Quakers and transgender people

This article summarises the Quaker work and discernment about gender diversity. 

Quaker support and advocacy for GSD Friends

Friends Homosexual Fellowship started in 1973 and later became Quaker Lesbian and Gay Fellowship (QLGF).

The Quaker Lesbian Group has been a supportive fellowship for women since 1984.

QLGF changed its name in 2017 to Quaker Gender and Sexual Diversity Community (QGSDC), to ensure it was inclusive, not only for intersex, transgender and non-binary gender, but for bisexual and asexual Friends who had not felt included. GSD is a common acronym that avoids the LGBT+ alphabet soup, but the prominence of ‘Gender’ in the name unsettled some Friends who felt it represented a change of emphasis.

The group remains a welcoming fellowship seeking to support all LGBT+ Quakers. However, after decades of being a warm fellowship for gay and lesbian Friends, it was only in recent years that we have embraced transgender Friends.

During the 1980s and 90s, the T of LGBT was commonly read as Transsexual, which is specifically about people seeking gender reassignment.

Friends Transsexual Fellowship

In the mid-1990s, four Quakers from meetings in Newcastle, Leeds, Wales and Bristol formed the Friends Transsexual Fellowship (FTF). The FTF grew out of a lunch shared in May 1998 at the home of a Friend in Leeds. All were transitioning and seeking the support of their meetings. Three of the group presented a well-attended transgender awareness day at Redland Meeting House. They ran an advert once a month in The Friend for a while, leading to a couple of others joining. However, the Fellowship didn’t really take off – as one of the members says, ‘we were perhaps too early: being trans was quite rare in those days.’ 

Discernment about the Gender Recognition Act 2004

During 2003 the Gender Recognition Bill was introduced by the Labour Government, which conducted a public consultation. The matter was first minuted by South Wales AM.

Meeting for Sufferings, 1 March 2003

Minute 5 c) Transexual Rights

We have received Minute 02.113 of South Wales Monthly Meeting held 14 December 2002 (paper S 03/3/mc 3.ic) which has been sent to us for information. We note that some work on this has already been started by Quaker Life’s Committee on Eldership and Oversight.

This minute marked the start of a discernment by MfS, supported by Quaker Life Central Committee (QLCC).

Minutes from South Wales AM and Quaker Life Eldership and Oversight Committee asked MfS to support proposed changes to the law to legally recognise transsexuals, in line with other European countries. 

MfS minuted that ‘we lack information on the full details of the parliamentary Bill. Also we do not have sufficient information on how widely this concern is felt among Friends. We are generally sympathetic to the concern as far as we have been able to consider it….. At present we do not have a recommendation from Quaker Life Central Committee’.

QLCC suggested that action can be taken in three ways:

  1. That a response to Government on the Gender Recognition Bill might be made on the basis of our testimony to equality and could be made by this committee on the basis of its experience and testimony.
  2. That Friends might be helped to engage with these issues in their meetings by wider dissemination of the information that has been made available to us and perhaps by sessions at Representative Councils.
  3. The pastoral care of transgendered people, their families, friends and meetings will continue to need ongoing particular attention.

QLCC asked for advice to be prepared on why as a religious body, with a testimony to equality, Quakers in Britain support the Gender Recognition Bill.

Quaker Life Central Committee From Minute 2003/26

…. Are we as Friends missing the opportunity to speak “amongst and to all sorts of people?”  We have not been recognising clearly enough the sense of identity that belongs to different sorts of people – our own self-identity and how we are perceived.

Racism is a barrier which hides what God is doing in those we meet and in ourselves. We hurt one another and sometimes discriminate against one another but the core of our Quaker life is about answering that of God in everyone. Some meetings and individual Friends have not yet learnt the simple art of welcoming the stranger or celebrating diversity.

Diversity is a treasure; inclusion is a spiritual discovery; difference is the truth at the heart of the human condition. If we live up to this we give ourselves the opportunity to change and grow. We need to reaffirm the testimony to equality as a firm foundation which lies at the heart of Quaker spirituality.

QLCC assembled briefing papers for MfS outlining consultations with the originator of the concern, transgender Friends, representatives to Sufferings from Quaker Life and from South Wales, the parliamentary liaison officer, amongst others. Also, representatives to Sufferings were encouraged to test the concern in their localities.

