Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, when people worldwide will remember those transgender people who died this past year as a result of anti-LGBT violence.
As vigils are held and prayers are offered, I want to highlight a moment of hope for trans justice that happened at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice last weekend. The Teach-In is an annual event that brought together 1,600 students and staff from North American Jesuit high schools and colleges. New Ways Ministry presented a workshop titled “Trans-forming Love” which looked at transgender issues through an affirming Catholic lens.
Over 40 participants explored not only justice for transgender people, but the gifts and qualities that gender diverse communities offer our church and our world. The conversation touched upon the Catholic Social Tradition, spirituality, and the ways in which students’ communities can become more inclusive.
Transgender justice fit in well with the Teach-In this year which was held on the 25th anniversary of the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) martyrs, who were killed for aligning themselves with the poor and victimized of El Salvador. The UCA continues the prophetic witness of the Jesuit martyrs today, including support for LGBT people by hosting the first LGBT human rights conferences in El Salvador (which you can read about here and here) in 2013. At that conference, which New Ways Ministry participated in, it was obvious that trans advocates were leading the way for equality in that country.
Fittingly, LGBT justice was included among the many social justice causes being discussed, prayed over, and advocated for during the Teach-In, including a workshop addressing homosexuality offered by Arthur Fitzmaurice of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.
Wider church reform conversations were on the conference’s agenda as well. Jesuit Fr. James Martin told young adults that you address systemic injustice in the church the same way you address it in the world — “You fight it.” Fr. Thomas Reese suggested that Pope Francis will leave it to local episcopal conferences to respond to same-sex relationships being legalized.
I am profoundly inspired by the students who attended the Teach-In, who I met at the workshop and also at New Ways Ministry’s exhibit table. During conversations with participants, I found that students needed no convincing that LGBT rights were indeed human rights and questioned how anyone could oppose full equality and inclusion. They were, understandably, unhappy with the church and yet, for many, it was the church which deeply informed their passion for justice. I spoke with faculty courageously working to make their institutions safer and more welcoming, sometimes at great personal risk.
I was happily surprised at how affirming, and indeed informed, these teens and young adults were about issues of gender identity and diversity. Trans justice was as much a given as anything else. Many students raised questions about how to be a better ally.
During this Transgender Day of Remembrance we mourn, for mourning is necessary and indeed an act of resistance. As Christians, it is important to remember that death is not the final word, even violent and gruesome death. The UCA murders prompted hundreds of thousands of people to seek justice in El Salvador and beyond. Today, the hate crimes against transgender people motivate thousands more to demand justice for this group of people in the very same way. At the intersection of these many tragedies, a group of students from Jesuit schools helped the light of LGBT justice burn a bit brighter last weekend — and that is Good News for us all.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry