2020 in Review: Ministry and Advocacy

Trans and Non-binary

My trans and non-binary work increased dramatically in 2020. That is, perhaps, unsurprising, given the cultural and legislative moment at which we find ourselves. From 2010 to 2020, trans and non-binary visibility, acceptance and rights increased rapidly. Many, myself included, were hopeful that this trajectory towards being able to play a full and equal part in society would continue. Sadly, our fears that that might not be the case have been realised this year. The government announced that, despite the very constructive results of a 2016 review of trans and non-binary rights, they would not make any substantial changes to the Gender Recognition Act. This leaves trans and non-binary people with serious gaps in our access to legal personhood, dignity, safety and healthcare. Further, this has led to intense debates about trans and non-binary rights in the media and social media as well as in the courts, which have played a part in an increase in hate crimes.

Just before lockdown, as a result of the publication of my book, Transgender. Christian. Human. in December 2019, I was invited to speak on Songs of Praise, in an interview with Aled Jones. This was aired early in the first lockdown. I really enjoyed the interview, and was pleased that it got a largely positive reception and helped some people who had not previously realised that it was possible to be trans and Christian. It was sad, however, that, as usual, there was trolling and hatred from both outside of and within the LGBTQ+ community. There is a need, more than ever, to heal our divisions and to work together for justice and reconciliation. I was honoured, this year, to be invited to become co-chair of the trustees of the Open Table Network, a fantastic organisation that is a vital part of that work of reconciliation.

The increased use of technology in 2020 has made it possible to work with people from a geographical distance. In November, I was able to facilitate four workshops on trans and non-binary visibility, acceptance and rights. These were attended by 20-30 people, and were a fantastic opportunity to build a dispersed community of trans and non-binary people and allies who are equipped to create change in our own communities. I also became the founding moderator of the Iona Community’s LGBTQ+ Common Concern Network. Our Zoom Community Month enabled me to share the importance of this network, and some current campaigning aims, with Community members from around the world, many of whom I might never have met otherwise.

My trans and non-binary work in 2020 also involved the last of three years working as a member of the Co-Ordinating Group of Living in Love and Faith (LLF). This was incredible costly, in many ways. The LLF resources have now been released, and the group disbanded. I share the misgivings that many LGBTQ+ people have about LLF, in particular regarding the power dynamics at play. I did also, however, experience genuine dialogue, listening, and willingness to change. I continue to pray, in hope, for the Church of England.

Sadly, events following the release of LLF have shown me, yet again, how unsafe it is to be out as a trans person in any church context. A video of myself and Jo telling our story as part of the LLF process was misused and trolled by a UK charity in an opinion piece that included extreme misgendering and questioning of my vocation. This led to unhelpful media coverage and online hatred, including frightening threats against myself and my wife. I fully believe in free speech. Speech does, however, have consequences and, as such, there are lines that which, when crossed, necessitate action. Thankfully, the video has now been removed. I mention this only to highlight the fact that there is still much work to be done in raising the visibility, acceptance and rights of trans people in the UK. I will continue to play my part in this work, despite the costs, and wish to share my gratitude to, and solidarity with, all of the other amazing people who are also working in this area.

I am excited about upcoming opportunities to work more closely with others in the area of diversity, equality and inclusion over the coming year, watch this space!

Churspacious

As a result of lockdown 1, Jo and I started up Churspacious in March 2020. In the Summer, my 25% deployed ministry role was officially moved to Churspacious. Churspacious is, I am told, a vibrant and creative social media based church. We welcome, affirm, and shape ourselves around all people, but are particularly called to be accessible to those who might, for various reasons, not feel that their spiritual needs are fully met by traditional church.

I am incredibly grateful to our 470 members for teaching me a new way of being church, for becoming kin, for helping me to understand my own vocation, and for being open to exploration, experimentation and transformation. It has been both real fun, and deeply moving. I have been surprised at how much this way of being church has spoken to LGBTQ+ and neurodiverse people and the connections that have been made across all sorts of divides.

Churspacious has a new facilitation team, and we are looking to the future. This is a really exciting time for us, as we continue to work out what it means to be a text and image based church who meet together on social media and celebrate our diversity. Who knows what we will become? We are enjoying this journey together.

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