Guest Blogger Allyson Robinson: Questions and Answers on Chelsea Manning

Guest Blogger Allyson Robinson: Questions and Answers on Chelsea Manning August 28, 2013

Note from Pastor Amy: Today is a big day in DC: it’s the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  The consideration of whether or not everyone in our country deserved the same civil rights was brought to the forefront of the national conversation in a big way that day, and people of faith were loud and insistent voices in the cry for justice right alongside Dr. King.  

So many things about our society have changed for the good on the civil rights front since then.  But not all.  There are still people struggling to be treated fairly.  On this poignant day it might be good for people of faith to think again and where and how our voices need to rise to the top in the struggle for justice, because God keeps calling us our of our comfort and complacency to remember God’s kingdom is still coming to be…and we must be part of making that happen.

Here are some thoughts from Allyson Robinson–you can read more about her below.  Allyson’s answers to these questions appeared first on August 23rd on www.believeoutloud.com, and she agreed, along with other very gifted Calvary members, to offer them as her participation in my Guest Blogger series this summer.  I thought it was notable to hear her today especially.  (You can hear more from Allyson on this particular issue and others at PBS Newshour and in this piece about transgender people in the military.)

So I want to say today especially: keep dreaming.  At least once on this day, in honor of the day’s significance and in recognition that we have a ways to go, find a way to speak out for justice as an expression of your faith, wherever you are.  Because God is changing us and changing our world, and we are called to join in by adding our voices to the cry that things cannot stay as they are.  

In the words of a prophet: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

A nationally respected and award winning leadership, communications, and diversity consultant, Allyson Robinson helps leaders and the organizations they lead discover, refine, and live into their values. Most recently, she served as executive director of OutServe-SLDN, leading its staff and over 6,500 volunteers to empower our military’s LGBT community and build a culture of inclusion in the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs. She has served as an Army officer and a Baptist pastor, studied at West Point, Oxford University, Arizona State, and Baylor, and holds degrees in physics and theology. She, her wife of 19 years, and their four children live in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, and are active members at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

1. What is your reaction to Chelsea Manning’s coming out as a transgender woman?

Allyson Robinson

I find myself torn, to be honest. Part of me is very angry. I’m angry that someone who has done the things she’s done has become the de facto spokeswoman for this movement, for people like me, for families like mine. But part of me feels very afraid for her. I have no confidence that she will be treated well or appropriately in prison, nor that she will receive the medical care she needs to be whole. That is a special kind of hell for a transgender person and no one should have to endure it.
2. Do you consider the transition-related health care Chelsea has requested to be a human right for people who are transgender?
I believe appropriate and competent medical care is a basic human right for all people – including transgender people and including prisoners. In Private Manning’s case, the care she receives should be something that she and her doctors – including professionals who understand transgender care – agree is best for her. That’s the treatment any of us would want for ourselves.
3. How are Christians called to extend compassion to people in our prison systems, and what does this compassion look like for people who 
are trans? 
I think Hebrews 13:3 makes it pretty plain: “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” This is Christianity 101; it’s “golden rule” stuff. We need to set our wrath aside, set our discomfort aside, and practice some basic empathy.
4. Is recognition of someone’s gender identity an expression of your Christian faith? 
Certainly, because it takes empathy, and empathy is at the heart of our faith. Take a moment and put yourself in my shoes. Imagine what it would feel like to live every day trying to pass yourself off as the gender opposite to the one you’ve always felt comfortable in. Imagine how torturous that would be for you. What you’ve just imagined is how I felt every day, every moment, before I transitioned. Now, how would you want to be treated by others in that situation? Empathy gets harder the more different another person’s experience is from ours, but it’s still our calling and our duty as followers of Christ.
5. How can Christian allies best respond to individuals in their lives who come out as transgender? 
A good first response: how about applause? For many of us, coming out is a courageous first step out of darkness and into light, away from brokenness and toward wholeness. That’s the kind of thing Christians have been applauding for millennia. From there, I’d say a good ally is someone who does his own work. If my being transgender makes you uncomfortable, accept that your discomfort is your issue and work through it, just like you would any other hang-up. Our churches would be much healthier and much happier places if we’d each do just that much.
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