Faith leaders strategize for transgender rights at Newton forum
Somerville state Rep. Denise Provost told attendees at a Jan. 21 forum organized by the Interfaith Coalition for Transgender Equality (ICTE) that they could make a powerful case to lawmakers in favor of transgender rights by appealing to their faith. The forum, held at Hebrew College in Newton, was the first major event organized by ICTE, which is part of a coalition advocating for the passage of legislation this session to add trans-inclusive language to the state’s non-discrimination and hate crimes laws. Provost said she was moved to watch how warmly her own church, an Episcopal congregation, embraced a transgender man who had originally joined the congregation as a woman, and she said she believes stories like these can move her colleagues.
"In my message part of it has to be the story of how wonderfully easy it was and how beautiful it was to have a transgender person in our community of faith, and how not an issue it was when a female member of the congregation went away and came back as a male person, and all the church ladies in their seventies and eighties were happy and twittery and accepting," said Provost. The man in question, the Rev. Cameron Partridge, has since become a priest at St. Luke’s and St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Allston and is one of the founders of ICTE.
Provost, who was joined at the forum by the bill’s co-sponsor, Medford state Rep. Carl Sciortino, said people of faith have a particularly persuasive message to share in support of transgender rights.
"I’ve been thinking about our religion, all of Christianity, and the Old Testament, too, and it’s full of transformations. And God’s usually behind them," said Provost, prompting laughs from the crowd. "In the Old Testament you had sticks turning into snakes and disobedient women turning into pillars of salt, and you had a recalcitrant guy like Jonah turning into a prophet. And then you get to the New Testament and you’ve got water turning into wine and God turning into human form, and it’s so full of transformation. It makes sense to me, thinking about it, that the church ladies and the Sunday school should say, no big deal."
ICTE formed in 2007, and its goals and structure are similar to the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry (RCFM), an interfaith coalition that worked in support of marriage equality during the debates over same-sex marriage. One of RCFM’s core advocacy tools was a declaration of support for marriage equality signed by more than 1000 clergy, congregations and lay people from many faiths. ICTE is currently collecting signatures for its own declaration of support for the transgender rights bill, and currently more than 100 clergy, along with about 200 laypeople, have signed the declaration.
Rabbi Daniel Judson, a member of ICTE and a former member of RCFM, told attendees that the forum was an historic moment in the local campaign for transgender rights.
"As far as any of us can gather this is the first time in Massachusetts history that a group of people of faith have come together specifically around transgender issues. So this is that moment, this is that moment when things change," said Judson, an administrator at the Hebrew College Rabbinical School.
Several speakers at the forum shared their experiences as transgender people of faith. For many of them their faith has been a vital source of support. Sean Delmore, an ICTE member and candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church, credited his church with helping him come out as a transgender man.