ON THE THIRD Sunday of each month in Liverpool, a church service for LGBT Christians takes place. This month it looks forward to Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) , which takes place on Tuesday.
TDOR is commemorated on November 20th each year to remember and bear witness to the lives lost due to transphobia in the past year. This year 265 names have been recorded, but as only 29 countries currently document this, the actual total is inevitably much higher. One life lost through ignorance and prejudice is too many – 265 (that we know of) is shocking.
As part of the Open Table service (named after the tradition of offering communion to all who wish to receive it, not merely those baptised in one Christian tradition), a member of the city’s transgender community lit a purple candle and read out a list of names of those who had died. It was a very poignant event, and humbling to think that, as far as the lesbian and gay community have come in the past forty years, our trans sisters and brothers are still literally fighting for their lives and the freedom to be true to their gender identity.
With intersex conditions estimated to occur in one in 100 births (ten times more common than Down’s Syndrome at one in 1000 births), it is highly likely that we all know someone who is on the transgender spectrum. If people with Down’s Syndrome were being killed or taking their own lives at this rate, there would be a major outcry at the injustice of it. Yet because being transgender is stigmatised and poorly understood, it is easier to ignore than to speak out and risk being stigmatised ourselves for standing in solidarity with our trans sisters and brothers.
As the service is confidential, I did not ask to take a photo of those who gathered for the memorial service. Instead this picture is of the altar with its beautiful frontal, depicting a white dove (a symbol of the Holy Spirit) surrounded by rainbows (a sign of God’s covenant with his chosen people – Genesis 9:13) underneath the golden lettering: ‘Who Do You Say I Am?’, the question Jesus posed to Peter to test his faith (Mark 8:29). Painted by a Buddhist artist in residence in the church, this inspiring image poses the same question to all those who view it, inviting us to respond from our experience as LGBT Christians, not merely to recite the image of God we have received from faith communities that would judge and reject us, or fail to speak out against the injustice of prejudice against us.
The Open Table service has run monthly for four years at St Bride’s Church, Liverpool, with the blessing of the Anglican bishop of the area. My partner and I were at the early planning meetings, when someone asked ‘Will it be open table?’ Having not heard the expression before, I asked what it meant, then suggested that should be the name because of its inclusiveness.
Four years on, my partner coordinates the service, and around 15 people attend each month. It is a powerful witness for those seeking a more inclusive church. The aim is to create a safe space for people to explore their faith and what it might mean for them. While we meet in an Anglican church all are welcome.