Five tips for creating inclusive spaces

Coordinator for Gender & Racial Justice for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) national office Rev. Shanea Leonard offers some suggestions to make your congregation a welcoming place for people of all genders.

A prayer for LGBTQIA+ siblings

According to Psychology Today, gender is a social construct based on the norms, behaviors and societal roles expected of individuals, determined primarily by their sex assigned at birth. This definition means that gender is something we have made up to categorize people and to commit them to behaving a certain way in society. The binary of male/female genders does not give space to individuals who do not conform to these rigorously controlled behavioral patterns set by others. Some folks in our world, communities and churches do not neatly fit this either/or classification.

People who are nonbinary or gender fluid are also a part of the kin-dom of God, and inclusion of all genders is important. God loves all genders; to delineate hierarchy or to ignore differing genders is to deny God’s creation as holy and sacred in all that it is. Moreover, our General Assembly in 2018 resoundingly affirmed the full dignity and humanity of people of all genders and also encouraged congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to welcome transgender and gender nonbinary people into the life of the church.

Consider the following suggestions to make your own congregation a welcoming place for people of all genders:

Create inclusive spaces. Everyone wants to feel like they are thought of and included, especially in the community of faith. As Presbyterians, we declare the full welcome of all people, and we must make room for them. Designating at least one bathroom in your church as an all-gender restroom shows all who enter your doors that they are welcome and that your church is purposeful about celebrating the entire kin-dom of God.

Include days of importance in your liturgical calendar. Many people know June is Pride Month. It’s a time to rejoice in the triumphs over discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community and a way to rejoice in the culture this community embodies. However, full inclusion also means lifting up days like Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20. Each year since 1999, this day has been held as a time to remember the lives of transgender people who have lost their lives, especially to murder and violence. Highlighting days like this during the year shows folks that their lives matter too.

Self-educate. Reach out. Connect. Learn what you don’t know. Asking marginalized people to be your walking encyclopedia causes them more harm. We who are allies to marginalized populations have the responsibility to educate ourselves about the ways in which we can stand in solidarity with their liberation. Learning about such issues as the Doctrine of Discovery, the Middle Passage and, yes, LGBTQIA+ history gives us the tools to know the harm caused, how culture develops and how we can affirm the humanity of all.

Remember that you do not know anyone’s gender until they tell you. Never assume anything. Everyone has the right to define for themselves who they are and how they want to be identified. In new interactions, first introduce yourself with your own pronouns, which alerts the other person you are open to hearing theirs as well. Using terms such as “sibling,” “family of God,” “people” and “folks” takes away the need to gender people and provides the space for all to feel included.

Create an educational opportunity for the congregation to grow and learn. Invite the PC(USA) Office of Gender and Racial Justice to do a workshop with your congregation, presbytery or synod. Connect with the LGBTQIA+ center in your community to discern opportunities to partner. Conducting book studies using some resources from our own Westminster John Knox Press provides a great educational opportunity for your faith community.