Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

LGBT Community Protests Extremist Hate Speech After Orlando

I AM DONE protestors stand against religious bigotry and hate speech on June 26 to declare that "Love Beats Hate." I AM DONE Facebook photo.

I AM DONE protestors stand against religious bigotry and hate speech on June 26 to declare that “Love Beats Hate.” I AM DONE Facebook photo.

Samsom Park, Texas – A fundamentalist pastor west of Fort Worth carried hate speech and religious intolerance of LGBTQ people to a new low in the wake of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub Massacre. Donnie Romero, leader of Stedfast Baptist Church, a small, independent, exceedingly angry group, stirred opposition by declaring that the cold blooded murder of LGBT people in Orlando, Florida on June 12 was God’s judgment upon the victims.

In starkly bigoted language, Romero went on to declare that his only regret about the massacre was that no one had finished what the shooter had started. Anticipating that members of the LGBTQ community might picket his small storefront church, Romero publicly declared that since members of his church were Texans who had weapon permits, protestors just might get shot.

The Rapid Response group, I AM DONE, organized a protest of Romero’s religious bigotry and carried out the direct action across the highway from Stedfast Baptist Church on Sunday morning, June 26. An estimated 50 protestors from across North Texas, protected by police from four local municipalities including Sansom Park, where the church is physically located, Lake View, Lake Worth, and Fort Worth, sang, chanted call-and-response, waved signs proclaiming Love, and read the names of the Orlando victims through a bullhorn during the church hour. The Texas heat was oppressive, but the protest was deemed successful since Romero’s hate speech had been answered forcefully but peacefully.

The following are the remarks Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School delivered at the protest, entitled: “Lament, Discover, and Repair.”

The Orlando massacre has forced America to stare into the abyss of our broken society. We have recoiled from what we have seen: not only the brutality of fear and loathing that took so many lives at the Pulse nightclub that night, but also the sickening complicity of a national culture that has set up the conditions for the slaughter of our people for generations.

Our feelings of remorse and loss are real and sharply painful; our burning anger is hot and real, as well.

But we cannot allow the abyss of race hatred, misogyny and heterosexist privilege to paralyze us with fear or anger — not again!

If others must continue the endless finger-pointing, let them. Not us, not again, not now!

We have a gaping hole in the American character to fix, and it will take all of us to do it, queer folk of faith, faith-free queer folk and allies alike. The spiritual resources that belong to American LGBTQ people are at hand, and we must discover how to use them to heal our broken hearts, our troubled minds, and to repair the ruins that yawn up at us from the abyss that bears so many names:

Orlando
Mother Emanuel A.M.E.
Sandy Hook Elementary
The Upstairs Lounge Inferno
Wisconsin Sikh Temple
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
Aurora, Colorado, and
Virginia Tech, and more.

The Rev. Stephen Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School, flanked by other ministers, ended the protest with prayer. Other ministers attending included Chaplain Aaron Burk, the Rev. Mark Weathers of University Christian Church, the Rev. Heather Dunham of Universal Life Church, and the Rev. Russell Dalton with Brite Divinity School. Tammye Nash, Dallas Voice photo.

The Rev. Stephen Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School, flanked by other ministers, ended the protest with prayer. Other ministers attending included Chaplain Aaron Burk, the Rev. Mark Weathers of University Christian Church, the Rev. Heather Dunham of Universal Life Church, and the Rev. Russell Dalton with Brite Divinity School. Tammye Nash, Dallas Voice photo.

We must act according to the sources of our power, no matter what makes us afraid. The practice of lament clears the spiritual space that makes effective action possible.

Sadness can empower our souls as well as dis-empower them. We can erect shrines that tie us to the past, or we can discover the power to lament as a people until hope takes the place of despair.

Phyllis Trible, the ground-breaking author of Texts of Terror who told the stories of the wrong done to biblical women, has said that mourning alone changes little. But true change comes from insight, a change that can inspire individuals and even a whole generation to repentance.

She writes: “In other words, sad stories may yield new beginnings.”

God knows, we have sad stories, and plenty of them. What we must find is the courage to cry out in public acts of lament that change despair into hope.

Rabbi Denise Eger, lesbian and president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, shows us how to turn sorrow into a new kind of power for good:

“Sister that I never held near,
Brother that I never embraced, our memory is almost lost:
The one we don’t talk about.
The loving one who never married.
The one for whom no Kaddish was said.
Your loneliness calls out to me:
I know of your struggles, we are not strangers,
And if my path is easier, I will not forget who walked it first.
We call you to mind, but did you not sometimes think of us,
Your children, lovers across the years,
Those who would follow and would think of you and bless your memory
And call you to mind?
With David and Jonathan, we will not forget you,
With Ruth and Naomi, we will not forget you,
In the name of God you are our sisters and our brothers, and we ask that you be remembered for peace.”

When we cry out to God from the depths of our collective sorrow, as my friend, Dean Joretta Marshall, of Brite Divinity School says, we begin to discover new possibilities for memory, compassion, empathy, and vision.

As we collaborate publicly in acts of lament when we are overwhelmed, we discover new ways to collaborate together in “life-giving hope.”

Protests are important, but they do not capture the spiritual power of crying out together so that our despair may turn into hope, and inspiration gives our activism fresh ideas to address the venom the LGBTQ community faces, much of it inflicted in the name of religion.

Sorrow is not a destination. We need movements, not monuments or shrines, movements of “life-giving hope.” So, together, before all the world, with our enemies included, we cry out until despair begins to transform into something new.

We remember before God the tens of thousands of our LGBTQ family martyred in years gone by. We remember those who died in the Inquisition, the Middle Passage, the Witch Craze, the Holocaust, and the struggle for civil rights.

We refuse to forget those, driven to despair by a world that hated them and who they loved, who took their own lives rather than face any longer the intolerable.

And we cannot forget those who lived out their days lonely, repressed, and afraid to reach out for affection and comfort, too hurt to give or receive the love they craved.

To us, in the memories we share in our seasons of lament, they have all become the martyrs of God, signs that we must make the world better than they found it. In the name of love, we pray, “O God, remember the sacrifices of these martyrs, and help us to bring and end to hate and oppression of every kind!”

We say and we believe that “Love Wins!” But in the struggle to repair the world, we have learned that love must be ferocious to win the new world we seek for ourselves, our children, and for everyone.

The story of the struggle for our human rights has lessons to teach, and one of the undeniable lessons of our history is that LGBTQ people have never been “given” anything. The heterosexist society in which we live never surrenders its power willingly. Our freedom has had to be won.

If our great theme is LOVE, from the right to love the one we choose, or the love of country that inspired us to defy Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to the love of human life itself because we are a people who are represented everywhere — in every group and race, and in every known social demographic from the beginning of recorded history — then we know from our own collective experience that love must be fierce in order for it to survive.

There is something divine in love like that, a divine imperative that will not be forestalled any longer, or postponed, or sidetracked. From the days of our forebears in the 19th century, we began to network across the boundaries of nations, to count the ever growing number of ourselves, and to realize that we were a powerful people united by a new sense of the possibilities of love.

