TIPS ON BECOMING A WELCOMING CONGREGATION
Treat each person and all people as unique individuals, as Christ in your midst, with gifts to bring the community, making each of us and the community richer, not as a person narrowly defined by any one characteristic.
TIPS ON LANGUAGE
About 10% of the population identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender... don't assume that just because they haven't told you, they aren't there. Even in a non-threatening environment, some may choose to keep this information private. However, you may increase their comfort level by showing your support in your use of language when you write and speak:
- Words like "significant other" or "partner" are more inclusive than "husband" "wife" or "spouse." Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people, just like heterosexual people, use a variety of terms to define themselves and to refer to their "other half" ... if you are unsure how to refer to someone's partner, ask!
- Instead of asking if a newcomer is married, ask if they are "in a relationship.”
- Families are great, but please don't make single people feel like second-class citizens.
- Avoid assumptions based on appearance... stereotyping is just that: attributing characteristics to a group simplistically and uncritically, often with the assumption that those characteristics are rooted in biological differences. Real people should not be stereotyped, not everybody fits commonly-held stereotypes, and not everybody who fits a stereotype description is "carrying the card."
- Don't make homophobic comments or jokes, and don’t laugh at, ignore or condone them. And make it clear to your staff, vestry, etc., that they are inappropriate.
- Avoid or reduce the use of pronouns and gender-specific language that limits... instead begin using "inclusive” or “expansive" language to describe God and the Trinity, as well as loving relationships on earth. God need not just be He or She, Father or Lord. God can also be named, as God or as Nurturer, Creator, Parent, Yahweh, Great Spirit, etc. or as Father and Mother.
- Talk about LGBT welcome and safety as justice issues and how they are affecting the church. Keep your congregation informed about what your congregation, diocese and The Episcopal Church are doing.
TIPS ON IMAGES
The spoken word is one thing, but a LGBT person may make a decision about your church before ever reaching or entering the door. Sadly, past experience has taught us that the potential for an un-welcoming and traumatic experience is great. LGBT people tend to do a lot more "shopping around" for a safe and welcoming congregation than a heterosexual person might. If I researched your church, what assumptions might I make based on what I saw or found?
- If I come to your church, will I see people who look like me? Web sites, publications and visual presentations at the church should reflect people and relationships of all kinds. Look around: is everyone in a "traditional family" or do you have "families by choice," single people, same-sex partners, single parent families, and families of mixed ethnicity? Make sure your marketing reflects the full spectrum of who makes up your congregation, and maybe those who are missing!
- Some corporations have adopted a "safe space" program to let LGBT people know in a subtle way that they are in a supportive, non-judgmental environment. The "Safe Space" symbol is an inverted pink triangle (an international symbol of positive gay identity) inside a green circle, which symbolizes acceptance. You could use something similar, or a rainbow flag sticker, to express your welcoming intention.
- Consider becoming a Believe Out Loud Episcopal Congregation. The OASIS is working with other groups both inside and outside the Episcopal Church to promote Believe Out Loud, a campaign of welcome for congregations. Learn more here.
- Both THE OASIS and INTEGRITY have letter-sized certificates available for supportive congregations. Displaying these in your narthex is a wonderful way to let LGBT people know they are welcome. Another option is for your web site and/or bulletin to display The OASIS or INTEGRITY logo, just as you would incorporate a wheelchair as an indication of disability accessibility.
- June is Pride Month in the United States. Some congregations have shown their support of their LGBT members and the broader LGBT community by displaying the rainbow flag during Pride Month if they don’t fly it at other times.
TIPS ON PREPARATION
If you are going to say you are welcoming, be prepared to prove it. If a LGBT person came to you in crisis or just needing to talk, would you know what to say or do?
- Things can be tough for lesbian and gay people, but bisexual, transgender and intersex people are sometimes even more misunderstood. Take some time to learn about issues and get past assumptions. The OASIS has links to numerous resources that can help you learn.
- Have resources available. Look up and bookmark on your computer local community groups that could help a person make friends or obtain services.
Know what you are up against. Laws in most states are discriminatory against LGBT relationships. If a person's partner is hospitalized, they may encounter difficulty or resistance to their making decisions for or even seeing their loved one (in New Jersey this is illegal). Could they count on you as an advocate?
- There are counselors, lawyers and other professionals who have specific experience in the LGBT community. Learn who they are in case you encounter a situation that is more than you're ready to handle. Intentionally develop relationships with LGBT people and/or agencies, such as THE OASIS, who can serve as helpful resources for you.