Acknowledging that we have fallen short, UU World is committed to sharing in appropriate and respectful ways the inspiring and powerful stories of trans and gender nonbinary people within our faith community.
The “Progress Pride Flag” by Daniel Quasar adds new stripes to acknowledge the push for full inclusion by transgender people, with the white, pink, and light blue stripes, and people of color, with brown and black stripes. (© Quasar Digital, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Transgender and gender nonbinary leaders in the Unitarian Universalist movement, along with their allies and other UUs, are expressing alarm and sharing their pain at reading an essay in the Spring 2019 issue of UU World, “After L, G, and B” by contributing editor Kimberly French. I am profoundly saddened and deeply sorry to have caused pain to people who matter to me and whose dignity and worth I had thought we were promoting with the piece. As the magazine’s editor, I was wrong to decide to publish this essay and I apologize for the pain it has caused.
In consultation with the steering committee of TRUUsT (Transgender Religious professional UUs Together, an organization of trans leaders), we are keeping the essay on our website rather than taking it down, but are adding a preface that points to and quotes from this apology. My apology will appear in the original essay’s place in the online Table of Contents.
Many have asked why we published this article. My intent was to model, through a personal essay about one family’s experience, ways for the majority of our readers to engage respectfully with trans and nonbinary people; the impact, however, was to hurt and alienate trans and nonbinary people. I can point to three editorial mistakes: I planned an approach to the important topic of trans and gender nonbinary experiences within Unitarian Universalism without enough input from people who identify as nonbinary or trans. We did not model respectful engagement. Additionally, it was hurtful to put a straight, cisgender person’s experience in the foreground, especially as one of the first major articles in the magazine on this topic. We should have developed another kind of story in such a prominent spot that centered trans and nonbinary voices. Finally, when we reached out to Alex Kapitan, a leader in the trans and gender nonbinary community, while researching the story and ze urged us against the approach I had picked, I erred in failing to grasp the important cautions ze offered: a story told from a cisgender perspective would cause harm. I believed, falsely, that we could address the concerns within the framework of the story I had commissioned. It was a mistake to disregard this caution, and I apologize.
Several readers have also pointed to specific language in the article that is painful if not traumatic to encounter in the magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association. These include a reference to jokes at a high school in the 1970s that involved a homophobic slur, a reference to “so-called corrective surgery,” and alarming statistics about violence against transgender people that one colleague told me felt “grim without hope.” As editors, we did not have enough experience with trans issues to notice the microaggressions throughout the essay that our trans readers are calling to our attention. These specific editorial choices added pain to injury, and for that I apologize.
Acknowledging that we have fallen short, I want to reiterate that UU World is committed to sharing in appropriate and respectful ways the inspiring and powerful stories of trans and gender nonbinary people within our faith community. I am committed to listening to and learning from you. To that end, the magazine is making the following commitments going forward:
I work with an amazing team of dedicated people. We want UU World to inspire and enrich the lives of its readers—and that’s why we are heartbroken, too, that our work has fallen far short of the mark and hurt many of you. I much more fully appreciate that it is the impact of an act, not its intention, that matters. I am sorry, and you have my commitment that the magazine will do better to live up to our shared Unitarian Universalist values and honor the trust of our readers.
Editor’s note, 3/25/19: Kimberly French sent the following apology to TRUUsT and to Alex Kapitan on March 9, 2019. After some conversation, the TRUUsT steering committee and Kimberly French asked UU World to publish it here.
I understand that my recent personal essay caused pain among people I consider my siblings in faith. I am sorry for causing that hurt.
In trying to show my own mistakes, lack of knowledge, and insensitivity as a mother and close friend of people who are transgender and nonbinary—and then show what I have been learning over the past five years through those close relationships—I realize now that I showed what I have still to learn. And I hurt others, which was the last thing I wanted to do.
If my essay is used as an example of what not to do, including ways I did not understand or intend, and can move all of us toward better relationships, I support that. If the criticism of it can push us all to listen to voices that were not being heard or into conversations we were not having, I support that, too.
I very much want to be an ally. I don’t always know how to do that. Most of all, I want what I’ve wanted for years now: to love the trans and nonbinary people in my life right now, and those I meet, as open-heartedly as I can.
In faith and contrition,
3/7/19: The apology from UU World editor Christopher L. Walton has been modified to use the correct pronouns in reference to Alex Kapitan.
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Christopher L. Walton is editor of UU World. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Utah and is a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.
A call to action from trans UU religious professionals
The time is now for Unitarian Universalists everywhere to celebrate gender diversity, honor the spiritual gifts of trans leaders, fight for justice and liberation for trans people, and welcome people of all or no genders as full participants in spiritual community.