You have looked around, and thought about it. You have talked it out with church leaders and maybe even the congregation, and you have decided that you would like your church to be more welcoming to transgender people. Now what? Where do you begin?
You may already have a transgender person or two who come from time to time. You may have welcomed them with open arms, but does that mean that you are truly welcoming? Does that mean you have the knowledge and information to truly reach out to transgender people? How will transgender people know that you would like to be welcoming?
Step one: Learn: You don’t know how much you don’t know.
If you can find a transgender educational organization, or a support group, or an equality organization, you have a great starting place. If you don’t know of any groups like this, you might reach out to the Transgender Advocacy Network.
Learning from the internet is difficult at best, and complicated by the fact that the internet is laced with much misinformation. The website I most refer to for accurate information about gender identity health care and obstacles is the Transgender Healthcare Protocol from the University of California, San Francisco. The National Center for Transgender Equality is a fabulous site for resources for people who are transgender. If you are interested in becoming more knowledgeable about discrimination faced by people who are transgender, read Injustice at Every Turn.
These are a few basics that I think are important to know.
- Sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing. Sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to. Gender identity is about who you are.
- You should refer to people who are transgender by the name and with the pronouns they use to describe themselves.
- I did not become a woman – I have always been female. I stopped pretending to be a man.
- The American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health all agree that transgender identity is real and is NOT a mental disorder.
- Not everyone identifies as either male or female. Give us the space where we don’t necessarily have to fit into boxes.
There is so much more to know, and if you would like to know more please feel free to contact me, visit my website, or reach out to other people/organizations that provide education about being transgender.
Remember that inviting people who are transgender into your space is not equal to being welcoming. Invite anyone who might be marginalized, for whatever reason, to participate in committees, activities, and leadership. We don’t just need a place to be. We need a place to belong.
Remember that this is a person; a person who happens to be transgender. We are really just like everyone else; trying to find happiness and be who we truly are.
Step two: Get the word out: How will transgender people find your church?
One of the ways for a church to reach out is to begin contacting organizations that interact with the transgender community and letting them know your church would like to be a resource. This includes mental health centers, probation offices, homeless shelters, hospitals and health centers, police departments, domestic violence and sexual assault centers, HIV/AIDS organizations, other community resource centers, grade schools, high schools, universities, employers, housing authorities, substance abuse centers, apartment complexes, and businesses.
Community colleges and universities are great places to reach out. Many schools have GSAs (gay/straight alliances). Many universities have LGBT resource centers. If you can’t locate them, start at the diversity or multicultural offices.
You might look at how you can get some local news coverage. Write a letter to the editor. Hold an educational event. Invite a transgender speaker or put on a transgender panel (and advertise). Get some time on a local radio show or TV program to talk about being transgender inclusive. Stand up with your voice when local initiatives for LGBT equality come to your city or state.
Participate in local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) events such a pride. Offer to host a transgender support group. Have an information table at public events and share your inclusiveness. Comment on news articles, Facebook posts, and blogs about transgender issues. Buy and display a transgender flag. Put it on your website.
These are just a few of the ideas I have come up with in just an hour or so. There must be a million more. I hope people will post comments sharing some of the ways they do/would reach out to people who are transgender from their church or other organization.
Step three: Thank you: Your willingness to become more trans-friendly may have just saved a life.
Stephanie Mott is a transsexual woman from Topeka, Kansas and a nationally known speaker on transgender issues. In addition, Stephanie is the executive director of Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project and a commissioner on the City of Topeka Human Relations Commission. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org