Cameron Partridge, one of just seven openly transgender clergy in the Episcopal Church, was recently appointed as chaplain at Boston University. This makes him the first transgender chaplain at a major university. Partridge received Master of Divinity and Doctor of Theology degrees from Harvard Divinity School.
Since his transition, a journey he began in December 2011, Partridge has engaged in more advocacy and political action. “I seemed to need to pass through a certain kind of fear before I could embrace a fuller vocation to contribute to conversations on trans and wider LGBT equality in and outside ecclesial contexts, as well as to explore these themes in academic contexts.”
Even outside the church, the trans community faces severe obstacles and rampant discrimination. Trans individuals experience much higher rates of homelessness, suicide, and abuse than the general population. And though the American Psychiatric Association recently reclassified how it diagnoses transgender patients, taking away the stigma of a “disorder,” many transgender patients still struggle to obtain medical care and insurance. A 2011 survey also found that trans respondents experienced double the national rate of unemployment, and nearly half of those interviewed reported losing a job because of their gender identity. Those surveyed were also 4 times more likely to live in extreme poverty…
During the 2012 General Convention in July, the [Episcopal Church] overwhelmingly passed groundbreaking resolutions barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in access to lay leadership and the ordination process. Partridge was grateful. “What makes me most proud of this summer’s General Convention vote was the collaboration and sense of community that built momentum towards it,” he said, citing several advocacy groups who pushed for the resolutions. “Through all the intensity of the Convention, we were uplifted by community—to me it truly felt like the communion of saints.”
Within the national church, the diocese of Massachusetts—Partridge’s home base—has been a particularly supportive place for trans issues. After supporting Partridge’s transition, Shaw came to believe trans equality was an important movement for the church, and he has sought to create spaces for it within his diocese. Each year, Boston’s Cathedral Church of St. Paul plays host to the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a memorial for those who died because of their gender identity. The annual event began as a vigil following the murder of a Boston-area trans woman in 1998. Shaw feels the service embodies what a church should be. “I stand up in front of them each year and say that the conception of God that judges you is not the conception of God in this diocese,” he said.
Being transgender has not hindered Partridge’s role as chaplain, but enhanced it. It has facilitated important conversations on the complexities of human identity and social justice.
Partridge does not feel his transgender status has hindered his role as a chaplain; if anything, it has helped him connect with students. “In one sense, my being trans doesn’t matter,” he said. “In another way, I’m able to have certain conversations about the complexities of human identity with college students, who are figuring out their own identities.” Cindy Jacobson, a former Lutheran chaplain at BU, said of his appointment, “The reaction was positive not so much because he is a trans man, but because people really like him.” Jacobson now pastors University Lutheran Church in nearby Cambridge and has invited Partridge to speak several times at her church. When I watched Partridge talk with students, I noticed the ease with which transgender and gender nonconforming people shared their stories with him. Jacobson concurs, “A unique gift he brings is himself. Because he is a trans man, perhaps this gives permission for students who are trans or are questioning to seek him out.” Kerry Aszklar, the Q Events/Activism chair of BU’s Queer Activist Collective adds, “I think that it’s great that BU has trans people as part of the faculty and staff. Not only is it inspiring to queer people, but it’s good to have a trans person to look up to and act as a mentor.”
At the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church last July, the House of Deputies “overwhelmingly voted to allow the ordination of transgender people.”
- New Episcopal Chaplain a Role Model, BU Today