A major issue for Quakers was the provision in the Bill that required existing marriages to be ended when one partner reassigns their gender. QLCC hoped that the final form of the legislation would include provision for the recognition of any existing marriage in which the two partners did not wish for a divorce, as a form of commitment short of marriage, but recognised that inclusion of this in the Bill would seriously weaken its chances of being approved. 

The following minute records the decision to send a response on the Gender Recognition Bill.

Meeting for Sufferings, November 2003:

Minute 3 b) Transsexual Rights

….. we have received Minute 03.66 of South Wales Monthly Meeting held 13 September 2003 concerning transsexual rights.

Minute 3 m) Transsexual Rights

….. we have received minute 2003/61 of Quaker Life Central Committee held 27 September 2003 together with further minutes, background and information papers, concerning transsexual rights. We have been moved by personal testimony shared with us.

We are grateful to the committee and to South Wales Monthly Meeting for helpful material they have provided. We broadly welcome the intentions of the draft Bill. However we are deeply uneasy with its provision that requires dissolution of a marriage as a condition of granting a full gender recognition certificate. This raises important questions for our theology of marriage.

We ask our clerk to respond to the government on the Gender Recognition Bill on the basis of our testimony to equality.

We encourage Quaker Life Central Committee:

1. to help Friends to engage with these issues in their meetings by wider dissemination of information.

2. to promote the pastoral care of transgendered people, their families, spouses and children, their friends and meetings.

We hope that an amendment to Quaker faith & practice to include gender identity can be made when further revisions are proposed.

A letter was sent by the clerk of MfS to the department of constitutional affairs in December 2003:

‘I am writing on behalf of Meeting for Sufferings, the national representative body of Quakers in Britain, in support of the Gender Recognition Bill.

As a religious body which has testified to equality for over 300 years, we are glad to support the main proposals in the Bill.

“The Quaker understanding of Christianity includes the belief in the equality of all human beings  of whatever sex, race, class or age ……….The spirit of God includes and transcends our ideas of male and female, and …we should reflect this insight in our lives and through our ministry.” (Quaker Faith & Practice 1994)

In our recent consideration we have been helped by the personal accounts of individual Quakers, their friends and families, with direct experience of gender change, who have found a ready welcome in the Religious Society of Friends and a full recognition of the person that they are.

We therefore fully support the provision in the Bill which entitles transsexual people to full legal recognition in their desired gender.

The one area which causes us some difficulty is the requirement that an existing marriage should be ended before a full Gender Recognition Certificate can be issued. We understand why it is included but the element of compulsion runs contrary to our understanding of the sanctity of marriage and long term commitment. We have already responded in support of the recommendations concerning legal recognition of same sex couples and hope that the provisions of this Bill can take that other change into account, so that the element of duress can be removed.’

Quaker gathering on gender identity

QLGF held a gathering in October 2015 at Manchester Mount Street MH, called Knowing ourselves: faith and gender. This was perhaps only the second Quaker event devoted to gender diversity. Facilitated by Maurice Nagington (Quaker, Manchester Pride), the multi-faith speakers included Jennie Barnsley (Quaker), Jenny-Anne Bishop (MCC), Tina Beardsley (Anglican), Surat Shaan Rathgeber Knan (Liberal Judaism), Helen Belcher (Trans Media Watch) and Rosalind Mitchell (Quaker). This directly addressed diverse gender in the context of different faiths and belief, projects that made trans people of faith visible, education, media scrutiny and a workshop on Gender, sexuality and spirituality.

Quakers Tabular Statement and gender identity

The annual national count of Quaker members and attenders has for many years recorded each adult as male or female. For a small number of Friends this was not comfortable when we do not fit either male or female truthfully. After this was raised in 2015, Friends House was quick to respond. The annual form now includes ‘Other’: “adults who have indicated a gender identity other than man or woman.  This might include people who have stated they are agender, neutrois or who have a(nother) non-binary gender identity.” This has felt positive for many of us, able to be truer to ourselves. Some Friends have asked why have the question at all? But the first step is acknowledging the diversity amongst us.

Discernment on transgender and non-binary inclusion

North East Thames Area Meeting (NET AM) agreed the following statement in February 2017. It reflects the Quaker welcome to all, while hoping to make Friends more aware of gender identity and the importance of a welcoming spiritual home for everyone that finds truth in the Quaker way.