Today, we are strengthened by amazing allies from every walk of life who understand that their future and ours are bound up with us in a contest to determine whether diversity and pluralism will prevail in our world, or whether patriarchal fear of immigrants, gender non-conformity, non-Caucasian people, and non-Judeo-Christian faiths — fears intensified by the rejection of the leadership gifts of women — will drag us backward.

Our most powerful ally in LGBTQ history, President Barack Obama, has shown us what a love with real backbone looks like. Like many of our allies, the president had to evolve in this thinking about what justice and equality for LGBTQ people called him to do. Once he got there, to the place of true equality and justice, he became our full-throated advocate.

His spiritual mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., taught him to face challenges with “the fierce urgency of now.” We LGBTQ people found that vision to resonate powerfully with our experiences of struggle beyond any counted cost, and, inspired by President Obama, we have recast Dr. King’s idea in our own way. We serve a vision inspired by “the fierce urgency of love.”

“The fierce urgency of love”:

Love that refuses to be anemic in the face of hard times.
Love that has a spine, and bows before no opponent.
Love that will not back down, and will not back up.
Love that knows how and when to get loud and be proud.
A love where Everybody is Somebody, and nobody is a nobody.

Our activism at its best is motivated by the fierce urgency of a love that will not permit churches, synagogues, and mosques to remain silent on the sidelines of the struggle for justice, for silence in the face of injustice is its own form of spiritual violence.

The fierce urgency of love compels us to give no free passes when religious leaders of any stripe breathe out venom and hatred toward marginalized people. That is why we oppose religious intolerance to the same degree we oppose political and economic harms done to LGBTQ people in North Texas and anywhere else.

We have learned the lessons of ferocious love: that hate speech from any pulpit or from any rostrum in a governmental chamber is the ammunition that kills and maims real people, as surely as any bullet. We cannot permit any leader to hijack religion and force it into the service of oppression of any kind any longer without our calling out such an outrage.

As Rev. Dr. Cody J. Sanders, the pastor of Old Cambridge Baptist Church near Harvard Yard, a proud gay man says:

“For LGBTQ people, the mechanisms of oppression have nearly always been waged first against our souls. But it never ends there. This spiritual violence has led to innumerable suicides, hate crime violence beyond what we know through the collected statistics, and the marginalization of LGBTQ people in the very institutions they should feel most at home: their families, their churches, and their communities.”

Sanders calls for spiritual reparations for the harm done to the souls of LGBTQ people, a fierce love of God and neighbor that seeks to heal the hurt and repair the broken world. Like Sanders, in the name of love, we must fiercely call for real and practical actions:

For LGBTQ homeless youth in our cities,
For effective ways to prevent LGBTQ suicides,
For funding for LGBTQ seminarians so that they can become faith leaders throughout America,
For the recruitment of qualified LGBTQ candidates to run for public office,
For literacy in LGBTQ life and history, and engagement between established cisgender and straight clergy with queer leaders in their communities, and especially
For churches and religion-based non-profits to stand up to their denominations and parent organizations when they participate in anti-LGBTQ discrimination by thought, deed, or silence.

Sanders concludes with the forthright demand of a community that knows how to stand tall and true, and has the courage to repair a broken world even in the face of spiritual opposition:

“Churches owe LGBTQ people a spiritual debt,” he says, “for the decades upon decades of violence against our souls. It’s time to start paying up.”

The Hebrew prophets sounded like that, didn’t they? That is an important dimension of the spiritual heritage of the LGBTQ human rights movement that was first born and nurtured in churches and synagogues in the pre-Stonewall era, and right up until this very day.

I work alongside lesbian, gay, and straight colleagues of courage at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, who like Cody Sanders, want to transform the world in which we live. So, with the whole Cloud of Witnesses, from the time of the Hebrew Prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Prophet Muhammad, to the millions of LGBTQ people and our allies right here and right now, together with the Prophet Isaiah, we say:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Our greatest asset as a Queer/LGBT community, you see, lies in far more than our numbers, our economic strength, and our political allies. It lies in our spirituality of collaborating hope, hope forged in the furnace of our tests and trials, made powerful by the vision of a better world than we have ever known.

Our enemies are real. Their guns and their words spit fire and death. They misunderstand, sometimes with lethal consequences, who we are and what we contribute to the common world in which we all dwell.

But we know wherein our power truly lies, for as our Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde, taught us, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

Rise up, then!

We LGBTQ people were never meant to settle into paralysis, depression and despair on the far side of the pit our adversaries dug for us. It is time to build a bridge across the abyss that swallowed up our Orlando sisters and brothers. Bring your energies, your tools, and your resolve. We have at hand the resources of a rich spirituality, and a fierce, divine love.

There is a world to repair.

July 2, 2016 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Anti-LGBT hate crimes, Brite Divinity School, Donnie Romero, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Florida, GLBTQ, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, I AM DONE, LGBTQ, LGBTQ clergy, Mass shooting, Orlando, Protests and Demonstrations, Pulse Nightclub, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, Stedfast Baptist Church, Texas, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on LGBT Community Protests Extremist Hate Speech After Orlando

Names of Deceased Pulse Nightclub Patrons Slowly Being Released

Aggregate photo by Huffington Post, with our thanks.

Aggregate photo by Huffington Post, with our thanks.

Orlando, Florida – The names of the deceased in the worst mass shooting is U.S. history are slowly being released to the public. 50 died in the initial homophobic attack on the Pulse Nightclub, and 53 were hospitalized. Printed here are the 49 names assembled by Huffington Post by 7 p.m., June 13. All but one of the victims has been identified, and authorities are notifying next of kin. The effort to inform those many more who loved them also is ongoing, as well. We publish them here with their ages at the time of their deaths. All those who were gunned down by unreasoning hatred of who they were have names…lives…loves…. Everyone one, those named here and those remaining to be named, was someone’s child, sister, brother, friend, lover, co-worker, team member. All are our Rainbow Family, and we shall not forget them. May they have found rest, and may their deaths, heinous as the crime was that took away their lives, usher in a better world than they ever knew. One where Everybody is Somebody, and nobody is nobody.

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 

Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26 

Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25 

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 

Cory James Connell, 21 

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34

Stanley Almodovar III, 23

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20

Luis S. Vielma, 22

Kimberly Morris, 37

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30

Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25

Amanda Alvear, 25

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49

Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28

Frank Hernandez, 27

Paul Terrell Henry, 41

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24

Akyra Monet Murray, 18

Antonio Brown, 29

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 25

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31

June 13, 2016 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Anti-LGBT hate crimes, Florida, Gay Bars, GLBTQ, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, In Memoriam, Latino and Latina Americans, Lesbians, LGBTQ, Mass shootings, Orlando, Pulse Nightclub, Remembrances, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Names of Deceased Pulse Nightclub Patrons Slowly Being Released

Dallas LGBT Community to Orlando: “We Are With You!”

 

Hundreds of LGBT Dallasites and allies rally in solidarity with Orlando despite the rain.

Hundreds of LGBT Dallasites and allies rally in solidarity with Orlando despite the rain. Dallas Morning News photo, Teng Shen, photographer.

