HRC Blog

Orlando Church Hosts Conversation about Gender Identity and Faith

Post submitted by Allyson Robinson, Former HRC Deputy Director for Employee Programs, Workplace Project

I was blessed to join the family of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Winter Park, Florida today for a workshop on gender identity and faith, part of HRC's "On the Road to Equality" tour. The workshop, entitled "But God Looks at the Heart" (from the Hebrew Bible's story of the choosing of David as king of Israel in 1 Samuel 16), attracted a diverse crowd of church members and visitors who came to learn more about transgender communities and how congregations can better welcome and support them.

Because of widespread bias and prejudice against us, much of it fueled by religious bigotry, trans people often assume that they will not find welcome in any house of worship. Even well-intentioned congregations that have made a commitment to welcome and affirm LGBT people can struggle when a trans person comes through the door for the first time simply because of a lack of understanding. Faith communities like First Congregational in Winter Park have learned that understanding leads to empathy, empathy leads to compassion and compassion leads to the kind of radical welcome that characterizes the aspirations of the best of America's worship traditions.

The morning continued with an inspiring service of worship in which I served as a guest liturgist alongside church ministers the Reverend Talia Raymond, the Reverend Karen Duncan and guest preacher the Reverend Doctor Jimmie Gentle. Though we had not compared notes prior to the morning's events, the Rev. Dr. Gentle's sermon echoed many of the ideas I'd discussed in my workshop so closely that I couldn't help but suspect a divine conspiracy. I was especially touched by his paraphrase of mid-twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich: "The experience of God's grace begins when we accept that God fully accepts us."

I'm so grateful to the Revs. Raymond and Duncan, the Rev. Dr. Gentle, Senior Minister the Rev. Bryan Fulwider and the people of First Congregational United Church of Christ of Winter Park -- not only for welcoming me so warmly, but for their strong commitment to extending their welcome to all people. I'm blessed to have met them "On the Road to Equality!"

To learn more about how your faith community can better welcome and support transgender and gender-variant people, download HRC's free curriculum "Gender Identity and Our Faith Communities."

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