This is what a minister looks like

Yesterday was International Transgender Visibility Day—a day to celebrate transgender people and raise awareness of discrimination faced by trans people around the world. Like International Women’s Day, Worlds AIDS Day, and International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, one day isn’t enough. Sex Workers, AIDS, Women, and Transgender folks—we all deserve more than 1/365th of your attention.

Do you understand the discrimination and levels of violence that trans folk face? In the U.S. Transgender Survey released in December of 2016, more than 28,000 trans people answered questions about what they face daily.

  • One in ten reported that they faced violence from family members because they were transgender.
  • The majority of respondents who were out or perceived as transgender while in school (K-12) experienced some form of mistreatment, including verbal harassment (54%), physical attack (24%), and sexually assaulted (13%) because they were transgender. Seventeen percent experienced such severe mistreatment that they left school.
  • Thirty percent of the respondents who had a job reported being fired, denied a promotion, or received some other form of workplace mistreatment due to their gender identity or expression.
  • In the year prior to completing the survey, 46% of respondents were verbally harassed and
    9% were physically attacked because of being transgender. During that same time period,
    10% of respondents were sexually assaulted, and nearly half (47%) were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.

Why does it matter?

It matters because it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse. For more than 10 years, I’ve been attending Trans Day of Remembrance services. Each year, my own list of trans friends who have died gets longer. The reasons are varied: intimate partner violence, hate violence, suicide, and illness, but all of these are compounded by a lack of access to appropriate healthcare.

It matters because it’s my friends who are family. It’s my church members. And it’s likely yours, too.

It matters because, in this cruel world, we’re supposed to be the ones making things a lot less cruel and a lot more hospitable. We’re the ones who are supposed to see God’s image inside of all people, and help folks see God’s image in themselves.

It matters because it speaks to who the Church is. Are we loving? Are we a full expression of God’s image in humanity? Are we working toward justice for all people?

On Sunday, March 24 my church gathered to worship and ordain Erica Grace Saunders to the full gospel ministry. She has extraordinary gifts of ministry—preaching, teaching, pastoral care. She’s brilliant, funny, and committed. And, boy-howdy, is she called.

And as thrilled as I was to lay hands on her head, to place a stole on her shoulders, as proud as I was of my congregation’s commitment to honoring her giftedness, I couldn’t help but feel guilty. Will she find a place in this Church to serve? Will a congregation invest in her gifts and give her the opportunity to share them?

We must do better: open our pulpits to trans ministers, hire trans women, men, and non-binary folks to lead our congregations. We must do better: learning how to become more inclusive of trans and non-binary folks, training our congregations about how best to love trans folk, how to show welcome, how to mind our own business, and how to use correct pronouns. We must do better: standing with and for trans people in the voting booth, and using our access to lawmakers to make sure that trans folk have protections from violence, discrimination, and access to jobs, healthcare, and housing.

Last week I was in Washington, DC with Faith in Public Life (and Martha Spong!) to learn to advocate better for LGBTQ equality. While there, I learned about the Equality Act, critically important legislation that would amend the existing Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, and others, to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. For those of you in the United States, I urge you to find out if your Representative is a co-sponsor, and get in touch with them to tell them how important this bill is to you.

We must do better. Will you join me in advocating for and with transgender people? Will you find a way to provide welcome for trans people in your church? Will you lead your congregation into full welcome, that which honors the gifts of leadership in your congregation and denomination, both volunteer and paid positions? Will you contact your legislators to impress upon them the importance of trans equality, asking them to advocate for non-discrimination in the workplace, in healthcare, and in housing?

Advocating for Trans Lives just one day is not enough.

Rev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).

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2 thoughts on “The Pastoral is Political: Trans Visibility and Equality

  1. Thank you and truly this is important as a day of naming just because it’s roughly half a year after Remembrance Day and also because that’s all sad and this gives us the opportunity to celebrate two-spirit folks with ordinations and weddings and re-baptisms (I know some people would have a fit with that but I don’t care) and joys lifted!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maren, these are all fantastic ideas! We were a week early on our ordination, but we were still celebrating this past Sunday!


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