Outside almost every church in the world, there's a sign that says, "All Are Welcome." Only, along the way, some of us find out that sign doesn't include us, particularly if we are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
By contrast, an Open and Affirming (ONA) congregation in the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a church who has taken a public stand for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, nongendered, and transgender persons in the life of the church and society.
United Christian Church of Austin passed our first Open and Affirming statement back in 2007, and in 2012 we amended that statement to include gender identity and gender expression. What does that mean? LGBTQI folks are fully integrated into our life at United Christian, in our pews, volunteer leadership, and professional staff.
“We, the congregation of The United Christian Church, declare ourselves to be an open and affirming congregation, embracing diversity and affirming the dignity and worth of every person created in God’s image. We welcome into full membership and participation in the Body of Christ persons of every race, ethnic background, age, gender, gender expression/identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, social-economic background, marital status and faith background. We welcome all to share in the life, leadership, ministry, fellowship, worship, sacraments, responsibilities and blessings of participation in our congregation.”
Continuing to Make Our Church a Safe Space… for Everyone.
At United Christian Church of Austin, we have a longstanding commitment to making sure our church isn’t just welcoming, but also safe for the most vulnerable among us. Up to this point, that primarily has meant living into a very robust Safe Church policy regarding our children and youth, requiring background checks for everyone who works with kids, providing volunteer training annually, ensuring we have the right ratio of adults to kids at all our events, etc.
But in recent years, events have alerted us to the particular safety needs of another vulnerable population: transgender folks. Despite the rabid protestations of the proponents of so-called “bathroom bills” such as SB-6, passed in 2017 by the Texas Senate, trans people do not present a danger in restrooms; rather, they are the ones in danger—in danger of being arrested, beaten, even killed, simply for being who they are: not “men in dresses” but in fact women, not “women dressed as men,” but in fact men, or more simply, just people who need to use the restroom.
In March 2017, the Church Council voted unanimously to affirm that you, the members, friends, and guests of United Christian Church, are free to use the bathroom that is right for you; specifically, the bathroom that matches your gender identity. For most of us, that means nothing changes. We will continue to be able to use the bathroom in safety. But for those who do identify as trans, we hope this policy and the accompanying notices, posted alongside the current “Men” and “Women” signs (see above) will help you feel welcome, respected, and cared for here. And safe.