Westminster Cathedral was full of people “Rediscovering Justice” and participating in “A Service of Hope on the 50th anniversary of the death of The Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr” yesterday. The service was a moving one which called us to continuing action. According the the Ekklesia article about it the service was recorded and will be on Radio Four this Sunday.
I was acutely aware throughout the service of the way in which race and gender identity are separate issues yet their intersectionality is a crucial factor when we look at those murdered around the world for being trans – trans BAME people are most at risk. I was also struck between the similarities of this service and Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) events in terms of tone and at points content, (the last time I heard Something Inside So Strong used in the way it was yesterday was at a TDOR event).
The Confession had the response “Forgive us and make us strong to raise our voices in hope” and the words throughout could be equally related to a range of issues. This is important because yesterday was a day for all who believe in justice and want to build what MLK described as the beloved community as Dr. R. David Muir reminded us in his testimony.
Amanda Khozi Mukwashi is the new chief executive of Christian Aid and within her testimony she talked of MLK as “inspiration from the past and energy for the future”. This is how I think his legacy should be taken. She, as others yesterday, remind us that he fought against the scandals of both poverty and injustice. A speaker on the Channel Four News last night, reflecting on the anniversary and his legacy reminded us of the need to tackle these at both a structural and personal level, engaging with both policy makers in meetings and the public on the street. Using both as a means of influencing decision makers and changing attitudes.
The address was given by the bishop of Woolwich, The Right Reverend Dr. Karowei Dorgu and throughout he used MLKs words “when there is injustice to one there is injustice to all” as a refrain. He asked “how many more young people die before stabbing and gun crime is declared as a national emergency?” I would echo this sentiment but add how many more trans people have to die before we act. I ask this in the same spirit because those young people and those trans people are both more likely to be from BAME backgrounds. Naomi Hersi, a trans woman of Somali origin, was one of those murdered in London this year….another one of those who was part of both communities.
In his address the bishop made the point that “the challenge is to make a difference on a national scale, we focus on the small things and miss the big picture”. I can’t help that this is the case with the debates around trans at the moment. There is so much focus around the issue of who can and should use which toilets – linked to the issue of self-identification we are losing sight of the much bigger justice issues, of which that is one part of the jigsaw. The fact is that trans people are dying, both through suicide (made worse by the time they are currently having to wait for assessment) and murder. Self-identification will be great but if the waiting list to be able to get the medical support needed to safely access hormones and then further life changing surgery, if desired, continues to grow people will continue to die.
A focus on stopping young people dying is something that should be treated as a national emergency but so must the fight against the murder of trans people and against domestic violence, which also contribute to the scarily high numbers of those murdered in London this year. As the bishop made clear in his speech, “killings are our problem” and “we can’t afford to stand by as bystanders”. He also made clear “we don’t have the option to do nothing” and “It is all of us who must overcome the crippling disease of injustice”. As he said after referring to Pastor Niomeller’s First they came for … poem “We need to act with courage – inaction is not an option”.
These words struck me, as did the words in the act of commitment which began “Will you keep the dream alive, of justice for all peoples, without prejudice or favour?” That means that the LGBT+ community need to support the BAME community and put an end to the racism which has seen Stonewall pull out of Pride in London this year. Other people too, including many churches, should be supporting the LGBT+ community – and putting an end to using BAME issues as a reason not too -an attitude which is in it’s own way racist too as it assumes that LGBT+ people will be white and all BAME people will oppose LGBT+ rights - which we know is a myth. It should mean that BAME diversity networks in companies should join as allies to the LGBT+ community and vice versa.
The truth is that LGBT+ BAME people are the group most at risk and the current attitudes are contributing to the death of these family members here and abroad. If MLK’s justice means anything today…50 years and 1 day after he was murdered for speaking truth against injustice it means we must stand together against injustice and bigotry and the words we speak in his name must be more than words from history or service sheets.