Dallas, Texas – Hundreds gathered in the pouring rain outside the newly opened headquarters of the Resource Center in the heart of the Dallas LGBT community to demonstrate their solidarity with the people of Orlando, and especially with the Orange County LGBT community in the wake of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. Undaunted by the rain, gays, lesbians, bisexual people, and transgender people, augmented by a multitude of allies, listened, wept, cheered and contributed as a score or more of speakers representing all major faith communities, the humanist community, and members of racial/ethnic minority groups vowed to stand firm in the struggle for justice and equality. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Police Chief Brown were also in attendance at the rally, showing the unity of the city and its law enforcement agencies with the LGBT community during this challenging time.

The host of the solidarity rally, Resource Center, led by Executive Director Cece Cox, is one of the largest of the better than 200 LGBT service centers in the nation, and a focal point of outreach and support for marginalized people throughout North Texas. The new, $8.9 million facility that houses the Center, open less than eleven days, is a testament to the vigor and muscle of the Dallas queer community. After listening to the speakers, the participants boarded buses or walked the 1.9 mile route down Cedar Springs Road to the symbolic crossroads of the Dallas LGBT “Gayborhood,” the Legacy of Love Monument at the junction of Cedar Springs Road and Oak Lawn Avenue. There the rally concluded after laying flowers and other signs of affection at the foot of the monument as signs of hundreds of wishes for comfort and healing for the city of Orlando and the Pulse Nightclub where the shooting took the lives of 50 people, and left 53 others wounded.

Dallas is home to one of the largest and most vibrant LGBT communities in the nation, and celebrates diversity through its many open and affirming and LGBT predominant faith communities, civic and recreational groups, charities, and health support services. The Dallas Gayborhood has been plagued since late September by better than 20 attacks on young gay men both along the fabled Strip where nightclubs, restaurants, and merchants that cater to the LGBT community are found, and beyond it in nearby neighborhoods. While community and police efforts have improved lighting and installed surveillance cameras along the Strip, leaders and citizens alike are concerned that no arrests have been made in any of the cases, many of which are clear instances of anti-gay hate crime.

The show of support for Orlando last night foretells renewed local efforts in concert with the Dallas Police Department to bring a halt to the rash of brutal attacks, none of which to date have proved fatal. Dallas is no stranger to anti-LGBT violence in all its forms, and that has made the emotional bond between “Big D” and Orlando all the stronger.

June 13, 2016 Posted by | Dallas, Dallas Police Department, GLBTQ, gun violence, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Mass shootings, Orlando, Pulse Nightclub, Resource Center, transphobia, Vigil | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dallas LGBT Community to Orlando: “We Are With You!”

TDOR 2015: Brite Divinity School Hosts a Packed House to Commemorate the Fallen

tdor

“You Did Not Know That We Were Seeds”: The Spirit-Power of Gender Non-Conforming People

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Brite Divinity School

 [Nota Bene – Fort Worth, Texas – In conjunction with DFW Trans-Cendence, Brite Divinity School opened its doors to a full house to remember historic high numbers of transgender murders during the past year, especially transgender women of color (TWOCs). Here in full are the remarks Dr. Sprinkle made at this year’s TDOR.]

Tonight is unlike other nights. Tonight, transgender and cisgender people alike sift for hope in the ashes and plant seeds in the ground, in anticipation of a harvest of hope that will come tomorrow. For tonight we mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

            Our Jewish sisters and brothers yearn for and proclaim their liberation from slavery once a year, too, and have done so in good times and bad for thousands of years. Jews around the world call their commemoration of the Exodus “Passover.” On Passover when the Seder meal is set and the family and their guests are all seated at the table, the youngest child capable of reciting it asks the ritual question, “Why is tonight different from all other nights?”, and an elder of the community answers the child by asking another question, “What differences do you notice about tonight rather than all other nights?”

            So, like a child, I ask you a similar question that I hope will lead you into the spirit of curiosity and ritual power. “On the

DFW Trans-Cendence & Brite's Carpenter Initiative for Gender, Sexuality, and Justice sponsored this year's TDOR.

DFW Trans-Cendence & Brite’s Carpenter Initiative for Gender, Sexuality, and Justice sponsored this year’s TDOR.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, why does this night differ from all other nights?” As on Passover night, that child-like question is the Gateway of Life from the past and present into a future that is still forming. Like a child, then, I, a cisgender ally of the Gender Non-Conforming Community, ask all of you, the gathered Transgender Nation, what is the answer to my question? How can a somber memorial to fallen Transgender sisters and brothers like this instruct all of humankind in the ways of transcendent life, even in the very face of violent death?

            Well, as you can see, I am no longer a child, at least in years, and in experience as gay man. You will allow me, I hope, this one speculation, at least: the answer lies somewhere at the intersection of life and death, and then in life beyond death. It lies, I submit to you, in the motif of overcoming death, of dying and rising that is so familiar to all the great religions, and so personally part of the daily lives of all queer people, especially in the lives of our transgender sisters and brothers—and all those as well who transcend the arbitrary binaries constructed and policed by normative culture and society.

            The first answer to my question about the Spirit of the Transgender Day of Remembrance comes from transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith, the founder of TDOR. She established this night in memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman killed in 1998, to commemorate all gender non-conforming people whose lives were lost to violence during the previous year. Gwendolyn Ann Smith answers my question this way: “The Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people — sometimes in the most brutal ways possible — it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.” So says the founder of this memorial day.

            Yes, we gather tonight to remember and to mourn historically high numbers of transgender people cut down this year by unreasoning hatred, ignorance and fear. More transgender women and men died this very year, according to the records kept in this country and around the world, than at any other time since the earliest time transgender deaths by violence were officially recorded. You and I understand, of course, that even these stunning numbers of the fallen are a severe undercount, with many, many, TOO MANY more unreported and therefore unnamed tonight. And we can no longer, leave out the commemoration of the many transgender youth and adults who died this year from suicide, driven to take their lives by despair, and discrimination, by the rejection of their families and one-time friends, and by the feeling that nothing could ever get better. Nevertheless, in the spirituality of overcoming despair, the names of the women and men we know stand for all the least, and the last, and the lost. Like Gwendolyn Ann Smith taught us, we name the names we know, one-by-one, and our tears push us to the work of justice.

            Shade SchulerThis year, a new acronym entered our vocabulary to describe the decimation of the Transgender Community: TWOC, “Transgender Women of Color,” in order to acknowledge how the intersection of ignorance, racism, misogyny, and patriarchy issue into an even more sinister form of transphobia, the irrational attempt to erase the lives of African American and Latina Transgender Women, many of them still in their teens and young adulthood. We have particular reason to mourn two of these TWOCs this year. They are Texans, Ms. Ty Underwood, 24, of Tyler, Texas, found shot to death in her automobile after it crashed into a light pole in January, in all probability as she attempted to flee from her assailant; and Ms. Shade Schuler, 22, whose badly decomposed body, dead of gunshot wounds, was dumped, ironically enough, on a side street near the Medical District in Dallas, Texas to roast in the late July heat of the Lone Star summer. By the time Ms. Shade was reported murdered in Dallas, the 11th Transgender Woman of Color, and the 13th murder of a transgender woman overall, more transgender murders were on record by July 2015 than all the recorded transphobic homicides the entire previous year.