‘Facing turbulent times, Quakers in Britain seek a future where Quaker communities are loving, inclusive and all-age. All are heard, valued and supported both in our needs and our leadings. Everyone’s contribution is accepted according to their gifts and resources.  All are welcomed and included.’ – Our faith in the future (Quakers in Britain, 2015)

Quakers in North East Thames Area Meeting are aware that our community is a continuing creation in which we seek to know and love ourselves and one another in all our differences, united at a profound level in our efforts to reach and respond to others in the things that are eternal.

We want our Local Meetings to be safe places where each person can come as their own true self and find a spiritual home.

We recognise that there is a growing awareness in society, and in the Society of Friends, that the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’ prove incomplete when describing the diversity of gender identity and experience that exists.

We hope that we can all grow together in our understanding of gender identity.

We want it to be known that our Area Meeting is a place where all are welcomed and nurtured, including people who are transgender and non-binary.

We hope that we can share a spiritual companionship, creating a place where we can all listen to and connect with one another, and accompany one another with love.

North East Thames Area Meeting 18 Feb 2017

At Yearly Meeting Gathering in Warwick in 2017, five Wanstead Friends, trans and allies, led a well-attended session about our discernment, stimulating a wide ranging and honest sharing of personal gender experience, prejudices, questions, humility and upholding. 

Meeting for Sufferings April 2017

Minute 17/04/15: Transgender and non-binary inclusion

‘We receive minute 17.21 of North East Thames AM, held on 18 February 2017, attaching a statement concerning the inclusion of transgender and non-binary people in our Quaker communities. We welcome the opportunity to increase our learning about this issue – non-binary people are those who do not identify as either male or female.

We forward this minute to Quaker Life Central Committee for their consideration.

Further to our minute 2015/03/09, the Recording Clerk has told us that the tabular statement now contains a third column for those choosing not to be listed as male or female.’

Supporting family and friends of LGBT+ Friends

Chichester Quaker meeting has a small group called Working Towards Inclusion: The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Inclusion Group. (SOGII).

In October 2016, at their regular third Sunday talk, Chichester Meeting heard speakers talk of their experiences – of being gay and of being transgender. ‘It was an exceptional meeting – with courage, frankness and humour they opened our eyes to our need for knowledge and understanding and, in the loving atmosphere of the group, it emerged that several Chichester Friends were endeavouring to support close family members and friends through their own joyful and turbulent journeys.’

This led to Chichester Meeting discerning their own statement. They recognised that Chichester Friends’ had their own particular and unique experiences, which they wanted to express. In September 2017 their own statement was approved at Business Meeting and in November was approved at Area Meeting.

Their statement in full:

Transgender and Non-binary Inclusion Statement for Chichester Quaker Meeting

SAFE, WELCOMED, VALUED, RESPECTED

At Chichester Quaker Meeting all are welcome, respected, valued and safe to fully participate as their true selves, free from gender assumptions and stereotypes as we seek to discover and follow the inward light in which we walk.

In our sharing of personal stories we have come to recognise the need to support both those who are transgender and non-binary and their friends and families who may be struggling in coming to terms with their own personal responses and feelings.

We acknowledge too that we are all at different stages of our personal journeys in our understanding of gender identity.  We do not want to be divided by the words we use but rather ‘feel where the words come from’.*  We trust that together we can deepen our understanding so that Chichester Quaker Meeting truly becomes a place where all are welcomed, supported and nurtured. 

We rejoice in our own diversity and in creating a place where we can listen to and connect with one another and, “helping one another up with a tender hand” ** accompany one another with love.

*Taken from John Woolman’s Journal for 1763
** Isaac Pennington, 1667, Quaker Faith and Practice 10.01

A study day was held at Chichester Meeting House in March 2018, exploring sexual and gender identity inclusion from the point of view of family, friends and faith.

‘Coming out’ makes a person, young or old, highly vulnerable to misunderstanding and even rejection from those closest to them. The day explored a Quaker approach to upholding close relatives and friends who support loved ones. The group heard from five individuals who have come out in their sexual orientation or gender identity, and from those who have adapted family lives and friendships with them. They considered how equipped our Quaker meetings are in pastoral and spiritual upholding.

Scotland General Meeting

Quaker General Meeting Scotland

Minute 6  Morning Session led by Zemirah Moffat on Gender and Sexual Diversity

We have today welcomed Zemirah Moffat who has spoken simply and movingly of her personal journey, her acceptance by Friends, her involvement with the Quaker Gender and Sexuality Diversity Community, and the activities of the Scottish Gallivanters. She spoke of conflicting emotions, of love, connection and abuse, of seeking the truth behind the words. She gave us a sheet, a glossary of terms and definitions that are being and have been used to help – definitions that are still evolving. She told us stories, of spiritual experience, of conversations with strangers. We have met in groups – discussing, worship sharing, worshipping – and all together. She welcomed the greater openness that exists now in society.

