On June 14, 2010, we celebrate Flag Day in the United States, and, for the first time in our history as a nation, citizens who identify as transgender will have at least one good reason to believe that our United States flag flies for them as well.
On June 9, 2010, the US Department of State announced new guidelines for issuing passports to people who identify as trans.
No longer will trans identified persons be required to supply proof of irreversible sex reassignment surgery to change the gender listed on their passports. No longer will they be "singled out" or "outed" as transgender in potentially hostile and dangerous environments or in the presence of security personnel with limited training or understanding of trans issues.
I want to commend all of the people -- elected officials and advocates -- who have worked for years to create these new rules, which represent a major advance in securing safe, humane and dignified treatment of transgender people. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), and the Obama administration -- particularly Secretary of State Hilary Clinton -- really understood the need for this change and responded. The Center for Global Equality, The Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, Metropolitan Community Churches, the Human Rights Campaign, the American Medical Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) all deserve our applause.
This is one of those days when I feel good about the campaign phrase, Yes, we can!
It is my hope that other institutions in the United States will now follow the State Department's lead in this area and remove harmful sex and gender profiling from their policies and practices.
Sadly, this need is greatest in our churches, where patriarchy and its attendant twin, heterosexism, so painfully exclude women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from the full fellowship of faith. Yet, I am encouraged.
In a few weeks, I will participate as a registered observer in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Minneapolis. Soulforce, the organization for which I serve as Executive Director, will host a two-day Pray In on behalf of the general commissioners and advisors and 8000 attendees at the General Assembly. The commissioners and advisors have to sort through hundreds of "overtures" from their churches and ultimately render a vote deciding whether lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are worthy of ordination as deacons, elders and ministers.
They also have to vote on whether ordained persons can conduct legal marriages of same-gender couples in those states where these marriages are legal. Without the sanction of the General Assembly and, ultimately, the Presbyteries, ordained ministers who conduct these marriages can be brought up on charges by the church and lose their status.
How painful and confusing for everyone involved. It is a bit of irony, or perhaps, a movement of the Spirit that the Presbyterians will take these votes in the same convention hall where the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) took their vote last year. The ELCA chose higher ground and eliminated every condition of exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
I know that there will be Presbyterians at the General Assembly in Minneapolis who just want gay issues to go away, sort of a "don't ask, don't tell" way of being Presbyterian. And, sadly, there will be those who continue to leave the church because they are unwilling to live a lie or refuse the sacrament of marriage to one set of parishioners while offering it to others.
For today, I am choosing to be exuberantly confident that if the State Department can get it right for trans people, the Presbyterians and all of the rest of the churches in America can get it right as well. I base that confidence, in no small part, on the wonderful and long-standing "tag-line" of the PC USA. They have made it 219 years, in their own words, "reformed, always reforming."