            The second answer to my child-like question, “Why is tonight different than all other nights?”, is that we meet tonight in the eye of an unprecedented storm in the unending contest between justice and injustice, between heteronomative desperation to hold onto control of human lives, and non-normative struggles to attain some measure of equal treatment under the law. We gather tonight in the midst of unprecedented social change. This year, the bent arc of history toward justice has heartened some of us, frightened others, and unleashed a fury of transphobia and violence against our transgender friends and family.

            Like a Texas Two-Step danced in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the U.S. Supreme Court Marriage Equality decision in June was counterpointed earlier this month by the defeat of the Houston HERO equal rights ordinance in a deeply transphobic vote. An apathetic majority of eligible Houston voters stayed home, and allowed a screeching, well-funded few to demean and scapegoat transgender women, and in the devil’s bargain, to shatter the fragile sense of security so important to the whole transgender community.

            Those of us like me, cisgender allies, must face up to the added responsibility we bear to our sisters and brothers who refuse the restrictions of binary society. Yes, same-gender couples, lesbians and gay men, can now marry in all fifty states. The Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, struck down a major obstacle to equal treatment under the law, and we still celebrate that milestone in the human rights struggle. But if that means that cisgender gay men and lesbians can enter legal marriage (as if all of us wished to, anyway!) while ignoring the travesty visited so continually upon the trans community, then we deserve none of the rights that judicial decision gave us. What about the “T” in “LGBT”? Are transgender and intersex people, such vital allies of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities, no more than an afterthought or a bargaining chip in the battle for the right to marry?

           TDOR%202015%20Flyer Gay men and lesbians, who bear the majority responsibility in the coalition of LGBTQIA people, have to understand, that none of us are free and equal until ALL of US are free and equal! Transpeople have fought for liberation since the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. They are our “Marine Corps.” Transpeople stormed the Stonewall Inn along with the queer homeless street kids of Greenwich Village in a struggle that gay men and lesbians were too timid to initiate by ourselves. That is history, and we are accountable to that history of liberation today. No one is safe and secure until all of us are safe and secure, and surely gay men know that above all, since only gay men continue to be murdered at the same rate in this country as transgender women of color. Check the statistics if you doubt it. The most endangered queer people in America today are gay men and transgender women. We cannot, must not forget our allies in the transgender community.

            The third answer to my question about the difference of tonight among all other nights is that, even in the face of such unprecedented violence and bigotry against the transgender community, there is much to celebrate and much hope to share. We cannot remember all this pain and woe without also marking the advances that have been so hard won since 2009. I will list six of these positive milestones briefly:

  1. The 2009 “coming out” of transgender celebrity Chas Bono, the child of pop idols Sonny and Cher.
  2. The star power of Laverne Cox, transgender woman of color on the hit 2013 television show “Orange is the New Black,” and her 2014 cover photo on Time Magazine titled “The Transgender Tipping Point.”
  3. President Barack Obama’s executive order on July 21, 2014 making it illegal to fire or harass transgender employees of federal contractors, for the first time explicitly protecting transgender people in the federal government.
  4. The much publicized transition of Olympic triathlete Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner in July of this year.
  5. The White House announcement on August 19, 2015 that it had hired its first transgender staff member, Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, as Outreach and Recruiter Director for Presidential Personnel.
  6. The launching of the first U.S. House of Representatives Taskforce on Transgender Equality, along with the first-ever Capitol Hill forum on violence against transgender people, this past Tuesday, November 17, 2015. The Taskforce will be chaired by Rep. Mike Honda (D-California), proud grandfather of an eight-year old transgender granddaughter, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), whose son is transgender. Anti-transgender violence, said Chairman Honda, “is a national crisis. …After 21 deaths of transgender individuals because of violence this year alone, Congress must take notice and act.”

 

There are actually four questions the youngest child asks of Jews and their guests at the Passover seder, questions that flow from the child-like question that started it all. By now you know I have crafted my offering to you tonight along the same lines: four questions and four answers. Questions and Answers building to a climax of liberation and hope, no matter the darkness of the night. So, here is the fourth answer to the question, “How is tonight, the Transgender Day of Remembrance night, different from all other nights?”

Tonight, you see, is not just a night of mourning and lamenting, or of outrage and somber celebration, though it is also these things, as well. This night of the Transgender Day of Remembrance is a ritual night when the Spirit-Power of All Gender Non-Conforming People is summoned and renewed, giving strength for the struggle ahead.

Transgender people possess a Spirit-Power, one they must never surrender—one that they have to share with all humanity. Transgender people know about change, transformation, transition, and new creations by experience of themselves. The Transgender community as a collective has amazing strength, developed in the face of adversity, a tenacity and zest for life that cannot be contained, you see, in only one lifetime. Though external transphobia strikes down so many, and internalized transphobia even more through personal trauma and suicide, the heartbeat of the Transgender people is strong and enduring, as only a people acquainted with oppression can fully understand. It is as old as the aboriginal recognition of Two-Spirit people among the indigenous tribes of North America, as world-loving as the Pagan faiths, as wise as the great religions of the East, and as time-honored as the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—but it is not limited to any of these. It is a spirituality that understands in the marrow of its transgender bones how a person cannot be other than they truly are, that appearance and reality are not necessarily the same, and that living and loving are more powerful and enduring than anything that adversity can send against what is authentically humanity.

At the vigil for Ms. Shade Schuler in September of this year, a white gay man, Ted Van Trabart said, “We’re here today to say that black lives matter and trans lives matter, and we’re all children of God, and there’s equality in that.” Then, according to the report in the Texas Observer, Minister Carmarion Anderson, a black transgender activist, showed the gathering a small piece of wood she had retrieved from the spot where Ms. Shade’s body was found, where she and Dr. Jeff Hood, alumnus of this very school, carried out a service to lay her soul to rest. Minister Anderson said, “Each time I look at [this piece of wood], it empowers me to keep going, even when I want to give up.”

Yes, the Spirit-Power of Transgender people transcends the bondage of gender conformity and all constraints placed upon the human spirit in favor of a new and more promising Exodus for themselves and for all humankind. Slavery is over. Freedom has come. Where we live, according to our Transgender Friends, is in this awkward, difficult, promising time between the already and the not yet. It is just a matter of time until justice comes, and in the mean time, liberty will not wait. The Observer reported that someone else was carrying a sign at the vigil for Ms. Shade that night, one that read, “You Tried to Bury Us/You Didn’t Know We Were Seeds.”

