Transform CA launch Ramos Ablola Pacha Tanis May 2016

PSR alums Rev. Rhina Ramos and Rev. Jeanele Ablola with Kelsey Pacha and Justin Tanis at the Bay Area launch of Transform California, May 27, 2016

CLGS is proud to be a member of the steering committee for Transform California, a campaign to educate Californians about their transgender and gender variant neighbors. CLGS’s managing director, Justin Tanis, and PSR student Kelsey Pacha were at this morning’s press conference and have these words to say about the campaign:

Justin Tanis

I am a proud transgender man and seminary educator.

Our faith proclaims that every human being is of sacred and inherent worth, and to be treated with respect and dignity. Religions around the world are united in teaching that we should treat our neighbors as we wish to be treated by them. The Transform California campaign provides an amazing opportunity for us to literally interact with our neighbors, to share our lives and our vision of equity and hope for all of us.

Our faith also places on us a responsibility to care for one another and nowhere should that be felt more strongly than with our children. As a co-author of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, published 5 years ago, we found that in California those who expressed a transgender identity or gender non-conformity while in grades K-12 reported alarming rates of harassment (75%), physical assault (31%) and sexual violence (13%). This is unacceptable. Let me name this in religious terms—this is a sin.

Our children—of all genders and ways of expressing their gender, of all colors, religions and origins—have a right to go to school, to learn, flourish and grow, in safety. California’s children deserve our care, respect, love, protection, and encouragement. For their lives are sacred.

Kelsey Pacha

I am a seminary student, and I’ve spent much of the past 3 years working with dozens of pastors, chaplains, and youth ministers who are taking an active role in supporting the transgender and gender non-conforming youth in their faith communities. As a transgender man myself, I struggled with how to reconcile my gender and spirituality for many years, and I understand how it feels to be told that these two core aspects of your person are in conflict. As a spiritual leader, I have seen the tremendous positive impact acceptance and an attitude of continued learning has on transgender and gender non-conforming young people.

I worked with a very young transgender boy, who was seven when I met him. He and his parents had just been asked to leave the evangelical Christian church they had attended since he and his siblings were infants. The pastors of the church, when they found out they were supporting his desire to transition, insisted that they were changing God’s plan for their son. The whole family was distraught, as most of their social circle had been broken. After not having a faith community for several years, we were able to connect them to an accepting congregation. When I saw this young man and his family a few years later, they were transformed. He talked about making new friends who had no problem using the right name or pronoun. His parents talked about how blessed they felt to be able to pursue their spiritual journeys and have their transgender son be supported in all aspects of his life.

At a time where so much misinformation and rejection of transgender people is couched in religious language, I want to be clear that there are faith leaders who not only want to end the violence and discrimination against transgender people, but there are many faith leaders who are working as allies already. Transform California is one important way we can work together to support every aspect of our transgender neighbors’ lives.