Your progressive, LGBT-affirming church might have more in common with Donald Trump than you’d care to admit.
Progressive Christians were, rightfully, outraged when Donald Trump announced on Twitter that the United States military would not “accept or allow” transgender service members. Many of us took to Twitter and Facebook to express our outrage. But when we look at our own churches, are they much different from Donald Trump’s vision for the US military?
Trump said it’s too “costly” to have transgender Americans in the military… does your church not have accessible all-gender restrooms because it would be too costly to renovate?
Trump has warned that including transgender Americans in the military would be detrimental to military cohesion… does your church not have a culture of asking and sharing gender pronouns because changing the culture would be uncomfortable?
Listen, if you’re here, I trust that you want to be welcoming and inclusive of transgender people. That’s an awesome first step. If you’re feeling a little convicted (and maybe even a little overwhelmed) at all the work you have to do … about just how hard it is to meet transgender people’s demands … about how you’re never exactly sure what is enough so why try? … I hear you. But it’s actually quite simple.
Take a few breaths, we’re gonna get through this together.
If you’re committed to justice—if you’re committed to the Gospel—we put together this article to help you get started.
(Need more hand-holding? Fr. Shay and I are available for training and consulting to make your church more welcoming and inclusive—and beyond that, to make it even more committed to justice for LGBTQ people.)
Here a list of tangible actions you can take to make sure your church is a space for transgender people.
If you’re a pastor or church leader, take steps to implement these changes right away. If you’re a congregant or a lay leader… talk to the powers-that-be in your church about why this is important (you can call us for backup if you need to).
Does your church have accessible all-gender restrooms?
All-gender restrooms take two forms:
- Single-stall restrooms that are either not gendered at all or (even better) explicitly designated as all-gender. They need to not just exist but be accessible. Not tucked away in the staff lounge, not on the other side of the building from all the other restrooms, not up a flight of stairs with no elevator access.
- All-Gender Multi-Stall Restrooms. If you already have restrooms in your church (and I’m assuming you do), the easiest thing to do is convert them all to All-Gender Restrooms. You don’t have to add a costly new bathroom; all you need to do is order some new signs! But what about men and women using the bathroom together?! This might be new to some people but using the bathroom in a mixed gender enviornment is actually quite simple: you go in, do your business, and get out. There are already private stalls for the actual business. And harassment and assault are still off-the-table (and illegal) regardless of who is in the bathroom. LGBTQ centers and conferences have had multi-stall all-gender bathrooms for ages without incident.If visitors have an issue with using an all-gender bathroom, they can use a private single stall bathroom.Here’s a great example of a sign you could use to let folks know that the bathrooms are all gender.But what if you don’t have any single stall bathrooms? Well, your two options are to make nonbinary people feel unwelcome and some trans people feel uncomfortable or to accommodate visitors who feel icky about trans people and/or hold regressive views about gender (they need to be separate!). Ask yourself who you are privileging and why. The truth is, using an all-gender bathroom should be a non-event … it’s ok to ask folks to try something new. It’s liberating!
Do you have signage to indicate guests are welcome to use the bathroom consistent with their identity?
If you have bathrooms to spare, you might designate some bathrooms as all gender and some as gender-specific. If this is the case, make sure that you have signage encouraging visitors to feel comfortable using the bathroom that is consistent with their gender identity or expression. Here’s an example of a sign you could use.
Do you specify gender identity and expression in your nondiscrimination policy?
Nondiscrimination policies generally explicitly list many protected classes (gender, disability, etc). If you have a nondiscrimination policy, make sure it explicitly includes gender identity and expression (we also recommend including sexual orientation, HIV status, immigration status, in addition to the more common ones like gender, race, ethnicity). If you don’t have a nondiscrimination policy, talk to your lawyer about creating one! Nondiscrimination policies are an easy way that transgender people can check to see if you care about them — make sure you do! Do you already have a nondiscrimination policy that includes gender identity and expression? Is it published in your bulletin and on your website in a place where it can be easily seen and found?
Do you have gender-segregated groups (like a “Mens Ministry”)? If so, why? Where do nonbinary people go? Are trans women included in women’s groups?