Tonight is different because we announce that what we have sown in sorrow are the seeds of a new humanity, transitioned by love, transcending despair, raised in hope, stronger than death. The lyrics of The Hymn of Promise, (Copyright Hope Publishing Company) penned in 1986 by Natalie Sleeth before the death of her spouse, best answer the child-like questions we bring forth on this night of nights for me, and I offer them to you in closing:

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
 In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
 In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
 Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
 There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
 From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
 Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
 In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
 In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
 Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Doane College Alumni Reunion, First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, Feb. 3, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Gndx39q7QM

 

November 22, 2015 Posted by | Brite Divinity School, DFW Trans-Cendence, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, LGBTQ, Special Comments, Texas, Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), transgender persons, Transgender women of color, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Texas Gay Man Brutally Killed by Blunt Force Trauma

Marc Pourner, bound, gagged and beaten to death in rural Mongomery County.

Marc Pourner, bound, gagged and beaten to death in rural Mongomery County.

Montgomery County, Texas – The body of a gay man was found murdered in a stand of trees in Montgomery County, north of Houston, on Saturday. His truck was also found at the scene by Sheriff’s Deputies, burned. Authorities told KTRK Television 13 that the victim, identified as 28-year-old Marc Pourner of Spring, Texas, may well have been restrained prior to his murder.

The victim’s father, Mark Pourner, who identified the corpse of his missing son on Saturday, told journalists that Marc was a well-liked bookkeeper for Randall’s Food Market, “a good friend to many and a man with a big heart.” Speaking to an interviewer for KTRK, Marc’s father said that the “speed and cold efficiency” with which his son had been killed indicated to him and the family that whoever did this had killed before, and, in all probability, would kill again. When questioned about a possible motive, he said that the family believed this was a hate crime murder, and that his son was openly gay.

Pourner’s roommates and friends grew worried after receiving a “disturbing phone call” Thursday night, and  when he did not report for work last Friday, they alerted the authorities. About Magazine News reports that “a person of interest” tipped off the Sheriff’s Department, leading to the discovery of the body. The corpse showed evidence of blunt force trauma to Pourner’s head, and signs of having been tied and gagged. A source described as close to the investigation says that an arrest in the case is near at hand.

Speaking to Project Q on behalf of the Sheriff’s Department, Lt.  Brady Fitzgerald described the investigation and the area where Pourner’s body was discovered:

“We responded to that area and we located the burned vehicle. The body was close to the vehicle in a pathway,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a residential area that is sparsely populated. It was thick in the woods where they discovered the vehicle itself and the body. It would obviously have to be intentionally placed there.” When questioned about the details of the investigation, Fitzgerald went on to say, “We are still looking into the case. If he was murdered in reference to him being gay, it would be a hate crime and that’s the way it would be investigated if that was a motive.” Though he would not affirm that an arrest was imminent, Fitzgerald did tell Project Q that there was no evidence that Pourner had been robbed.

An online campaign has been started to pay for the expenses of the funeral.

This homicide takes place in the context of a heated election in nearby Houston focusing attention on the LGBT community, and in the wake of a series of violent attacks against gay men in Dallas that have taken place within the last month. Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, founder and director of the Unfinished Lives Project, said, “It would be folly for Texas authorities to divorce this savage, anti-gay homicide from the homophobic and transphobic campaign against the HERO ordinance in Houston, and from the fallout after the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in late June of this year. The LGBT community in Houston is on high alert following the demeaning heterosexist election, and the possible correlation between this killing and the outbreak of anti-LGBTQ violence in Dallas is coincidental only to those who intentionally look the other way.”  Sprinkle went on to say that physical violence spikes after media attention like the Marriage Equality decision and the defeat of the equal rights ordinance in metro Houston.  

November 17, 2015 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Bludgeoning, Dallas hate crimes, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Houston HERO ordinance, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Texas, transphobia, U.S. Supreme Court, Unfinished Lives Project, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Acts of Violence in Texas: Houston and Dallas Send Wake Up Call to the Nation

Stop-Living-in-Fear-824x429Last week the Fright-Right overwhelmed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) with a campaign Mayor Annise Parker called, “a wad of deliberate, fear mongering lies.” In the first major test of LGBTQ equality since the Supreme Court of the United States made marriage equality the law of the land, justice advocates living behind the Red State Line were unable to dispel the ugly toilet myth that Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance was a ploy by sexual predators to invade women’s bathrooms with rape on their minds. The conservative pulpits and the media-for-hire scared enough of the electorate in the country’s fourth largest city to deal a telling blow against the illusion that non-hetero equality is a settled issue in Red State America.

Meanwhile, in Dallas, the carnage of rising violence against the LGBTQ community rages on, seemingly unabated, though activists, local merchants, and the powerful Tavern Guild in the Cedar Springs/Oak Lawn “Gayborhood” have at long last joined hands in a united front to oppose it. Since the unsolved murder of transgender woman of color, Ms. Shade Shuler, in the Medical District in late July of this year, there have been more than ten savage attacks on LGBT people, with a car jacking at gunpoint a block from one of Dallas’s most frequented gay bars, and a severe beating elsewhere in the community just this past Sunday night. Ironically, the two latest assaults took place mere hours after a major street protest marched through the streets demanding for an end to the violence. Young gay men are being actively and consistently hunted in the Gayborhood of Big D for the first time in many years, and the as-yet-unidentified queer hunters have used ball bats, fists, box cutters, and pistols to shock the community into what the post-SCOTUS Marriage Equality Decision era is beginning to look like below the Mason-Dixon Line.

The message the opponents of LGBTQ equality want to deliver is fear. Fear of bodily harm on the streets of one of the most vibrant gay neighborhoods in the Lone Star State, and fear of perverts in the rest rooms of one of America’s most diverse and inclusive cities. This is what the backlash against LGBTQ justice is shaping up to look like. The truth is, no matter what the Supremes have ruled in June, nothing definitive is settled yet on the matter of equality for non-normative sexual and gender-expressive minorities in the USA. Many autopsies will be done on the HERO vote in Houston and the campaign that led up to it. Suffice it to say that the Reactionary Right is simply better at stirring up their voter base with fear than progressives. We may believe reason will be the victor in the long term, but reason cannot take out of people what irrationality put in them to start with.

LGBTQ communities have long known that violence against its residents is meant to be a terror-message for all LGBTQ people. The truth is that, no matter the success of federal anti-bias hate crime legislation six years ago with the enactment of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Law, assaults and murders of transgender women of color and gay men are registering historic highs today, with no sign of slacking off. So many alleged hate crimes against these very populations in Dallas are a bellweather the nation cannot afford to ignore. Hate crime violence is not simply a local problem in the streets of Big D. It is a symptom of a mounting backlash that seems to be growing in intensity wherever the noise machine of the Fright-Right can find willing bad actors to do its bidding. It will not stop in Houston and Dallas, or in Red State America, until this whole society comes to grips with how susceptible all of us are to messages of fear.

The large human rights advocacy groups must take heterosexist, homophobic, transphobic fear mongering seriously, and get out on the streets like the progressives of Houston and the street activists of Dallas. This is the hard grassroots work of converting hearts and minds in the face of unreasoning, deliberate fear. Local and state governments must join hands with merchants, opinion leaders, and residents of every county, town, and city where lives and livelihoods are at stake, to combat the cynical fearfulness being propounded by a dedicated and well-funded few who hope to stampede equality back into the darkness of the benighted past.

