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What Transgender People Need from Churches

This post originally appeared on the Reconciling Ministries Network website.

Recently, I attended the Spring Awakening event organized by the Missouri Conference Reconciling United Methodists. It was my first time at an RMN function, and my wife and I were thrilled to meet wonderful people who are all working toward social justice and inclusion for the LGBTQ community. The centerpiece of the day was a panel discussion. The panel was composed primarily of transgender people, but two others also participated. The first was the mother of a young trans man, and the second was the director of the Washington University Transgender Clinic.

The discussion was insightful, but one question captured my full attention. I wrote down the answers because I knew the information needed to be passed along to my pastor and to others who are doing the work of reconciliation. Here’s the question, and the responses.

What can churches do to be welcoming of all gender identities?

  • Provide gender neutral bathrooms. Bathroom use is one of the biggest challenges for non-binary people, and for those in the early stages of transitioning. Without gender-neutral spaces, people often have to choose which room to use based on how likely they are to be in danger. Optimally all bathrooms would be gender neutral, but if that’s not possible, offering any is still helpful.

  • Include preferred pronouns on nametags.

  • Offer sermons which address the transgender experience.

  • Include transgender and non-binary people in church life.

  • Accept gender expression as expressed. For example, don’t assume or expect that a trans woman should be ultra-feminine in expression. Some trans girls are tomboys.

  • Work toward equal rights legislation. This is particularly needed by clergy. Faith has historically been used to remove rights from or prevent rights for marginalized groups. As long as that remains the case, Christian shepherds must work toward justice not only from the pulpit, but also through the legislative process.

  • Use inclusive language.

  • Shut down smack talk. If you hear someone inappropriately discussing transgender or non-binary people, intervene. Gently but firmly.

  • Practice what you preach. If you are preaching inclusion and affirmation, then demonstrate it within the body.

  • Understand the difference between offering welcome to someone and making them feel like they belong.

  • Think about our youth. Don’t assume they are all cisgender and heterosexual. By demonstrating acceptance of a gender spectrum, you may keep someone alive.

After the panel wrapped up, we participated in a worship service complete with music, powerful preaching, and communion. I received the body and blood of Jesus from a trans woman and a trans man.

It’s one thing to want your church to be welcoming. It’s another thing to actually do it.

That’s how you do it, church. That’s how you do it.

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