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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 19, 2007

First TG religious summit is in California this weekend

Berkeley, Calif.--In what is being billed as the first event of its kind, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion are holding the Transgender Religious Summit this weekend, from January 19 to 21.

The private conference�s organizers invited leaders from Christian and Jewish denominations, as well as Muslim, Buddhist and Pagan community leaders.

According to Richard Lindsay of the Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies, it is the first time transgender issues will be focused on at a Christian seminary, as well as being the first transgender summit held at a seminary.

National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling pointed out during a conference call on the summit that, while her organization focuses on legislative advocacy for transgender people on the national, state and local levels, �these issues are impacted very much by people of faith in the country, and should be impacted even more by people of faith.�

She wants to �begin conversation among people of faith about how the fight for social justice can be used to positively impact governmental policy and various organizational policies. We expect to talk about the negative impact religion can have on policy and transgender people�s lives.�

Justin Tanis, NCTE program director and a board member of the CGLS, echoed Keisling�s sentiment.

When laws are proposed protecting the rights of transgender citizens, �We find the majority of people speaking in opposition, sometimes the only people speaking in opposition to this legislation, are members of the religious right.�

�We don�t believe that they represent the full spectrum of people of faith,� Tanis continued. �We wanted to address the fact that the voices of progressive people of faith, people who believe that trasngedner people deserve civil rights and human rights, were not being heard as part of this conversation.�

Bernard Schlager, the director of national outreach for the CGLS, is �eager to learn about ways in which people of faith who are allies can create change for all people, especially LGBT, within faith communities and especially in seminaries.�

�This Religious Leadership Summit represents for me, and probably for a lot of people who are religious leaders across the country, a really significant turning point in how transgender people are seen in their religious communities,� Erin Swenson, a transgender Presbyterian minister, said, pointing out that the conference �would have been unheard of even ten years ago.�

She related the story of her own childhood, realizing at ten years old that she was a boy who wanted to be a girl.

�In Atlanta, Georgia in 1957, this is not the kind of thing that any kid with half a brain would have revealed to anyone, and I didn�t,� she noted.

A change came when �my family started attending a small Presbyterian church just down the street from our home,� Swenson continued. �The minister and the staff of this church spoke a powerful message, that God knew me to the very marrow of my bones, something a little frightening to a ten-year-old who had just begun to contemplate the impossible, but also that God loved me right down to the marrow of my bones.�

It is that message of love that the summit seeks to spread, to counteract the religious right�s use of God as a weapon.

Tanis believes that, ultimately, God should be taken out of the legislative equation.

�In a democracy that separates church and state do individuals have the right to say that because my faith says a particular action or identity is sinful, that should form public policy?� the Harvard Divinity School graduate asked. �I don�t think it should.�





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