This is not where we Texas progressives thought we would be after SCOTUS ruled in favor of the rights of all of us to exist, love, and marry whom we choose. The call back to the hard work of relationship building and confronting fright with the force of our persons and integrity, from local elections to national elections, is not the message the LGBTQ and allied communities wanted to hear, but that seems to be the take-away from Houston and Dallas for those who have ears to hear. So, if the Right is better at Fright, we must triumph through love, effective deeds of love done the hard way. Only love can cast out fear in the end.

November 11, 2015 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Cedar Springs/Oak Lawn Neighborhood, Dallas hate crimes, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Houston HERO ordinance, Matthew Shepard Act, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Transgender Black Woman Murdered in Tampa, Tenth Trans Hate Killing of 2015; Where is the Cisgender Outrage?

Image by Lexie Cannes

Image by Lexie Cannes State of Trans

Tampa, Florida – The lifeless body of trans woman India Clarke (25) was found near a community center basketball court this week. Cause of death is unknown as of this writing, though her upper body bears signs of bludgeoning with a blunt instrument. Clarke is the 10th transgender person murdered this year, according to some sources. If the past experience of the transgender community is any suggestion of the real number of hate crime homicides against trans people, especially trans women of color, 10 is probably a severe undercount, just the tip of a deadly ice berg. With social outrage over the unjust deaths of so many cisgender Americans over the past year, all of it so very necessary to spur fundamental change on matters of racial injustice, the absence of outcries against the decimation of the transgender community is so obvious as to be revelatory. Where is the cisgender outrage over transphobic hate crime murders?

The story line of murders perpetrated against transgender women of color is monstrously similar. In its press release on the killing of Ms. Clarke, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), headquartered in New York City, recounted the names of the 2015 victims of transphobic hatred we currently know:

1) Papi Edwards, black transgender woman, shot to death in Louisville, Kentucky, January 9.

2) Lamia Beard, black transgender woman, shot to death in Norfolk, Virginia, January 17.

3) Ty Underwood, black transgender woman, shot to death in Tyler, Texas, January 26.

4) Yazmin Vash Payne, black transgender woman, fatally stabbed in Los Angeles, California January 31.

5) Taja Gabrielle de Jesus, latina transgender woman, stabbed to death in San Francisco, California, February 1.

6) Penny Proud, black transgender woman, shot to death in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 10.

7) Kristina Gomez Reinwald, latina transgender woman, found murdered in Miami, Florida, February 15.

8) London Chanel, black transgender women, stabbed to death in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 8.

9) Mercedes Williamson, anglo transgender woman, fatally stabbed in George County, Mississippi, May 30.

Two other gender-non conforming persons have been murdered during the calendar year, anglo Bri Golec, stabbed  to death in Akron, Ohio, and black Maya Hall, shot to death in Fort Meade, Maryland. The NCAVP is still investigating these killings to determine whether a transphobic motive lay behind their deaths.

NCAVP spokesperson Chai Jindasurat, decried India Clarke’s savage murder:

“India Clark’s death is a tragedy, which is made worse by egregious misgendering by local police and media. We must honor India Clarke, and all of the transgender women, especially teams women of color,” Jindasurat continued, “killed in this epidemic by supporting the leadership of transgender women, public awareness and respect campaigns, speaking out against this violence, and protecting transgender people from harassment and discrimination.” 

Trans blogger Lexie Cannes notes the pattern playing out in Ms. Clarke’s homicide, made familiar by the well rehearsed outline of reports of transphobic murder in the mainstream media. She echoes the troubling findings of bloggers Monica Roberts and Carlos Maza who misguidedly, perhaps intentionally misidentifying the gender expression and identity of the victims as “men in dresses.” Cannes quotes Maza at some length:

“The cycle at its worst seems to be the same: a transgender person is found dead,” Maza writes, “law enforcement officials fail to acknowledge the victim’s gender identity, and local news outlets follow law enforcement’s lead, misgendering the victim despite often knowing how the victim wished to be publicly identified.

But failing to report the way Clarke is publicly identified,” Maza continues, “deprives audiences of the information they need to understand her death in the broader context of violence against transgender women. In instances where misgendering is intentional, it’s a statement that her gender identity is little more than a deceptive costume, not worthy of being taken seriously.” 

So, where is the outrage from cisgender activists, ministers, and other citizens? Sadly and tellingly, the larger context of the way transgender victims of hate violence are misidentified and hammered in the mainstream press betrays a cultural dehumanization unworthy of the American spirit. Are trans people, especially trans people of color, partakers of a common humanity with us all? Until cisgender America faces their own transphobia, the brutality and dehumanization of our sisters and brothers will continue. This, in the opinion of the Unfinished Lives Project Team, is every bit as wrong as racism, and is racisms secret ally in staining the American conscience.

July 23, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Beatings and battery, cisgender people, Florida, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Latino and Latina Americans, LGBTQ, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Arc of Justice Bends Like A Rainbow: Heartbreaks, Memories, Dreams

Dallas, Texas – To contribute to the spiritual discussion about the events of this June: the outrageous attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and the victory of Marriage Equality in the U.S. Supreme Court, here is the text of my Sunday sermon for 6/28/15:

The Arc of Justice Bends Like a Rainbow: Heartbreaks, Memories, Dreams
A Sermon for Pride Sunday, June 28, 2015
The New Church – Chiesa Nuova
Dallas, Texas

Psalms 85:7-12
Hebrews 11:29-40
Luke 4:18-20

The Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology, Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas

The Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology, Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas

“They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.” These words are among the phrases of Friday that are imprinted into my consciousness and yours, too, I suspect. You will recognize them as the conclusion of the Majority Opinion of Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision striking down the bans that forbade marriage to millions of same-sex Americans in 14 states, including our own. “It is so ordered . . .”

But these are not the only words that won’t go away from my mind. Words from cries, and joyous shouts, and eulogies, from late last week and from the recent events of our lives that have culminated upon us this very June like “a thunderbolt” as our President, the Honorable Barack Obama said when he made his historic remarks in the White House Rose Garden celebrating the victory of Marriage Equality for all 50 states.
Here are some other stunning words our President used just this past Friday, 6/26/15, the same day LGBTQ people and our allies danced on the steps of the United States Supreme Court, and at the crossroads of Oak Lawn and Cedar Springs right here in Dallas. Immediately following his Rose Garden remarks, he boarded Air Force One to fly down to Charleston, SC beside our First Lady Michelle, to eulogize slain Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the other eight members of his flock, cut down by hatred in a Bible Study/Prayer Meeting at Mother Emanuel AME Church. Do you feel the whiplash of it? Having to deliver words of celebration at one moment, and then words appropriate to the outrageous deaths of Black Americans because of race hatred, as best we can tell—All in the same day?
Our President tried to make sense of it all from the stage of the University of Charleston, to find a way forward for the nation:

“Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete” he said. “But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.
“Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.”

President Obama continued:

“To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change, that’s how we lose our way again. It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.
“Reverend Pinckney once said, ‘Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.’”

