Monica Loera was murdered at her Austin home on Jan. 22, 2016. Loera was transgender. Her killer was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison just this month.
Austin has a reputation as a progressive haven amidst a sea of conservativism, though as any LGBTQ person will tell you, no place is safe from the violence perpetrated by individuals and institutions who would make-believe that our culture and our religious institutions are made up only of cisgender and heterosexual people — or that being heterosexual and cisgender are the only moral or acceptable ways.
This week, my congregation — Trinity Church of Austin — celebrates 25 years as a Reconciling Congregation, the Methodist lingo for being welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ people. When we voted 25 years ago, we lost members but most stayed and learned very quickly what a gift it is be a part of congregation that celebrates sexual and gender diversity.
Many of us — myself included — believed that we were only a decade away from when the United Methodist Church would be completely inclusive of sexual minorities, including ordination and marriage. Surely, we reasoned, with people like Ellen DeGeneres coming out and the popularity of shows like “Will & Grace,” we cannot be far behind. We couldn’t have been more naïve.
Four years after Trinity’s vote, the UMC not only reaffirmed its prohibition of gay ordination, but it made it a chargeable offense for clergy to conduct same-sex weddings. Not yet ready to defy official policy, Trinity — along with me and my associate pastor, Susan Sprague— voted in 1997 to suspend conducting weddings for heterosexual couples if we were prohibited from celebrating weddings for LGBTQ couples. Trinity, along with our clergy staff, reaffirmed our commitment to conduct LGBTQ weddings two years ago in spite of the unchanged and harmful prohibitions in the larger UMC.
Furthermore, in the late 1990s, the United Methodist Church adopted a campaign called “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” This easily could have been the motto for Methodist Church of my childhood, but felt like a mockery in the late 1990s in the wake of the ongoing spiritual violence toward the LGBTQ community throughout the UMC.
Lest my scrutiny be perceived as an attack on the UMC only, I am very aware that the polemic toward LGBTQ people is standard fare in alt-right political campaigns and still thrives in religious communities throughout the United States. I just happen to be a United Methodist, so I have a vested interest in my own denomination being one that walks its own talk. Even though all other mainline protestant denominations have adopted inclusive policies toward LGBTQ people, and the UMC remains alone in its exclusivist position, transphobia and homophobia abound in most American religious institutions. Official policy — as we know from the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on marriage equality — does not necessarily erase fear or well-entrenched animosity.
The murder of Monica Loera is a reminder to each of us working for the rights of LGBTQ people that this is not only a matter of inclusion — the rhetoric we churchy people tend to use — it is about saving lives. As long as churches, denominations and communities remain complicit or unaware of the harm caused by their beliefs and policies, LGBTQ people are not safe. So, progressive Austin, join me in the struggle for the next 25 years, if it is required. Our work is not yet finished until every trans, bi, gay, or lesbian child and adult feels safe in our churches, temples and mosques — and on our streets.
When hearts are broken and doors closed, we mind.
Hall is the senior minister at Trinity Church in Austin.
Austin will commemorate the Transgender Day of Remembrance at City Hall at 6:30 pm, Monday, Nov. 20.