Groups like “Men’s Ministry” have been for so long that you might not even think to question them but take a second to ask yourself: if you have gender-segregated groups or programs, why do you have them? If your answer something along the lines of “Being a woman in society and in the church is difficult and sometimes even dangerous, we need a private space away from patriarchy and male privelege” … that sounds like a great idea! If the answer is closer to “Men are just different than women,” you might be relying on outdated (and inaccurate!) notions about gender. Consider organizing groups around shared interests such as entrepreneurs or artists, rather than assuming men or women have certain needs just because they are men/women.
And if you do have gender-segregated groups, make sure that trans people are included in the group consistent with their gender (and recognize that you’ll be leaving out nonbinary or agender people).
Do you actually include transgender people in the stories you tell from the pulpit? Including stories where the point isn’t about gender?
Pastors love to tell stories. Stories of dads playing ball with their sons, stories of the woman you sat next to on the train, stories of your grandmother or stories of a stranger in a far away land. But do you tell stories about transgender people? Because being cis and straight is the norm, when you tell a story about a dad … it’s assumed to be a straight, cisgender dad. Transgender people are brilliant (and also ordinary). Include them in your stories.
Transgender people have something unique to teach us about gender, but it’s also important that we let them be whole, complex people. So absolutely tell stories that include them when the point involves something about gender… but also tell stories that include them when the story is about something else too: trans people can teach us about grit, grace, courage, faithfulness, service, and a whole host of other things in addition to gender.
If you want to see a powerful example of how Fr. Shay’s transgender journey enriched his faith, read Walking Toward Resurrection.
Does your church’s health insurance cover transition-related costs? If not, how will you support church staff seeking to medically transition?
Jesus made it pretty clear that taking care of people with medical needs was a priority of his. As Christians, it needs to be a priority of ours, as well. If your church’s health insurance plan does not cover transition-related medical costs, you need to do a few things:
- Advocate: reach out to your provider, express your support for transition-related coverage, ask them to change their policy and add it. Let them know this is serious enough to you that you will seek coverage elsewhere if they won’t include it.
- Adjust: switch to a plan that includes transition-related medical care coverage, if at all possible. This might mean taking on higher costs. It’s worth it. Would you take a plan that excluded prostate health care or care for pregnant parents if that meant saving money?
- Support: if you can’t find a plan that includes transition-related coverage, make a plan for how you will support staff in their transition. Put it in writing. Do this right now, don’t wait until you have a transgender staff person wanting to transition. It’s important to do even if you think no one is watching. You might support them by establishing a special fund that can be tapped to pay for care when needed.
If your church supports causes (such hunger or homelessness), what are you doing about violence against trans people?
Recognizing that God cares about the kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven,” many churches are engaged with causes that matter. If that’s your church, awesome! Be aware that the causes you aren’t supporting say as much about you as the ones you are supporting. Violence against transgender people (particularly trans women of color) is an epidemic—and it’s getting worse, not better. 2016 was the deadliest year on record for transgender people. How will you organize to end this violence? Employment discrimination against transgender people is a sin with far-reaching consequences (from housing to healthcare to mental/emotional well-being). How can you support transgender job seekers? 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ yet there are shockingly few shelters and beds designated for LGBTQ youth—that they know will be safe for them. Many homeless LGBTQ youth are homeless because they experienced Christian-based rejection from their families. As a Christians body, how will you repent for that sin and make it right?
Ok, so you want to be a trans ally … what now?
You’re committed to making your church (or school, club, or organization) more inclusive for transgender people and you’re committed to working toward justice for transgender people, so now what?
In addition to this post, we also put together a 15-point checklist that your church can work through to make sure it is inclusive of LGBTQ people. Download that here.
If you’re in a position to implement the changes outlined in this article, start doing so! (Maybe you’re already doing some: this process will be even easier for you!). If you need additional support, Fr. Shay and I are available for consulting and/or training to guide you, your leadership, and your congregation through this process. Reach to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss further.
If you go to a progressive or affirming church, talk to your leaders about putting these ideas into motion, we put together a one-page letter that you can customize and send to them. Download it here.
It’s important to remember that being an ally is an on-going process, not a one-time declaration. It’s a commitment to a lifetime of growth and learning. It also means that sometimes, despite our best intentions, we’re going to mess it up. So being an ally means being in relationship with — and really listening to — transgender people so that we can respond to their needs, wishes, and even critiques. Sometimes that might make us uncomfortable, but it’s the right thing to do (and hey, the Gospel is costly!).