Now you see me... or do you?

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

The words rang out around the world as we watched with tense anticipation and baited breath, jaws and fists clenched – expecting the worst. The collective sigh that we all breathed was palpable, and tears of joy began to flow down the faces of those gathered in the intersection where George Floyd uttered those now three famous words: “I can’t breathe.” But this wasn’t a joy that was based in happiness. No – nothing would bring back the life that was taken from the world in front of our very eyes. This was a joy that was based in hope. A hope that, for the first time, a white police officer was held accountable for the taking of a life. A hint that, at least in the eyes of the twelve jurors, the life of a black man does matter.

The joy would be short-lived, though – for as the verdict rang out, the news was also juxtaposed with the reality that a sixteen year old girl had been killed at the hands of the police in Colombus, Ohio. Mi’Kiah Bryant. And it wasn’t long before the narrative was uttered: the girl had a knife. As if that justifies the taking of a life without question. I watched the spark of hope in the eyes of so many of my black siblings flicker with the realization that the guilty verdict of George Floyd’s murderer was an abnormality; a false sense of security that was shattered as if to say, “no, your life is still in danger. You are still under our control.”

It’s a sense that I know all too well.

As I write this, 15 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been reported as murdered in the United States, the majority of them Black and Latinx transgender women. More than 82 bills have been introduced into legislation across the nation to question how much humanity our elected officials are going to be granting to me as a transgender woman in America.

At the core of what we are seeing across the nation is the question of just that — our humanity.

The question that is ultimately held by those in power. This is the system we have inherited: a system that was built by and held by White America — namely the White Christians — when the first settlers arrived from across the Atlantic. Yet, at the same time, I find it strangely antithetical to the ministry of Jesus, who time and time again reminded even his disciples to check their own privilege, and to recognize that the image of God resides in “the least of these.” Yet, it was that very ideology that threatened the Empire of Rome and the Church – and so they (we) killed Him. Interesting that He would die a death of public asphyxiation at the hands of the State because He was deemed “a threat.”

But isn’t that what we do?

What is it that makes us look at the Black person walking down the street at night and call the police or wonder if we’ve locked our car, while not doing that for the White people? What is it that causes the Black community to think that they cannot call the police – who are tasked with the job of protecting and serving ALL Americans – out of fear that they will become the next hashtag in a long line of victims, only to be forgotten the next week when another name takes their place? What is it that causes me to double check myself every single time I walk into a public restroom? That tells me that I shouldn’t say a word in there because it’s the octave and timbre of my voice that tends to out me as transgender? It is a fear that is based in knowing that I am considered “less than” by those who have been granted power over me. It is the fear that is based in knowing that if I were to be murdered at the hands of the police that there wouldn’t be a collective mourning, but rather a justification that would be offered as if to say, “I told you so,” in essence justifying the fears of those who try and segregate me into places and areas where I can be ignored.

It is with that understanding that I begin to realize that my ability to survive and be seen as a queer transgender woman is inherently tied to those who are struggling to do the same as a person of color. It is a call to name the fears that plague our society; the fears that have been used for far too long to dehumanize and justify discrimination against us.

A few years ago, when I was still living in Fresno, I attended a meeting for “Be the Bridge,” a ministry aimed at advocating for racial understanding and reconciliation at a local Southern Baptist Church. In this church (which had thousands of people who walked through their doors every weekend), only a handful of people showed up to the meeting. This same church would be one of many in the area that would tell me that I was not welcome to be a part of the women’s ministry, despite spending hours of my time talking to them and sharing about my experiences and desire to learn how to be a better woman of God. Why? Fear. Fear that their acceptance of me would cause others to question their faith. Fear that their allowing me into their spaces would make other women uncomfortable. Fear that, knowing that I was attracted to women, would cause me to seduce or even assault the other women in the group. I’ve heard and experienced so much of it in the four years that I’ve spent since coming out.

Ask a good number of Privileged Christians if they think that racism is still an issue in our society today, and they’ll refer to how the Civil Rights era was decades ago — and that we’ve come a long way since then. Most people wouldn’t describe themselves as racist, but if we were to ask people of color in our world, the sad fact is that you would be hard pressed to find many who would honestly say that they have never experienced racism in their life. Same with the women in our lives. Most of them would honestly tell you that they have at some point in their life experienced some type of harassment or feeling of being less than just because of their gender. And don’t get me started on those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. What makes things worse is that the greatest named offender are those who call themselves followers of Christ, even at times using the Bible as a means to justify their actions.

Power is a funny thing, isn’t it?

The more power we have, the more we’re able to get away with in our world. The less we’re a problem because there’s always someone “lesser than” that will be blamed. So why a post, you might ask, on a blog that’s really dedicated to my own experience with the LGBTQ+ community? Because power is something that affects us all. There are moments when, in some places, LGBTQ+ people have power over others. And that power has been wielded against others unjustly. I’ve seen it and experienced it myself when I identify myself as a Christian in many of my own LGBTQ+ circles. The immediate sense that I should be judged and considered “less than” because of my religious views hurts, and with that comes the realization that my voice carries with it less importance because of it.
We talk about equality. We talk about ending systems of oppression - that sets us up against each other in a scramble to gain power. And once we’ve got that power over other people, it’s incredibly hard to let it go. And yet that’s what the example of Jesus continually calls us to — to let go of our power, and in our humanity, considering ourselves less than those around us so that all may be lifted up. And those who have less power? Well, they’ll need to be lifted all the more to reach the top.

I hope it’s not too late. Several of the Old Testament prophets preached a message of repentance. Each name that is broadcast on the news; the hashtags that we read on social media… they’re all an opportunity for repentance; a call for us to examine how we, in our own privilege, have contributed to a system that has allowed another person to die at the hands of another — and to either repent of that, or justify it. The time has come for us to repent.

What will YOU do?

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