The transgender faithful: How welcome are they?

Transgender is having a moment. A new television series, “Transparent,” is about a father who transitions to a woman; another series, “Orange Is the New Black,” features a transgender actress; and a reality series, just announced by Discovery Communications, will focus on transgender people in Kansas City. And, of course, Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner very publicly on television and the cover of Vanity Fair.

Transgender people are also becoming more visible in faith communities. There are several openly transgender Episcopal priests, and a transgender woman serving in a Carmelite order has written a book about her experience. A recent “transgender summit” in Berkeley, Calif., examined the role of transgender people in the Christian church. And even some evangelicals are showing signs of changed attitudes, with prominent evangelical teacher David Gushee recently announcing he favored LGBT inclusion. How far that will extend to transgender people remains to be seen.

How do faith communities respond to transgender people? Are they welcomed? Included? Excluded? Shunned? As the transgender community is becoming more vocal about its needs and rights, religious communities find themselves navigating a realm of possible responses.

This edition of ReligionLink looks at how faith groups, denominations and communities interact with the transgender individuals among them.

Recent developments

Some in the evangelical community — traditionally opposed to LGBT issues — have shown recent signs of being more accepting of gays and lesbians. Whether this will encompass the transgender community remains to be seen. Among the signs:


  • Read “Debunking the ‘Bathroom Bill’ Myth – Accurate Reporting on LGBT Nondiscrimination: A Guide for Journalists” published by GLAAD in collaboration with a coalition of state and national LGBT advocacy organizations in Feb. 2016.
  • Read “The Real Christian Debate on Transgender Identity” by Emma Green in the Atlantic, June 4, 2015.
  • Read a Nov. 12, 2014, story by Patricia Mazzei in the Miami Herald about opposition, some of it religious, to a proposed transgender anti-discrimination law.
  • Read an Oct. 24, 2014, blog post by Jonathan Merritt for Religion News Service analyzing why Gushee’s new position on LGBT Christians is important.
  • Watch an Oct. 17, 2014, segment for Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly about transgender and theology as it plays out in several Chicago communities of faith.
  • Read a March 2, 2014, story for Al-Jazeera America about a Catholic nun’s ministry to the transgender community.
  • Read an Aug. 19, 2013, analysis by Jonathan Merritt for Religion News Service about the complicated landscape transgender Christians navigate.
  • Read a July 9, 2012, story for The Huffington Post about the Episcopal Church’s decision to ordain transgender people.
  • Read a Nov. 8, 2011, story in BU Today about Cameron Partridge, the first openly transgender chaplain at Boston University.

Surveys, studies and reports

“Injustice at Every Turn” is a large-scale survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 2011. Among its key findings:

  • 41 percent of respondents reported suicidal thoughts, compared with 1.6 percent of the U.S. population.
  • Those who are transgender experience double the rate of unemployment of the general population, and 90 percent of those who do work report experiencing harassment or discrimination on the job.
  • 57 percent of transgender people have broken ties with family members.
  • Among the transgender community, those who are African-American fare “far worse than all others in most areas examined.”

Equality Rising” is a 2013 Human Rights Campaign report surveying the setbacks and accomplishments in LGBTQ rights worldwide. Its findings include:

  • Countries that saw advances in transgender rights include the United States, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Nepal, Bangladesh, South Korea, Puerto Rico and Argentina.
  • 238 transgender people were slain worldwide between November 2012 and November 2013, according to Transgender Europe, which tracks such deaths. Sixteen of those killings happened in the U.S. Transgender Europe says more than 1,300 transgender people in 60 countries have been slain since January 2008.


In the LGBTQ community, words that become labels can be seen as confining or inaccurate, especially when referring to identity. The Kaleidoscope Resource Packet, published by the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests, has a vocabulary list of words commonly used in the context of LGBTQ issues that includes:

Gender identity: Describes the gender with which a person identifies (i.e., whether one perceives oneself
to be a man, a woman or describes oneself in some less conventional way) but can also be used to refer
to the gender that other people attribute to the individual on the basis of what they know from gender role
indications (clothing, hairstyle, et cetera). Gender identity may be affected by a variety of social
structures, including the person’s ethnic position, employment status, religion or irreligion, and family.

Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex and gender
role they were assigned at birth. Transgender people can be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual, and may
not identify as queer.

National sources


    NLGJA, the Association of LGBT Journalists, works to foster fair and accurate coverage of LGBT issues in the media. The organization is based in Washington and offers resources for journalists, including a stylebook of LGBT terminology and a reporting toolbox.

    NLGJA has posted an open letter to journalists about covering Bruce Jenner.

Faith-based transgender advocacy groups

  • Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons

    Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons is an organization of LGBT people who are religious or culturally aligned with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, despite the church’s policy against any lifestyle that is not heterosexual. Affirmation seeks to support and encourage LGBT Mormons and has multiple services for youth. It has local chapters in many states. Randall Thacker is the president.

  • Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns

    Affirmation is an activist, all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization that challenges the United Methodist Church to be inclusive of LGBTQ people around the world. It is based in Evanston, Ill.

