Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge will make history on Sunday, June 22, as the first openly transgender priest to preach at the historic Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., in honor of Pride Month. The Rt. Rev Gene Robinson, known as the first openly gay priest to be elected a bishop, will preside at the service.
“Cameron Partridge is a priest of great intellect, pastoral presence, and possesses a deep passion for the Gospel. We are excited for him to preach at the Cathedral,” said The Very Rev. Gary Hall, the dean of Washington National Cathedral. In a statement sent to The Huffington Post, he said:
As an advocate both within the Church and wider community, Cameron’s presence in the pulpit, I hope, will also send a symbolic message in support of greater equality for the transgender community, which suffers from acts of violence, discrimination, unemployment, homelessness, and financial inequality. We at Washington National Cathedral are striving to send a message of love and affirmation, especially to LGBT youth who suffer daily because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. We want to proclaim to them as proudly and unequivocally as we can: Your gender identity is good and your sexual orientation is good because that’s the way that God made you.
Partridge is one of just seven openly trans clergy in the Episcopal Church. He became one of the first trans chaplains at a major university when he was appointed Boston University's chaplain in 2011, according to Religion and Politics' profile. In 2012, the Episcopal Church officially voted to change its "nondiscrimination canons" to include "gender identity and expression" so that transgender people could not be barred from becoming priests, under law.
Partridge was in the process of being ordained as a priest when he told his bishop, The Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, that he was transitioning from female to male in 2001. Shaw supported his decision and has gone on to become a dedicated advocate for trans issues within the diocese of Massachusetts. Boston's Cathedral Church of St. Paul now hosts a memorial on the annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance, to mourn those who have died because they were trans. Shaw told Religion and Politics, "I stand up in front of them each year and say that the conception of God that judges you is not the conception of God in this diocese."
Washington National Cathedral is one of the most high-profile Christian advocates for LGBT equality. In 2013, Hall announced a policy of blessing same-sex marriages, and held a service to celebrate the Supreme Court's rejection of the Defense of Marriage Act.
However, policy does not always immediately translate into true acceptance, which is one reason why Partridge's service at the Cathedral is so important. Chris Paige, a transgender activist who runs Transfaith, a nonprofit focusing on faith and spirituality issues, told The Huffington Post in 2013 that "The trans experience is still little-understood in the general community and even more so at times in churches and spiritual spaces. Most of the time when we go into a congregation, we have the experience of being the first one. Even in congregations that say they accept transgender people, it doesn't mean they have ever met a trans person."
The fact that Partridge is trans means that he has a wealth of experiences and struggles to share with his congregations. “In one sense, my being trans doesn’t matter,” he said to Religion and Politics about his role as chaplain for Boston University. “In another way, I’m able to have certain conversations about the complexities of human identity with college students, who are figuring out their own identities.”
Paige also feels that trans people have a lot to offer religion, and vice versa. "There is such an intersection between being trans and religious," Paige told The Huffington Post. "Some of the fundamental religious questions -- 'Who am I? How do I fit into the world?' -- those are very familiar questions that people ask on a journey of gender exploration."