Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Transgender Day of Remembrance: Nov. 20, 2013

  Christ's crucifixion is linked to the murder of transgender woman Rita Hester in “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button, courtesy of Believe Out Loud

Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov. 20) commemorates those who were killed due to anti-transgender prejudice. The Jesus in Love Blog also honors transgender visions in art, theater, music, religion and spirituality today.

Religious violence against transgender people goes back at least as far as Biblical times and continued in the Middle Ages.  A few of the many examples are Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake for cross-dressing, and Saint Wilgefortis, who was crucified for being a bearded woman. The list of unlawfully killed transgender people is long and continues to grow.

Transgender Day of Remembrance serves the dual purpose of honoring the dead and raising public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people—that is, transsexuals, crossdressers, and other gender-variant people. It was founded in 1999 to honor Rita Hester, an African American transgender woman murdered in Massachusetts on Nov. 28, 1998. The outpouring of grief and anger over her death led to the "Remembering Our Dead" web project and a candlelight vigil in San Francisco. Since then it has grown into an international phenomenon observed around the world.

Hester’s murder is boldly identified with Jesus’ death in “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle for LGBT Equality” by Mary Button. The set of 15 paintings links the crucifixion of Christ with the history of LGBT people.

In the painting a banner carried by people at a Transgender Day of Remembrance march stretches over Jesus on the cross with a pointed question: “How many transgenders have to die before you get involved?” The text on the banner comes from an actual news photo.

Another high-profile murder case was transgender man Brandon Teena, whose 1993 murder is told in the popular movie “Boys Don’t Cry.” The ever-growing list of transgender victims calls to mind the words of Jesus: “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

Transgender teenager Gwen Araujo’s murder in 2002 also got national attention and led to the passage of the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act in California. The law restricts the use of the gay/trans panic defense by criminal defendants.

Araujo is commemorated in “The Transfigured Body: A Requiem in Celebration of Gwen Araujo” by New-Age composer Christopher A. Flores and gay lyricist/priest Adrian Ravarour.  They have joined forces on a variety of musical compositions on sacred LGBTQ themes. "The Transfigured Body" premiered in 2003 at Founders Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles.

Transgender Day of Remembrance by Mikhaela Reid

Political cartoonist Mikhaela Reid pictures some of the more prominent victims of anti-transgender violence in the illustration above. Let us remember them by lighting a memorial candle here for them and others like them.

white candle Pictures, Images and Photos
In memory of: Gwen Araujo, Rita Hester, Brandon Teena (subject of the movie “Boys Don’t Cry”), Leelah Alcorn, Chanelle Picket, Nakia Ladelle Baker, Debra Forte, Tyra Hunter, Joe Stevens, Logan Smith, Jessica Mercado, Terrianne Summers, Venus Xtravaganza, Chanel Chandler... and all others who died due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.  And the deaths continue. New additions after this was originally posted: Leelah Alcorn.

The Altar Cross of LGBTQ Martyrs from Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco features photos of transwoman Gwen Araujo, Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, and others.


Transgender Pride Flag
Other spiritual resources for Transgender Day of Remembrance are available at TransFaith Online, including this prayer by Rabbi Reuben Zellman, who became the first openly transgender person accepted to the Reform Jewish seminary Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati in 2003:

God full of mercy, bless the souls of all who are in our hearts on this Transgender Day of Remembrance. We call to mind today young and old, of every race, faith, and gender experience, who have died by violence. We remember those who have died because they would not hide, or did not pass, or did pass, or stood too proud. Today we name them: the reluctant activist; the fiery hurler of heels; the warrior for quiet truth; the one whom no one really knew.

As many as we can name, there are thousands more whom we cannot, and for whom no prayers may have been said. We mourn their senseless deaths, and give thanks for their lives, for their teaching, and for the brief glow of each holy flame. We pray for the strength to carry on their legacy of vision, bravery, and love.

