St. Michael’s University Church in Isla Vista held a transgender solidarity meal on the evening of Thursday, May 5, in response to what is seen as hateful and abusive statements targeting the local transgender community.
Reverend Scott Claassen, who joined St. Michael’s in October, described the event as “an evening of food, conversation [and] a safe space for the transgender community and those who stand beside them.” Outside of Saint Michael’s stood a rainbow flag, in the window a “Black Lives Matter” poster and inside the church posters featuring the multi-pronged transgender symbol.
Claassen greeted each guest with a smile and a handshake and encouraged attendees to fill a plate with the free food provided by Chipotle. Students, community members and church members conversed at tables while Claassen played the grand piano.
The dinner occurred at the same time as a speaking event hosted by the University of California, Santa Barbara chapter of the Young Americans For Liberty, titled “An Encroachment on Liberty: How the Left Exploits Transgender Laws.” According to the Facebook event, blogger and writer Matt Walsh spoke about “transgenderism and why it is contrary to human flourishing and how it is encroaching upon important liberties.”
Chalk messages also surfaced in numerous locations on the UCSB campus, including messages containing “sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and intolerance,” according to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn.
“Rather than draw attention to those activities, I thought it was particularly poignant to gather people in a safe place in support of the transgender community,” Claassen told The Bottom Line.
Natasha Moss, a fourth-year Middle Eastern studies major, thought the dinner was especially important in light of the chalking. She identifies not as transgender, but as gender nonconforming and said she has generally encountered support in I.V.
“The chalking didn’t only target the queer community, but a lot of communities that are really present here in Isla Vista,” she said. “So I think it’s just really important to show that there are these hateful messages, but that’s a minority of the community — there are parts of this community that support and love each other and each other’s communities.”
Another church in I.V. recently came out in support of the LGBT+ community as well, in response to allegedly homophobic remarks made during an outside group’s sermon. On Sunday, May 1, Reverend Franklyn Schaefer of the University United Methodist Church held a LGBT+ solidarity rally, where Claassen spoke and declared his church’s solidarity with Schaefer.
Third-year English major Katie Moser, who identifies as a queer person of faith, said that events like the rally and dinner have the power to change the narrative on the intersection of the LGBT+ and Christian communities.
“It’s a common stereotype that the Christian community can’t accept gender nonconforming trans folks, but with this dinner they are showing that they just want to feed us and love us,” she said.
Organizations on campus have also shown their support for the transgender community. On Wednesday, May 4, the UCSB Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, in collaboration with the Trans*Task Force, held a Day of Trans Solidarity. Many students, professors and community members sported stickers reading “Trans Ally” throughout the day and participated in the groups’ #TransIsBeautiful photo campaign during the entire week.
“We support you, you are not alone and God loves you,” Claassen said in a comment to The Bottom Line directed toward the transgender community.