Today, on Maundy Thursday, I am attending a vigil for a trans woman of color, Sage Smith, who has been missing from my community since 2012. There have been several young women who have gone missing in Charlottesville, VA, a college town that is home to the University of Virginia.
While the other missing young women, white cisgendered college students, rightfully garnered national media attention, community support and exhaustive efforts from law enforcement, Sage has been largely forgotten by many in my community. The Charlottesville Police Department continues to deadname Sage, misgender her and treat her family with disrespect.
Today I will attend a vigil outside of the police department. Other people of faith will be with me, declaring Sage a child of God who deserves our tears and our time and our hearts.
But the majority of Christians in Charlottesville will not be at the vigil. They will not lend their presence or their prayers. They will not #sayhername.
The press release for the vigil is clear in its call to the Charlottesville Police Department to end its racist and transphobic failure to devote time and resources to a full investigation of Sage’s disappearance. The press release is also clear about the implications of holding the vigil on Maundy Thursday:
We, the vigil organizers, received pushback from Christian leaders, who claimed the press release spoke more about a protest than a vigil. They might consider participating, they said, but wanted to make sure that this religious event was actually a vigil, and not a protest.
Due to religious conceptions and political alliances, they will not honor Sage.
Why are Christians so afraid of protest? Why do we cry out for justice but cringe at the thought of ruckus, disturbance, inconvenience or discomfort? Why are we willing to pray quietly for deliverance but not willing to use our bodies and our voices to help bring deliverance to at-risk populations?
Why can’t we realize that a vigil on Maundy Thursday for a trans woman of color is, in every way, a protest?
Even without a coordinated direction action, or collective shouting, or painted signs, simply creating and holding sacred space for Sage is a protest. It is a protest against religious systems and religious people who banish others to hell on earth. It is a protest against governmental organizations that hold up white and cis supremacy. It is a protest against the violent religious and political systems that lynched Jesus of Nazareth.
Today, I follow the way of Jesus by praying for and crying with the outcasts of my community. I follow Jesus by protesting racism and transphobia.
Brittany lives in Charlottesville, VA with her wife Lindsay and their skeptical dog Eliza. She enjoys dancing, deconstructing destructive dominions of dominance, and alliterations. Above all else, Brittany tries to keep it real.