This week, we continue to share share stories from the students who attended the 26th National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change that was held on January 29 through February 2, 2014. Our second reflection is by Asher Kolieboi, MDiv3. (Read the first blog post here.)
During the 2014 spring semester, I had the privilege of attending the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change Conference, a gathering of LGBTQ and ally leaders in the fields of medicine, public policy, education, religion, and other agencies in the public and private sectors. While I had attended the conference on several occasions, this year’s conference held special meaning for me because it was the first meeting of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Trans Religious Leaders Cohort. The cohort consists of five current students and recent alumni/ae who have felt the call to religious leadership. Though we share different denominations or faith backgrounds and come from a variety of theological institutions, the five participants chose to take part in the leadership cohort because we wanted to meet and discuss the challenges and gifts that come with being a transgender person called to religious leadership.
The last three years have seen an increase in public discourse about transgender and gender variance people, but the level of oppression and disenfranchisement our community faces remains significant. According to Injustice At Every Turn, a 2011 study conducted by the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, transgender and gender nonconforming people face significant social and economic marginalization. Due the level of violence and discrimination that transgender people face, there is a great need for transgender pastoral and spiritual care. As religious and spiritual people, the cohort members and faculty, along with the Task Force Faith Works Department, hope to address the spiritual effects of violence and discrimination faced by the community by creating an interfaith leadership cohort of emerging religious scholars, activists, and ministers.
The cohort’s vision was crated by three gifted religious leaders: Rev. Dr. Justin Tanis, professor at Pacific School of Religion and director of the school’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion; Rev. Jakob Herro, convener of the Transgender Round Table for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion; and Rev. Cameron Partridge, counselor to Episcopalian/Anglican students at Boston University and lecturer on ritual, liturgy, and preaching at Harvard Divinity School. As schooled practitioners, the three minsters will lead the cohort in conversation.
As a Vanderbilt Divinity School student I have been able to take the conversations I had at Creating Change and apply them to my academic work. Since leaving Houston, I have incorporated transgender issues into my pastoral care and constructive theology course work. Though the conference only lasted five days, the connections and conversations have contributed greatly to my professional and personal development. But more importantly, it marked the creation of a program that seeks to unify the church and academy and to give voice and resources to those in need.
Asher Kolieboi, MDiv3