By Pastor Lamont Wells
It’s time that we as collective members of the faith community affirm the transgender community in New York as full and equal members of society. The denial of basic rights to transgender individuals perpetuates the violence that this community repeatedly faces. We have experienced too many crimes rooted in hate and ignorance—this must end.
The issue is urgent because if a population is overlooked, they become at risk for being underserved—something that happens historically among ethnic minority communities, where the effect is seen in devastating ways. Discrimination in the African American and Latino transgender community is increasing, while individuals receive less justice in each case. Attacks occur often against minority members of the transgender community because of targeted hate.
There are signs that the American population is growing in its understanding and acceptance of transgender people. Facebook, for example, became sensitive to the growing gender identification needs as it created customized options for its users. The church, as the most welcoming institution, must also expand its opportunities for inclusion, participation, and dignity for the transgender community.
We must not lag behind, but prepare the way for respecting and loving everybody. May the church be clearer in our affirmation of the gender non-conforming, pangender, and other groups within the transgender community. Let’s look for ways that we can help and transform the world around us! Here are two Lutheran congregations leading the way:
Sasha Washington performs at Gospel Night at St. John's
St. John’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan recently received a grant from the Clinical and Translational Science Center of Weill-Cornell Medical College that will help discern next steps in standing with the trans-community. Located in a diverse neighborhood near the iconic Stonewall Inn, St. John’s currently connects with the LGBTQ community through its partnerships with such organizations as New Alternatives, Living Proud (of Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing), and Heritage of Pride. In addition to providing a sacred space for a number of memorial events for transgender persons and their mourning friends, the congregation also hosts monthly Gospel Nights, at which transgender performers lead an evening of prayer and praise.
The Community Health Research Project Grant will be used to start St. John’s Transgender Healthcare Access Project. The people of St. John’s heard that many transgender individuals were disrespected and given hostile receptions from healthcare providers, putting the individuals at risk when they began avoiding primary healthcare. The new project will develop an understanding of compliance, access, adherence, and obstacles to health care by transgendered people of color. "We have learned a lot in the past three years about people who are living a trans experience," said Pastor Mark Erson. "Most importantly, we have learned that more needs to be done."
Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan (a mission partnership congregation) opened the 10-bed Trinity Place Shelter in 2006, providing LGBTQ young adults with a safe place to sleep, eat, store belongings, and access transportation, counseling, and independent living supportive services. "Homeless transgender people were sleeping outside because the shelters—which are separated by gender—don’t know what to do with them," explained Pastor Heidi Neumark. Ministry to this population often takes special and unconventional means to provide the help that is denied them in traditional models of care and shelter. Since the opening of the shelter, around 275 displaced and rejected youth, ages 17-24, have found sanctuary as a result of this Lutheran witness. The mission is to assist young people in transitioning out of the shelter system and growing into positive, productive adults.
Pr. Neumark and I discussed affirming the foundational sacrament of baptism to those who originally received it as one gender (and name) and now identify differently. As Director for Evangelical Mission, I got excited about enlarging our witness to lift up Jesus among the transgender community by helping them remember their baptism in a new way. It’s important for us all to remember that in Christ we can literally become a new creation, and that’s good news. As we minister to our communities, I hope that we can expand our reach to those who have been marginalized, and declare with them that we are "always being made new."