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Rev. Susan Russell

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Episcopalians Work to Put the 'T' in Equality

Posted: 06/29/2012 7:54 pm

When the Episcopal Church gathers in Indianapolis next week for its every-three-year General Convention, transgender inclusion will be on our "to-do" list. The last time we met, in Anaheim in 2009, we adopted some important resolutions supporting trans-inclusive federal ENDA and hate-crimes bills, adding gender identity and expression to nondiscrimination canons for lay employees and calling for church data forms to provide for inclusive self-identification. Not a bad start!

What we failed to accomplish was adding gender identity and expression to our nondiscrimination canons for ordained ministry -- and that's the work we'll be about in Indianapolis from July 5-12. But it won't just be the work of passing legislation. It will be the hard and important work of giving voice to the witness of transgender Episcopalians in sharing stories, touching hearts, and changing minds, because what we found in Anaheim in 2009 was that the presence of members of TransEpiscopal testifying in committee hearings, participating in round-table discussions, speaking their truth, and sharing their lives created a profoundly teachable moment that quite literally changed lives.

And one of those was my wife. Now, I have a hard-and-fast rule to never blog about my wife, but this blog is going to be the exception that proves the rule. A long-time activist, journalist, documentarian, and media consultant, Louise was convinced that gay, lesbian, and bisexual equality was a hard enough row to hoe without adding the "T" into the mix. "Let's fight one battle at a time" pretty much summed up her position -- that is, until the 2009 General Convention and the powerful witness of the transgender folk who so courageously shared their stories, their experience, their journeys, and their reality with her. She left Anaheim committed to finding a way to get their voices out beyond the relatively small audience of an Episcopal General Convention team -- and the idea for the documentary film project Voices of Witness: Out of the Box was born.

"Gender identity and gender expression are issues that can easily be misunderstood and cannot be wrapped up in a neat little box," said Louise. "So the goal of Out of the Box was to answer some of the most frequently asked questions. We have been blessed by a truly amazing cloud of witnesses who shared their stories and their lives with us. It has been a privilege to work with them to take this project from a dream to a reality as we offer their voices of witness to the church and to the world."

And so nearly three years later, the 27-minute documentary she produced and Douglas Hunter directed for IntegrityUSA has had over 5,000 views on YouTube and been mailed by DVD to every bishop and deputy in the Episcopal Church.

Response to the project has been overwhelmingly affirming, and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that it is doing exactly what Louise hoped it would do: answering questions, touching hearts, and changing minds. One of the most recent comments by a viewer was simply, "Thank you for lifting my veil of ignorance. This is a profound gift from people with profound personal courage and integrity."


We're not done yet, by any means. We'll have plenty of work to do with our church's governance over the next two weeks as we support the trans-inclusive resolutions that will be wending their way through our nine-day legislative process. And then we'll have more work to do make those Convention resolutions realities on the ground in our congregations and communities. But it is work I am convinced we can and will do, not only because the Episcopal Church holds "striving for justice and respecting the dignity of every human being" as a core value, but because if the voices of witness of these courageous transgender folk can change the mind of my wife, then clearly nothing is impossible with God!

 

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