Category Archives: Quakerism

An pacifist advocating for transgender equality – in the military.

I’m setting myself up for criticism. After all, aren’t Quakers known for our fierce (some would say strident) pacifism and opposition to all things military? So why is this Quaker advocating for the legal right of transgender Americans to serve in the military?

The easy answer is simply that I am also a transgender person, so I feel a profound solidarity with my transgender brothers and sisters in any aspect of our shared struggle for equality as American citizens. Have I placed myself on the horns of moral and spiritual conflict then – pacifism versus equality?


First, the pacifism that Quakers generally espouse runs deep. It isn’t simply about avoiding military service and renouncing war; it’s about avoiding all conditions that give rise to violent conflict in the first place. Many will argue that it is human nature to be competitive, and that on occasion this competition is inherently bound to escalate to violence and sometimes even organized violence at scale – war. What drives competition to become violent conflict is as complex as is human nature, and yet such extreme competition is frequently and appropriately linked to some of the worst attributes of human nature: greed, pride, arrogance, callousness to human suffering, elitism, even evil.

In short, violent conflict – and the need for having a military to defend us – represents human failure at a vast scale. While Americans frequently celebrate our women and men in uniform, and rightly express our gratitude to them for their service, we tend to turn a blind eye to the brutal savagery and devastation of warfare. War leads inexorably to human suffering, often massively. Morality, and our efforts towards building civilized societies, is all about ending human suffering. War and violence stand in our way.

Those who feel called to place themselves in harm’s way to defend us from the devastating and destructive consequences of that massive human failure are rightly hailed for their selfless courage and sacrifice. I’m the grandchild of a Marine Corps general, the daughter of a Marine Corps colonel, the sister of brothers all of whom served in the armed forces, and the aunt of a Navy pilot, so I have lived close to men of commendable patriotism, sacrifice, virtue, and dedication through their service. I have many dear friends (some transgender) who are veterans. I respect them all deeply.

There is another side. Continue reading An pacifist advocating for transgender equality – in the military.

Despite it all…


For the first time in years, I actually bought one of those magazines at the check-out counter at the grocery store. You know the ones – they jostle in their gaudy colors, their provocative titles distracting (and generally irritating) overwhelmed shoppers like me. Yet for the first time ever, one of those better-known, thankfully non-gaudy magazines features (provocatively) a transgender girl on its cover – absent any subtext of outrage, disgust, or rejection. A girl, right there on that cover, just being herself. Whew…what a relief, and what a blessing.

Thank you, National Geographic.

Some upbeat news at the end of a very hard year is indeed a welcome Christmas present. And there is no pretending that 2016 has been OK; it hasn’t. For me this year has been marked by vulnerability, stigmatization, worry, financial insecurity, and exclusion. It’s been a year of first-hand encounters with ageism and transphobia, again and again and again. It’s sadly telling that this will be the first time in decades that I’m not sending out Christmas cards – it’s been that kind of a year. So yes, I’m glad to see 2016 go away, even if I’ve very little reason to hope that the coming year (the coming four years, really) will be any better for many, many people who are facing not only various emboldened forms of exclusion and stigma, but also the possibility of losing their health insurance, seeing their civil rights eroded, watching our country engage in bellicose and ill-judged international engagements, and standing aghast as our environmental protections go down the drain.

Somehow though, I’m feeling ready. Bring it on. I’ve made it this far, and there’s no stopping me now. And I sense I am not alone in that determination…

That simple magazine cover (and its well-written contents) reminded me of something that I sorely needed to be reminded of. There are good people “out there”, open to learning about and boldly – intentionally – embracing a new world of diversity in which people like me are accepted and even valued (my friends have been saying that consistently, but you know how a funky mood in a bad election year can shut down even the love and wisdom of terrific friends). But being around loving family and friends does make a huge difference, as does finding some income-generating work (and I have just found some, at least for a while), and maybe those Christmas carols and the cards I’ve received have also shone their rejuvenating light into the darkness. Whatever…I’m feeling more upbeat now than I have all year. Continue reading Despite it all…

What is America’s voice – after Orlando?

Orlando 1

We gathered yesterday evening at the geographic center of what had once been Washington D.C.’s LGBTQ neighborhood. A speaker was quick to point out that while Dupont Circle still signaled that legacy, Washington’s LGBTQ community was now spread all across this city and this region. We all smiled. Just in front of me, a silent man with a tall tripod and camera was very busy: there were so many images worth capturing, so many faces that told stories of deep emotions, the weariness of grief, the inability to make any sense of what had happened. There were tears, and hugs, and some who stood – just like me – all alone with our candles, yet not alone at all.

