Annually on November 20, supporters of the transgender community come together to hold vigils for those who were murdered in the previous year due to anti-transgender hatred and prejudice. The day has become known as the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28, 1998 kicked off the Remembering Our Dead project and began the tradition of holding candlelight vigils. Like most anti-transgender murder cases, Rita’s murder has yet to be solved.
As we approach this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), there is much to be thankful for today. Transgender people are better protected now than in the past. For example some school systems are becoming more welcoming to transgender students. Transgender people are as a whole are gaining far greater visibility.
At the same time, there is still much to be done before we become a truly welcoming society. Our presence in the workplace is often still viewed with skepticism or outright disgust. Transgender students can find themselves bullied in real life and on the Internet. Increased visibility goes hand-in-hand with increased resistance from those that fear us.
Once such tragic story is that of Victoria Carmen White. On September 12, 2010, Victoria was shot three times by Alrashim Chambers or Marquise Foster. There were many problems when it came to prosecuting Chambers for the shooting. Chambers pointed to Foster as the shooter, but Foster had already cut a deal with prosecutors to testify against Chambers. In the end, after much finger pointing, Chambers was acquitted on all charges, which included murder, bias intimidation, and two weapons charges.
The file on Victoria Carmen White’s murder is officially closed–the individuals who were involved in her death were able to either plea out in exchange for testimony or confuse the jury, and were absolved of any wrongdoing.
We must remember that despite the advances, there are still people who die every year simply because of their gender identity.
Transform your faith into action by holding a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in your community and increase awareness of the senseless murders that continue to happen both here and abroad.
There are many ways to have a vigil. Light a candle for each person and read their names aloud—it may be the only time they are recognized as murder victims. Put their names on a star or on a placard and lay down in a public die-in for 5 minutes to create awareness about the murders. Please join with local LGBT organizations or consider hosting the TDOR in your congregation.More >
This October 11 marks the twenty-fifth annual National Coming Out Day, a holiday that offers a space for sharing core pieces of ourselves with others—and allies and religious communities have a special role to play in supporting that space.
One of the biggest stereotypes about religious communities is that of being unwelcoming spaces for people with marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities. As a holiday that exposes unconscious assumptions and lifts up the often unexpected diversity that exists in every corner of humanity, National Coming Out Day is a profound opportunity for religious communities to dispel the assumption that they are unwelcoming, and many Unitarian Universalist congregations do just that every October.
But before we get into religious myth-busting, let’s take a good look at some common assumptions about “coming out” itself, and craft a vision of the sort of space we are dedicated to creating.
Myth #1: Coming out is a one-time event; you’re either in the closet or you’re out.
This misconception is incredibly pervasive, yet there is rarely anything black and white about coming out. For one thing, coming out is multi-faceted: there’s the process of coming to understand, accept, and affirm one’s authentic identity and sense of self. There’s the process of sharing that information with friends, family, and other loved ones, as well as with social, community, and cultural groups. There’s the often very different processes of sharing one’s identity and self in environments where one is in a position of need: educational, medical, employment, or living environments, for example.
For another thing, coming out can be a life-long process—every new person who enters one’s life and every new environment one interacts with mean new assumptions about one’s identity. Some people come out every single day by virtue of the pronoun they use for a significant other. For others it is harder to dispel the false assumptions that are constantly laid at their feet. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, identity is not a static, stationary thing—it shifts and changes over the course of a lifetime. Our relationship to any identity that we hold shifts as a result of life experiences and changes in other identity factors such as age and cultural location. It turns out that identity is far more complicated than “in” or “out”!
Myth #2: People who are “out” are liberated and those who are not are living a lie, deceptive, and/or self-hating.
This one is a doozy. Although it’s reflective of many peoples’ experiences prior to coming to understand, accept, and affirm an authentic identity for themselves, it gets applied with a broad brush that erases profound differences around identity and cultural context. Frankly, we could do a lot of good if we stopped conflating the process of coming out to oneself with the processes of disclosing one’s identity to others. Many people are perfectly secure and out in their identities for themselves and have no need or desire to share them with anyone else. For example, being in a life partnership doesn’t keep a person from drawing strength from their bisexual identity, but whether they share that information with the world is solely up to them.
