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Transgender priest gives historic sermon at Washington National Cathedral

Transgender priest gives sermon at Washington National Cathedral on Sunday
Transgender priest gives sermon at Washington National Cathedral on Sunday
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sunday, June 22, 2014 for the first time ever, a transgender priest preached from the historic Canterbury Pulpit in Washington DC’s National Cathedral. Rev. Cameron Partridge urged the gay community to be unashamed of whom they are. Speaking to the audience at the Episcopal Church, he reminded the people to be brave and open-minded as they work to eliminate oppression. The Washington Times reports this sermon was the conclusion to two weeks of LGBT advocacy at the Cathedral.

Episcopal chaplain at Boston University and a lecturer and counselor for Episcopal and Anglican students at the Harvard Divinity School, Rev. Cameron Partridge completed his transition to male in 2001. In 2011 a study done by the Williams Institute at University of California at Los Angeles estimated there are around 700,000 transgender people living in the United States. The Rev. said he was very honored and grateful for the invitation to preach at the Church. His hope is that through his sermon at the National Cathedral and other work in the church, he will open people’s eyes about gender. He said it is more complicated than am I male or female.

The first openly gay Episcopal bishop, Rev. Gene Robinson, was also present at Sunday’s service. Rev. Robinson expressed pride in the progress made by the church saying, “What I've seen over the last decade, this beloved church of ours is risking its life. The cathedral’s voice is being heard in a new and powerful way. In a sense the cathedral has come out to the world in new and bold ways.”

During his sermon, Rev. Partridge spoke of Hagar, the handmaiden who bore Abraham’s first-born child and was later exiled with their son, Ishmael. He offered her as a good example of someone from the Bible with resilience and strength. Partridge. said, “Like Hagar, so many people in the LGBT community, and particularly in the trans community, have at one point or another or for a lifetime found ourselves in situations of intense oppression, isolation and despair,”

The heart of Rev. Partridge’s sermon was the idea of revelation, saying, “When Jesus tells his disciples to speak in the light, to uncover the hidden, to proclaim from the heights, he is asking them to join that stream, to become active participants in that blindingly good news. Of course, Jesus also explicitly warns that not everyone would experience such revelation as good, and that some might actively persecute the disciples for it. Doing this work would be utterly demanding.”

In a statement Rev. Gary Hall, Dean of the Cathedral, spoke of Rev. Partridge saying, “Cameron Partridge is a priest of great intellect, pastoral presence and possesses a deep passion for the gospel.” Partridge says there is no conflict in his status as a transgender and a religious leader. He feels pushing traditional boundaries within the church is his calling.

Partridge, 40, says he is thankful for the Church, it has been one of the few constants in his life. Episcopalian is a denomination of progressive traditions he says, adding, “It’s a church that has a big tent, with a lot of people from different perspectives in it. That’s important to me.”

When female, Partridge came out the first time as a lesbian while an undergraduate at the all-women Bryn Mawr College. She came out again in 2001, this time as a transgender man. He said he never faced rejection from friends, family or Church leaders.

Early on, Partridge learned about TransEpiscopal, an online group exclusively for transgender Episcopalians. He said it was a great resource for transgender members of the Episcopal clergy their friends and families to share stories. He said, “Even though I personally felt supported by the non-trans people in my life and the trans people I knew who were not in the church, I did still feel kind of alone. The wonderful thing was discovering that in fact, I wasn’t.”

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