Strength in Community: Trans Day of Remembrance
By Cameron Partridge
In the fall of 1995, I was a first-year divinity school student interning at Fenway Health’s Violence Recovery Program, which supports LGBTQIA2S+ people who have experienced violence. I had only recently heard the word “transgender,” learning how it could refer both to people who transitioned from one binary gender to another, and to people whose gender transgressed the notion of a male/female binary, even as it would be another decade-plus before the term non-binary was coined. I had begun to wonder if I might be trans.
On Nov. 20 of that year, we learned of the loss of Chanelle Pickett, a Black trans woman who had recently lost her job as a result of anti-trans discrimination and had been killed in Watertown, Massachusetts. Three years later, on Nov. 28, 1998, Allston-Brighton resident Rita Hester was killed. In the days that followed, as in 1995, the Boston trans community gathered for a vigil. One year later, in San Francisco, trans community leader Gwendolyn Ann Smith led another. Decrying overlaps between what had happened to Hester and Pickett, Smith chose the date of Pickett’s death for an annual observance that soon became known internationally as Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR).
Every Nov. 20, TDOR is observed by and for the trans and non-binary community and our allies. It is a day to name and mourn our losses, call out patterns of structural violence, and be strengthened in community for the work before us: the eradication of transphobia and transmisogyny, racism, sexism, and classism; and the uplifting of trans and non-binary people as beautiful, creative, powerful, sacred. TDOR events are and should be organized by the trans and non-binary community, not primarily by allies. While some regional or citywide TDOR observances are held in religiously affiliated spaces, many are not, given how horribly the trans and non-binary community has been treated by religious communities, especially Christian. If a local trans and non-binary community wants to hold a TDOR observance at your church, it is an honor. Please let that community take the lead on the event’s organization. Consider adding a special prayer or acknowledgement of TDOR in your liturgy, making sure it dignifies lives lost, lends strength to the living, and honors a vibrant, determined community amid ongoing struggle.
In 2008, when I was the (now openly trans) vicar of St. Luke’s and St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Allston-Brighton, members of the local trans community approached me about the church hosting Boston’s TDOR at the tenth anniversary of Hester’s death. I was deeply moved as the trans and non-binary community packed the space that year and the next, singing, crying out, and drawing strength. When the church was unavailable in 2010 and following years, the observance shifted to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul downtown where it continues to take place annually.
Christian churches and rigidly binary theologies of the human person are deeply complicit in the culture of violence that harms trans and non-binary people. With increasing frequency and vitriol, distorted complementarian theologies of the human person are being wielded from state houses to school boards, targeting trans girls and non-binary youth in a campaign to corral us into gender conformity. In the face of this bigotry perpetrated in our name, Christians are called to repent of our part in this harm and to affirm that trans and non-binary people are wonderfully and fearfully made, blessed by God to offer our gifts to this broken and beautiful world. (See this account of Bishop Tom Shaw’s 2010 TDOR apology to Boston’s trans community for how Christians have misrepresented God to them: https://www.transepiscopal.org/blog/archives/11-2010.)
This Trans Day of Remembrance, may we stand together, trans and non-binary friends and beloveds. May we follow the trans/non-binary community’s lead, joining in transforming the death-dealing structures of this world in the power (as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry might say) of our liberating, loving, life-giving God.
The Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge (he/him), who holds a doctorate in theology, is the rector of St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco and is on the steering committee of TransEpiscopal.