Yet it takes courage still, and many of us have found this a challenging session, indeed sometimes uncomfortable. We need to respect where people are on the gender spectrum, to understand our common humanity, the right to be ourselves, to listen to each other. We all have gender!

In introducing this session, our Clerk read a minute from North East Thames Area Meeting to Meeting for Sufferings, and this is appended to these minutes. We have also been reminded that our younger Friends tackled this topic openly at the Summer Shindig two years ago. We thank Zemirah for her work, and all those present for their openness and love.

We are at an early stage in a longer wider journey on this listening process. We trust GM Committee to ensure we continue this journey. For now we ask all LMs to reflect on the above minute and consider holding discussion groups. We ask Rosalind Mitchell, Derek Read, Michael Hutchinson and Alison Rimell to work on this topic and bring their thoughts back to GM when they are ready.

We ask our clerk to forward this minute to the Quaker Gender and Sexuality Diversity Community. Zem alerted us to workshops and session to be offered by this group at YMG 2017.

Quaker Life draft statement on gender diversity

Meeting for Sufferings asked Quaker Life Central Committee to consider trans and non-binary inclusion. This work was affected by events relating to use of Quaker meeting houses for campaign meetings arising from the possible reform of the GRA. In November 2018, QLCC published a draft statement on its web page:

‘Quaker Life Central Committee is aware that many Quakers are considering questions about gender identity; and that this can be difficult and painful. We have drafted an initial statement (PDF) on gender diversity. It sets out where we are now as a committee. We invite all Quakers in Britain to discuss and reflect together on the topic. We hope our discussion paper will help these conversations. We would welcome any personal stories, think-pieces and minutes or notes of discussions in Quaker communities. Please send these with your name, address and the name of your area meeting or other Quaker community.’

A small sub-group of QLCC members will report back to the Committee on the responses received. ‘We’re all at different stages on this path, and we ask all Friends to take this forward carefully, prayerfully, with gentleness and love.’

Some Area and Local meetings sent minutes in response. This is one from South London AM which was read out at a meeting of QGSDC in 2019:

[Clerks’ note: After lunch we gathered for a spiritual activity. We considered questions around gender and the issues raised in the Quaker Life Central Committee discussion document on Quakers and gender diversity. We agreed the following minute.]

We welcome the QLCC paper, particularly its even handed approach, although we feel that it could have covered some areas in greater depth. We too affirm our welcome to all people to express their identities they wish.

We also uphold the existence of single-sex spaces where needed to protect vulnerable people (as is currently permitted in law)[1], and are concerned about attempts to politicise these spaces.

We recognise the need for all voices to be heard, and challenge the minute [2] from Young Friends General Meeting which denies that conflict exists on this subject.

We believe that Quakers are well placed to take forward discussions of this topic, and therefore ask Britain Yearly Meeting to support and encourage a process of open and free discernment, acknowledging the complexities of the matter and the range of views held.

[1] Equality Act 2010 para 740 of the Explanatory Notes to the Act http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/notes/division/3/16/20/7/5
[2] ‘we affirm that there is no conflict between trans inclusion, feminism, and liberation from gender roles and stereotypes‘. Trans and non-binary inclusion YFGM, http://yfgm.quaker.org.uk/docs/trans-and-non-binary-statement/

Young Friends General Meeting – Trans and Non-Binary Inclusion statement

‘At the last YFGM gathering in February 2019, YFGM adopted a statement calling for Quakers to be inclusive and welcoming to trans and non-binary people. We also committed to supporting Quakers in the society outside of YFGM to learn about gender diversity and trans inclusion.

The minute was developed on the statement from a special interest gathering on Trans and Non-Binary Inclusion in November. The minute was created following growing concern in YFGM about conversations in Quakerism about gender diversity. In particular, Quaker Life Central Committee (QLCC) recently released a statement which “affirm[ed] the right of women’s organisations to critique and explore the nature of gender identification and respect their right to freedom of speech”.

To put this into context, in the past year several Quaker meetings hosted events by ‘gender critical’ groups, who advocate for the exclusion of trans women from women’s spaces.

