One from the mailbag!
Hello! We’d like to do outreach to the transgender community, but we’re not sure how. We’ve had trans worshipers in the past, but none currently. What’s the best way to reach trans people who are looking for a safe and affirming worship space?
This is a great and important question and I want to tackle it in two parts. On the one hand this is a marketing question: how do we reach our target audience? But more importantly, to me, is what kind of community are you? And are you ready to welcome transgender people?
Let’s start with some questions that any community who wants to reach out to the transgender community should ask themselves:
- Why do we want to reach out to transgender people? I’m sure that mostly we want to be friendly and welcoming and reach a marginalized group of people. But sometimes we also want to be hip and cool or to give a nod toward “diversity” or be able to say “hey! we have trans people here!” But those motives are about you and not about the trans people you’re reaching. If you’re looking to check off a box on the diversity checklist I can guarantee you that any trans person will sense that and not feel welcome. I can usually tell when I’m being trotted out as the token trans person. Even in LGB spaces (like when they have to bring in a trans person to speak to their entirely cis audience on Transgender Day of Remembrance). I appreciate that groups need education, but in that moment I then have to serve as an educator and don’t get to simply be part of the community.
- Is our space accessible and safe? There are lots of parts to this (restrooms, nametags, etc.) For more, check out this post on being a welcoming space for transgender people.
- Do we actually know any transgender people? If not, why not?
- Do transgender people actually want what your community is offering? I’s great that you want transgender people to worship with you, but what if what you’re doing doesn’t meet their needs? Are you willing to change what you’re doing in order to make your space welcoming?
- Have transgender people come to your community and not come back? If so, can you reach out to them and ask why? (They might not be willing to talk about it, if so, respect that.) The people who have spent time with you before and dropped out might have some important feedback about where the gaps are in your welcome.
- Do we actually make transgender concerns central to our community and work? I’ve gone to LGBT groups and heard not one mention of transgender issues. Or had them use outdated language around trans stuff. Or be completely focused on marriage equality. Those things are isolating and alienating and made me not want to go back.
All right. Let’s say you’ve done your homework and your community has thoughtfully worked through issues of welcome and inclusion. What might you do to let transgender people know that you exist?
- Get involved with the transgender community in your area. Find out what they are organizing on and working toward. If you have your own space, offer to host support groups or other community events for free or at a very reduced cost. Basically, make yourselves useful to the community. That kind of witness speaks volumes and will let people know that you exist.
- When you advertise, make sure you make explicit your welcome of transgender people. Say things like “gender identity and gender expression”. Sometimes, even if I see LGBT on something, I’m still not sure if they are actually going to be welcoming to trans folks.
- I know this is a slow-growth answer, but trust that if you are inclusive word will spread from person to person. If a transgender person gets involved in your community and feels genuinely welcome, they will tell others.
- Host some events. Can you pay to bring in a transgender speaker/theologian for an event that you open to the community? How about doing a film screening?
Find ways to be of service to your community, not as a growth tactic but just because you genuinely want to serve the transgender community. By doing that you’ll learn about the needs of the community and be able able to stand in solidarity with them. And who knows, maybe some of them will be drawn to join your community.