A very shoddy dishonest welcome: LGBTQ and Church

I recently chatted with a Quaker about the issue of inclusion. I will lead a course at Woodbrooke Centre on LGBTQ-Friendly Bible stories. “That’s a mouthful,” she said.”We welcome everyone in our meeting; no need to be specific about LGBTQ.” She added, “We need to get away from the ego of everyone feeling they need to be listed.”

We then had a thoughtful, respectful conversation about the topic. I do not pretend to fully know her identity and history, but if she is white, middle class, cisgender and straight, she may not have had the opportunity to consider how some people feel excluded unless they are specifically welcomed into a space.

In societies where churches have given moral authority to the legal and social persecution of LGBTQ people, our faith communities need to promote justice & equality. We are responsible to undo the damage. We need to be specific in  our welcome. We also need to go beyond mere hospitality.

Many LGBTQ people in the USA received the message loud and clear from many/most religious groups. You are not really welcome here. This is true of other people too–people living with mental illness  and people with disabilities/disabled people. At times divorced women have also gotten the cold shoulder from a faux welcome.

As a gay man, many churches welcomed me only as temporary guest or as a mission project to save. To be part of the community I needed to submit to change ministry or be driven out of the congregation.

While some denominations have actively worked on welcoming and including LGBTQ people, in many, it is up to the local congregation to decide just how inclusive they will be. Therefore, I look for any sign they are on-board with queer folk.  In other cases, the welcoming/affirming movement was so long ago, many younger people do not know the history. Quakers have done marvelous work around LGBTQ justice, but do people walking by know that history?

My friend in the UK, Trevor, reminded me of a time I performed Transfigurations at the Oxford Friends Meeting. This presentation reveals gender non-conforming Bible characters. The poster the organizes placed out front explicitly spelled out the word Transgender, and that it was an LGBTQ presentation. During the Q&A an audience member stood up,

“I’m trans, and I have walked past this meeting house hundreds of times and would never have come inside. You can only imagine my shock and delight when I saw the poster outside advertising this event!”

Today there are churches and Quaker meetings who have done the work and are genuinely welcoming, inclusive, and affirming of lesbians and gays–those who are not transgender or gender non-binary. The work continues. Bisexuals in society, in lesbian and gay spaces, and in churches are often overlooked or dismissed as an urban legend. Cisgender gay and lesbian ministers and leaders need to learn and grow so they do not perpetuate the silencing, the exclusion, and the injustices against bisexuals, transgender and gender non-binary people.

I am not trans myself, so I continually need to learn, listen, and recognize that while there might be some overlap in the issues I face as a white, cisgender, fem, gay man, other people’s experiences are vastly different from my own. As we listen more deeply to each others’ stories, we all benefit and learn about ourselves as well as each other.

In addition to listening to stories, we can easily research the issues and experiences through books, films, lectures, and the vast resources available.  Austen  Hartke provides an excellent list of resources looking at transgender and gender non-binary experiences and issue.

Also check out the Bisexual Resource Center

The community deepens as it becomes more diverse and educated.

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