July 9 was a historic day for the Episcopal Church as it declared that gender identity and gender expression are not reasons for excluding someone from the discernment process for ordination, nor from any other activity or lay position in the Church.
At its triennial General Convention in Indianapolis, the church House of Deputies approved a change to the “nondiscrimination canons” to include “gender identity and expression” following its approval on Saturday by the House of Bishops The change makes it illegal to bar from the priesthood people who were born into one gender and live as another or who do not identify themselves as male or female.
There are transgender priests in some Episcopal dioceses and transgender people have been discouraged from becoming priests in some areas. Transgender advocates have campaigned for an official denominational policy.
Members of TransEpiscopal, a organization of transgender Episcopalians, said in a statement:
“We are filled with joy for this clear affirmation that the Episcopal Church welcomes and values the ministerial gifts of transgender people, lay and ordained. We are also delighted by the strong support and broad understanding of trans issues shown by deputies representing a wide range of regions and generations in this church. As the church steps boldly into new frontiers in various facets of its light, we are proud to be part of this spirit-filled movement.”
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The church also voted to make it illegal to discriminate against transgender people in non-clergy positions in the church.
“It is not just a good day for transgender Episcopalians and their friends, families and allies. It is a good day for all of us who are part of a church willing to take the risk to continue to draw the circle wider as we work to live out our call to make God’s inclusive love known to the whole human family,” the Rev. Susan Russell, a deputy from the Diocese of Los Angeles and an activist who supported the legislation, said in a statement.
In 1994, the Episcopal Church expanded its non-discrimination rules to include “sexual orientation,” but it has taken a great deal of patient work from transgender people and their allies to bring the Church to this point. Integrity’s President, Caroline Hall explained, “just as the Church began to accept gay and lesbian members and clergy as fellow members of the Church with just as real a relationship with God, so over the past five years, trans-men and -women have become visible. Their ministry among us has been exemplary and they have worked tirelessly to help the Church understand that to be transgender is as valid a human experience and as acceptable to God as to be happily heterosexual.”
A few months before General Convention, Integrity released a new video in the acclaimed “Voices of Witness” series. Called “Out of the Box,” this video tells the story of transgender Episcopalians, both ordained and lay, in their own words. It was sent to all deputies and bishops before the Convention began.