There’s also the fact that disclosure can carry enormous risks depending on one’s identities and context. For many people, the risk of discrimination, violence, and even death means they will never disclose certain aspects of their identity in many or in all parts of their lives. The more powerlessness and oppression a person faces the more extreme the negative consequences of disclosure may be.
And let’s not forget the profound differences between sexual identity and gender identity when it comes to disclosure. Take, for example, a man who went through a gender transition a decade or two ago. Happily, he is seen and experienced by everyone around him as unquestionably male. He is out and proud, my friends! Living as his true authentic self in the world, seen by others the way he sees himself—it doesn’t get more out than that. So if this man chooses to tell someone that once upon a time he was someone’s eldest daughter, that’s a disclosure—it’s not “coming out” because it doesn’t help him live more authentically in the world or be more authentically seen. Rather, it puts him at risk of his gender identity being questioned and disrespected, which makes it harder for him to be his authentic male self. No one has the right to dictate or judge someone else’s level of disclosure in the world.
Myth #3: If I am a true ally, or if we are truly a Welcoming Congregation, everyone will fully disclose their identities to me/us.
As we just discussed, disclosure is a complex topic. At its base, this myth brings up an important question about what it means to be an ally or a Welcoming Congregation. Sometimes it’s tempting to think that the measure of oneself as an ally is the number of friends we can count who hold a certain identity, or that the measure of our congregation as a Welcoming Congregation is the number of same-gender couples who call themselves members. But in actual fact, being an ally or being a Welcoming Congregation has nothing to do with these things; rather, it’s measured by the ways we are of service to those who are marginalized, invisible, or silent whether or not we are aware of their presence.
Being an ally is about coming out again and again as someone who values and is sensitive to sexual and gender diversity, and it’s about using the power and privileges that one holds to actively counter oppression and push back against dominant assumptions. Being a Welcoming Congregation is about working to create a climate of radical inclusion where all people see their identities and cultural context reflected, as well as witnessing and working for justice inside and outside the congregational walls.
Instead of defining “coming out” in a way that puts the burden on a marginalized individual to forcibly create the space for their identity and experience in the world, what if we thought of coming out as the process of an individual or a community creating that space for others—a space that actively challenges dominant assumptions so that the door is flung wide for any person present to hold any number of unshared identities and experiences?
Holding space with this level of radical openness and affirmation makes it possible for each person to feel a sense of belonging regardless of whether or not they publicly disclose their identities or experiences, and it supports all people in exploring and affirming their own ever-unfolding authentic ways of being in the world.
Come Out as a Welcoming Congregation!
This National Coming Out Day, I call on congregations, churches, fellowships, meetinghouses, synagogues, mosques, temples, and all other houses of worship to come out as welcoming and inclusive communities of faith for people of all gender identities and expressions and all sexual and affectional orientations. Bust myth #1—coming out as a Welcoming Congregation isn’t a one-time thing, it has to be a constant re-affirmation. Bust myths #2 and #3—deepen your work to create a culture that doesn’t depend on knowing someone’s identity in order to be welcoming and inclusive of them.
Come out! Come out in celebration of what sexual and gender diversity adds to our world. Come out in affirmation of all peoples’ right to live into their full authentic selves. Come out in joyful recognition of the breadth of identity and experience in our midst, shared and unshared, visible and less visible.
We can create the Beloved Community where, in the words of the UUA Leadership Council, all people are welcomed as blessings and the human family lives whole and reconciled. We can if we come out in prophetic witness of the world that can yet be if we can only imagine it, hold it sacred, and do not rest until it comes.
“10 Ways to Come Out as a Welcoming Congregation” (includes worship materials and stories)
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your congregation’s coming out story.More >
My name is John. I am a college student, a Marylander, and I am also a DREAMer.
I came here when I was about 12 years old from Senegal. My father was a diplomat. A situation arose where he had to leave and my family lost our status. We struggled a lot, but I always saw education as a means to cope with what was going on and better myself as a person. I currently attend Montgomery College, one of the few schools that allows me to pay in-state tuition even though I am undocumented.
Please help me ensure that all Maryland students have an equal opportunity to pursue higher education. Click here to pledge to vote and tell four others about the DREAM campaign.
