Three Simple Ways to Make Religious Communities More Welcoming to Transgender People

Today is a day of mourning and remembrance for transgender people who have been killed by hate, cruelty, and ignorance. As we mark this day, let our grief resolve into action.

Here are three simple things any of us can do to make our religious communities more hospitable and life-saving spaces for transgender people:

1) Use language that includes all transgender people.

This means going beyond gender binary language such as “brothers and sisters” and “his or hers” in order to create an affirming atmosphere for multiple gender identities. Here are some good alternatives to use instead of gender binary terms: “people of all genders and all gender expressions,” “our whole human family.” In hymns and songs, “brothers and sisters” can be replaced by “people together.” For example, “Come build a land where people together, united by God…,” rather than “Come build a land where sisters and brothers…” Know that re-inscribing the framework of only two genders is salt in the wound for some members of the transgender community. It continues the “only two genders” framework that puts people’s lives at risk. Learn to add the pronouns “ghe” and “gher” or “ze” and “hir” or “phe” and “per” to his and her – to acknowledge that there are more than two genders: “his/her/gher.”

2) Educate yourself and others about transgender experiences.

Our stories are available in films (“Call Me Malcolm,” “Beautiful Boxer,” and “Transamerica”) and books (“Becoming a Visible Man” by Jamison Green, “She’s Not There” by Jennifer Finely Boylan, and “Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation” by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman). For basic information on transgender identity, see “Transgender Welcome and Inclusion” resources from the Unitarian Universalist Association or Fenway Health’s “Glossary of Gender and Transgender Terms.” The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources is also a great source of information on building an inclusive congregation.

3) Advocate for the affirmation and advancement of transgender religious leaders.

This is one of the best things we can do to enable our religious communities to become more welcoming and supportive environments for at-risk transgender people. Unfortunately, many religious traditions, including Unitarian Universalism, remain contexts in which transgender religious leaders struggle to find or keep employment and contend daily with unspoken and explicit prejudice. The people who know this best are transgender religious leaders themselves. It is important that progressive people of faith listen to their own fellow congregants and transgender ministers as we work together to make our own religious communities into affirming, inclusive, and safe spaces. Supporting transgender religious leaders will enable our Unitarian Universalist movement to become a much more welcoming and supportive environment for at-risk transgender people. Groups that support this work include the Transgender Roundtable at the Center for Lesbians and Gays in Religion and Ministry and TRUUsT, which advocates specifically for Unitarian Universalist transgender religious professionals.

We welcome your support.

Yours in struggle and hope,

The TRUSUsT Steering Committee: Rev. Laurie J. Auffant, Rev. Sean Parker Dennison, Mr. Barb Greve, Rev. Paul Langston-Daley, Rev. Rebecca Parker, and Rev. Josh Pawalek

TRUUsT advocates for the gifts, safety, liberation, and leadership of transgender religious professionals in Unitarian Universalist ministries and institutions.