This past Sunday afternoon the air was cool and crisp, and the last of the leaves with their shades of orange and red still clung to the trees, as I walked across the Boston Common to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul to help in the preparations for Boston’s annual observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). Joining with other membersof the Crossing community, signs were put up, linens were put out, and candles lit. This was the third year that the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts would have the honor of welcoming the trans community into our cathedral.
In 1998 in the Allston neighborhood of Boston, friends, family, and allies had gathered to hold a speak-out and candlelight vigil in honor of Rita Hester, who had been brutally stabbed to death days before. This was the beginning. Since then, TDOR has grown into an international observance to remember those in the trans community who have lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence and discrimination. Now in its fourteenth year, the number of deaths continues to rise. Sadly, this year’s TDOR remembered 265 people who lost their lives from November15, 2011 through November 14, 2012. Listening to the stories of loss and grief, I am always struck by the resilience and beauty of people embracing and supporting one another. It is an evening filled with tears and aches, but also with laughter and joy. It is a time to see old friends and meet new ones.
As people took their seats and began to settle in for the start of the evening, I sat off to the side collecting my thoughts. Scheduled to give the welcome with Bishop Shaw on behalf of the Cathedral, I could feel the nervous tension intensifying. Katie Ernst, the Crossing’s Minister for Mission, and liaison to the TDOR committee, came over to try to calm me. I was feeling something more than the usual adrenaline rush and nervous butterflies. Was it just that this was the first time I would speak at the Cathedral? Was it that this was the first time I would speak to the Boston trans community? Yes and yes, but there was something more.
Two of my worlds were meeting this night. It felt a little like inviting your friends and family to the same holiday event, where you are hoping for more than mere toleration-- you are hoping that the two groups might actually enjoy their time together. I am grateful that there are many who quite literally embody in our lives both these worlds—I do not stand alone. Still, being Christian in the trans community or being trans in the Christian community has its moments of incongruity. The hurt to many in the trans community in the name of institutional religion, particularly some Christian Churches, looms large. There is much work to be done. I am grateful that my own Episcopal Church is a supportive ally and counter voice to the hurt.
Charito Suarez, the master of ceremonies, set the tone of the night as she sang, “Perhaps Love,” a poignant song of love and loss. She then called Bishop Shaw up to the microphone to speak. I was trying to listen, but my heart was pounding. +Tom welcomed the trans community to the Cathedral, explaining how blessed he felt that the trans community had trusted him with our stories, how he had grown over the years to understand our lives and struggles more and more, and how he was committed to being an advocate on our behalf. In particular he told the story of a young man just 14 years old who had touched his heart.
And then, it was my turn to speak: I walked up, took the microphone, and turned around. All of a sudden, facing the people, the Cathedral had just become much bigger than the view from the seats. These were my remarks …
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Hello, my name is Iain Stanford. It is my pleasure to welcome you today on behalf of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, and especially on behalf of the Crossing community. We are one of several communities that call the Cathedral home. We are a community that seeks to practice what we like to call radical welcome, embracing all people, communities, and the earth.
I feel particularly blessed tonight to have two of my worlds come together, The Episcopal Church and the trans community. Two years ago, having just begun my own transition, I sat right over there, in those seats, for the first Trans Day of Remembrance held here at St Paul’s. I listened intently to Bishop Shaw as he apologized for the way Christians – and especially institutional Churches -- had treated trans people. As I listened to his words, my eyes filled with tears, as did those of the people around me. It was powerful moment, and for many, a healing one. It lingers still in my heart today. Thank you, +Tom!
Tonight that memory, combined with recent events, brings me full circle. It is with great joy that I can report to you the events of this past summer at our General Convention -- the highest governing body of The Episcopal Church. We changed the non-discrimination canons of The Episcopal church -- the laws by which we govern ourselves -- to include gender identity and gender expression.
We were able to accomplish this feat through the efforts of TransEpiscopal members, several of whom are here tonight. But more importantly, we accomplished this through you. We could not have achieved this historic shift without the witness of the trans community writ large. As +Tom mentioned, he and the other bishops, and the people in the Church learned from and grew in understanding because of the trans community. Without your witness every day, day in and day out, The Episcopal Church would not have been able to turn its face. This summer it embraced us. So tonight, I want to say thank you!
And again, welcome to my home!
- Iain Stanford