Remarks for the Rally for the Common Ground Inititative
January 24, 2009
Rev. Sean Parker Dennison
I am a religious leader, a minister. I am also a transgender man. To many, those two things seem to be at odds. But for me, they are deeply intertwined. My faith is at the heart of my story and at the heart of why I am here, looking for common ground with others in protecting the civil and human rights of people like me.
When I transitioned almost 12 years ago, it was not something I did in spite of my faith, it was something I did because of my faith. My faith told me to strive for honesty, wholeness, and health for myself and for all human beings. When I found that the word “transgender” described me, and that transgender people had a history and community, I knew that I could no longer live a lie. I knew that my faith called me to live with both integrity and joy, and that meant living honestly as a transgender man. I prayed, I sought the counsel of wise leaders, I weighed the risks, and I transitioned. I knew that God wanted me to live, and to live abundantly.
When I say that I weighed the risks, I mean that I had to think about many things: Transgender people are at least 10 times more likely to be murdered than other people; there are only a handful of transgender people who have been able to find employment in my field—ministry in liberal congregations and many who have found no work at all; transgender people are routinely unable to get housing; and there are ongoing and severe issues in getting any, let alone adequate health care. And many transgender people are killed each year just for who they are. I’ve been lucky so far—I have a place to live, a job, medical insurance and one understanding doctor, and thus far—my life. But the reason I am here today is that at any minute, I could still lose any of them. No one should have to rely on luck for these things. Like every other American, we should be able to rely on the rule of law, the rights that are enshrined for all citizens in our constitution.
Those are the self-interested reasons for me being here. But I have better reasons. I am here, first and foremost, as a person of faith who knows that every human being is a child of God and deserves to be treated as a precious part of the human family. I am here because I believe that all faith traditions—even the most conservative—share a message of compassion and justice for all people. Every major religious tradition includes commands (not suggestions!) to care for the weak, the downtrodden, the widow and the orphan. That is the common ground on which we stand, and from which we can move forward together.
Of course, when I tell you that, I am simply preaching to the choir. So let me speak directly to those who are not here, who don’t know what to think, who worry that to support this initiative would mean giving up something of their belief in order or morality. To them I say:
Supporting this initiative does not require you to say that being gay is okay. It requires you to say that discrimination, hatred, and prejudice are wrong. It requires you gather your moral courage and say, “I will stand for justice for all because I know that every child of God, while imperfect, is precious. I will take my stand on the side of Love, because God is Love.”
To take this stand may well be a risk, but you have always known that your faith will require you to take risks. To take this stand my well make you unpopular, but those who have stood up for what is right have often been unpopular. You may risk the comfort of fitting in, of avoiding conflict, of remaining silent. But in return, you will know that you chose to stand up and say no to hatred, to discrimination, and to prejudice. You will know that you chose love over fear.
My friends, I believe that this great state is full of people who know that prejudice and discrimination are wrong. I believe that there are politicians in this statehouse who know that the ideals of democracy –the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—are vital to the health of this state and the kind of people we want to be. I believe that the era of discrimination, hatred, and prejudice is coming to a close.
It is my great hope that Utah will take the opportunity to surprise the world by leading the way. We have a chance, by adopting these statutes that make up the Common Ground initiative, to tell the world that here in Utah, we have grown to understand that the law is not a tool to be used to punish, but an instrument to protect our commitment to justice, to liberty, and to the ever-present, all-encompassing presence of Love. Let us show the world that we in Utah have found common ground on which to stand: a commitment to peace, hope, faith, and justice for all. That is my hope and my prayer. May it be so. Amen.