On Tuesday (Jan. 19) I attended the conference On Building Transgender-Inclusive Faith Communities hosted by the Center for American Progress. I had been looking forward to this event for several reasons one of them being that Bishop Gene Robinson was going to be hosting Allyson Robinson on how faith communities can be more open and inviting to the transgender community. And I was able to meet the two most famous people in the progressive Christian community in one place. so why not attend? Second, I attended because there is an increasing need for faith communities to be more open to the LGBT community in general when so many members of the community are denied spiritual growth, comfort, and religious practice because of who they are. No one should be excluded from religious practice because of their identity nor should their faith communities forcibly exclude them from activities and religious practice. It is a sad reality that faith communities can label one of their members as not religious or deny them their religious identity based off of who they are. This course of action should and needs to change.
Fortunately this is not the case for all of Christianity, Judaism, and other religious traditions, in fact many many Christian and Jewish denominations are open and affirming of the LGBT community. On the Christian side open and affirming churches include the Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Old Catholic Church (not in Communion with Rome), various Catholic believing Churches (not in Communion with Rome), and Unitarian Universalists. There are many more affirming and reconciling Churches within the Christian tradition and to find a more complete list you can find a more complete list at gaychurch.org. Within Judaism there are several affirming and reconciling Jewish traditions that are supportive of the LGBT community. These traditions include Conservative (mixed support), Reformed, Reconstructionist, Jewish Renewal, Humanistic Jewish traditions. Recently Reformed synagogues met to pass a Transgender resolution that would allow Reformed synagogues and camps to be more accepting of the Transgender community. The Huffington Post had written an article on this development a few months back titled Reformed Jews Poised to Pass Transgender Resolution. While there are many religious traditions both inside and outside of Christianity and Judaism that are open to the LGBT community, these traditions still need to make themselves more open to the community, especially the Transgender community.
So, that was what this conference was about, how to create congregations that are open to the Transgender community. The audience of the conference was primarily made of those who are religious leaders or part of religious communities. To be honest it was nice to be at a conference where most people who were in attendance were part of religious communities, not only those who are part of religious communities but communities that are accepting of all. Felt it was a safe space for the religious to talk about matters of acceptance where we didm’t fear about being challenged from the religious far Right, militant Atheists, or from the radical far Left, all of who seem to wage a war against religious Liberals or on religion itself. But, I do have to say that my perceptions of the Baptist Church were challenged in a positive way. My perception of the Baptist Church are not positive and when I hear the name Baptist I usually thing of the Southern Baptist Convention because most practicing Baptists that I knew growing up where members of the Southern Baptist Convention and my personal experiences with them have not been positive. Talk about Holy Rollers. But Allyson Robinson changed my perspective of Baptists and that not all Baptists are Holy Rollers or have the ‘Holier Than Thou’ attitude. I was even surprised that a Baptist pastor was sitting with an Episcopal Bishop. I have never seen that happen in my life given how different the two traditions are in theology, ritual, and church structure. And I was absolutely blown away that there was a pastor that is part of the Transgender community and religiously identified as Baptists. This all went against evening that I knew about Baptists growing up. And there was Bishop (Right Reverend) Gene Robinson divided the Episcopal Church on the teachings of sexuality, gender, and identity when he was elected Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. I never thought that I would see an Episcopal Bishop and a Baptist pastor sitting together talking about Transgender inclusion in faith communities.
Before the conference I was not aware of the greater need for Transgender inclusiveness in faith communities or how to go about this to make inclusiveness happen. As Bishop Gene Robinson said it’s not just a matter of hanging a rainbow flag in front of the church. Hanging a rainbow flag in front of the church certainly does help in the advertising department but inclusiveness also has to be about the congregations attitude of caring, loving acceptance of the LGBT community and advocating for their rights. The church should be an active ally in the fight for LGBT acceptance at the national and local level.
There is so much that needs to be done within faith communities to open up to the acceptance of the LBGT community and these can only learn by talking to LGBT members on their needs and issues. Only then can a faith community work towards acceptance.