In 2004-05, this Fellowship completed the community educational workshop series required for becoming a “Welcoming Congregation” in our Association of Congregations and then brought the question of commitment to the program to a congregational vote. More than half the congregation at that time had participated in the workshops and the vote passed with negligible dissent. In 2010, when I first appeared among you, the rumble about my being a lesbian was fairly muted. Since then I hear occasionally about my having an “agenda” in regard to which social justice issues I support. I don’t worry about it too much. I know that anxiety about sexuality and gender run close to the bone in our society. It is unrealistic to expect even Unitarian Universalists to completely overcome the fear and prejudice that arises when we see the “rules” about gender expression and roles and sexual orientation bent or broken. Frankly, I have my own learning curve to grapple with. In honor of mine, I grant you yours!
Today 66% of UU congregations in the U.S. and 94% of Canadian congregations are formally recognized as congregations that make a special effort to be welcoming to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals who venture in or are invited into our faith communities. The program is supported by LGBTQ Ministries, a branch of the UUA’s Multicultural Ministries Team. Last year a small group of lay leaders and I led a series of “booster” workshops, updated by LGBTQ Ministries to include the latest thinking about transgender identity and the intersections of gender, sexuality, race and other identities in our society. In those sessions many of us became aware of our deep ignorance and angst about gender identity in particular. I think the phobia in homophobia is really not about sex at all. It is about gender, about men not looking and acting like Men and women not looking and acting like Women. Whenever the established gender binary standard (for bodies, dress, roles, characteristics, interests, capacities, work, etc.) is disrupted, we get very anxious. The thing is: a Welcoming Congregation needs to focus on who people say they are, not who we think they are or should be. And we aspire to true welcome to all who wish to join us, particularly those who feel unwelcome in most other places.
On Sunday, November 16th, in recognition of Transgender Day of Remembrance (11/20), I plan to offer some Transgender 101-type information, answers to some of your burning questions, clarity for some persistent confusion, practical advice to help us welcome our transgender visitors and members in a way that allows us all to be comfortable in our own skin, regardless of how any one of us dresses up our particular mix of chromosomal X’s and Y’s. After the service, the wonderfully charming and articulate Juli Grey-Owens, Executive Director of the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition, will lead an equally knowledgeable panel in addressing your questions about trans identities and communities. It is rare to find a safe space for such conversations, so please take advantage of the opportunity. Bring your honest questions to some folks who have lived the answers and will honor your courage in asking. Welcoming is not a passive activity. Listening, asking and learning is the best starting place ever. After that, it’s all about compassion, care, service, growth and justice. And you already know how to do that.
Love the questions,