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Opening our Arms to the Trans Community by Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian

transflag1Recently, the light blue, pink, and white flag I ordered for our church arrived in my mailbox. I opened the package and studied the flag. The write-up in the ad had said that it was impossible to hang the flag upside down, and they were right. Because the flag is completely symmetrical, either way you hang it is the right way. The blue, pink, and white striped flag is the symbol of Trans (Transgender identified) pride.

Our church already has two large flags hanging from our sign out front: a rainbow pride flag and an Earth flag. I stared at the new flag and wondered where we would display it. I took the flag to our monthly Deacons’ meeting, unfurled it, and asked where it should be hung. Half the group felt it should be displayed outside with the other two flags, half thought it should hung inside, in the sanctuary. Finally a reasonable person suggested we buy another flag and hang one outside and one inside.

When I was called to the Haydenville Congregational Church ten years ago, our congregation was strong—in word and in deed—on LGB issues. We were what the United Church of Christ calls an “open and affirming” church. And for ten years, we have not been quietly or subtly open and affirming. Our church has been wildly, visibly, and loudly open and affirming—in countless ways, and on many fronts we have been actively LGB-positive and empowering.

However, it took us years to bring our Trans affirming activism and visibility up to the level of our LGB activism and visibility. We had church members and frequent visitors from the Trans community who suggested that we get smarter about Trans issues and put ourselves forward, more formally, as welcoming to Trans folks. We heard that and nodded in agreement but did not really become really active until about a year ago. Then, due to the loving nudges of the Trans community and some positive changes at the church, we embraced our identity as being a Trans Ally Church.

We are not done, the work is far from completed, we have not “arrived,” but we identify as a Trans Ally Church and recognize that we are a work in progress and on our way.

We believe that being a Trans Ally Church means we strive to be a place safe for the Trans community to gather and worship, a place saturated with positive messages about Trans issues, a congregation willing to listen deeply, learn, make mistakes and course corrections and continue on with integrity, open hearts, and a deep commitment to justice and equity.

We believe that taking many baby steps makes a difference, and so we have committed to taking many modest steps on our continuing journey to be a Trans Ally Church. We
believe that the steps accumulate and strengthen our work to educate, welcome, model, grow and rejoice together as a Trans affirming faith community.

So what kinds of steps have we taken as we grow, learn, and worship together? The biggest decision we made has been to listen deeply to our Trans members as they tell us about their lives, about the language that reflects love and respect for them, and about their hopes, desires and needs.

From our deep listening have come a number of changes at the church: we have asked every church member and friend to wear a name tag that shows not only the name they would like to be called, but the pronouns we are to use in conversation: he/him, she/her, or they/them. We have also bought countless books for the Church library (including young adult books) that focus on Trans identity, Trans spirituality, and how to be an effective Trans ally.

We have hired professionals to offer Trans affirming workshops and the attendance and engagement at those has been high. Our Church Deacons also chose to change our ad in the Gazette to name that we are Trans affirming, to make people know that we strive to make Trans folks welcome and safe in our community. And the Deacons also added these words to the Welcome said every Sunday from the pulpit: “Welcome to people of all colors, cultures, abilities, sexual orientations and gender identities. And welcome to people who identify as queer.”

The list of steps goes on: this spring we had a formal ceremony reaffirming the baptism of Trans members who wanted to be blessed and have their correct names called out before God. This fall we plan to call a Trans pastor to our ministerial team. The pastor intends to offer a Trans support group open to anyone—whether members of our church or not.

Our church is taking these steps not to be on the right side of a social or political movement. Rather, we believe that we are being faithful disciples, doing what Jesus would have done—welcoming and loving those facing discrimination and marginalization. We are simply trying to be good Christians and follow the example of our radical teacher and savior who consistently stood with those who were targeted. We believe that if Jesus were here among us now he would be leading the Pride March every spring, walking arm-in-arm with Trans folks, waving a blue, pink and white flag.

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