Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov. 20) commemorates those who were killed due to anti-transgender prejudice. Spiritual and religious resources that affirm transgender people are presented here.
The annual event serves the dual purpose of honoring the dead and raising public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people—that is, transsexuals, crossdressers, and other gender-variant people. It was founded in 1999 to honor Rita Hester, an African American transgender woman murdered in Massachusetts on Nov. 28, 1998. The outpouring of grief and anger over her death led to the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a candlelight vigil in San Francisco. Since then it has grown into an international phenomenon observed around the world.
Hester’s murder is boldly identified with Jesus’ death in “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle for LGBT Equality” by Mary Button. The set of 15 paintings links the crucifixion of Christ with the history of LGBT people. In the painting a banner carried by people at a Transgender Day of Remembrance march stretches over Jesus on the cross with a pointed question: “How many transgenders have to die before you get involved?” The text on the banner comes from an actual news photo.
A tribute to a transgender woman who committed suicide was painted for the Holy Women Icons Project by Angela Yarber, an artist, minister, scholar, and activist who is building a retreat center in Hawaii. For Transgender Day of Remembrance, Yarber painted an icon inspired by a former congregant named Emily, a respected doctor who could not imagine being outed or transitioning in the medical community where she served.
“Emily taught me what it means to remain faithful when the world and the church is unfaithful to you,” Yarber writes in an article about the painting. The reflection describes how Yarber painted the icon to honor the life and witness of Emily and other transgender people:
“In a world where trans people are demeaned, excluded, exoticized, invalidated, legislated against, and killed—the courage it takes for trans people to live fully into who they are is worthy of respect and honor. I dare say it is a holy act.”
Since 2009, Yarber has painted more than 70 Holy Women Icons. These colorful, folk feminist icons are displayed in homes and galleries all over the world. They are featured in her “Holy Women Icons” book and contemplative coloring book. For more info on Yarber, see my previous post “Artist paints holy lesbians and other women.”
Political cartoonist Mikhaela Reid pictures some of the more prominent victims of anti-transgender violence in the illustration above. The include transgender man Brandon Teena, whose 1993 murder is told in the popular movie “Boys Don’t Cry.”
Transgender teenager Gwen Araujo’s murder in 2002 also got national attention and led to the passage of the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act in California. The law restricts the use of the gay/trans panic defense by criminal defendants.
Araujo is commemorated in “The Transfigured Body: A Requiem in Celebration of Gwen Araujo” by New-Age composer Christopher A. Flores and gay lyricist/priest Adrian Ravarour. They have joined forces on a variety of musical compositions on sacred LGBTQ themes. “The Transfigured Body” premiered in 2003 at Founders Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles.
|Transgender Pride Flag|
Other spiritual resources for Transgender Day of Remembrance are available at TransFaith Online, including this prayer by Rabbi Reuben Zellman, who became the first openly transgender person accepted to the Reform Jewish seminary Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati in 2003:
God full of mercy, bless the souls of all who are in our hearts on this Transgender Day of Remembrance. We call to mind today young and old, of every race, faith, and gender experience, who have died by violence. We remember those who have died because they would not hide, or did not pass, or did pass, or stood too proud. Today we name them: the reluctant activist; the fiery hurler of heels; the warrior for quiet truth; the one whom no one really knew.
As many as we can name, there are thousands more whom we cannot, and for whom no prayers may have been said. We mourn their senseless deaths, and give thanks for their lives, for their teaching, and for the brief glow of each holy flame. We pray for the strength to carry on their legacy of vision, bravery, and love.
And as we remember them, we remember with them the thousands more who have taken their own lives. We pray for resolve to root out the injustice, ignorance, and cruelty that grow despair. And we pray, God, that all those who perpetrate hate and violence will speedily come to understand that Your creation has many faces, many genders, many holy expressions.
Blessed are they, who have allowed their divine image to shine in the world.
Blessed is God, in whom no light is extinguished.
Religious violence against transgender people goes back at least as far as Biblical times and continued in the Middle Ages. A few of the many examples are saints Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake for cross-dressing, and Wilgefortis, who was crucified for being a bearded woman. The list of unlawfully killed transgender people is long and continues to grow. Let us remember them in prayer and in power.
