Today marks the annual observation of the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). TDOR is observed annually on November 20 and was set aside to memorialize those killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, a trans woman of color whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the Remembering Our Dead web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in early 1999. Due to the interest in both the website and that original vigil, it was decided that an annual memorial to those killed due to anti-transgender violence or prejudice was necessary to help spread information about these deaths.
TDOR can be a complicated day for people in the trans community. On the one hand, it's important to honor those lost to violence and to say the names of those killed. On the other, the brutality of their deaths can be triggering for many. More, for many in the trans community, TDOR can leave people feeling like they are seen more in their deaths than in the remarkable lives they lived, almost like focusing on Good Friday without the hope of Easter.
While the realities of violence and threats of violence against trans people are very real, particularly for trans women of color, any narrative that focuses solely on death threatens to erase the beauty and resilience that shines through when people live into who God has created them to be, especially in the midst of a world that continues to encourage them to be someone else.
One way to honor both the lives lost and the resilience and fierceness possessed by so many trans folks is to recognize the ways in which their lives are made more difficult by systemic evils of heteropatriarchy and white supremacy, and then working for a world where these evils no longer exist. TDOR invites us to look at our own complicity in these systems, to recognize that our unwillingness to speak and to act against such evils has a direct correlation to the continuation of death-dealing actions.
When we see transgender people through the complexity of the systems in which we navigate, we are also called to recognize and celebrate the resilience of those who refuse to be bound to projected norms of gender and sexuality, norms that are so deeply ingrained that they either remain invisible to us, or we simply ignore them. We’ve recently released an edited version of Part 1 of our Racial Justice Teach-In, and one of the things lifted up in the series is the ways in which the dominant narrative of a culture simplifies the stories we tell about our experience. This is why many same-gender couples are often asked by straight folks which one of them is the man or woman in a relationship, or why trans people are so often expected to dress or act in a way that strictly conforms to gender norms, or why white folks have a hard time really hearing People of Color talk about their experiences navigating through a world where whiteness is always centered. The process of seeing the ways in which heterosexism and white supremacy saturate our lives can be jarring and painful, sometimes even terrifying.
In Part 3 the series, lead trainer Jessica Vazquez Torres spoke to this process when she asked:
"Can we de-center the whiteness that has us enslaved long enough to imagine what it means to be free? And if we could figure out what it means to be free, the mechanics of de-centering whiteness: of the letting go of what imprisons us, actually isn't terrorizing, but it is something that is about liberation and a decolonization of ourselves."
Learning to see the things we’ve been taught not to see can be painful. Yet, it is the only way to our individual and collective freedom. We are honored and humbled to be in this work with you, and grateful for your continued commitment to co-creating a world where all of God’s children are loved, seen, and affirmed in the fullness of who God created them to be. Today we mark the painful reality of violence that has claimed too many trans lives and we commit to working for a world where no one is punished for living as who they are called to be. As a trans-led faith organization we are often called upon to help bring a new understanding of gender identity and the systems that restrict the living of our fullest selves. We believe that part of our calling is to push against restrictive binaries that would have us limit the nuance and beauty of all of our stories. We’ve created liturgy for a TDOR service in the Worship Resources section of our website that we hope lives into this calling.
We ask that you support this world-building work by making a donation to the work of More Light. Your gift enables us to continue bringing bringing workshops to churches ready to further their understanding and inclusion of transgender lives.
We’ve been busy! This week, Alex is in Atlanta with the students, faculty, and staff of Columbia Seminary. He’ll be talking with students, leading a Trans Day of Remembrance service, teaching a polity class on the history of LGBTQIA+ organizing in the church, sharing meals with folks, and hosting a screening of Out of Order. We are delighted by this opportunity to work with Columbia Seminary and honored to be there.
Jess and Alex have both had the opportunity to preach in various places in the last month. To read their sermons, check out our sermons page on the website.
An edited version of Part 1 of the Racial Justice Teach-In and the accompanying Discussion Guide is now available in the MLP shop. It’s a great resource for a Sunday school class or community conversation. If you have questions about how to use this valuable tool, feel free to email us!
We are consistently amazed by the ministry and witness of our More Light Churches. We are launching this new feature to share some of the stories of how More Light congregations continue to live out abundant inclusion in their congregations and communities!
Arlington Presbyterian Church Arlington, VA Pastor: Ashely Goff
As their website suggests, “Arlington Presbyterian Church is imagining a new way to be a faith community! It is a place of new beginnings – now and always.”
Ten years ago, the church started imagining what it means to be a faith community and be in the neighborhood of South Arlington. They felt called by God to create affordable housing in their neighborhood. Their zip code has over a hundred languages spoken and is very representative of the neighborhood. Church members met with neighbors and community folks one on one, they rode buses, set up tables in the community and talked about the highs and lows of living in South Arlington. The consistent issue brought up by all of these groups was affordable housing. Working with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, Arlington Presbyterian Church drove the creation of Gilliam Place, a 173 unit affordable housing apartment building, named after Rhonda Gilliam, the first African American Elder at Arlington Presbyterian.
The church building and the property was sold in 2016 and the church was demolished in 2017. Construction of the new building began and Arlington staff will have moved in to their new rental office and worship space by the end of October 2019.
The third partner of this group is La Cocina (The Kitchen), which will do social entrepreneurial work with migrants around food. La Cocina will have a café which will be used to help folks working with them to start a catering business and sell their food in the café. Partnership is crucial to this work. All three organizations will be working in the same building and experience how their work supports their neighbors.
Arlington Presbyterian is a bold congregation willing to take risks. They see their new location as having zero barriers! Anyone can walk in and find their belovedness! This is one reason that the church has just become a More Light Church. They are trying to lower the barrier to be in transformation and change and healing, while people have access to affordable homes and spiritual life.
Essential to who they are as a church, Arlington Presbyterian works with community organizing groups. Virginians Organizing for Interfaith Community Engagement, VOICE, is a local affiliate for a national network of organizing. They organize communities around issues that are pressing in the neighborhood. They address issues such as immigration equity, affordable housing, deportation issues, and others. Arlington Presbyterian did one snippet of what needs to be done around affordable housing and VOICE is organizing more of that work. Time will tell where the relationships that are built in Gilliam Place will take the church and the community!
To see more about APC's journey and the ways APC's bold move can have an even larger impact on alleviating DC's housing crisis, check out this story on WAMU.
We are so encouraged by all of the ways the More Light community is shining in this critical moment. We are so honored to be part of this work with you!
In abundant hope and deepest gratitude,
Rev. Alex Patchin McNeill he/him Executive Director More Light Presbyterians