  • Center for Progressive Christianity

    The Center for Progressive Christianity is an organization that seeks to incorporate the marginalized, including LGBT people, in mainline denominations. It is based in Gig Harbor, Wash.

  • Claiming the Blessing

    Claiming the Blessing is a collaborative of organizations and individuals within the Episcopal Church advocating the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

  • DignityUSA

    DignityUSA “works for respect and justice for all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in the Catholic Church” and elsewhere. Contact executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke.

  • Fortunate Families

    Fortunate Families is an organization for Catholic families with LGBT sons and daughters. It is primarily for parents but has resources for getting youth to talk about their sexuality with their parents. It is based in Rochester, N.Y.

  • Gay Christian Network

    The Gay Christian Network is a ministry to LGBT Christians. It is based in Raleigh, N.C. Justin Lee is executive director.

  • Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association

    The Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association is an organization for LGBT Hindus and Viashnavas both in the U.S. and around the world. Contact through the form on its website.

  • Integrity USA

    Integrity USA is an organization that calls for full and equal inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Episcopal Church.

  • JQY

    JQY is a nonprofit organization supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews and their families in the Orthodox community. It is based in New York. Contact through the website.

    Contact: 551-579-4673.
  • Kaleidoscope

    Kaleidoscope is an LGBT youth support and advocacy group of the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests. It has a page of youth resources, including a blog, Coming Out Strong, specifically for young LGBT people.

    Contact: 614-294-5437.
  • Keshet

    Keshet is a Boston-based nonprofit that works for the full inclusion of LGBT Jews. It produced the documentary Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School and a companion curriculum and operates a “Safe Schools & Supportive Communities” program that targets young people. Keshet also maintains offices in Denver and San Francisco. Idit Klein is executive director.

  • Reconciling Ministries Network

    The Reconciling Ministries Network is a movement within the United Methodist Church that works for the inclusion of all people in the UMC regardless of sexual orientation. Contact through director of communications M. Barclay.

  • ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation

    ReconcilingWorks, formerly known as Lutherans Concerned/North America, works to reconcile members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to full inclusivity of LGBT people. Aubrey Thonvold is the interim executive director. The organization is based in St. Paul, Minn.

  • Reformation Project

    The Reformation Project is an ecumenical Christian organization that works for full inclusion of LGBT people within the church. It is based in Wichita, Kan., and Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, is its president.

  • Soulforce

    Soulforce is a national interfaith movement that promotes the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The organization is based in Abilene, Texas. Haven Herrin is executive director.

  • UCC Coalition

    The UCC Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns advocates for full inclusion of LGBT people in church and society. Search a list of “open and affirming” congregations organized by state.

Secular transgender advocacy groups with faith resources

Regional sources

In the East

In the Midwest

  • Anita C. Hill

    Anita C. Hill is an ELCA minister and regional coordinator for the Midwest for ReconcilingWorks: Lutheran for Full Inclusion. She works with Lutheran congregations and individuals in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota to be fully inclusive of LGBT people. She lives in the St. Paul, Minn., area.

  • Emily McGinley

    Emily McGinley is a pastor at Urban Village Church, a multisite United Methodist Church in the Chicago area with an outreach ministry to transgender people.

  • Ramon Rodriguez

    Ramon Rodriguez is the president of Dignity-Chicago, an organization of LGBT Catholics that works for inclusion in the church.

In the South

  • Renee Garcia

    Renee Garcia is a regional director for ReconcilingWorks: Lutheran for Full Inclusion and works with congregations and individuals in Texas to bring LGBT people to full inclusion in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He lives in Houston.

  • Unity Fellowship Church, Charlotte

    Unity Fellowship Church, Charlotte, is an all-inclusive church in Charlotte, N.C. Its mission statement specifically calls for no gender-based discrimination and for inclusion of LGBT people. It is a member of the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, a growing network of like-minded churches throughout the South. The church has worked with the Human Rights Campaign to stage a local transgender economic conference. It is led by the Rev. Leslie Oliver and the Rev. Sonja Lee.

In the West

  • Vicki Gray

    Vicki Gray is an Episcopal priest who contributes to the blog Trans Episcopal. She participated in a faith leaders discussion convened by Gender Spectrum in 2010. She is a deacon at Christ the Lord Episcopal Church in Pinole, Calif.

  • Alma Lopez

    Alma Lopez is a Los Angeles-based artist whose works frequently feature female Catholic saints as Chicana women with a gender twist. Her “Our Lady,” a rendition of the Virgin of Guadalupe as seminude Chicana boxer, prompted worldwide controversy when it was displayed in New Mexico in 2001. Her most recent show is “Queer Santas: Holy Violence,” on display at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif. It features four female saints whose gender identity is unclear.

  • Drew Phoenix

    The Rev. Drew Phoenix, who underwent sex-change surgery and changed his name from Anne Gordon, is executive director of Identity Inc., an LGBT advocacy group in Anchorage, Alaska.