Those who had come to Dupont Circle are our community and our allies. For a brief but precious moment of time, we held hands with the people at our sides. In the warm feel of those hands that evening, I sensed that this gathered community embodied, more than any words or prayers or names that were spoken, what solidarity and empathy and love consists of.  In the face of so much hatred and callousness in this larger world, there we stood united – a community of love and dignity, poignantly aware of our place in the well-defined battle lines of a war that seems never-ending. We are vulnerable, but we are also resilient .

I settled in to hold in the Light each of the 49 names being read aloud, and I cried, and then I finally noticed that the cameraman was from the Voice of America. What images and message would he be sharing with the world? What is America’s voice in the midst of such a tragedy?

As already noted by wiser and more eloquent commentators, there isn’t one voice. Millions of Americans, feeling especially emboldened by a very dangerous and divisive demagogue whom they have chosen as their leader, are seeking to make Islam the enemy – and Orlando is convenient for their purposes. I know, love, and respect so many Muslims whom I have met, befriended, worked with, and shared my spiritual journey with, to know the utter absurdity of blaming that or any religion.  Others point the blame at the National Rifle Association, and the pervasive national insanity of the gun culture. That particular mindset is morally tied to so many senseless killings, but the American “thing” about guns is beyond my understanding. The fact that there are more places to buy weapons in America than there are Starbucks in the entire world fills me with dread, sorrow, confusion, and anger. How did we ever get to this place?

Still others remember that it was LGBTQ people, mostly Hispanic, who were targeted in Orlando – and some Americans believe that such killings have something of “God’s justice” in them. I pray for their souls, and that some Light might find a path to lighten such bleak inner darkness. LGBTQ people are people, just like any other people. Attacking our dignity and our humanity only diminishes all of us…straight, cisgender, or LGBTQ.

So, what is America’s voice?

Continue reading What is America’s voice – after Orlando?

Trying harder on Memorial Day

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Memorial Day in the United States is beloved among Americans as the holiday that marks the unofficial start of summer. It’s a day for picnics, barbecues, family outings, and the opening of numerous neighborhood swimming pools. In Washington this year, it’s particularly welcome – after a May that was record-breaking for all the wrong reasons (setting new records for consecutive rainy days, with temperatures far below average). Hooray – we are finally enjoying warm and mostly dry weather!

As is my long-standing practice, I fly the American flag on Memorial Day. In recent years, I even trekked downtown to watch the remarkable spectacle of the countless riders of Harley Davidsons gathered from across the nation, roaring past in memory of those lost or left behind in America’s wars. Most of these riders are of my own generation – the Vietnam War generation – and there is something particularly poignant and oddly moving about these aged and largely ignored veterans of the war that did not go well, asserting their dignity and patriotism amid the mass of rumbling, powerful steel machines.

But then this year The Donald co-opted the riders of Rolling Thunder, at their invitation. What I once viewed as a dignified if unusual procession of honor and commitment is now, for me, reduced to merely a showy prop in the service of an ignorant, dangerous demagogue.  I will go no more to Rolling Thunder.

Despite Mr. Trump’s latest acquisition (Rolling Thunder), patriotism still has a firm grip on me. Perhaps it’s due to having grown up in the U.S. Marine Corps – my grandfather Joseph was a general, my dad Ray was a colonel, my younger brother Ken a Marine tank officer. And since the Marines are part of the Navy Department, I’ll give due Semper Fidelis respect to my next older brother George, a retiree after 20 years as an officer in the U.S. Navy. I was brought up to respect the service – and the sacrifice – of America’s women and men in uniform. And today – Memorial Day – is first and foremost about those who have won the peace for our country, which even I – a Quaker – can get behind.

And I do.

Still, winning the peace is a larger and more complicated effort than winning wars. And while nothing can compare to the remarkable courage and tenacity of those who have adopted the Warrior’s Code and risked their lives to overcome a violent adversary – as my father did time and again in the Pacific campaign in World War 2 – Memorial Day is large enough to celebrate all of America’s peacemakers.

Yet we don’t. Continue reading Trying harder on Memorial Day

Disheartening news from the frontlines of exclusion


With so much attention, it’s no surprise that word leaked out before the official announcement. The world’s gathering of archbishops and chief bishops (“primates”) of the Anglican Church that concluded today at Canterbury, England is known as the Anglican Communion Primates Meeting. As meetings go, this is no trifling matter. Anglicans are the world’s third largest Christian denomination with a membership estimated at 85 million members…but it is now a house divided unto itself. The Primates Meeting ended in deep discord regarding LGBTI persons, and same-sex marriage in particular.

