On November 20, 2017, the Rev. Dr. Erin Swenson preached at SFTS. Her presence and sermon was part of the annual day of remembrance for those who lost their lives because of violence against transgender or gender nonconforming people in the past year. In 1995, Rev. Swenson asked the Atlanta Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to allow her to change her name on the ordination roster to reflect her gender identity as female. What she thought would be a practical matter of keeping her medical insurance for her daughter’s various medical challenges became a journey that lead to Rev. Swenson to becoming a unique and prophetic ordained voice within the Presbyterian Church (USA) and across many faith traditions.
Rev. Swenson preached on the Isaiah 56:5 text from the Hebrew Bible. In this text, she reminded the congregation of God’s promise to “give (eunuchs) them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.” Referring to the transgender community as the modern equivalent of the eunuch she asked the question “What part of all do we not understand?” She reminded the seminary community that persecuting gender non-conforming people is not unique to the Christian Church; it traces back the death of Joan of Arc who was burned on a funeral pyre because she was gender nonconforming.
As Rev. Swenson preached she reminded the congregation that Transgender Day of Remembrance began eighteen years ago with the brutal murder of Rita Hester who was stabbed 20 times. She also reminded the audience that such deaths continue. She spoke of the death of DJ Anthony Torres. A much-beloved part of San Francisco’s LGBTQ community, he was known best as “Bubbles,” his gender nonconforming personality. Sadly on September 9, 2017, Bubbles was murdered in the Tenderloin District in San Francisco.
Throughout her sermon, Rev. Swenson reminded us all of the need to stand in the gap for the transgender community and for all persons who are treated as less than fully human or accepted. She asked us when we meet someone for the first time, ask them their pronouns as a way of reminding us all to respect, embrace and give to all an everlasting name that will not be cut off!
Please share your stories and experiences of those who have of lost their lives and the response of the people around them. Let us remember these precious souls with honor. You are invited to view the video and post your stories on Facebook or submit your post for publication on our blog page.