Changing Attitude, England has signalled its commitment to the full inclusion of trans people in the Anglican Communion by striving to ensure that the t in ‘lgbti’ is not just a letter in a list, but people with whom, and on whose behalf, we are prepared to work to overcome prejudice and injustice.
Trustees for trans people
Currently there is a vacancy for a trans trustee. One of their key tasks is to ensure that trans issues remain at the core of our vision, as well as included in every agenda, and in all our literature.
Two major issues trans people of faith have consulted us about for advice is when their church has been hostile or unsupportive of their transition or when they have experienced obstacles to their request to marry in church. Trans people who wish to explore vocations to lay or ordained ministry can also need advice or reassurance.
Transition/being out and trans, and a member of a Church congregation
Thankfully there are lots of positive stories of churches welcoming trans people into their fellowship, or sensitively handling the transition of one of their members. The latter can be problematic sometimes, especially if the person concerned is part of the leadership, ministry team, or music group, but usually the ‘difficulties’ are more imagined than real.
It requires maturity, a basic awareness of trans issues, or a readiness to learn, and a willingness to consult, on the part of the leadership of a Church congregation, to manage the transition of someone who is already a member. The gender ‘divide’ which, according to our theology (Galatians 3:28), no longer pertains in terms of our life together in Christ, can suddenly become of huge significance if someone explains that they will be presenting as the ‘opposite’ gender to the one that people have assumed is theirs. If the person concerned has a partner, or children, struggling to come to terms with this news, there can be a temptation to take sides, often against the trans person.
‘Theological’ objections, usually Old Testament verses taken out of context, social considerations – which toilet should the person use? what will the children think? – or home-spun psychology – ‘it’s a fantasy/phase/life-style choice’ – are sometimes used as excuses to exclude the person from fellowship and avoid addressing a pastoral and managerial task that is handled routinely and successfully in the workplace.
Although some Church documents can imply that the reality of trans experience is questionable, there is overwhelming evidence that people who transition are healthier and better adjusted as a result, and the same applies to those who are able to express their sense of being dual-gendered (e.g. working as a woman and socialising as a man, or vice versa) or genderqueer.
Welcoming trans people
Times are changing and in the last couple of years two churches have publicised their liturgical celebration of a member’s transition. One church has taken the need for a rite or liturgy to their deanery and subsequently their diocesan synod (Blackburn) where the motion was passed and has now been forwarded for consideration by the General Synod. The motion reads:
That this Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, calls on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition.”
Publication – the Transexual Person is my Neighbour
The pastoral focus of ministry in the Church of England has been one of its great strengths and trans people, especially at key stages, such as ‘coming out’, or transition, need to be approached pastorally. Christina Beardsley has written some pastoral guidelines for clergy, ministers and congregations entitled The Transsexual Person is My Neighbour (with an Appendix on Intersex by Michelle O’Brien) which is available on this website and elsewhere:
Highly recommended by the former Bishop of Manchester (the Right Revd Nigel McCulloch), these guidelines have proved a helpful source of information and reflection for the local bishop, parish priest and PCC when one person’s transition was negatively perceived by a minority of members of that particular congregation.
Hard copies of these guidelines are also available from the Gender Trust for a small charge (£4).
Faith, gender and me
Elaine Sommers has written a more personal resource based on her own story of being transgender and a person of faith.
Please do not hesitate to contact Christina or Elaine via Changing Attitude, England, if you need advice and help with regard to transitioning as a member of a congregation, participating in church life as an out transgender person, or if you are a church leader needing further information. We cannot promise to change the hearts and minds of those who raise dogmatic or other objections, but will do our best to inform all those involved and to support you if you are experiencing difficulties.
Marriage in the Church of England
Bishops especially, being used to the protocols of the House of Lords, tend to be preoccupied with the concept of ‘debate’ (a point made by Professor Adrian Thatcher who notes the bishops’ assumption that there has actually been a debate about sexuality in the Anglican Communion) but there is nothing debatable about the issue of trans people and marriage in a Church of England parish church: that issue was settled by Parliament in 2004 when the legal position changed with the passing of the Gender Recognition Act.
Prior to that, and since the April Ashley case (Corbett versus Corbett, 1970/1) trans people who transitioned were unable to change the gender on their birth certificate and thus prevented from marrying someone of the opposite sex to the one they had ‘become’. The 2004 legislation addressed this anomaly, so that trans people who have obtained a full Gender Recognition Certificate are entitled to a new birth certificate in their ‘acquired’ gender and thereby enabled to marry someone of the opposite gender to their current/acquired/transitioned gender.
