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Building a Supportive Spiritual Home


  

In the first installment on the Believe Out Loud blog, "Trans Clergy Building Bridges In Multicultural Ministry," we find a bit of Mykal Slack's story, from attending his grandmother's Baptist Church to his ordination in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

In his conversation with journalist, Becky Garrison, Slack goes on to talk about the assumptions we make about one another:

It is not just about creating safe restroom space, although that is important. It is not just about using someone’s preferred gender pronouns, although that is important. I believe it is about fostering deeper connections among people, meeting people where they are and not where we want them to be, and seeing that which is unique about all of us as a representation of the Divine within us.

But folks often do not see the beauty in one another first, as I believe Jesus and others taught us. Far too many of us size each other up based on the color of our skin, presumptions about gender presentation, how much money or education we may or may not have, and to whom we pray. We make value judgments about who is worthy of support and care, and those of us who are deemed unworthy are often left out and left behind.

In the followup treatment of the interview, "Creating Sacred Space for Trans & Gender Nonconforming People," Slack gets even more specific about recommendations for congregational life, especially attending to the privacy needs of those transgender and gender-non-conforming people who do not publicly disclose their identities:

If ministers want to offer a similar safe space for trans and GNC people who aren’t able to fully be themselves out in the world, it's really important that they are attentive to the particular needs that arise from those experiences.

Three particular things come to mind in terms of personal engagement. First, talk to folks who are trans and GNC and ask us if we have particular needs around space, congregational awareness and ongoing support. Gender-neutral bathrooms are a great place to start, and the needs and responses aren’t going to be the same for every person who lives outside the gender binary. It’s always good to ask, and it's a chance to start the conversation.

Second, when there are church meetings for various ministries, open the doors of the church at least an hour before you expect folks to arrive, and advertise that you’re doing so and why. This gives a person a chance to change into clothing and settle into ways of being that are more comfortable for them than how they may feel forced to dress and be out in the world.

Third, some trans people will have particular needs around privacy outside of the church setting, especially in communities that lack protections against housing, employment and public accommodations discrimination. Be sure to ask your congregants what would be the best way to approach them in public. What name and pronouns do they want people to use when they’re spoken to outside the church setting? Within the congregation, at meetings and other events, the best practice is to pay attention to how folks are referring to themselves in those settings. If you’re not sure, ask, or open meeting by inviting folks to introduce themselves with their names and preferred gender pronouns.

These are not always going to be easy avenues to take, but we wade through difficulty when it’s worth doing, and ensuring that trans and GNC folks find a safe and supportive spiritual home is absolutely worth the occasional discomfort when you consider how uncomfortable it often is for many of us trans and GNC folks on a regular and consistent basis.

He goes on to identify several educational resources, among them Transfaith. Slack recommends participating in transgender conferences, acknowledging that "how you enter into these spaces" is critical.

The key here is to be completely open to what you might learn. Say something like "I'm the Rev. So-and-So and I don't know anything about your experience as a trans person. What can you tell me that I might need to know as a person of faith who wants to be supportive?"

The Transfaith Institute works to create spaces for this kind of dialogue. Not because we have all the answers, but because we need to keep asking the questions.

  

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