How welcome are transgender people in our churches? Rachel
Mann believes we can all learn from their struggle to find
"The Christians will love your faith but hate your life."
THAT'S WHAT AN ATHEIST FRIEND SAID TO ME when, as a transgender
woman in the 1990s, I came to faith and announced I intended to
start going to church.
My friend's statement indicated a fault-line in British culture
that was certainly true 20 years ago: that the Church, especially
along its charismatic-evangelical wing, was at odds with Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people. Twenty years on,
culture has shifted remarkably in many respects. For trans people
like me, there is greater awareness of our stories. The 2004 Gender
Recognition Act offered new legislative protection for many trans
As for the Church, I sense the situation is both nuanced and
troubling. I'm conscious that personally I've found the Church a
very supportive institution in many ways. I've found a much higher
level of support than my friend said I would. Ultimately, I was
ordained and I hold responsible positions within the
One might think that this indicates that the Church is more
progressive than many think. In some respects, that is true.
However, my experience cannot be taken as emblematic for trans
people. The fact remains that respect for and celebration of trans
lives in the Church continues to be far from fulsome.
'Coming out' as trans is, for many, a terrifying moment. It may
lead to the loss of one's job, family and status. One might expect
that the Church - which knows that the Way of the Cross leads to
resurrection - would be supportive and encouraging. Unfortunately,
that isn't the case as often as one would hope.
Many churches treat trans people as menaces. I have friends who
have been treated as psychologically damaged and dangerous to the
community simply by virtue of being trans-sexual. Some churches
insist that trans people be kept away from ministry, or children or
responsibility. Trans people continue to be ostracised and
Recently, the Church of England's governing body, the General
Synod, moved a motion to welcome transgender people into the life
of the Church. This is good news. However, each of us is invited to
take this work of welcome forward. We can be agents of Christ's
radical welcome. In a society in which trans people still face
serial bullying, mockery and negotiate extremely high suicide
rates, kindness and acceptance matter.
Trans people simply want to be accepted for themselves. If a
person tells you they are trans, please take their story seriously.
It has probably taken immense courage to disclose this. Ultimately,
trans people want to be afforded the same level of respect as
anyone else. Jesus's summary of the Law, "Love your neighbour as
yourself", applies to people like me too.
My prayer is that, as the Church travels on, it will come to
appreciate that trans people are simply one variant of human being.
Indeed, more than that: we are gifts to the faith community. Trans
people have real wisdom to offer regarding every human's struggle
to become who God is calling them to be.