Freedom For All Massachusetts is proud to announce the hiring of a Faith Organizing Director for our campaign, Taj Smith. A California transplant with many years of faith organizing experience, Taj will serve a critical role in bringing together faith communities and people of faith to the table, helping us in the important work to defend transgender dignity at the ballot this November. Read more about Taj in a brief Q&A here, and check out our Volunteer Action Calendar to see where and when you might be able to meet him in person!
What motivated you to get involved with the Freedom For All Massachusetts campaign? Why do you believe faith voices are so important?
I heard about the campaign while in grad school, and was surprised to learn that gender identity wasn’t already protected in Massachusetts. I identify as a transgender man as well as a Christian, and I saw an opportunity to amplify a perspective that, though present in the movement, hadn’t really been tapped.
People of faith often come to this work from a deep desire to do good– myself included. Having people who can talk about trans equality from a values-based perspective, rooted in a larger cosmological vision of how the world ought to be, connects across the divide in ways that facts and figures just don’t. Those voices are what’s needed now.
As a person of faith, what do you hope to bring to the campaign from that perspective?
The most important thing I take from my faith is the importance of relationships. To me, this work loses its integrity when we lose sight of the fact that we’re dealing with people. I hope to keep the importance of relationships front and center.
Can you give us a bit of your story? What led you to getting your Master of Divinity, and have you been involved in any previous campaigns?
I grew up in a largely, white, conservative, blue-collar suburb between San Francisco and Sacramento. Confederate flags were a regular sight for me growing up, which surprises a lot of people unfamiliar with California’s political landscape. I learned that there were certain people I could talk to and others I couldn’t. When I came out during my junior year of high school, my more religious friends made it clear that they “hated my sin” and would tell me that they were praying for me to be “saved.” I didn’t grow up religious, but I did think of myself as a Christian. It hurt to know that my friends couldn’t love all of me and it hurt doubly so to believe that I couldn’t be both queer and Christian. I actually renounced religion and threw myself into LGBTQ politics.
I worked with my local chapter of Equality California while at community college and saw an opportunity to be even more involved when I transferred to UC Santa Cruz. I became the campus coordinator for the No on Prop 8 campaign. It was about this time that I had also found my way back to Christianity through the United Church of Christ (UCC). My church was really involved in the fight for marriage equality as well, and I saw conversations had in church can change hearts and minds. After Prop 8 passed, I came to realize that there’s a lot more that LGBTQ equality groups and campaigns could do to speak to black voters in culturally competent ways. I realized just how divisive politics and policy can be and I felt completely burnt out.
But seeing what happened in church was inspiring. People were vulnerable and honest with each other. They really wrestled with the question of what it means to do right and to live their values. I came away from each meeting feeling closer to God and inspired to act. After talking with my pastor, I realized that I was discerning a call to ministry. I wanted to walk with people as they figured out what it means to live their values. I also wanted to create more Christian spaces where queer-identified people feel welcome. I took some time to discern this call before applying to Harvard and the rest is history.
What is the main message you would like people of faith to consider as they prepare to head to the polls this November?
I want people of faith to know that they have power in that their perspective is one that can translate across political divides.Taj is currently looking for people of faith and faith leaders to join our campaign as Faith Captains. If you are interested, or know someone who might be, click here to visit our signup page.