Is Everyone Included?

Most congregations that welcome
L-G-B-T people – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender – do a better job with the Ls and Gs than they do with the Bs and Ts. Whom do you serve … and who have you overlooked?

In the early days of what used to be called the “gay rights” movement, most of the focus was on individual gay and lesbian adults. Young adults, at that. Now, the LGBT community celebrates a broad diversity of ages and races, genders and sexualities, identities, relationships and families.

Even the acronym “LGBT” is not fully inclusive. That’s why you sometimes see a longer version – LGBTQQIA, representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and allies. Some choose to adopt no identity-label at all, and perhaps one day, in a world of justice and equality, issues of sexual orientation and gender identity won’t be issues at all.

Until then, it’s important for faith communities to ensure that they fully live into the words “All are welcome” by truly welcoming all. Unfortunately, recent surveys of clergy across Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist traditions suggest that segments of the LGBT population are being overlooked and underserved.

In both the Clergy Voices Survey (by Public Religion Research) and the Survey of Religious Progressives (by the Religious Institute), majorities of clergy reported the presence of lesbian and gay adults in their congregations. However, both surveys reported considerable uncertainty about the presence of transgender persons and LGBT youth:

  • Thirty-six percent of mainline clergy and 33% of progressive clergy said they were unsure whether transgender persons were present in their congregations.

  • Similarly, 38% of mainline clergy and 39% of progressive clergy were unsure if there were “teens struggling with their sexual orientation” in their congregations.See Jones and Cox, Mainline Protestant Clergy Views on Theology and Gay and Lesbian Issues: Findings from the 2008 Clergy Voices Survey (Washington: Public Religion Research, 2009), and Haffner and Palmer, Survey of Religious Progressives (Westport, CT: Religious Institute, 2009).

No one knows how many transgender people are part of congregations; data on the transgender population – much less transgender people of faith – are difficult to come by. As for youth, it is likely that there are more questioning teens in churches and synagogues than many clergy suspect. Research by Christian Community indicates that as many as one in seven teens in religious communities are lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning their orientations.Clapp, Steve, Kristen Leverton Helbert and Angela Zizak. Faith Matters: Teenagers, Religion, and Sexuality (Fort Wayne, IN: LifeQuest, 2003), 96. Many teens may be struggling with gender identity issues as well.

This section is intended to raise the profile, and pastoral concerns, of five populations within the LGBT community – lesbians and gay men, bisexuals, transgender persons, LGBT youth and LGBT families.* It also offers starter lists – 10 ways that congregations can serve each constituency, along with resources for further exploration.

* Keep in mind that these five populations do not represent the totality of LGBT people, and that within each population are diversities of age, economic class, race and ethnic origin that congregations must take into account.