Have I got a church for you! by Stacey Roberts

posted Sep 6, 2013, 4:26 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Oct 31, 2013, 1:12 PM by Parish Administrator ]
In the Spring of 2008, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Mae Mouk at a social function.  As we chatted, she began adding bits and pieces of my story together and inquired, “are you becoming a woman?”  As I confirmed her suspicion she exclaimed, “have I got the church for you!”  If you know Mae, you know she has a god given talent for making people not only feel welcome at church, but also affirmed as members of our community and the body of Christ.  At my confirmation, a year later, in the summer of 2009, Bishop Chane implored each of us to search our hearts and listen for our call to ministry.   Three weeks later, at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, four resolutions were passed calling on the Episcopal Church to take action on behalf of transgender equality. 

As I look back on the past five years, it has been an amazing period of transition and transformation for EDOW (new Bishop), St. Margaret’s (multiple changes in leadership), and me (religious affiliation, gender, grad school).  On a personal level, I don’t know how I would have survived my transition without the support of this amazing parish.  During my darkest hours, the Rev. Susan Blue was always there with a Kleenex, reassuring words, and a tenacious spirit that empowered me to move forward.  Our parish came to my aid by providing nutritious meals and walking my dog as I spent 10 weeks recovering from surgery.  This community has also helped me confront my own internalized “phobias” by making sure that I have been welcome and affirmed at every turn—from Christmas pageants and parties to Rite 13 and J2A to the warm welcomes on my visits during graduate school.  This parish exemplified Christ’s teachings through their actions.

As I reflect, I am cognizant of my privilege and fortune in being part of this community, which beckons me back to Bishop Chane’s advice about listen for our call to ministry.  I believe mine is a calling for enabling greater inclusion of trans individuals within the Episcopal Church, and helping the church become active in eradicating the marginalization of the transgender community.  The need is great.  From the 2010 study
Injustice at Every Turn, 41% of transgender individuals reported having attempted suicide, as compared to 0.6% of the general population.  Transgender individuals are 4 times as likely to contract HIV, yet that appalling statistic masks the significant rates/risks among trans people of color.  For example, over 24% of African-American trans women reported having contracted HIV.  Ninety percent of transgender individuals had been harassed, assaulted, or fired from a job because of their gender identity or expression.  Nineteen percent had been fired from a job, and 1 in 5 trans people had been evicted from housing based on their gender identity and expression.  Sixteen percent of transgender women had resorted to underground means of economic support (i.e. sex work).  Eighty-eight percent had postponed critical medical care because of an inability to pay.  Most troubling, fifty-seven percent had been disowned by their families.  

As for our region in particular, the DC Trans Coalition’s recent Needs Assessment revealed that only 59% of the DC trans community is currently employed, and 34% currently work in the underground economy.  Over the past two years, there has been a disturbing rash of brutal murders of transgender women in DC (see here, here, here, here), particularly trans women of color.  In Maryland, despite passage of sexual orientation protections over 12 years ago and marriage equality in 2012, legislation for transgender equality is having trouble making it out of legislative committee.

The transgender community needs allies within faith communities to help to advance transgender equality.  A significant example was the active role that the Diocese of Massachusetts played in 2012 in passage of transgender legal protections.  The Human Rights Campaign’s Gender Identity and Our Faith Communities: A Congregational Guide for Transgender Advocacy provides an excellent starting point.  I encourage EDOW to take action on a macro level by partnering with transgender equality organizations, such as Gender Rights Maryland and the DC Trans Coalition, on public policy issues, including employment, housing, and access to health care.   I encourage our parish to assess and take action on ways we can help address the marginalization of transgender community at the level of individuals.   I encourage St. Margaret’s and other EDOW parishes to actively engage in outreach to the most marginalized segments of the transgender community.  With God’s help, it is my hope and prayer that we will create a safe and more affirming place for the transgender community, especially the most marginalized and vulnerable of these.  “Have I got the church for you” should be a phase we can authentically say to any transgender person because we have become active and vested in transgender equality.