Open Letter to the AAR Board of Directors on Trans Inclusion

Dear Executive Director Hunt, President Frederick, and Members of the Board:

We write as the sole remaining AAR status committee members, to our knowledge, who identify under the trans/nonbinary/genderqueer umbrella. We have found distressing the recent episodes of trans antagonism and the resulting resignation of both trans-identified members, as well as a cisgender ally, of the LGBTIQ status committee. Most importantly, the utter lack of any public response on the part of the AAR or of any status committee is a clear indication – whether intended or not – that the AAR’s commitment to trans inclusion is only in principle and not in practice. Therefore, while we deeply value the work of the status committees and are honored to have had the opportunity to serve, we write to tender our resignations from our respective committees (two from the Status of Women in the Profession Committee and one from the Status of People with Disabilities Committee), effective immediately. We will be turning our energies instead to the support of our courageous junior colleagues as they work to create an inclusive trans caucus.

We acknowledge that the events of the past few months have unfolded against a complex background and that details have, appropriately, not been widely shared save for the public announcement of the resignations from LGBTIQ and the statement that those resignations took place because of issues of trans inclusion. In the absence of such details, however, it has been all too easy to present the issue as one of interpersonal differences and not one of structural cissexism. As people who have been made aware of the circumstances surrounding the resignations by both those who resigned and those outside the AAR who initially made the complaint, we are convinced that what took place was a series of instances of lateral violence. Claims to intersectional justice on the part of those who are attempting to downplay the situation are unfortunately distracting from the fact that the central victim of this violence was a Black trans woman.

These are troubling times, in which many of us find ourselves under severe strain and pressure. Our strength for the hard work of coalition has waned, in many cases, and we slip up more than we would like in our work for justice. Lateral violence is on the rise in the academy and in activist groups generally, and it has become a prominent aspect of status committee work in the past year. In such times of extremity, it is even more incumbent upon all of us to recognize the impact of our words and actions on others, even when that impact was in no way intended. It is also incumbent upon all of us to recognize that our actions speak loudly to those who are watching, often unbeknownst to us. It weighs on us heavily that those most impacted by recent events have received no apologies and no restorative measures, despite the fact that weeks have passed, and that to everyone other than those few of us who have been ceaselessly discussing these issues, what is apparent is this: Half of the LGBTIQ committee, including all of its trans-identified members, two-thirds of its members of color, all of its non-Christian members, and all of its junior scholars, resigned; they cited trans inclusion as the reason for their resignation; and they have been met with utter silence. This state of affairs sends a very clear message to the AAR’s trans, nonbinary, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming members and potential members that their safety and their inclusion do not matter to their colleagues in this field. We can no longer be complicit with that silence or that message.

Respectfully,

Hsiao-Lan Hu, Ph.D., Professor of Religious Studies and Director of Women’s and Gender Studies Program, University of Detroit Mercy – Status of Women in the Profession Committee

Bee Scherer, Ph.D., Professor of Buddhist Studies, Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam – Status of People with Disabilities Committee

Melissa M. Wilcox, Ph.D., Professor and Holstein Chair of Religious Studies, University of California, Riverside – Chair, Status of Women in the Profession Committee

Author: Melissa M. Wilcox

Melissa M. Wilcox (any pronouns) is Professor and Holstein Family and Community Chair of Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside. Dr. Wilcox is the author or editor of several books and journal issues, and numerous articles, on gender, sexuality, and religion. Dr. Wilcox's books include Coming Out in Christianity: Religion, Identity, and Community; Sexuality and the World’s Religions; Queer Women and Religious Individualism; Religion in Today’s World: Global Issues, Sociological Perspectives; Queer Nuns: Religion, Activism, and Serious Parody; Queer Religiosities: An Introduction; and (with Nina Hoel and Liz Wilson) Religion, the Body, and Sexuality. Dr. Wilcox is currently working on a new research project on religion and spirituality in queer and trans leather and BDSM communities.

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