequate health care. And many transgender people are killed each year just for who they are. I’ve been lucky so far—I have a place to live, a job, medical insurance and one understanding doctor, and thus far—my life. But the reason I am here today is that at any minute, I could still lose any of them. No one should have to rely on luck for these things. Like every other American, we should be able to rely on the rule of law, the rights that are enshrined for all citizens in our constitution.

Those are the self-interested reasons for me being here. But I have better reasons. I am here, first and foremost, as a person of faith who knows that every human being is a child of God and deserves to be treated as a precious part of the human family. I am here because I believe that all faith traditions—even the most conservative—share a message of compassion and justice for all people. Every major religious tradition includes commands (not suggestions!) to care for the weak, the downtrodden, the widow and the orphan. That is the common ground on which we stand, and from which we can move forward together.

Of course, when I tell you that, I am simply preaching to the choir. So let me speak directly to those who are not here, who don’t know what to think, who worry that to support this initiative would mean giving up something of their belief in order or morality. To them I say:

Supporting this initiative does not require you to say that being gay is okay. It requires you to say that discrimination, hatred, and prejudice are wrong. It requires you gather your moral courage and say, “I will stand for justice for all because I know that every child of God, while imperfect, is precious. I will take my stand on the side of Love, because God is Love.”

To take this stand may well be a risk, but you have always known that your faith will require you to take risks. To take this stand my well make you unpopular, but those who have stood up for what is right have often been unpopular. You may risk the comfort of fitting in, of avoiding conflict, of remaining silent. But in return, you will know that you chose to stand up and say no to hatred, to discrimination, and to prejudice. You will know that you chose love over fear.

My friends, I believe that this great state is full of people who know that prejudice and discrimination are wrong. I believe that there are politicians in this statehouse who know that the ideals of democracy –the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—are vital to the health of this state and the kind of people we want to be. I believe that the era of discrimination, hatred, and prejudice is coming to a close.

It is my great hope that Utah will take the opportunity to surprise the world by leading the way. We have a chance, by adopting these statutes that make up the Common Ground initiative, to tell the world that here in Utah, we have grown to understand that the law is not a tool to be used to punish, but an instrument to protect our commitment to justice, to liberty, and to the ever-present, all-encompassing presence of Love. Let us show the world that we in Utah have found common ground on which to stand: a commitment to peace, hope, faith, and justice for all. That is my hope and my prayer. May it be so. Amen.

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Excellence and Oppression

–a commentary by Rev. Sean–

Clearly, Rev. Christine and the event she attended about “Excellence in Ministry” got me thinking. Today’s thoughts revolve around the ideal of excellence and how oppression works.  If, by virtue of being part of an “historically marginalized group” I am seen as very different from the image  of the “ideal minister,” how will that affect perceptions of excellence?  For example, as a transgender man, my very identity causes anxiety in many congregations and search committees.  I am often perceived as a “risky” candidate–not because of the quality of my ministry, but because of worries about my identity.  Those worries are not something I create, but are created to serve the status quo–stigmatizing, punishing, and planting fear of any who differ from the norm.

But wherever they come from, fears about identity get in the way of perceiving excellence.  A “marginalized” identity looms so large that the quality of a person’s ministry is overshadowed and hidden.  This is the reason it is openly admitted that ministers from “historically marginalized groups”  have to be twice or thrice or ten times as good as ministers whose identity fits the ideal. Even as women have slowly become the majority in our ministry, this is still known to be true of their ministry.  Imagine how it is for ministers even further from our Unitarian Universalist “norm!”  There is little room for them to be ordinary. Or have a bad year. Or–and this is especially sad–have time to acquire the skills and wisdom they need to become truly excellent. So many people from historically marginalized communities leave ministry within just a few years.

There’s another part to this.  Every time I’m rejected because of my identity, I begin to question my own excellence.  My confidence suffers and with it, I’m sure my ministry does too.  This is internalized oppression at work and it wears at the soul of any minister who is marginalized for differing from the norm.  I’ve seen it time and time again–a slow-growing soul weariness at having to explain, educate, and sometimes defend one’s right to minister and even one’s right to exist.  And even when that battle is won, there is the soul-deadening work of “covering.”

