Transgender Inclusion Still A Challenge for Many Clergy
Transgender Protected By New State Anti-Discrimination Law Starting Oct. 1
By Susan Campbell
October 01, 2011
Ten years ago, Hartford's Immanuel Congregational Church began a difficult conversation about whether to be open and affirming.
In church palance, an "open and affirming" congregation actively welcomes everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity — though most of Immanuel's discussion centered on sexual orientation. Given their belief that homosexuality is a sin, some churches —– Roman Catholic, and a large amount of evangelical Protestant – never broach the subject. And for those churches that do —– such as Congregational/United Church of Christ —- some have split over the discussion, a concern at Immanuel, says the Rev. Dr. Edward Horstmann, the church's senior minister.
Fast forward to today. The church is open and affirming, and marriage equality is legal in Connecticut, but in some ways, it's 2001 all over again. On Saturday, Connecticut joins a few other states that includes transgender — more specifically gender identity and expression —- in their anti-discrimination laws, and some faith groups are revisiting their earlier conversations about inclusion.
Immanuel will sponsor an open and affirming workshop Saturday for clergy and lay people, at which the Rev. Aaron L. Miller will speak. Miller, interim pastor at MCC Hartford, is a transgender clergy member. He'll talk, in part, about people who did not conform to expectations of their genders in the Bible.
"The thing that I teach and preach in these workshops is that whoever you are, you find yourself in the Bible," Miller said. "There's a whole marginalized population that's been excluded. We preach things that conform to our theology and ideology, but Jesus was not conforming."
Jerimarie Liesegang is a long-time advocate and director of Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition, which she started in part because the transgender population was heartily overlooked, she said. Liesegang is a popular speaker among faith groups; she says that only slowly are attitudes changing about gender identity and expression.
"We're getting to a better place," Liesegang said. "But legislation here in Connecticut does not change the mindset of people. Equally important is education."
The problem, she said, is that when a group asks her to speak, they're often already on the road and don't need convincing.
"You're always preaching to the choir," she said. "The ones who call you are already aware."
They may be aware, but there is a sizable part of the church community who could learn more about what it means to be open and affirming.
"My guess is that they are thinking strictly 'gay' or 'lesbian,' even though we use the term 'transgender,'" said Horstmann. "Although the word 'transgender' has appeared in some of our discussions, from early days I think that this is still a dimension we're still exploring."
Anne Stanback is a member of Immanuel. The former executive director of Love Makes a Family, the leading advocate for marriage equality in Connecticut, says, "I definitely chose Immanuel because it was an open and affirming congregation, but also because the spirit of 'extravagant hospitality and welcomeness' toward everyone was evident from the moment I walked in the door. In short, it was them, not me."
"I would describe this whole process of being open and affirming as a journey into prophetic hospitality," said Horstmann. "We are just beginning to learn the language, and some of the realities."
For more information on the workshop, go to http://bit.ly/qdiREs. Visit courant.com/transgender for a slideshow about Connecticut's Transgender Rights Bill.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at