July 31, 2012
By Jacob Combs
Yesterday, the Washington Post‘s Becky Garrison took a look at the Episcopal Church’s efforts to make inroads in the transgender community and foster openness and inclusivity with the wider LGBT community. As Garrison points out, the church made history when it approved two gender nondiscrimination resolutions at its 77th General Convention that will protect transgender individuals who serve in the church’s laity and those who are undergoing its ordination process.
Beyond approving the rules, the Episcopal Church went to great lengths to educate its leaders on transgender issues before the vote, giving them copies of a documentary called “Out of the Box” that tells the story of both transgender clergy and laity in the church. The General Convention also included a gender neutral bathroom to allow for further engagement with issues of gender expression and protection.
Digging in deeper to the story, though, Garrison argues that the issue goes more deeply than simple support or opposition to nondiscrimination measures:
Lost in this discussion are the developments in theology, science, psychology and other disciplines around this topic that inform the work of academics like asthe Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge, a transman who is the Episcopal chaplain for Boston University and a lecturer at Harvard Divinity School. He notes how those with bodies perceived as “different” can make us feel uncomfortable about our own bodies. But transgender clergy bring embodiment into the conversation in an exploration of “what does it mean to be human?”
For now, this appears a question that those commenting about the changes transpiring in the church don’t appear willing to address. After a slight flurry of articles about these trans friendly resolutions in outlets such as the Chicago Tribune and Anglican newspaper Church Times, once a trial rite for same-sex blessings passed, the media coverage shifted to focus solely on this particular LGBT related resolution.
Commentators such as John Meacham focus rightly on the significance of the church’s changing attitudes on marriage equality noting that “Given that sexual orientation is innate and that we are all, in theological terms, children of God, to deny access to some sacraments based on sexuality is as wrong as denying access to some sacraments based on race or gender.” However, his reflections fail to note the significance that the vote to include transgender clergy and lay people will have on the future of the church.
As Garrison’s reporting demonstrates, the last letter in LGBT is often the most overlooked one. But denominations and churches like the Episcopal Church, which are on the forefront of advancing equality for all individuals, are shifting the narrative. Marriage equality may be the LGBT that makes headlines these days, but transgender rights are just as important to our community, and something that we should be working with communities of faith to advance.