“It is a fact that persons who are ready to admit possession of a stigma (in many cases because it is known about or immediately apparent) may nonetheless make a great effort to keep the stigma from looming large. . . . this process will be referred to as covering.” Erving Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (1963).

The need to manage identity, stigma, and difference magnifies the vulnerability of these ministers exponentially.  The hard work of covering makes the need for self-care and other soul-satisfying activities and relationships vitally important.

And yet, most of these vulnerable ministers end up in small, struggling congregations. These are the congregations for whom the hunger for ministry outweighs the “risk” of having a “non-ideal” minister.  The ministry of these churches is often conflicted, poorly paid, and full of the stresses of trying to grow and change in order to survive.  Thus, our historically marginalized ministers are most often serving congregations where they are managing many things at once, far from colleagues and chances for ongoing support.  And in some cases, colleagues themselves may struggle to understand and accept a minister whose identity is outside their comfort zone.

I have just one more point.  Those of us from historically marginalized social locations are not really free to talk about these challenges. (It’s one of the bigger aspects of “covering” to maintain the fiction that we are fine, everything is fine…”)  If we do admit that we are exhausted, disillusioned or angry, we are often labeled as “whiners” or “trouble-makers.” It’s only been said to me once, but it has been said to me: “You should be grateful to be a minister at all.”  To be perceived as “excellent” most ministers of color, ministers with disabilities, genderqueer or transgender ministers, gay, lesbian and bisexual ministers, (and many more who challenge the norms of our culture of ministry) are expected to hide our struggles and offer unending hope and encouragement to our movement–sometimes to the very people whose words stung so badly or whose rejection hurt us to the core. And with that, I’ve probably said too much…

*cross-posted at ministrare

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Looking for a Logo–*Contest*

Hello!  One thing that this website needs is a logo.  So I am announcing a logo contest.  The prize will be a basket of trans-related resources for you and/or your congregation.  There will be books, DVDs–even children’s resources! To enter, send the logo–with your name, address, email, and any other relevant contact information to dre.barb@gmail.com.

There are a few things we’re looking for and a few things we’re NOT looking for.  Here is what I remember of our conversation about what we’d like:

  • It’s important that the image not imply that transgender is simply “male, female, or other” or that being trangender is simply being between male and female.  So no combining of pink and blue or the “male” symbol and the “female” symbol.  While gender is often described as a continuum, we want to make sure our logo includes people who see themselves as “off the charts” or something that is different than “in-between.”
  • It’s important that our logo clearly convey that we are Unitarian Universalist.  We’ve played around with the word “TRUUsT” with the “U’s” coming together to form a chalice.
  • While we are part of the BLGTQQI community and we claim that boldly, we don’t have to rely on rainbows, triangles, or pink and lavender to make the connection.  Bold colors would be nice.
  • We need it to be print ready, scalable, and for you to be willing to donate it us. You will get credit on all publications with the words “Logo designed by…”(as well as receiving the nifty prize basket.)
  • We need all entries by June 15.  We will notify the winner by July 1, 2008.

Have fun being creative!

Sean

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TRUUsT is Born!

Transgender Religious Professional Unitarian Universalists Together (TRUUsT) is a newly forming organization within the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) that serves as a touchstone for transgender policy issues within the UUA.

TRUUsT’s steering committee held its first meeting April 22-25, 2008 in a retreat setting where the participants started developing working relationships, uncovering transgender history in the UUA, and planning for future meetings. Membership on the steering committee has been by invitation.

Membership in the TRUUsT organization is open to any Unitarian Universalist transgender or transgender ally who is a member of either the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) or the Unitarian Univeralist Ministers Association (UUMA). The organization plans to hold an annual membership retreat for transgender religious professionals and their religious professional allies (date to be announced, possibly beginning in 2012).

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Launching

Welcome to the website for TRUUsT, a new group being formed for transgender religious professionals and their allies in the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Yes, there are transgender ministers, religious educators, administrators and musicians in our congregations!

We’ll use this site to keep you informed as our planning continues, to ask for your input, and to keep in touch. We hope it’s helpful as we launch TRUUsT.

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