On April 30th, I woke up and grabbed my smart phone to read the morning paper, as I usually do. Quickly reading through stories in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, I came across one that confused and saddened me. The story told of the finding of the body of Carl Acoff. The headline said the body was “oddly clothed”. The story noted that “Carl” had identified himself to local law enforcement officials as a female and the accompanying picture showed the victim with long pink hair. I was saddened at the loss of life and confused at the way the paper was writing about the victim. It seemed very disrespectful.
In a later version of the story following much criticism, the headline was changed and the paper reported that Acoff “sometimes self-identified as a transgender woman,” but the paper never used Acoff’s chosen first name, Cemia or CeCe. The revised story went into detail about her encounters with local law enforcement, especially detailing various reports of her gender or what hormone drugs she was carrying when apprehended once. More disrespect.
On May 1st several of my colleagues and I joined nearly 100 others on the steps of the Cleveland City Hall to call for an end to violence against our transgender sisters and brothers. We were also there to encourage the Ohio Legislature to provide protection to lesbian, gay,bisexual and transgender individuals under Ohio’s hate crimes laws. Currently LGBT persons are not protected.
The 24th General Synod of the United Church of Christ in 2003 adopted a resolution decrying hate, violence and prejudice against transgender individuals. The resolution called for the passage of protective hate crimes legislation and reaffirmed the church’s stand against the use of scripture to generate hatred and to violate the rights of LGBT persons. A separate resolution that year called for the full inclusion of transgender persons in the life and ministry of the church.
I served on the Synod committee that considered these two resolutions before they came to the floor. We were told terrible stories of the violence and discrimination experienced by transgender persons, both in churches and the wider society. Those words moved the committee and Synod as a whole.
On Sunday May 5th, Ted Diadiun, the Plain Dealer’s readers’ representative, wrote a column about the paper’s coverage of CeCe’s murder. While Diadiun admitted the paper had not followed the Associated Press Style guidelines in the manner in which it referred to CeCe, sadly his response was more defensive in tone. In all fairness, Diadiun did note in the end, “the experience drove home to all of us the need for sensitivity in writing about any group, and particularly the transgender community.”
While this is good news, the real issue is the unacceptable hate, discrimination and violence still experienced by transgender individuals. What is really needed is education and policies that nurture communities that are safe for everyone to call home. No matter what our gender identity, we are all children of the Holy One, to be loved, affirmed and respected.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.