Rev. Kevin Downer, a doctoral student at Chicago Theological Seminary ( CTS ), will be featured as a religious expert in the upcoming documentary TRANSit. This film has been produced by and about trans* activist and filmmaker Rachel Lauren Clark. Clark included Downer to be a voice from the religious community to give merit to trans* experience and identity.
Downer has served many parishes since the early 2000s within the Metropolitan Community Church ( MCC ) and is currently the executive pastor at MCC Toronto. A lot of Downer's activist efforts have been focused on being a spiritual-political force and to involve his church to be a positive voice for legislation effecting the lives of LGBT individuals.
The MCC as a denomination is focused on blending spirituality and advocacy. The first church was founded in a pre-Stonewall political environment and was formed to serve the spiritual needs of LGBT individuals at the time. MCC has kept these ideals as part of its values and mission work.
When the first MCC Chicago closed down in 2006, Downer was later called to Chicago, where he founded aChurch4Me in 2007. During his service in Chicago, Downer participated in the LGBT Substance Use and Abuse Task Force. He also organized the congregation to work with the Chicago Department of Public Health at Halsted Street Market Days to hand out condoms. Downer indicated it was also important to him that the church show support for sex-positive education and awareness.
Prior to his fellowship in Chicago, he served as a pastor at MCC San Antonio. Here, he worked closely with the trans* population where he primarily played the role of mediator between the Police and trans* individuals. In addition to police mistreatment, trans* individuals sought Downer as a source of legitimacy when going to the Police to report a crime in order for their reports to be taken seriously.
Currently at MCC Toronto, Downer helps to facilitate an LGBT refugee program with much congregational support. The church provides helps refugees by helping with finances and integration. More than 100 members of the congregation are involved with the peer support program which gives many refugees a social community and someone to join them to help with new experiences.
Downer met Clark through worship services and programs he runs offered through MCC Toronto. Through their connection, Clark is now active in ministry and shared her story on the pulpit one SundayDowner saying brought the congregation to tears. Clark told her story in service again Sept. 14, which was webcasted live as well as archived on the MCC Toronto website.
Clark is now telling her story through the production of TRANSit. The documentary aims to educate the public on trans* issues in a non-traditional way, to influence various governmental bodies to change legislation on trans* issues, and to demystify transgenderism. TRANSit will use the lenses of religious, medical, socioeconomic, and political experts juxtaposed to her own narrative in order to represent one trans* experience in a non-exploitive way.
Downer's stake in the film twofold: In addition to contributing to the goals of the film, he believes that as a person of faith it is critical to try to dispel myths of religion.
"It's a sad reality that many people use the Bible for all different kinds of things doing an awful lot of psychological and personal damage," said Downer. "I want to be the voice that actually speaks against thatto offer an alternative."
Downer also emphasized his belief that the Bible throughout history has been interpreted through our cultural lens and that since our culture is changing, so should the traditional dogma and methods for interacting with congregations.
The documentary is being produced at a crucial moment for Canada. A bill that would change the legal definition of a hate crime, sections 318 and 319 in the Criminal Code, to include gender identity has been stalling in the Canadian Senate each time it is presented to it. While sexual orientation is currently protected under the same legislation, trans* rights and justices have been left out.
Clark said she hopes to have the film completed at the end of 2014 and has already captured much of the film. The documentary is being funded through crowdsourcing, grants and partnerships, and release is dependent upon current fundraising goals.
To view the TRANSit preview, go to vimeo.com/103948310; for live stream of Rachel's story during sermon, go to www.mcctoronto.com/video .