How to Welcome Our Transgender and Non-Binary Neighbors in the Church
Rev. Linda Herzer and Gabrielle Claiborne will teach the course “Welcoming Our Transgender and Non-Binary Neighbors” in January of 2019. They are the co-founders of Transformation Journeys Worldwide, a transgender-focused diversity training and consulting firm. We interviewed Rev. Linda and Gabrielle below about their work, and the upcoming course.
What inspired you to start Transformation Journeys Worldwide?
Rev. Linda: In 2012, I came onto the staff of a church where about 10% of our congregants identified as either transgender, cross-dressers or as gender queer. Back then I didn’t know exactly what all those terms meant! But I knew that as their pastor, I needed to interact respectfully with all my new congregants. So I began reading and researching, and I learned many things about gender diverse people that I had not known before!
I also got to know some trans individuals, including Gabrielle, who was one of my congregants. Over time, we discovered that we had both developed a passion for helping others understand gender diversity. So when I left that position, I wrote my book, The Bible and the Transgender Experience: How Scripture Supports Gender Variance (Pilgrim Press, 2016), and we co-founded Transformation Journeys Worldwide. Now we travel extensively, helping corporations, medical and mental health care providers, non-profits and religious and educational institutions respectfully integrate gender diverse people into all aspects of their organizations.
Why should churches be concerned about welcoming our transgender and non-binary neighbors?
Rev. Linda: More and more we are hearing from pastors and lay leaders that they have parishioners whose children and/or grandchildren are coming out as transgender* or non-binary**. Sometimes congregants bring this news to their minister seeking input on what the Bible has to say about this. In other instances, people may confide in their pastor, but be afraid of what others in the church will think if they found out. And other parishioners will say nothing. They simply take their trans*** family members and leave the church, fearing rejection.
Given that a 2017 Harris Poll revealed that 12% of Millennials currently identify as transgender (2%) or non-binary (10%), these are scenarios that clergy and lay leaders will be encountering with greater frequency. And the more that parishioners feel the church cannot or will not address their real-life concerns, the more they are inclined to drop out.
Gabrielle: Another reason to be concerned is that 66% of the almost 28,000 transgender and non-binary adult respondents to the 2015 US Trans Survey indicated that we were, or had been, members of faith communities. Consequently, trans people are persons of faith and we are looking for spiritual homes.
Rev. Linda: And of course, we should also be concerned if we want to follow Jesus’ example of welcoming the marginalized and extending hospitality to all.
What if a church is already Open and Affirming? Will there be anything for its leaders to learn in this course?
Gabrielle: Just because your mission statement says you welcome LGBT people, this does not communicate to transgender and non-binary people that you are ready to receive us. Too often we go to Open and Affirming congregations and quickly realize that what the church really meant is that they accept gay people, but they have no idea how to make transgender people feel welcome. There are keywords gender diverse people look for to let us know that we are welcome. Likewise, we feel welcome when we hear stories about gender diverse Bible characters, and hear courageous stories of contemporary trans people used as illustrations in sermons and Bible Studies. Being addressed by our correct pronouns makes us feel welcome. And if you cannot tell from our appearance what pronouns we use, do you know how to inquire about this respectfully? These are all topics we will be addressing in this class, so yes, there will be plenty even for leaders of Open and Affirming congregations to learn.
Any special treats in store for participants in this class?
Rev. Linda: Yes! We will have two transgender guest speakers, Rev. Erin Swenson, the first ordained minister of a major denomination to transition and keep her ordination, and Rev. Kimble Sorrells. Rev. Kim has served several ministries as an out transman, including working as a youth pastor, and with the Reconciling Ministries Network, supporting congregations looking to get political about LGBTQ justice.
Thank you to Rev. Linda Herzer and Gabrielle Claiborne for this in-depth interview on what to expect in the upcoming 2019 course, Welcoming Our Transgender and Non-Binary Neighbors. To register for this course and to learn more about the topic, click HERE.
* Transgender – Describes people whose gender does not match the gender they were assigned at birth.
** Non-binary – Describes people who identify as neither male nor female, or perhaps as some combination of both.
*** Trans – Short for trans. In this blog, it is being used as an umbrella term to refer to all transgender and non-binary individuals.
Rev. Linda has pastored churches in New York and Georgia and is the author of The Bible and the Transgender Experience: How Scripture Supports Gender Variance. As an active ally for the trans community, she has co-facilitated support groups for trans individuals and their loved ones, including the parents and spouses of trans children, youth and adults. Prior to becoming a trans advocate, Rev. Linda had a 10-year career as a public school librarian and did diversity training as Assistant Director of Women’s Concerns at Asbury Theological Seminary.
Gabrielle has been a church leader her entire life, and an out and active transwoman since 2010. She has served for three years on the Executive Board of Atlanta Pride and sits on the City of Atlanta’s LGBTQ Advisory Board. Gabrielle has been honored as Atlanta’s Best Trans Activist 2015, and in 2018, she received Emory University’s Alum of the Year Award. Prior to transitioning, Gabrielle owned and operated successful businesses in the construction industry, overseeing multi-million dollar projects nationwide.