And as we remember them, we remember with them the thousands more who have taken their own lives. We pray for resolve to root out the injustice, ignorance, and cruelty that grow despair. And we pray, God, that all those who perpetrate hate and violence will speedily come to understand that Your creation has many faces, many genders, many holy expressions.

Blessed are they, who have allowed their divine image to shine in the world.

Blessed is God, in whom no light is extinguished.


Click the headlines below for more about transgender spirituality.  Not all of these people self-identified as transgender, but their stories of gender non-conformity are offered here as an inspiration for transgender people and their allies.

Jemima Wilkinson: Queer preacher reborn in 1776 as “Publick Universal Friend”
Jemima Wilkinson (1752-1819) was a Quaker preacher who woke from a near-death experience in 1776 believing she was neither male nor female. She changed her name to the “Publick Universal Friend,” fought for gender equality and founded an important religious community.

Ethiopian eunuch: A black gay man was the world’s first convert to Christianity

Pauli Murray: Queer saint / activist for civil rights and gender equality
Human rights champion Pauli Murray (1910-1985), a recent addition to the Episcopal books of saints, described herself as a man trapped in a woman’s body and took hormone treatments in her 20s and 30s.

Joan of Arc: Cross-dressing warrior-saint
Joan of Arc was a cross-dressing teenage warrior who led the medieval French army to victory when she was 17.

Image credit: Saint Joan of Arc by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM.,

We'wha of Zuni: Two-spirited Native American
We’wha was a two-spirit Native American Zuni who served as a cultural ambassador for her people, including a visit with a U.S. president in 1886.

Image credit: “We’wha” by Jim Ru

Artist paints history’s butch heroes: Ria Brodell interview
"Butch Heroes" of history are painted by genderqueer artist Ria Brodell. She uses the format of traditional Catholic holy cards to present butch lesbians, queer women and female-to-male transgender people from many different times, places, and backgrounds.

Image credit: “James How aka Mary East and Mrs. How” by Ria Brodell

Religious threats to LGBT people exposed in Jerusalem photos
Religion-based oppression of LGBT people is revealed in “Jerusalem,” a photo exhibit by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. It includes “Tranny,” a portrait of a drag queen from Jerusalem. Biblical words against crossdressing are projected behind her.

Queer Lady of Guadalupe: Artists re-imagine an icon
Queer art based on Our Lady of Guadalupe includes a bearded drag queen version titled “Virginia Guadalupe” by Jim Ru.

St. Wilgefortis: Bearded woman saint
St. Wilgefortis prayed to avoid marriage to a pagan king -- and her prayers were answered when she grew a beard!

300 protest transsexual Jesus play
More than 300 conservative Christian protesters picketed the Scottish opening of “Jesus, Queen of Heaven,” a play about a transsexual Jesus by Jo (formerly John) Clifford.

 Transgressing gender in the Bible
Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible” is an LGBT-positive play by Peterson Toscano.
Transvestite Jesus appears in photo project
A transvestite Jesus appears in a series of alternative Christ photos by Colorado artist Bill Burch


More transgender spiritual and religious resources include:

Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) Transgender Day of Remembrance Resource Page

A Kaddish Prayer for International Transgender Day of Remembrance by H. Adam Ackley (HuffPost)

Prayers To and For the Transgender Community (

An All Hallows' Eve Vigil to Begin Transgender Awareness Month by H. Adam Ackley (Huff Post)

Trans Martyrs (Queering the Church)

Book: Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach by Virginia Mollenkott

Book: Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith (Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry) by Justin Tanis

Book: Transgendering Faith: Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality by Leanne Tigert (editor)

Call Me Malcolm (video)

Call me Malcolm Video and Training Guide (United Church of Christ)

Voices of Witness: Out of the Box (Episcopal film)
This post is part of the LGBT Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and our allies.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Icons of Joan of Arc, We’wha of Zuni and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores

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