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July 20, 2020

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Transgender people and their supporters gather in Parliament Square to protest against potential changes to the Gender Recognition Act on July 4, 2020, in London. (WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto/Getty Images)
A proposed anti-trans rule would let homeless shelters judge who’s a woman, increasing the risk and harm to the trans community. - via Vox
"Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet, Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.”  So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
    and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
        so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
    Who can describe his generation?
        For his life is taken away from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” - Acts 8:26-40, NRSV
I was reminded today during a small group study that when the Ethiopian eunuch asked to be baptized, the fact that he was not sexually or socially normative for that time is important because it tells us that the Spirit sent Philip ahead of where the church was. This story encourages us to explore what it means to be the Church in a new way: to go ahead of the church, or even ahead of our society, as we seek to be faithful people who love Jesus. 

For so long, as many readers of this devotional know, the church has lagged far behind when it comes to the full acknowledgment and celebration of all God’s children. This has been true in many cases, but especially in the LGBTQIA+ community. Even as we have made strides towards inclusion in the church, those in the trans community have oftentimes found themselves erased, misunderstood, or shunned from the life of our faith communities. 

Today I read this terrifying article from Vox and LGBT Nation that a colleague of mine, Rev. Ashley DeTar Birt, had shared. It describes the ways the Trump Administration has gone out of its way to create rules via the Department of Housing and Urban Development to actively discriminate against trans persons experiencing homelessness, in ways that will most certainly lead to harm, abuse, and death:

“There are two main problems with forcing trans homeless people into spaces that correspond with their birth-assigned gender rather than their gender identity. The first is that such a policy exposes trans people, especially trans women, to potential violence and sexual assault inside those spaces. And as a result, trans people are more likely to choose sleeping in the streets rather than risk going to a shelter. Because of a cycle of discrimination and poverty, trans people are more likely than their cisgender peers to experience homelessness. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 29 percent of trans people live in poverty, and one in five trans people in the US will be homeless at some point in their lifetimes. The numbers are even starker for Black trans people: A 2015 report indicated that 34 percent of Black trans people live in extreme poverty, compared to 9 percent of Black cis people.”

This is obviously offensive and terrifying to the targeted communities, but it should be to all of us. It is yet another sign of the ongoing and increasing human rights violations that this administration so willfully commits. The word impunity comes to mind when I consider the depths this “administration” will go to and how their ways echo those of other tortuous regimes we think exist elsewhere in other places. It is here, enabled and emboldened, in our country. This, from an administration that claims the name of Jesus, says that they are acting in the way God has called them to, and blasphemously misuses the name of the Divine. We need words like heretical and apostasy to describe this kind of behavior. As progressive Christians, we often shy away from words like these, but we should use them. We need to name things what they are and notice how much evil exists around us and how huge the task before us is. 

This is not of God. God is love. 

God is unconditional, extravagant, radiant, creative, life-giving, indescribable love; love beyond our imaginings. God offers us a glimpse of their love in passages such as this one in the book of Acts, where we see that the Spirit leads us into new places. And according to the biblical witness, those new places are ones of freedom, openness, and new life.
  • If you feel you are still on a learning curve when it comes to gender and sexual identities, this post from Everyday Feminism can help you learn more. Please use a person's preferred pronouns.
  • Another important resource to know about is the Trans Lifeline, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of those in the trans community. Take a look at your local community, where is something like this available, and if it isn’t, how can your faith community learn more and do more? Homeless shelters that are safe for LGBTQIA+ persons are few and far between in most parts of the United States.
  • For faith-based communities, my colleague Slats Toole provides this important liturgical resource. (And also check out their poetry book, queering lent, which is hauntingly beautiful.)
A Prayer of Cisgender Confession and Commitment

We rise each day into a world that fits 
our natures, our understandings, our assumptions.
The clay of our bodies and faces
conform to our spirits:
            male, female.
We are learning it is not so for all of us.
Some of us are born of a wilder imagination.
We are learning new language and new images
for those Spirit is coloring outside our lines:
            transgender, intersex, gender-variant.
We confess that we have slumbered
while members of our family are slaughtered.
The headwind of hatred batters
bodies and minds and spirits:
           the diverse beauties that continue to arise.
We commit to standing against this headwind of hate,
           a bulwark to end the battering.
We commit to seeing the diverse beauty, all around us,
           every gendered and gender-free expression, every form of love.
We commit to loving difference, and becoming.
We commit to learning the new language(s)
            that enable our beloveds to exist, and thrive.
Love, make us bold, to live our own lives fully and abundantly.
Love, give us passion, to work for everyone’s full abundance.
Love, gather us together, that no one you have created
            is not seen
            is not allowed to live
            is ever lost to the hurricane of hate again.

- by Tammerie Day in resources for the Trans Day of Remembrance (commemorated annually on November 20)
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