This right to marry applies to parish churches in England (not in Wales where the Anglican Church is disestablished), subject to the usual provisos – i.e. that one or other of the partners must live in the parish/be on the electoral roll of the church and have not been married before or are in a civil partnership . Where a previous marriage or civil partnership has been dissolved the marriage may still be solemnised in the parish church, if that is the policy of that parish, subject to the usual guidelines.
The only exemption from the Gender Recognition Act that the Church of England obtained in relation to marriage is that, should the officiating minister have reason to understand that the gender of one of the parties to the marriage has been ‘acquired’ (though they may not ask the person to confirm that), they are at liberty, on grounds of conscience, not to conduct the ceremony. However, they are still obliged to make the parish church available to the couple, and possibly, to find a minister who will conduct the ceremony for them.
Prior to the Same Sex Couples Act 2013, the issue of an Interim Gender Recognition Certificate rendered the person’s marriage or civil partnership void. Some previously married couples divorced to enable the transitioning partner to obtain a full Gender Recognition Certificate, and then immediately entered into a civil partnership with each other – their situation (financial and social) has not been addressed by the 2013 Act: these are the so-called ‘stolen marriages’.
Schedule 5 of the 2013 Act addresses the situation of trans people who are married, or in a civil partnership. Schedule 5 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2015 In both instances the consent of the spouse or partner is required to facilitate the issue of a full Gender Recognition Certificate. This is the much lamented requirement of spousal consent. A married couple can remain married now, when one of the partners seeks full Gender Recognition – thus removing one of the most painful anomalies of the Gender Recognition Act – but full gender recognition will only be issued as long as the spouse consents to the marriage continuing. As the 2013 Act did not legalise heterosexual civil partnerships, anyone in a civil partnership seeking full Gender Recognition must convert their civil partnership into a marriage, and the spouse’s consent for the continuation of that marriage is required before full recognition can be granted.
There is still theological disagreement about the acceptability of transgender identity and expression, as there is about lesbian, gay and bisexual identities and practice. This adversely affects the pathway of those lgbti people who feel called to public ministry, as well as those already authorised, lay or ordained.
However, some progress was made in 2003 when the Church of England House of Bishops agreed that two opposing theological views of transsexual people’s experience, and gender transition, can ‘properly be held’, one affirming, the other negative. In addition, there is now official Church of England guidance or policy about trans people who wish to enter the discernment process for ordained ministry. This can be found at Paragraph 17 in Section 2, of the Diocesan Directors of Ordinands (DDO’s) Handbook and reads as follows:
Sponsorship of transgender candidates
In 2002 the House of Bishops agreed that Bishops’ Advisers should not be placed in the position of having in effect to decide with regard to transgendered candidates on an essentially doctrinal/ethical question. To that end, any Bishop intending to sponsor a transgendered person for a Bishops’ Advisory Panel will certify that he has decided that he would be prepared to ordain and offer a Title to that person if during the course of training and formation she/he were deemed to have a vocation to ordained ministry. Bishops’ Advisers assigned to the Bishops’ Advisory Panel at which such a candidate was due to be considered would be given the opportunity of declaring in advance whether or not they could conscientiously recommend for training a transgender candidate. In such cases, either they or the candidate would be moved to another Panel.
It is important that the DDO handles such situations sensitively and with integrity and that both the candidate and the Bishops’ Advisory Panel know the mind of the Diocesan Bishop in a given situation. Any decision regarding candidates needs to bear in mind the public nature of the ordained ministry, an understanding of the human condition and the gospel imperative of holiness and integrity of life for all believers. Criterion D (Personality and Character) and Criterion E (Relationships) are pertinent here.
The experience of several candidates who transitioned prior to entering the discernment process suggests that openness about one’s transition with those who need to know – confidential information under the Gender Recognition Act – need not be a bar either to discernment or subsequent ordination.
Nevertheless, the Church of England’s inability to offer positive messages to lgbt people tends to make trans people who wish to be considered for lay or ordained ministry anxious about the process. Changing Attitude, England is happy to advise and support individuals in this position, and works for a ministerial discernment process that is open to all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Clergy who transition in post
With the exception of the late Revd Carol Stone, the Church of England does not have a happy record of supporting clergy who transition. Changing Attitude, England’s Trustees have raised this matter with the Ministry Division in the hope that the Bishops will be better prepared when this situation arises again.
Friends & Allies
As it works for the full inclusion of trans people in the Anglican Communion, Changing England is proud to be associated with the following campaigning or support organisations for trans people:
The Sibyls – Christian spirituality for transgender people in the UK
The Gender Trust – the largest UK charity for trans people
TransEpiscopal – the US Christian (TEC) trans support and campaigning group
Trans Media Watch – campaigning to improve the reporting of trans peoples’ lives
The Clare Project – a trans support group based in Brighton & Hove