GLIDE hosted its first-ever Gender Expression and Identity Summit on May 5–7. The idea came from the GLIDE Pride Team and GLIDE’s pastoral intern, Todd Whitley, who designed the gathering to deepen our understanding of issues related to transgender and gender-expansive people, increase solidarity, and hold space with and for people to discuss spirituality in the fullness of who they are.
Todd says the summit aimed to benefit two broad groups, the primary one being the LGBTQ community and particularly transgender people of color. The second group includes those who want to be allies but feel unsure of the language and politics of gender.
“A lot of people just don’t know what to ask because they don’t want to offend anybody. We want to tell people, ‘Here’s what you need to know,’ in a place where it’s safe to ask questions. If you can’t do that at GLIDE, where can you do it?”
The Summit opened with a screening of Free Cece!, about Cece McDonald and the culture of violence surrounding transgender women of color. Afterward, Janetta Johnson, executive director of the Transgender Gender Variant and Intersex Project, facilitated a discussion about ensuring safety, dignity and equality for transgender people of color.
On Saturday, Minister Carmarion D. Anderson of Dallas, Texas, delivered the Summit’s keynote address, “Do You See What I See?”, which spoke to the role of faith—“receiving a touch from the Lord and walking in our inclusive sight of love, compassion and acceptance”—in learning to see transgender and gender-expansive people without discrimination or prejudice.
Several break-out sessions followed. Topics included spiritual health among transgender people, scriptural interpretation from a transgender perspective, and how to be a “fierce” ally.
The day ended with a discussion by two GLIDE congregants, moderated by Rev. Liam Hooper of North Carolina. Blaze Kenyon, who has been singing with the GLIDE Ensemble for 11 years, graciously shared his story of coming out as a lesbian at 17 and more recently as transgender. Blaze faced a barrage of prejudice throughout his life. “So, when I made this decision to start my transition,” he said, “I had to undo a lot of stuff that was in my head.”
Blaze added, “When I got to GLIDE in 2005 I started to see church again in a way I had as a child. I wanted to be loved just like everybody. But I didn’t feel I could stay [in church] based on the teachings that were being thrown at me,” he recalled. “GLIDE has given me a place to feel safe. A place to be myself.”
Along with Blaze, 19-year-old aspiring rock musician Moya Aldridge shared her story and discussed the role of spirituality in her transition and in her overall outlook on life.
“Gender is a performance. I think it is for everyone. That’s why it’s so interesting,” she explained. “A lot of people try to say, ‘Is gender innate or is gender a societal construct? It can only be one or the other.’ It’s not mutually exclusive. There’s a whole socialization that we have to work out within ourselves.”
Finally, on Sunday, Rev. Hooper and Minister Anderson delivered powerful sermons at Celebration, followed by a concluding session on spirituality and wholeness.
People of all genders and sexualities deserve to be accepted and loved for who they are in their entirety. GLIDE will always be a place of worship, activism, community and comfort for our transgender friends and family.