For a long time, I felt hopeless because I saw no way to advance, even though I did very well in school, and was chosen for a leadership program. I heard about the Maryland DREAM Act on the news, but I didn’t think there was anything I could do to change my situation. I had become embedded in America culture, but felt abandoned by my adopted country.
Attending Montgomery College has opened doors for me. If the Maryland DREAM Act fails, it would not only prevent thousands of Maryland students from pursuing higher education, but also jeopardize my ability to continue my own studies. Higher education provides the opportunities we need to become productive members of American society.
Put your faith into action and speak out for the Maryland DREAM Act. Please pledge to vote and and tell four others about the DREAM campaign.
I am writing today, not so you will feel sorry for me, but to inspire you and give you a reason to act. Please go and speak out for something that will make a difference in my life and the lives of so many others like me. Please help to give us the future we dream about.
The message above went out on Thursday, October 4, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters who live in Maryland. You can sign-up for these emails here. More >
According to Rev. Daniel Kanter, senior minister at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas, Dallas has one of the largest LGBTQ communities in the United States and “one seriously big parade.” Rev. Kanter believes that the Standing on the Side of Love contingent, numbering 250 individuals from half a dozen local Unitarian Universalist churches, was the largest group that braved the rain to march in the 2012 Dallas Pride Parade. The announcer said at the goldenrod-clad group approached the podium, “Wow, there are a lot of people.”
Participation in the pride festivities was also multigenerational. More than fifty UU youth marched in the parade and a number of young adults staffed the UU booth in Lee Park afterward. Members of the UU group appeared in slideshows on the websites of the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Observer, and the Dallas Voice.
When asked why they were there, First UU Associate Minister Rev. Aaron White said, “We’re here today so we can be seen standing on the side of love and be visible evidence that there is a group of people who are willing to stand up for the rights of all people.”
To see first hand the impact that this amazing group of “Love People” made at Dallas Pride, check out this great video from First UU Dallas:
On March 7, 1965—dubbed “Bloody Sunday”—civil rights activists in Selma, Alabama were violently attacked by police as they demonstrated for voting rights for Black Americans. Bones were broken; skulls fractured. In total, more than 100 people were injured. In response to this tragedy, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for clergy from across the country to join him for yet another march in Selma. Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister, and I were on the same plane from Boston, flying south with hundreds of others to join Dr. King. We marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery, held a prayer service, and then returned to Selma. That night, Jim Reeb was severely beaten as he left a restaurant where he had been dining with colleagues. He died a few days later, at the age of 38. The brutal murder of a white man, a member of the clergy, was a key moment in a series of events that led President Johnson to introduce the landmark Voting Rights Act, just days later.
Nearly fifty years later, I am reminded of Selma as I witness new voter ID laws popping up across our country. These laws will disenfranchise huge numbers of Americans this November—especially African Americans, the elderly, and college students. These voter ID laws make a mockery of the Selma to Montgomery March and the many sacrifices that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
We must ask ourselves: Did James Reeb and the others who were killed as they sought voting rights for African Americans die in vain?
Let us work to ensure that is not the case! Please join me in shining the light on discriminatory voter suppression efforts underway in our country. Click here to learn more about the issue and how you can get involved.
I returned to Selma recently and visited the memorial created to honor Jim. I remember wondering what Jim’s reaction would be to our current state of affairs. Today’s voter ID laws are truly a 21st century replication of the biased policies that he and I and so many others worked to overturn.
That Tuesday in 1965, when Jim and I and hundred of others gathered with Dr. King in Selma to call for full voting rights for African Americans, was a collective expression of what it means to “stand on the side of love.” Today, our work continues as we struggle to ensure that everyone has the ability to exercise his or her right to vote.
Please speak out against voter suppression. Click here for resources to get involved this election season.
As we remember the many people like Jim Reeb who lost their lives fighting for the right to vote, and those who sacrificed so much along the way, may we all be as bold and brave in speaking out for true democracy.
Standing on the side of love,
Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell
Retired United Methodist minister and a “foot soldier” in the Civil Rights Movement
PS: My current project is a documentary film discussing the intersections of racism, heterosexism, and religion. Visit truthinprogress.com to learn more.
The message above went out on Thursday, September 27, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here. More >