Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, many in the country are celebrating, Danica Roem’s success as the first openly transgender person elected to state legislature. The icing on the cake is that the opposing candidate is GOP incumbent, Robert G. Marshall, who once called himself, Virginia’s “chief homophobe.” It should also be noted that Marshall introduced an anti-transgender bathroom bill that never made it out of committee and consistently misgendered Roem, intentionally referring to her with male pronouns. In her victory speech, rather than overflowing on her accomplishments, Roem offered these words of encouragement: “To every person who’s ever been singled out, who’s ever been stigmatized, who’s ever been the misfit… This one’s for you.”
Andrea Jenkins, elected to the Minneapolis City Council became the first openly trans woman of color elected to office in a major city. “I’m feeling elated. Ecstatic. Extraordinarily happy right now…I’m really, really deeply proud of my community,” said Jenkins.
Voters made a major statement in this election. One might say their vote signals a resistance to the divisiveness that has plagued this nation for quite some time but especially since the presidential campaign of 2015 – 2016. Others may note this election signaling an increased desire for human rights and inclusion of LGBTQ persons.
While I would not disagree with any of these perspectives, it seems to me worth considering the continued attacks and policing of LGBTQ bodies, especially LGBTQ people of color.
Just this year, Ebony Morgan, a 28-year old Black trans woman was shot to death in her home in Lynchburg, Virginia. Last year, India Monroe, a 29-year old Black trans woman was also shot to death in her home. Because transgender women of color are murdered in staggeringly disproportionate numbers, the election of Jenkins makes me – to use her words – ecstatic and deeply proud.
That said, both these women will inhabit, with their bodies, political offices that have rarely, if ever, pursued justice for the trans community, LGBQ community, or for persons of color. They will enter spaces with persons who have built the very structures that once prohibited their inclusion.
They will not only need to speak truth but also embody truth. The truth of their existence, of our existence; the truth of transformational leadership and not respectability politics. They will be in these political spaces with all that they are: mind, soul, and body.
This will be a new and daunting experience but not an impossible feat. Being “first” is never easy. Much will be expected of them and as one who has experienced being first, I can tell you that they will likely expect far more perfection of themselves than any constituent can demand.
How can we support these junior politicians and those who are emerging from our ranks? How about we start by accepting that theology is deeply enmeshed within our politics in America? Indeed, theological perspectives are what fuel most, if not all, discriminatory legislation and so we must accept our task as theologians and people of faith to also inhabit our bodies in political spaces that have and continue to do harm in the name of our faith traditions.
Lastly, lifting up our prayers and/or engaging in spiritual practices that sends good vibes to Jenkins and Roems but that also inspires us, to like Good Samaritans, to “go do likewise.”
Dr. Pamela Lightsey, Associate Dean at the School of Theology, is a scholar, social justice activist, and military veteran whose academic and research interests include: classical and contemporary just war theory, Womanist theology, Queer theory and theology, and African American religious history and theologies. In 2005, Dr. Lightsey was ordained as an elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church. In 2008, she became the first out African American queer lesbian elder in the denomination. A teenager during the Black Power movement, Dr. Lightsey’s commitment to social justice was shaped in the south and its flame has remained kindled across a lifetime of fighting injustice on the streets (including Ferguson and Baltimore), in the classroom and in the church. Along with Black Lives Matter Boston activist, Rev. Karlene Griffiths Sekou, Dr. Lightsey was co-coordinator of the over 200-member clergy support of the most recent Fight White Supremacy! counter-protest of nearly 40,000 persons here in Boston. She is the author of numerous publications her most recent manuscript being Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology. Dr. Lightsey is a member of the Workgroup on Constructive Theology and the American Academy of Religion (has co-chaired the AAR Womanist Group). As a highly sought out public speaker, Dr. Lightsey lectures at universities across the country and at institutions in Brazil, Cuba and South Korea.