Fight Like Hell for the Living

I am well aware of the notion of, “Breathing While Black.” It’s code language that I have internalized. It’s code language that I have taught my daughter. It’s code language that I will teach my granddaughter. It means that the very color of our skin can get us in deep trouble. It can get us killed.

The other day I heard a new expression, “Walking While Trans.” That gave me pause. I know that my Black siblings are in danger of police brutality when walking while black. In addition to worrying about police brutality, our Trans siblings are in danger of physical violence when they walk while trans. 

How do we make the essence of Transgender Day of Remembrance a 24/7 issue of welcome and inclusion within our communities and congregations? 

How do we create authentic partnership with our siblings in the transgender community that is nonjudgmental, safe, and supportive? 

For those who are transitioning, how do we appropriately support people embarking on this deeply personal, medically challenging, and expensive journey? What does solidarity truly look like?

How does our support of our siblings who are trans, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming affirm and center gender justice that allows each of us to express ourselves beyond the confines of a gender binary?

How do we create a partnership with the medical, mental health, and legal communities to assist our trans and transitioning siblings in their journey in whatever way they choose to engage with medical professionals?

Questions such as these keep me awake at night.

We are in a unique moment in history. A growing commitment to gender justice is at hand. It is not easy; this we know. We acknowledge, celebrate, and honor, the “rising visibility and unprecedented advocacy” amongst the transgender community. Yet, we know that the reality is not at all one to acknowledge celebrate, or honor. Heightened visibility is literally killing the transgender community. This reality is heartbreaking. Intelligence Report, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, asserts, “transgender people, especially women of color, may be America’s most victimized minority.”

Transgender homicides nationally are on the rise. Without question, the majority of the victims are transgender women of color. Despite the passing of laws to protect the transgender population this is a statistic that causes well-understood fear, depression, and isolation for our transgender community – and for those who stand in solidarity with them – spouses, partners, family, and friends. 

It’s a vicious cycle. Many have experienced disconnection from their families of origin, friends, and faith communities. Trans women in particular become financially fragile due to high medical costs coupled with the unwillingness of the job market to hire them or to treat those who are hired with dignity. They experience isolation and depression, and attempt suicide at an alarming rate.  The economic hardships coupled with the abandonment of their support systems, I believe, puts them in situations that set them up to be victims of crime.

Too often, members of our faith community mischaracterize the transgender community as complex individuals who are “too hard to understand.” We don’t make the effort to learn about what it means to be transgender. The end result is that, far too often, transgender visitors to our congregations are misgendered and report feeling unwelcomed. Let's embrace and respect the trans people in our community and beyond as resilient individuals who dare to be great, to live their lives with integrity and truth.

As a faith community, what does welcome and inclusion really look like? How can we embody these principles every day, so that they are far more than words in a mission statement or a pamphlet, or chants at a rally? 

Let us mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living! 

In terms of “breathing while black,” I well recognize and understand the anxiety of going out when I know I’m likely to be stopped and frisked. Living with that reality day in and day out takes resilience. I believe for my trans siblings, systems of privilege and oppression require similar resilience to navigate each day. Today, we honor that resilience. 

Friends, our work is cut out for us. It’s year round work -- not just for late November. I have deep longings and tender yearnings: 

I long for the day when for people of African descent, “Breathing while black” loses its “dangerous” connotation. 

I long for the day when for my trans siblings, ““Walking while trans” loses its “dangerous” connotation.

And, I especially long for the day when the combination of “breathing while black” and “walking while trans” is no longer worthy of notice, critique, and much less, of violence and loss of life. May it come soon. Very soon….

For more information, visit the following sites:

UUA Transgender Identity, Inclusion and Resources

TransWomen of Color Collective

The National Center for Trans Equality


In faith,

Dr. Janice Marie Johnson, Multicultural Ministries and Leadership Director, Multicultural Growth and Witness, UUA