This rift has been growing for some time, and some observers are taking modest consolation in the fact that the most conservative (dare I say homophobic?) element – the bishops from Africa – did not walk out of the meeting in protest. Well, one did. Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of the Anglican Church of Uganda (pictured above) left the meeting on Jan. 12th. I have deep feelings for Uganda, a country I have been visiting regularly since 1982 and in which I have lived and worked, but there is no denying that Uganda has acquired global pariah status for its pervasively toxic attitudes towards its own LGBTI citizens. When it comes to attempts at a civil and caring discussion on LGBTI concerns, and on the vexing question of the reality of human dignity as a universal value, Ugandans are frequently seen “leaving the meeting”…

The roots of this institutional rancor come from the courageous and – to my mind – demonstrably Christian position taken by the American Episcopal Church, which is part of the global Anglican faith. At the Episcopal Church’s General Convention last June, delegates felt led by the spirit to change canonical language that to date had defined marriage as only being between a man and a woman, and they took a similarly affirming position in support of the dignity and humanity of transgender and intersex persons. Thanks to their leadership and compassion, the affirming door of the Episcopal Church now welcomes same-sex couples and all who identify as L,G, B, T, or I. Thankfully, at least in the United States that is how it will remain. The words of America’s Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry are worth pondering:

Many of us have committed ourselves and our church to being ‘a house of prayer for all people,’ as the Bible says, when all are truly welcome…Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.”

This inspired and principled stance has now been rebuked by a majority of the Anglican primates. Not only that, but the circle of exclusion has now been expanded not only to affect those who have borne such exclusion for far too long – LGBTI Anglicans and their allies – but to the American Episcopal Church itself. For the next three years at least (and realistically for much longer) Episcopalians will no longer be able to serve on certain Anglican committees. They will also be excluded from voting while they are with their fellow Anglican bishops. In short, they have been institutionally silenced, even if I know that their voices will continue to be heard in other venues. Continue reading Disheartening news from the frontlines of exclusion

Standing accused by Mr. Cruz


I suppose I have better things to do than waste my time responding to the demagoguery and boastful ignorance of Ted Cruz, but there may be a time when a girl has to stand her ground. You see, I am an activist (for human rights, and for my Quaker values). And I’m well to the left of center on the political spectrum, so perhaps that makes me a “leftist”. And yes, I am transgender.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has now publicly suggested that the person – Robert Lewis Dear – accused of the heinous murder of three innocent people last Friday at the Planned Parenthood Center in Colorado Springs was a “leftist activist” and “transgendered” (BTW Mr. Cruz, that’s like saying that you are “Republicaned”. The “-ed” isn’t needed).

Blatant fear-mongering and associating vulnerable people with evil is hardly original. Women have been demeaned, subjected to sinister superstitions and accusations of witchcraft, and otherwise objectified for millennia, and there’s no shortage of stigma aimed at persons with disabilities or members of small (i.e. not powerful) ethnic minorities. All of these vulnerable persons and groups, which include transgender persons and sexual minorities, make such easy targets. By making us into “the other” it’s simple for the likes of Mr. Cruz to lay the blame for just about any “offense” at our feet. After all, dictators-for-life like Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and many faith leaders in that country have made beautiful Uganda into a pariah state with toxic levels of intolerance in terms of human rights violations, by blaming gay people (I don’t think he knows or cares to know the difference between gay and transgender folk) for all manner of social ills. Targeting “the other” is a proven method to distract the public’s attention away from rampant corruption and incompetence. And while the man accused of the horrific murder in Colorado Springs awaits due process of the rule of law, Mr. Cruz has already “othered” him by labeling him transgender – which supposedly serves to explain his alleged crime. It also spares Mr. Cruz and his supporters any awkward obligation to discuss gun control implications.

None of this is new. Self-righteous, narrow minded, and poorly informed people like Mr. Cruz routinely have been using all manner of derogatory words to dehumanize transgender persons, and to strip us of our dignity. One needs look no farther than the recent rejection of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in Texas, where certain “religious” groups and conservative politicians successfully persuaded the majority of that city’s voters that transgender women are sex-crazed predators and “confused men” stalking young women and girls in ladies rest rooms. In many other parts of the world, and even here in the United States, all too often these types of derogatory words give way to (or directly lead to) acts of extreme violence directed at transgender persons. People are quite literally put to death for having the audacity of being themselves. Continue reading Standing accused by Mr. Cruz