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 ‘LGB and T’ 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 are two Trustees for Trans people, Christina Beardsley and Elaine Sommers and one of their 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.
Christina’s focus tends to be transsexual people, and Elaine’s transgender people, but they work closely together to ensure a swift response whenever Changing Attitude is approached by people who are encountering problems with their churches because of their Trans status.
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 male and socialising as a female).
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 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 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 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 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’ (see Adrian Thatcher’s observation on the bishops’ assumption there is 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 in a civil partnership. Where a previous marriage 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.
It will sometimes be the case that, on the transition of one of the partners, a former same-sex couple will seek dissolution of their civil partnership so that they can marry as husband and wife, just as previously married couples sometimes divorce to enable the transitioning partner to obtain a full Gender Recognition Certificate and then immediately enter into a civil partnership with each other.
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.
This limited conscientious opt out is a reminder that there is still theological disagreement about the acceptability of Trans identity and behaviours, as there is about Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual identities and practice, and this adversely affects the pathway of those LGBT people who feel called to public ministry as well as those already authorised, lay or ordained.
Currently there is no official Church of England guidance or policy about Trans people who wish to enter the discernment process for ordained ministry. The teaching of Issues in human sexuality – to which ordinands are asked to submit or adhere – does not address Trans at all, and the experience of the Revd Sarah Jones 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 LGB and T 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.
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
and the following LGB and T organisations:
The LGBT Anglican Coalition
The Institute for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality