Stop Killing Us

Today is Trans Day of Remembrance and, for the first time really, I am struggling to know what to say. The words that keep coming to mind are simply ‘Stop Killing Us.’

Stop killing us… particularly Black and Latinx transwomen.

Stop killing us… particularly those whose mental health cannot take any more.

Stop killing us… particularly those who are vulnerable to spiritual and psychological abuse and manipulation.

If you aren’t aware of, and doing something about, systemic racism and sexism, please learn and act.

If you repeatedly perpetrate the myth that only only ‘men’ and ‘women’ exist, please educate yourself.

If you believe that there is no place in feminism for us, please read some Judith Butler.

If you use your power to persuade people that it is wrong to be trans or non-binary, please stop.

I know my words above are harsh, but I believe they need to be. People are dying. Three trans people committed suicide in the UK this year alone. Hundreds of trans people have been murdered around the world. And all of this violence is based on lies that many members of my religion perpetrate. I can’t say nothing. I can’t make these truths softer, or easier to hear. I feel called and duty bound to speak out, and I hope that you do too. If it hurts, I hope that you will forgive me. If I didn’t speak out, I’m not sure I could forgive myself.

Nevertheless, there is need to hope, too. It is in that spirit of hope that I offer this prayer.

God, only you know the depths of pain that trans and non-binary people are experiencing today. Hear us as we cry out to you. Bring hope and reconciliation to this wounded world.

We thankyou for the gifts of trans people. Gifts of transformation, of reconciliation, of authenticity, of liberation, of perspective, of nuance and of grace, to name but a few. May our gifts be recognised and our vocations celebrated by all.

We hold the prism of intersectionality up to the light, and ask for forgiveness where we have failed to understand or acknowledge the sin of oppression.

We commit to listening for, and prioritising, the voices of Black and Latinx, disabled, neurodiverse, and non-binary trans people.

We are listening out for prophets amidst the noise of many voices, God. We listen for truth amongst lies. We listen for reconciliation amongst words that divide. We listen for love amongst words spoken out of hate or fear.

Help us to listen. Help us to speak. Help us to transform.

Amen.

Here are some of the resources that I have shared this week, for those who might find it helpful to access them in one place.

LLF: Call, Response, Prayer

Call

‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear’

(1 John 4.18)


The Living in Love and Faith trailer film begins with the words ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear’. Some fear that, with LLF, nothing has changed. Perhaps nothing has changed, but something important definitely is changing; namely the way in which the Church of England discusses, and responds to, sexualities and identities. The ways in which LLF differs from previous episcopal teaching documents matters.

Do I think that LLF is perfect, or agree with every sentence it contains? Of course not. I had many difficult experiences during LLF, as well as many positive ones. The process was problematic. This blog is certainly not a defence of the LLF process, or any other process. I note, though, that I’ve yet to take part in any process, in any denomination or organisation, that wasn’t problematic. Processes, in their attempts to systematise lived experiences and lead to a decision or product are, by definition, problematic. I also do understand why many are tired of talking. I wonder, though, whose voices are yet to be heard?

I’d like to take a moment to point out the newness of an Episcopal teaching document that…

– Is built on Pastoral Principles that prioritise safety and authenticity.

– Starts with a clear personal and collective apology from ++ Justin and acknowledges the Church of England’s sinful failure to love LGBTQ+ people. (p.iv)

– Repeatedly and directly acknowledges disagreement amongst bishops, for the first time ever, rather than offering apparently unilateral teaching. (see p.2)

– Pays attention to scripture, history, science, theology, tradition, context, and lived experience throughout. (see pp.30-38)

– Repeatedly questions the status quo and offers new possibilities. (throughout)

– Asks what you think, with a genuine desire to hear answers:

‘we appeal to you to join us in the period of discernment that follows their publication. The timetable for this discernment and decision-making process can be found at http://www.churchofengland.org/LLF.’ (from Bishops Invitation)

I am writing this blog primarily because I have been asked lots of questions about LLF during my time in the LLF process, and chose not to answer them until the teaching documents and resources were released. Here are my answers to some of those questions.

Response

‘If all were a single member, where would the body be?’

(1 Cor. 12.19)


Were you listened to during the LLF project?

Yes. I was always listened to when I spoke. When there was disagreement, I was usually encouraged to respond. I was regularly asked for my opinion. People who might usually disagree with me sat with me at meal tables and listened as I shared my story. Did that mean no compromises? Of course not. I believe that it was essential that this material encompassed a range of views. I do believe, however, that the resulting materials have been positively impacted by the LGBTQ+ people involved.


But didn’t some people get hurt? Why didn’t you just say no?

Yes. It is always very difficult to join a project part way through when others have been hurt. I have enormous respect for those who have been hurt by LLF, some of whom are colleagues, friends, and kin. I can’t comment directly on anything that happened when I was not there, but I do think that it is utterly wrong for anyone to be hurt by the church, ever. However, I was recommended, and encouraged, to participate in the project by some of those who had been hurt by it. Would it have been right to say no, and leave the project with no trans representation? I don’t feel that that is the case.


Were there enough LGBTQ+ people involved in the LLF project?

It’s clear that there could have been more out LGBTQ+ people in the Co-Ordinating Group, particular those who openly identify as lesbian or bisexual. I would point out, however, that there were a lot of people involved with a wide range of identities. I encourage you to have a look at the LLF encounter films, podcasts, and stories which include a wide range of LGBTQ+ people. 2/3 of the people you will meet in the films and the stories that pepper the book identify as LGBTQ+. I believe that those resources are ground-breaking in their breadth, depth and quality, and deserve to be well-used. If those aren’t your cup of tea, have a look at the online library, which includes academic perspectives from queer theory. I feel that it is vital that LGBTQ+ voices are heard in these resources, as well as a wide range of other voices, and I believe that they are.


You’re not a Church of England member, isn’t that a problem?

I was asked to be involved by several members of the Church of England. I believe that it was helpful for the process to include an ecumenical perspective. I also question what is meant by ‘membership’ of the Church of England. I was confirmed in the Church of England in 2010, at the same time as being brought into formal membership of the United Reformed Church (having been an adherent for some years). My confirmation was at a four-way ecumenical church which, at the time, enjoyed ministry from two Church of England priests and one United Reformed Church minister. I have also been a congregation member at a diverse range of churches, including several that are part of the Church of England. I am now a minister in the United Reformed Church, having learnt much about all UK denominations in my discernment and training for ministry. I think that those facts are just one example of the wonderful unity and diversity of Christian denominations.


The United Reformed Church already does equal marriage though, doesn’t it?

No. There is no such thing as equal marriage. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 does not make marriage equal for everyone. Some vital issues remain regarding marriage equality for trans people and for disabled people. Trans people are caused great pain and difficulty by the unnecessary intertwinement of the above act and the Gender Recognition Act, which effects our human rights.

It is also inaccurate to suggest that the URC made a unilateral decision about marriage. The URC did not come to a single mind on same sex marriage. Instead, we enabled individual congregations to make their own decision. The ability and decision to do that is intertwined with our partially congregational identity.

I wish, however, that we had also had processes through which church ministers and members were enabled and encouraged to learn more about the breadth and diversity of LGBTQ+ identities and, as a result, to become more inclusive, accessible, affirming and just. For many LGBTQ+ people ‘in the pews’, that would have had a far greater impact than same sex marriage.


Why more talking, more statements, and no decision? Are you disappointed? Isn’t this just kicking things into the long grass?

I want to stress that same sex marriage is not the only thing required for LGBTQ+ equity and justice in the church. Many churches and many Christians, in many denominations, still treat LGBTQ+ people in horrific ways, and spiritual abuse of LGBTQ+ people is still horrifically common. Simply enabling marriage is not the same thing as changing the way that LGBTQ+ people are treated in the church and, indeed, the world.

I strongly believe that well-facilitated dialogue is as important as decisions. Why? Because I don’t believe that any UK denomination has enabled proper dialogue between LGBTQ+ people and our critics. I have directly witnessed, and experienced, the harm that is being done because of that. I have experienced the way in which that harm increases when decisions are taken without widespread engagement. Marriage is a part of the journey for some LGBTQ+ people. Experiences of oppression, injustice and abuse are, devastatingly, part of the journey for most LGBTQ+ people. Until that is no longer the case, we are not yet equal.

Having said that, it is clear that a decision, or indeed several decisions, will need to follow this period of dialogue and I believe that they will. There is a clear, publicly available timetable for discernment and decision making, which does not equate to kicking decisions into the long grass. It is vital that a wide range of LGBTQ+ people, as well as others, take part in that process of discernment, and do not simply wait until the point of decision making. Yes, LLF is more talking, but it is talking in a different way, a way that will, I hope, enable genuine, much needed change.


So, what now?

We, the LLF groups, have created and compiled a suite of resources that are intended to enable genuine dialogue and discernment about sexuality and gender identity throughout the Church of England.

The Bishops write that:

‘We desire greatly that the whole Church of England will take part in this period of discernment.’ – p.316

You can access the LLF teaching document and all of the resources free of charge at:
llf.churchofengland.org

I know that some of you who already know what they think about same sex marriage intend to boycott these resources. I understand why, trust me, I am tired too. Could I encourage you, though, to just take a look at the encounter films and online library before you walk away? This is a discussion that LGBTQ+ people need to help shape. If we don’t, others will. Our voices are starting to be heard, and that matters so, so much. Now is not the time to stop speaking out. Whatever you might think of this process, please do not allow it to silence you.

As for me, my part in this process has come to an end with the publication of the LLF document and resources. From here on in, this is about you, how you engage, what you choose to do. I, and many others, will be holding the Next Steps Group and the whole of the Church of England in prayer.

Prayer

‘In God’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you.’

(John 14.2)


God, our creator and parent, we dare to believe that you created every single one of us in your image, help us to be your body in this divided world.

Jesus, our kin and companion, we dare to believe that you suffered oppression and death with us, help us to find transformative new life.

Spirit, our inspiration and guide, we dare to believe that you move amongst us, even now, help us to move forward in creative and bold new ways.

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, we offer this prayer,

Amen.

The Gender Recognition Act Consultation

Following a long period of consultation, the government proposed, a few weeks ago, to only make minor changes to the Gender Recognition Act. Whilst this is a complex and much debated act, the results of the consultation were simple. It found that a significant majority of people agreed with the proposed reform (see details here) And yet, the only changes made were that the process would be available online, and the fee reduced.

What’s the problem with that? You might ask? The problem is that the government said that these changes would make the process “kinder and more straightforward”. This could not be further from the truth. To consider this, the Women and Equalities Committee have announced a new inquiry into the act and proposed changes (You can access this new inquiry and respond here).

This new inquiry could put more pressure on the government re trans equality, and could pave the way to reform that genuinely would make the process kinder, fairer, and more straightforward. Many trans people are, however, tired of repeated requests to explain our identity to the government and related committees. A lack of response could lead to blows to our, already tenuous, rights and safety. It’s not easy, though, to continue to respond to such personal inquiries, while the press, politicians and public continue to attack us.

That is why we need your help. There are lots of questions asked by the committee, and you may feel a little daunted, but it is so important that lots of people respond. I would like to lay out some of the key facts for you. Please don’t just copy and past, though. If you do, responses will be ignored. Rather, consider what I write here, ask questions if you have them, and let the government know, in your own words, why this matters.

Here are some answers to what I think are the three most important questions asked by the inquiry. If you would like to know more, please get in touch.

What else should the Government have included in its proposals, if anything?

  • Significant changes to the spousal consent provision. In other words, a spouse should not be allowed to control a person’s ability to transition. The current provision creates the potential for abuse.
  • Disentanglement of the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act. A trans person should not have to legally or medically transition in order to be protected from discrimination and hate crimes.
  • A shorter ‘living in role’ requirement, with more flexibility regarding evidence. Giving extensive evidence of ‘living in role’ is a significant barrier, making the Gender Recognition Act inaccessible to many.
  • Disentanglement of the Gender Recognition Act and medical transition. Not all trans people transition, and no-one should be forced to seek treatment if they do not need or want it. Relying on medical evidence as part of the Gender Recognition process falsely medicalises trans identities.
  • No financial burden. No-one else has to pay to legally justify their identity. We shouldn’t have to either.
  • A clarification of the fact that a GRC is not required to access so-called ‘single-sex’ spaces. This misunderstanding has over-shadowed sensible discussion around the Act and around trans identities more widely.

What issues do trans people have in accessing support services, including health and social care services, domestic violence and sexual violence services?

Trans people have significant difficulties in accessing support services.

Health and social care services:

  • Lack of adequate training of health and social-care professionals.
  • Lack of understanding/research/training re the medical effects of cross-sex hormones, and the changes in embodiment that trans people may experience, as well as the side effects and health complications associated with denying/delaying provision of hormones.
  • Common use of incorrect name/pronouns.
  • False relation of all physical and mental health symptoms to trans identity.
  • Inappropriate questions frequently asked in relation to trans identity/transition.
  • Lack of distinction between sex and gender on NHS computer systems means that trans people regularly experience difficulty accessing healthcare tests and treatments related to their sex assigned at birth.
  • Lack of gender-neutral medical spaces/facilities (for example sexual health clinics with a female clinic and a male clinic with different equipment for different bodies separated between the two locations, requiring transmen to go into the female clinic and vice versa and potentially outing them).

Domestic violence and sexual violence services:

  • Services separated by sex/gender.
  • Gendering and/or gender stereotyping of particular crimes.
  • Lack of trans specific services.
  • Lack of services for trans people by trans people.
  • Lack of understanding of differences in embodiment and gender
  • Lack of understanding of the relationship between LGBTQ+ identities, homo-/trans-/bi-phobia and sexual assault.
  • Lack of understanding of the relationship between so-called ‘conversion therapy’ and sexual assault.
  • Lack of gender neutral forensic medical facilities and practices for survivors who wish to report sexual assault or rape.
  • Lack of training/understanding re trans identities in police services.

Are legal reforms needed to better support the rights of gender-fluid and non-binary people? If so, how?

  • Yes. Gender-fluid and non-binary people are currently completely unrepresented and unprotected, as mentioned above. This equates to a denial of their full personhood and forces them to lie for the sake of legal recognition and protection. There are also examples of gender-fluid/non-binary people who have gone through medical processes that they did not want, because they felt that this was the only way to transition/be trans. There are also significant risks for gender-fluid/bi-gender people who have to use male/female documentation which may, at times, differ from their gender presentation. In my opinion, there is no logically sound reason for society to be divided into two genders.
  • The Government should also consult people who have intersex characteristics, to assess whether our gendered systems effect understandings and treatment of people who have intersex characteristics and/or identities.

Upcoming Workshops

Note re timings: the zoom room will be open from 7pm for a 7.30 start.

Churches Must Take Responsibility

Whilst Covid19 continues to reshape our lives and overwhelm our ability to make space for tragedy evil acts continue. It is ok to admit that we cannot respond as well or as much as we would like right now. There will be a time, though, that churches and people of good will must start to widen our gaze again to stand against the rest of the injustice in our world. Particularly when it has been perpetrated by those who have a belief in God.

I read a deeply upsetting article today about a trans woman, Helle Jae O’Regan, who was killed by someone who said that God sent him to kill her because she had ‘done something wrong’. The article claims that this was caused by mental illness and that it wasn’t a reaction to Helle’s trans status.

Think about it though… Would mental health problems alone cause belief in a violent punitive God? No, churches have done that. Sometimes that is implicit and sometimes that is explicit and violence against trans people is often based, knowingly or unknowingly, upon the Christian ideology that one can only be male or female and that sex and gender must align.

It’s time for churches to speak out; to take responsibility and to play our part in uncovering, holding back, and ultimately irradiating the avalanche of violence against trans people. This requires a public apology for and recanting of theologies that have harmed trans people and the active promotion of new public theologies of human being.

This is why I created this series of memes for you to share. Feel free to ask me for a copy if you would like to share them. It’s a small start, but it’s a start.

In November, I will be providing online workshops for churches and denominations every day to help us to consider how we can work together to acknowledge, repent, rewrite and speak out. Get in touch to book now, or watch this space.