DanvilleSanRamon.com

Newsfront - June 1, 2007

Interfaith celebration welcomes all

WOW to focus this year on transgender acceptance

by Natalie O'Neill

Imagine being born into the wrong body. Biologically, your flesh tells you are one sex, but deep down you have always known you are the other.

This is how much of the transgender population describe what they see as a birth defect of sorts - being born a gender with which they have never been able to identify.

"It's like wearing a shoe that doesn't fit; you can't walk," said Barb Reed, a founder of the Witness Our Welcome celebration in Danville, which she said has received overwhelmingly positive response.

WOW, which welcomes the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender community into religious congregations, will touch for the first time this year on transgender issues.

"The next step on the frontier of social justice are the transgender," said Rabbi Dan Goldblatt of Congregation Beth Chaim in Danville, who has been instrumental in the success of the six-year celebration.

Keynote speaker this year will be Rabbi Jhos Singer, a transgender female-to-male who will talk about his struggle with gender identity and religion.

"He tells the story with so much grace and humor, he's very self-effacing. It is worth witnessing, it's very powerful," Goldblatt said.

The celebration will begin at 7 p.m., tomorrow, June 2, at Danville Congregational Church, 989 San Ramon Valley Blvd., and everyone is welcome.

Transgender is a blanket term that applies to those whose gender identity or expression differs from their birth sex. It's currently estimated that about one in 10,000 biological males are transgender, one in 30,000 biological females, and that 2-3 percent of biological men engage in cross dressing.

With such a minute section of the population, the transgender are often misunderstood - even within the gay community. Gays and lesbians sometimes see gender reassignment surgery as a push to conform to straight relationships. And in the religious realm, some believe the surgery is treading on God's territory - tampering with what is "God given."

This is all the more reason to invite the transgender into the religious community, said Reed, who began the celebration five years ago with her husband Steve.

"This is a subset of discrimination even among the GLBT community," she said.

Reed and Goldblatt recognize this is a subject with which many people are unfamiliar and feel uncomfortable. But it's important to understand that "these are our fears and our issues, not theirs," Goldblatt said.

"For the most part in the Bay Area, the general public can accept if you're attracted to the same sex. But to have a surgery and change your gender - that's a scary thing for people," Reed said.

This year's WOW celebration will be a chance to understand and educate on the subject and to celebrate tolerance.

While the topic of transgenderism will be breached, the core message will still be to welcome anyone and everyone, especially those in need of affirmation and acceptance.

"I can't imagine a worse feeling, to want to feel accepted and have to hide who you are," Reed said.

This year's ceremony will include Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Jewish, Presbyterian, Baptist, Unitarian and many more faiths, along with a lesbian choir from Oakland. Before this year the celebration was largely Tri-Valley congregations, and it has now grown to be a Bay Area event. In past years, about 200 people attended.

"You would expect something like this to happen in Berkeley or San Francisco, but it's happening right here in Danville," Goldblatt said. "We're so blessed to have an interfaith group that has done so much in progressive social justice issues."

Kathie Hixton, a Danville resident who has a gay son, has witnessed firsthand the struggle gays and lesbians go through in Danville. Trying to stay true to their religion and be honest with themselves about who they are is a huge challenge, she said.

As a member of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, she says prejudice is still very much alive.

"It's alive here in Danville. At some churches it's still like the Bible belt," she said.

She said some local churches have even signed papers stating they would not affirm the gay lifestyle choice.

But being gay is not a choice, Hixton said.

"When our son was 3, I was picking up on this - I am convinced it is not a choice," she said.

In her mind, this is one of God's ways of teaching tolerance, she said. This weekend, WOW will be a chance to celebrate that idea.

"Everyone is welcome - wherever you are on your life journey," she said.

Contact Natalie O'Neill at noneill@danvilleweekly.com

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