In memory of: Gwen Araujo, Rita Hester, Brandon Teena, Leelah Alcorn, Chanelle Picket, Nakia Ladelle Baker, Debra Forte, Tyra Hunter, Joe Stevens, Logan Smith, Jessica Mercado, Terrianne Summers, Venus Xtravaganza, Chanel Chandler, Leelah Alcorn… and all others who died due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.
Transgender Christian books
BESTSELLER AT JESUS IN LOVE / Q SPIRIT
“This Is My Body: Hearing the Theology of Transgender Christians” by Christina Beardsley and Michelle O’Brien (editors).
Transgender Christians speak for themselves in this collection. They give voice to faith and theology grounded in specific yet diverse experiences beyond the usual gender identity imposed by church tradition. The book brings hope, anger and grace, plus a review of the latest theological, cultural and scientific literature. Many contributors come from the Sibyls, a confidential spirituality group for transgender people and allies in the United Kingdom. Foreword by Susannah Cornwall. Beardsley is a Church of England priest, hospital chaplain and activist for trans inclusion in the church. Raised Anglican, O’Brien does advocacy, research, lecturing and writing on intersex and trans issues. Published by Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd.
BESTSELLER AT JESUS IN LOVE / Q SPIRIT
“Transgender, Intersex and Biblical Interpretation” by Teresa Hornsby and Deryn Guest.
Biblical affirmation for LGBTQI people is presented by two well-known Bible scholars. They show that in the Bible, gender identity and sexual orientation are always dynamic categories that do, and must, transition. The book examines familiar (e.g., Gen 1; Revelation) and less familiar (2 Sam 6; Jer 38) scriptures to reveal the bias that makes heterosexuality and a binary two-gender system seem divinely ordained. They critique how biblical texts are used in Christian positional statements on transsexuality and provide statistic on violence against trans persons. Teresa Hornsby is religious studies professor at Drury University, Springfield, Missouri. Deryn Guest is lecturer in Biblical hermeneutics at the University of Birmingham, England. Published by SBL Press (Society of Biblical Literature, founded 1880).
“The Bible and the Transgender Experience: How Scripture Supports Gender Variance” by Linda Tatro Herzer.
This clear, easy-to-read book shows how the Bible affirms transgender, queer and intersex people. Individual chapters examine eunuchs, Leviticus, cross-dressing, Jesus, creation, choice, gender-variant people in the Bible, and gifts that gender-variant people bring. It includes a helpful discussion guide and advice on “how to make your congregation or group trans friendly.” The author is an active ally who pastored a predominantly LGBTQI church where 10 percent of congregants identified as trans men, trans women, cross-dressers, or genderqueer. Published by Pilgrim Press.
“Retreating Forward: A Spiritual Practice with Transgender Persons” by David Elias Weekley.
A model for transformational retreats is presented in this educational resource for individuals, spiritual leaders, and faith communities that support transgender people. A queer theology of radical love is explained and put into practice. The author is a United Methodist pastor, transgender advocate and member of the transgender community. Foreword by British equality activist David Watters. Published by Wipf and Stock.
“Transgender Children of God” by Megan Rohrer.
Even a child can understand transgender identity with this heartwarming book aimed at kids ages 2 to 8. “Transgender children of God play with both dolls and trucks. No matter what you play with, God will love you,” it begins. The books goes on to proclaim God’s love regardless of what you wear, how you look or how you mix male and female. It also affirms transgender parents, although it can be read by any progressive family of faith. The author is pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco and the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church. Published by Wilgefortis/Lulu Press. Available in both paperback and e-book versions. For more info and a sample page, see First-ever LGBT religious children’s books published.
Book: Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach by Virginia Mollenkott (2001)
Book: Transgendering Faith: Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality by Leanne Tigert (editor)
Links to transgender spiritual and religious resources
Transgender Day of Remembrance (TransFaithOnline.org)
A Kaddish Prayer for International Transgender Day of Remembrance by H. Adam Ackley (HuffPost)
An All Hallows’ Eve Vigil to Begin Transgender Awareness Month by H. Adam Ackley (Huff Post)
The Lord’s Prayer For Transgender Awareness (Believe Out Loud)
Trans Martyrs (Queering the Church)
Call Me Malcolm (video)
Top image credit:
Christ’s crucifixion is linked to the murder of transgender woman Rita Hester in “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button, courtesy of Believe Out Loud
This post is part of the LGBTQ Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, events in LGBTQ history, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and our allies.
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