A transgender church worker has written to parishioners asking them to vote to preserve Massachusetts’ gender identity non-discrimination law, which is on the ballot this coming Tuesday.
Michael Sennett, parish administrator of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Chestnut Hill, MA, published the letter in the October 21st church bulletin. In his reflection, Sennett came out as a Catholic trans man and discussed what is at stake in the election:
“Why am I hesitant of something so pure in nature? One of the most frustrating aspects of being a catholic trans man is that people often insist on praying for me, but never with me. On the surface, they may appear well intentioned, and undoubtedly some are sincere. Yet, I know there are folks who pray for me to be subject to discrimination and injustice, to change who I am at the very core of my being. They pray for what they assume to be a choice, a sickness, a disorder. Worship becomes territorial. As I am cast an outcast, my existence is met with resistance. Opponents find comfort in limiting my human rights. In fact, they utilize their hatred to embed fear into society. This hatred and fear mongering is used to validate repeals to our protections, as is the case with Massachusetts Ballot Question 3. Composed in a purposely confusing manner, this measure seeks to roll back public protections for the transgender community. A no vote would succeed in stripping trans people of our rights, whereas a yes vote would preserve current legislation.”
The letter is the text of remarks Sennett gave during an interfaith event organized by supporters of the “Yes on 3” campaign. The church worker spoke personally about his own spiritual journey in which his faith became a “battleground,” as he felt pulled between two communities. Yet, Sennett said, he refused to choose because “I exist in both communities without being a contradiction. If anything, my identities enhance each other.”
Regarding the ballot question and the law it could effect, Sennett noted that non-discrimination protections have not been the public safety risk opponents of LGBT rights claim they will cause. Indeed, he pointed out how vulnerable trans people are, particularly those people who are not “passing” [recognized as their gender identity] and are not male, as he is. Sennett wrote:
“In the United States, 40% of transgender people have attempted suicide in their lifetime. Of these individuals, 92% were under the age of 25 at the time of their attempt. 1 in 2 transgender people are sexually assaulted. These numbers are staggering. Despite our struggle to survive, we are framed as the problem. . .On the contrary, trans people are far more likely to face elevated safety risks than our cisgender peers. This applies to all places of public accommodation, including restaurants and hospitals. It has never been just about bathrooms. It is about our right to exist and thrive as human beings.”
To conclude, Sennett called on parishioners and all Christians in Massachusetts to stand with the transgender community when voting this Tuesday:
“In Christianity, it is a commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. When we neglect to fully embrace ourselves, we are not truly or justly living out our faith. Self love is important. Be conscious of your worth, and love yourself. We can also not be genuine followers of Christ when we deny others. With great difficulty, I strive to place my anger not on the misinformed neighbor who is prepared to learn, but rather on our unfit leaders, who continue to perpetuate the cycle of injustice. . .
“Jesus is change—this is why I choose to serve my church. Catholic Social Teaching calls me to advocate for peace through justice. Without justice, there is no peace. Action begins with faith. We are here because we recognize the dignity of each person, and as faithful people, we are moved to let love determine our actions. Let us to continue to transcend boundaries, as we encourage the people of Massachusetts to love the transgender community, and uphold the protections in the name of dignity.”
The stakes in Massachusetts are high this election. A small right-wing faction organized to eliminate transgender protections and made this ballot question a test case by conservatives as to whether such protections in other states could be vulnerable. Thankfully, polling shows an overwhelming majority, somewhere around 70%, support keeping transgender protections.
Electoral victory, however, does not mean the ballot question is not costly in human terms. Transgender people in Massachusetts and elsewhere have been subjected once again to dehumanizing arguments and rhetoric, treated concurrently as predators and objects of pity. While bishops in Massachusetts have wisely refrained from the anti-transgender campaign, they have not joined many other religious leaders in supporting transgender people’s right to life and dignity. Their silence contributes to the troubling question raised on Bondings 2.0 yesterday of whether U.S. bishops will help Donald Trump “erase” transgender people.
But where church leaders have once again failed, courageous trans Catholics like Michael Sennett and their lay allies have raised voices in defense of equality because of their faith. Sennett’s letter is especially brave given he is in parish ministry and therefore quite vulnerable to the firings inflicted against so many LGBT church workers. It is now up to St. Ignatius parishioners and all Massachusetts Catholics to vote “Yes” in solidarity with Michael Sennett and the trans community.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 2, 2018