History, you see, is hard to make sense of when you are in the middle of it, like we are this morning—When we are struck by a two-sided thunderbolt of history, one side damp with tears of joy for decades of struggle to win against homophobia and heterosexism for LGBTQ human equality, but the other side wet with the tears of unfathomable grief because of America’s “original sin,” the sin of racism.

You and I and our President are not alone in trying to make sense of it all, trying to sort out our emotions about the events of 6/26/15. On Friday, my friend Professor John Blevins who teaches at Emory University put it this way on his Facebook wall:

“Not sure” Dr. Blevins wrote, “how to temper the feelings of the Supreme Court ruling with the reminder that today in Charleston, SC there is a funeral for an African-American man and local church pastor who would have supported and cheered this ruling were he not gunned down in cold, calculated, hate-filled violence. We progress and regress. But I want to believe– have to believe– that Love Wins. Yes, the Supreme Court ruling offers some sense of that but so does the testimony of Reverend Pinckney– both in his life and in his death. We should remember that.”

Whatever else and whoever else we are this morning, we are the Church, and we are called upon to remember our heartbreaks, to dance with our dreams in our hearts around the Table of Jesus Christ, and to learn with appreciation from the history of others. We are the New Church, the Chiesa Nuova, founded on the memories and merits of St. Francis of Assisi. We are straight, bi-, and gay, trans- and cisgender, multiracial and multilingual, and we share something vital and living with Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston. We have been given a common task: to speak the truth alongside one another until all the bad news comes to redemption in the Amazing Grace of God. We, Mother Emanuel and New Church together, are called by the God of Life to remember the steadfast love of Jesus Christ, and to set all events of celebration and sorrow in the context of a future in which LOVE WINS, not just for some of us, but for ALL of us!

The Church must engage the events of these jumbled up, joyous and heartbreaking days, and re-tell them to a hurting society both in words and deeds of effective love. We are the storytellers! Who else besides the Community of Faith remembers and re-tells the stories of the justice prophets of Israel and the evangelists of the early Christian movement? Who else remembers and re-tells the stories of the Underground Railroad, and Jim Crow, and the struggle for women’s right to vote and equal pay; who else remembers and re-tells the breathtaking saga of the time of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, and the first brave voices of the sexual minority here in North Texas, of the lesbian Lavender Menace, and the life-and-death struggle against HIV/AIDS, of Harvey Milk’s famous call, “I’m Here to Recruit You!”, and of the first legal “I Do’s” spoken on the steps of the Records Building right here in Dallas between Lesbian couples and Gay couples set on letting the whole Lone Star State know that LOVE Wins!

If others want to tell the stories of our times in differing ways, let them. We welcome the stories and the histories of others, and we must grow in appreciation of those histories because we are all members of the One Human Family. But, in humility, and with our knees trembling from awe and joy, we of the Community of Faith must continue the tradition of telling the Good News in the midst of a world were goodness is not so obvious an outcome at all. Like our grieving sisters and brothers at Mother Emanuel, in English, Español, and the other tongues of our languages, the Church has this task: to interpret the events of everyday life, great and small, in the harmonies of the love of God. It is our responsibility to pull together the threads of the rulings of the Supreme Court, and the horror of the slayings at home and abroad, and to weave out of them a roadmap of justice and mercy so the human race can see a way forward in the storm, and find rivers of cool water in dry places—sweet destinies of deliverance and Amazing Grace for all the sorts and conditions of our fragile humankind.

Put succinctly, it is our mandate to follow the example of Jesus the Christ: to read aloud the ancient stories of God’s people, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, good news to the poor, deliverance to the captives, freedom for all those oppressed, recovery of sight to the blind, and then to roll up the scroll, and announce: “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Justice KennedyDid you ever in your wildest dreams imagine that you would live into a world where Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would be repealed? Where DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, and Proposition 8 would be overthrown? Where Marriage Equality would become the law of the land in all 50 states of the USA, and Justice Anthony Kennedy could pen these words on behalf of the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court?

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Did you ever imagine that 150 years after the Civil War, that 52 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech, and 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, you would still be living in a world where young Latino/Latina “Dreamers” are still in peril of being deported from the land that has become their home, where a black teenage girl in a bikini could be wrestled down and choked at a pool party in McKinney, Texas, where we must confront that reality over and over again that, no matter what we say, black, brown, female, and transgender lives mean less than white male lives? Or that the peaceful welcome of a church sanctuary could be desecrated by the cold, violent hand of hatred?

Well, that is the world we have, isn’t it? Filled with joys and sorrows. Where by the grace of God we must rededicate ourselves to bending the moral arc of the universe toward justice in this time and place we have been given. That is what the Community of Faith must be about in our lifetime. President Obama, standing squarely in the tradition of the Black Church, concluded his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, saying:

“…History can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind. But more importantly, an open heart.
“That’s what I felt this week — an open heart. That more than any particular policy or analysis is what’s called upon right now, I think. It’s what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls ‘that reservoir of goodness beyond and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.’
“That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible. If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.”

Since Love Wins, since Love must win for everybody, let us throw a party where everyone is invited to celebrate with us, where everybody is somebody and nobody is nobody, and then roll up our sleeves and get to the work at hand!
Love Wins! Thanks be to God! Amen.

June 30, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Brite Divinity School, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Justice Anthony Kennedy, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Mother Emanuel AME Church, President Barack Obama, Racism, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Transwoman Murdered in East Texas; Transphobic Hate Crime Suspected

Ty Lee Underwood, 24, shot to death in a suspected transphobic hate crime in Tyler, Texas.

Ty Lee Underwood, 24, shot to death in a suspected transphobic hate crime in Tyler, Texas.

Tyler, Texas – The Dallas Voice and multiple Texas news sources report that a 24-year-old transgender woman was shot to death January 26 in Tyler, an East Texas city 90 miles southeast of Dallas. Police detectives have few leads on the murder of Ty Lee Underwood, and none of them are substantial, according to KYTX Channel 19, the local CBS affiliate.

Tyler Police spokesperson, Detective Andy Erbaugh said that a woman called 911 early Monday morning to report that her children heard shots fired in the Twenty-fourth Street area of North Tyler. Investigators arrived to find Ms. Underwood dead at the scene. She was either in or near her automobile at the time shots were fired at her, and three of them found their mark. She tried to escape her attacker(s) by driving off, when the auto got stuck in a grassy area, according to Erbaugh. Her vehicle had jumped several curbs and had broken off one of its mirrors, finally colliding with a telephone pole. Tyler Police are seeking help from the public to apprehend those responsible for Ms. Underwood’s death. “We will follow any leads that come in, we will follow them completely because this was a senseless murder,” Erbaugh said.

Ty Underwood was a nursing assistant at a local rest home facility, and had been recently accepted by the nursing program at Kilgore College in Longview, Texas, according to The Advocate.

While investigators are not publicly speculating about a motive for the murder, Ms. Underwood’s friends suspect that her killing was a hate crime targeting her for being a transgender woman. Her roommate, Coy Simmons, said, “This has to be a hate crime, this has to be a hate crime, nothing else because that was an upstanding person with a good heart.” Simmons went on to describe his friend as well regarded throughout the community. “She was lovely, just a lovely person. Very real, down to earth person who didn’t deserve this, did not deserve this at all,” he said to KYTX reporters.