The YFGM statement does not discuss who should be allowed to make bookings in Quaker meeting houses, but we did commit to “tak[ing] all steps possible to ensure that all our YFGM meetings are held in a trans inclusive spaces”. The QLCC statement also states that “we do not accept that the critique of transgender identities in the political sphere is necessarily transphobic”. The YFGM statement rejects this claim explicitly, instead affirming the right of all people to self-identify, and stating that there is no conflict between feminism and trans and non-binary inclusion.

The full YFGM statement reads:

We believe that each person has the right to determine for themselves what gender identities and expressions are most comfortable and authentic for them. We recognize that each member of our community has a unique and deeply personal experience of gender, and that the expression of this is a form of living truthfully and of witness. As Friends — both trans and cis, binary and non-binary — we affirm that there is no conflict between trans inclusion, feminism, and liberation from gender roles and stereotypes. We do not support the use of meeting houses to host events which claim otherwise, and we hope that Meetings will decide not to host these events in future.

The Society of Friends should be welcoming and affirming of trans and non-binary people. We commit to fostering change to this effect and to bringing YFGM and the Society of Friends closer to this ideal. We encourage Friends engaging in this conversation going forwards to consider the message of A&Q#22:

“Respect the wide diversity among us in our lives and relationships. Refrain from making prejudiced judgments about the life journeys of others. Do you foster the spirit of mutual understanding and forgiveness which our discipleship asks of us? Remember that each one of us is unique, precious, a child of God.”

Meeting for Sufferings July 2019

Minute 19/07/06 Gender Diversity

We receive and note minute 2019.2.3 of Young Friends General Meeting and the initial statement regarding Trans and non-binary inclusion; and Quaker Life Central Committee’s initial statement ‘Quakers and Gender Diversity’. Friends are encouraged to reflect on the Quaker Life Central Committee (QLCC) initial statement and the Young Friends General Meeting (YFGM) minute, and to work together to explore the issues. We are aware that we need to listen to those people affected by discrimination of any sort (to listen deeply, with open hearts); and we want Quakers in Britain to be welcoming and affirming of all people. Each individual is a child of God and we all seek to know that Love which is eternal.

We uphold all Friends in this exploration. Working in small groups may make it easier for Friends to share more deeply. We encourage everyone to listen carefully to the Spirit through each other. We hope to return to this later in the year.

Work of local meetings

Following the QLCC draft statement, meetings around the country held sessions to explore it and respond.

Brighton meeting had cancelled a booking for a meeting discussing the Gender Recognition Act. As a consequence of this, it held three linked workshops, organized by a group of Brighton Friends, facilitated by Edwina Peart (Inclusion and Diversity Co-ordinator, Friends House) at which different points of view from amongst Quakers could be heard.

Norwich meeting allowed a booking of their meeting house in the knowledge that protests would take place. Elders sought to ensure that the meeting organisers and participants respected Quaker testimony. ‘This was the beginning of our awareness of the strife that has been generated around the country over transgender issues.’ It led to a falling out with the Norwich LGBT community. Norwich elders subsequently facilitated meetings with outside speakers to educate and hear about trans experience and issues. Norwich meeting elders then wrote a detailed account of the experience.

‘We feel that valuable lessons were learned from our experience and process, and would like to pass them on to other Meetings which may encounter similar conflict.’

Britain Yearly Meeting 2019

At Yearly Meeting 2019, gender diversity was addressed in the panel Edwina Peart led during one of the parallel sessions, including a presentation specifically about trans inclusion in women-only spaces. In a main session, we heard prepared ministry on gender diversity. 

Woodbrooke weekend workshops on diversity in our meetings

In January 2019 and January 2020 these weekends explored our meetings in relation to class, race, disability and gender. The workshop in 2020 allowed for worship sharing on all aspects of gender transition, distinctions between biology and identity, and women’s safety.  An account of the workshops and discernment can be found in Friends Quarterly May 2020.

Published articles and social media conversations

The Friend has published a few personal testimonies from transgender Friends. In March 2018, The Friend published an article called ‘Gender and Identity’, discussing gender identity as distinct from biological sex. There was an article responding to this in a subsequent issue, as well as letters. In Spring 2019, The Friend published a series of articles offering different viewpoints on gender diversity. In May 2020 Friends Quarterly published two articles relating to gender diversity.

Issues relating to gender diversity have arisen in Quaker facebook groups, sometimes going beyond the scope of the group, sometimes including arguments between two participants and requiring moderation.

Please email any suggested changes to this article to:  info@qgsdc.org.uk