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Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) offers its first Transgender Day of Remembrance service

Organizers of Nov. 17 livestreamed chapel service offer thoughts on the historic occasion

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — The morning of Nov. 17, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will offer its first-ever denominational worship service commemorating the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) was begun in 1999 by advocate and writer Gwendolyn Ann Smith to remember the November 28, 1998, murder of Rita Hester, a member of the transgender community in Boston who worked with education about transgender issues. Hester was stabbed 20 times in her apartment and, as is the case with many transgender homicides, her murderer(s) have never been found.

By many accounts, 2021 has been a record-breaking year in the United States and around the world for the murder of people who are transgender, though advocates caution against such characterizations saying while things have improved in recent years, police and media have a history of misgendering trans crime victims. There is a broad consensus that a disproportionately large number of victims are transgender women of color.

The official Transgender Day of Remembrance is Nov. 20. The PC(USA) service will be the national church’s weekly Wednesday morning Chapel Service. It will be streamed live at 9 a.m. Eastern Time on the PC(USA) Facebook Page.

Organizers of the historic service shared some of their thoughts about the occasion with Presbyterian News Service. You can read their comments, below, or watch the video at the top of this page.

The Rev. Shanea D. Leonard (they, them, theirs), Coordinator for Gender & Racial Justice in the Presbyterian Mission Agency

This day, normally commemorated on November 20 2021, has never been celebrated by our denomination. This is the first time we had an opportunity to really live into our GA mandates of celebrating the full and total life and identity and personhood of all of our family members. And so on this day, we pause in our chapel service, and our hearts, and our memory, and our minds, to remember those we’ve lost because they simply existed, and were who they truly were.

As the PC(USA), we have already said in 2018 that we will celebrate and affirm all folks, all people, all of God’s children, all of the kin-dom, no matter or because of or in addition to their sexual orientations, gender identity and gender expression. … This is the first time we are doing this. And we shall continue to do this, as long as we remember the lives, the impact, the legacy, and what it really means to stand strong and stand firm in who you are and be a transgender person in this world.

Myles Markham (he/him, they/them), Mission Specialist for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Being a part of today’s worship planning for Transgender Day of Remembrance is something that I hold as sacred and close to my heart, and it’s something that I can’t help but relate to, with a little bit of ambivalence.

On one hand, I believe the emotional, physical, and spiritual violence committed against transgender and gender non-conforming people is very serious, grave, and an important situation to sound the alarm on for the church.

On the other hand, I feel reluctance because I know that it’s easy to participate in commemorative days like TDOR in unhelpful and voyeuristic ways. If some of the only trans-related content we are sharing widely as a national church is about trans death, trans pain, trans trauma, and trans tragedy, then often that becomes the trans story. It becomes what our church thinks about when they think about me, or Shanea, about Lewis, about Jess, and about trans people more broadly. Yes, we certainly need space to corporately lament, to mourn, and to feel the gravity of the structural forces that lead to senseless violence against the trans community. I guess my hope for our denomination is that when we as trans people share a day like this and share our reflections, we aren’t then put into a position where we have to perform our pain and grief year after year for there to be a shared ethos, that inclusion and celebration of gender diversity is just as important as the acknowledgement of our oppression. That’s where I’m coming from, but nevertheless, grateful for the opportunity to share this with the church.

Jess Cook (they, them, theirs), Programs and Communications Manager at More Light Presbyterians

One of the challenges of planning a TDOR service for the larger non-trans group is wanting to be able to just invite folks to embody worship in a new way, try things in a new order. It’s kind of like what we do with gender with our bodies, try things in a new way. See this as an invitation to more. I wish that folks would do that in worship rather than shutting something down or saying, ‘that’s just silly.’ Try it. See what happens. I feel like in the struggle of that, I don’t want to keep going back to the way we’ve done things just because it’s ‘decent and in order.’ The whole idea of that is, everybody knows that they have a space where they’re a part of the whole. That’s what we mean. We talked about decent and in order, it’s like, we just need to know who’s doing this part? Who has this role? It’s not about every single step being perfect. We just want to know who’s gonna be in charge of the bread and the wine. … Just relax. Try a new thing. Spirit’s got us.

The Rev. Louis Mitchell (he, him, his), Co-founder of Transfaith, Operations Director of the Ingersoll Gender Center

It’s hard to balance and toggle sharing something heavy and full of grief with an audience that is mostly observing, but not necessarily feeling, and it makes it hard to have the words that we use be filled with passion, but not seen as performance. It’s incredibly vulnerable and sometimes angering to spend time unburdening one’s soul with witnesses. This year, as in most years, at least one name on the list is someone that I have loved, someone that I’ve broken bread with, someone that I’ve prayed for, someone that I’ve prayed with, someone that I’ve held in my heart, or held in my arms. These are not just random names of people who had bad things happen. These are my kindred and my loved ones. And my heart is heavy and angry. Angry, not necessarily because they died —people die. But angry, because over and over again, people choose to murder the evidence of their trans attraction rather than to deal with it. The murderers are cowards, and they’re very rarely caught, so I have no reason to believe that they will not kill again.

All of that said, I want to invite and encourage you to do something between this year and next year: I want you to leave your church, your campus, your office, wherever you’re located, and go find my community. Stop leaning on the one trans person you know, to be your connection to an entire broad, deep, diverse, amazing community. Get thee out and build some relationships, so that next year maybe you can feel this with me, a little differently. May God bless us all, and may the memories of these departed be a blessing to all that they have loved and all who loved them.

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