Apr. 30th, 2017

smhwpf: (Sandman)
We had a really powerful, eye-opening, set of testimonies at St. James last Sunday. We are having various guest preachers for the Easter season (though Holly the Rector preached on Easter Day itself), and this week it was a panel from MaeBright, a local company that

"works with state agencies, service-providing non-profits, businesses, schools, and communities that want to evaluate and improve the services they provide to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) people."

Faith groups are one of the types of organization they focus on, working with congregations that are trying to do better at being genuinely welcoming and inclusive to LGBTQ people; in our case, specifically trans and genderqueer folks.

There were four speakers, starting with the MaeBright Director, who was mainly there to say a bit about the company, and to introduce the other three on the panel, who are all trans people, and practicing Christians, and who were basically telling their stories and experiences. After the service, and the food and chat time, there was a Q&A session with the panel, for which quite a large proportion of the congregation stayed behind.

The stories were powerful and heart-rending, but it is clear that they are very, very, typical of the bullying, discrimination, violence, abuse, sexual violence and worse that trans people go through on a daily basis. And while it may pride itself on being a liberal city, Boston is far, far from being exempt from this. But as is so often the case, they were also stories of people who had come through a whole lot of shit, and still bear the wounds - I won't say they've come out "stronger", because trauma doesn't go away that easily, but with a whole load of compassion and wisdom and determination to fight and support other people going through the same.

C's story [1] struck me in particular. She's an African American trans woman, who came from a low income, very religious family, that initially rejected her when she came out (though now her mother has come round and strongly supports her, and was indeed there in the congregation). She knew she was a girl from childhood, but heard from her church how people like her were an abomination. She went through bullying, abuse, homelessness, rape, was repeatedly sacked from jobs or didn't get them in the first place because of her gender presentation, went into sex work due to a complete lack of alternatives.

She is fortunately in a much better place now, and is an active trans rights campaigner, helping run various advocacy and health advice services. And generally seems to be an utterly awesome person.

Hers was very much a religious as well as a personal and political testimony, and one thing that came through strongly was how she held onto faith throughout this, despite the church very often being the source of much of the prejudice she faced. Just how strongly she remained aware of the presence and love of God throughout it all, and determined to keep practicing her faith, so that even when she was homeless and felt there was no worshipping community where she could be at home, she would put on Gospel music on the radio on a Sunday morning, and sing and pray, and pretend she was at church. (She has now found an inclusive - or at least trying to be inclusive - church community).

The Q&A afterwards was really good I thought, with people engaging in serious discussion and listening, and not being afraid of being uncomfortable. A lot of tough issues, like intersection of race and LGBT issues, transphobia within the LGB community, as well as practical stuff like what should teachers do to support trans students.

Holly asked for a show of hands, to guide the Vestry, on putting the rainbow flag we currently have inside the churchm outside on public display, which received resounding support!

So, St. James is certainly better educated on this than we were before, and hopefully we will be making serious efforts to improve our welcome. For me,a rather belated awakening; while I know some trans andrather more  genderqueer people, and thought I had informed myself at least somewhat on some of the issues facing trans people, I think this revealed just how little time I have spent actually listening to trans people's experiences in particular. Well, I hope I will do better.

[1] She did give her name, and indeed is out there in public fora with her full name, but I hesitate to use it in a public post that she has not specifically approved.

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