“I saw you were accepting of people like me and I wanted to find out how I could join.” A simple email from a local transgender high school student was enough to quiet the few murmurings about the rainbow and trans flag stickers that went up on the church sign shortly after I arrived at my parish. Those stickers brought in a few other folks as well, but we all know it takes more than stickers to let people know they are truly welcome in our churches. For those of us who are transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC), we often have to search deep to find the context clues which let us know we are welcome in any given public space. When the welcome is clear and we are affirmed, we get to exhale and enjoy being in that space.
What Does Welcome Look Like? Three Starting Points
So how can we, as church communities, provide welcoming spaces for this part of our community? I reached out to several trans and GNC friends, lay and clergy, to ask their top three ways churches can be more welcoming to our community. With a few outliers, their responses matched and echoed my own.
Normalize the Use of Pronouns
One of the first and most visible ways a church can welcome people of any gender is to include pronouns on name tags and encourage practicing and using correct pronouns for each individual. This normalizes sharing pronouns and helps trans folks avoid singling out ourselves. It also can assist with the awkward moments when we have to correct people who misgender us.
We can take it a step further and include pronouns on email signatures, business cards, and other publications. We can work to understand that the singular “they” is a valid pronoun for individuals and neopronouns*, though they may not sound familiar to our ears, are as valid as the binary pronouns we’re so used to.
Offer An Accessible All-Gender Restroom
Bathrooms. Everyone needs to pee, let’s make sure they have a comfortable place to do so! Having at least one easily accessible all-gender restroom goes a long way. Please don’t banish us to the basement or the sacristy where there might be that one single toilet restroom. Use clear signage and encourage cisgender folks to make the trip to the basement if they are uncomfortable with sharing a restroom.
Use Expansive Language
Use expansive language in worship and communications. This can be a challenge, as much of our liturgy is gendered, especially with reference to God. It is possible, though, and can even start as an experiment to stretch our brains and break us out of the binary words we’re used to using in worship and exclusive use of male pronouns for God. Expand “Brothers and Sisters” to include “and Siblings.” Or use non-gendered language like “Beloved” or “Friends.”
Update the website to include expansive language and use it in announcements, advertisements, and other communications that go out from the church. The words we use to refer to God and in our liturgies and communications should reflect all of us, not only some of us. Expansive language seeks to be the most inclusive of all who are made in God’s image as well as the environment around us.
Taking The Work Further
These are three great places to start. Of course we can go beyond these steps and have conversations about boundaries, share in liturgies that celebrate our trans and GNC siblings, break away from gendered small groups and committees, host workshops and seminars, lift up work being done in our churches and communities by trans and GNC folks, and more. Education always serves as a great foundation for any welcoming or justice-oriented work we do. Keep reading, keep practicing, keep having conversations.
Why should we become more welcoming of trans and GNC folks when it takes work and might make others uncomfortable? Our Baptismal Covenant calls us to seek and serve Christ in all persons and respect the dignity of every human being. Whether you see them or not, trans and GNC folks are in your community and may already be in your pews. We also face higher rates of discrimination and in recent years have had a swath of anti-transgender legislation proposed in the U.S. In 2021 alone, 28 states attempted to pass such legislation, with some succeeding. Our welcome and affirmation of the trans and GNC community literally helps save lives.
Transgender and gender non-conforming folks are a gift to the church. We are not an issue to be tolerated, a problem to be solved, or a token for justice bingo. We are a gift, made in the image of God, revealing more aspects of the mystery that is God by living into who God made us to be. Who wouldn’t want to welcome us?
*Neopronouns are third-person pronouns created to express gender outside the binary. Learn more here.
A Few Helpful Resources To Get You Started
Pronoun Guide (from GLSEN)
Celebrating a new name and affirming authentic identity for transgender Episcopalians (article from Episcopal News Service)