Transgender rights advocates throughout the region are angered and on high alert, following Ms. Underwood’s brutal shooting. Leaders of the East Texas PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and TAG (Tyler Area Gays) are calling on police to bring this case to a swift, decisive conclusion. North Texas transgender activist Nell Gaither, President of the Trans Pride Initiative, says everyone in the Metroplex LGBT community should be aware that the level of violence against trans people is alarmingly on the rise. Ms. Underwood’s murder is the 15th homicide of a trans person of color since June of last year. Ms. Gaither posted on Facebook, “The increase in violence is really disturbing. And this is just the murders. If there is an increase in murder, there is likely an increase in harassment, assault, sexual assault, and other violence as well.”

Should this murder prove to be an anti-LGBT hate crime as suspected, it will continue a string of bias-related violence in Tyler commencing with the horrendous slaying of Nicolas West in October 1993. West, 23 at the time of his murder, was kidnapped at a Tyler city park, then driven out to a remote area of Smith County where he was force to strip and kneel in a clay pit where he was tortured and finally shot to death, as reported by Unfinished Lives Blog. The medical examiner’s report found West had been shot 15 times. It took seventeen years for Tyler to recognize West and acknowledge the injustice done to him. In 2010 a plaque was belatedly placed in the park where he was abducted. Perhaps local outrage will mount sufficiently that Ty Underwood’s murder will not be ignored for so long in the Rose Capital of Texas.

Smith County is offering a $1,000 reward for a tip leading to the apprehension and arrest of those responsible for Ty Underwood’s murder. Anyone knowing of a lead should report it immediately to the Tyler Police hotline at (903) 531-1000 or Tyler-Smith County Crime Stoppers at (903) 597-2833.

January 30, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, East Texas, East Texas PFLAG, GLBTQ, gun violence, LGBTQ, Nicolas West, Texas, Trans Pride Initiative, transgender persons, Transgender women, Transgender women of color, transphobia, Tyler Area Gays (TAG) | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ohio Transgender Teen Commits Suicide, Cites Religious Zealot Parents’ Attempt to Control Her Life

Leelah Alcorn, 17, took her own life by jumping in front of oncoming traffic on an Ohio Interstate Highway. Tumblr image.

Leelah Alcorn, 17, lazerprincess, took her own life by jumping in front of oncoming traffic on an Ohio Interstate Highway. Tumblr image.

Union Township, Ohio – A transgender teen girl chose to walk into the path of Interstate Highway traffic rather than face discrimination and harsh treatment for her gender expression. Cincinnati.com reports that Leelah Alcorn, 17, was struck and killed by an oncoming tractor-trailer truck at approximately 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, December 28, after leaving an extensive suicide note on her Tumblr account social media page. The driver of the truck, Abdullahi Ahmed, 39, was unhurt in the tragic incident that took place near the South Lebanon exit on I-71 because of his fastened seatbelt. Ms. Alcorn’s body was transported from the scene by the Warren County Coroner’s Office. Ohio Highway Patrol Officers are investigating what led Ms. Alcorn apparently to take her own life.

Ms. Alcorn whose account of rejection, alienation for her parents and school mates highlights the plight of transgender teens around the nation, left two notes on her blog, according to openly gay Cincinnati City Council man, Chris Seelbach : a suicide note, which may be read in its entirety on Councilman Seelbach’s Facebook Page here, and an apology note to the few friends Ms. Alcorn felt she still had at the time of her decision to take her own life. Ms. Alcorn, an M to F transgender youth whose chosen screen avatar was lazerprincess wrote that she had felt herself trapped in a male body since the age of four. In her suicide note which begins, “If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue. Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender,” Leelah writes that her parents’ response to her discovery of her transgender identity contributed to a self-hatred that dogged her from age 14 until her death three years later. Her mother mandated that Leelah see conservative “Christian” therapists who only contributed to the burden of anger and depression.

The crisis apparently took place at the time of Leelah’s 16th birthday. She writes: “When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.” In response to the inflexibility of her parents, Leelah came out as gay at school, believing that doing so would soften the effect of living into her true transgender persona. Her strict Christian parents responded by taking her out of public school, depriving her of any means of communicating with the outside world such as her cell phone and her laptop, and put her into virtual isolation for five months. “No friends, no support, no love,” Leelah wrote. “Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.” 

When she was finally allowed by her parents to communicate with others and see her one-time friends, Leelah relates that her excitement turned to deeper agony upon finding out that her classmates were little better than acquaintances who cared little for her true self. After a summer of depression, fearing the unknowns of college, grades, enforced attendance at a church where “everyone . . . is against everything I live for,” and what she believed to be the unreachability of transitioning, Leelah gave up hoping anything could get any better for her. “Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself, “ she wrote. “There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say ‘it gets better’ but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.”

“That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself,” she wrote in an exhausted, heartbreaking coda to her final testament, struggling to explain who she really was by striking out her male birth name in her parting salutation. “Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
“Goodbye,
“(Leelah) Josh Alcorn” 

Councilman Seelbach prefaced Leelah’s note with an appeal to his Facebook Friends to contribute what they could spare to TransOhio, so that in some measure, Leelah’s last wish that trans civil rights could somehow be advanced thanks to her having lived. Seelbach, the first openly gay Council Member to be elected in Cincinnati, writes: “While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years….the truth is….it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country.
“We have to do better.” 

We at the Unfinished Lives Project could not agree more with Councilman Seelbach. Transgender youth in America, especially M to F persons, face unimaginable hurdles in the quest to become who they truly are. Seldom are we invited into the long, punishing agony trans teens endure. Leelah Alcorn died because her parents, her school, her society, and the religious underpinnings of the social and moral system of this country are hostile to non-normative gender identity and variant gender expression. Though she was 17 when she stepped into the path of a hurtling semi truck, she was still a child: vulnerable, confused, and above all, wounded. She took her own life. But she cannot be held responsible for the act that took her life. That indictment falls on a culture and heterosexist system in which we all play a part. LGBTQ and Straight alike. Councilman Seelbach declares what we must all resolve to do. Better. So much better, for the multitudes of youth like Leelah Alcorn who deserve a fair chance at the pursuit of happiness in a land that professes to stand for justice. “We have to do better.” Yes. It’s a matter of life and death that we do. (Thanks to Carmen Saenz, Waco, TX activist, for drawing our attention to this story.)

Rest peacefully, lazerprincess, dear sister.

For any Transgender Young Person struggling with life, and in need of a friendly, non-judgmental voice of help and encouragement, we recommend the Trevor Lifeline, a 24/7 phone service where a real person will answer your call, listen sincerely, and offer real assistance. Free call, 1-866-488-7386. Call. Text. Now. 

December 30, 2014 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Councilman Chris Seelbach, gender identity/expression, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Ohio, religious intolerance, Reparative Therapy, transgender persons, TransOhio, transphobia, Trevor Project | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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