Challenges to Friends
There is a continuing difference of opinion between acceptance of trans people as we are; and safeguarding women’s safety as we have fought for. Within Quaker meetings and QGSDC there are women who are uneasy about the implications of transgender; there are trans Friends who are uneasy about being accepted; and there are family and friends of trans Friends, who try to uphold.
We have seen how the divisiveness of this issue has undermined Quaker peace, and has led to one or two Friends to leave a meeting. Some look to Quakers for insight. But the clamour of voices in the media distracts us from our faith and testimony, and it distracts us from important injustices – especially endemic violence against women.
Many Friends work for human rights and equality – speaking, writing, ministering, running workshops. Outside of Quakers, some of us are engaged in political campaigns. Many of us are tired and worried, many are withdrawn.
GSD is an established inclusive acronym, avoiding the alphabet soup of LGBTQIA etc. Because ‘Gender’ comes first does not mean we have changed our focus. We have not taken an active role before, because QGSDC is first and foremost a supportive fellowship of Friends with shared LGBT+ experiences. But we feel the time is right to bring our experiences and tackle this concern together.
Is this a concern?
Is this a concern and what precisely is the concern? At the moment we might be addressing two concerns. The polarisation we see in political life is reflected within Quakers. This is why we are asking QGSDC to reframe the discernment.
We would ask you all to read the whole of QFP 13.02 to 13.18. Part of this says ‘Achieving clarity about a concern is a particular exercise in discernment. It is a process that begins with considerable private reflection and the asking of some tough questions. Is this a desire that someone else do something or is it really a call to act oneself? Is this concern in keeping with the testimonies of the Society? Is it genuinely from God?’ (13.05)
Are Quakers and allies within QGSDC a gathered community of Friends able to test this? We meet, minister and minute. And we do this over and over again until we find unity. We do not find minutes and unity through social media and campaign meetings.
The need for allyship and oversight in our meetings
There is no inclusion without a Friend who is an ally. There is no inclusion without oversight. We welcome all and we hope that those that come to worship find a spiritual home. We ask no questions, and we can be private, but people come to meeting with all manner of stresses. The Quaker approach to pastoral care needs a big shake. If anyone comes out, they need to be upheld by our overseers. What do we mean by coming out? It means for example, confiding in a Friend that you suffer abuse at home; you have a trauma from long ago; have an addiction; your partnership is failing; you have a mental illness; you are ostracized by family; you are scared, ill or exhausted; you feel belittled by Friends. Or you are gay or trans. Oversight is implicit in a meeting but it needs to be explicit between overseer and individual; to know, ask, pray and be there. As we explore the truth in gender diversity, let us work towards active oversight – of women feeling vulnerable, people at odds with their meeting, of trans people trying to live and give. To be safe, welcome, valued, respected.
Our Quaker work for equality
We all respect the successes of the women’s movement; Quaker women have fought for equality, peace and social justice for years. Our progress with equality moves on when the whole community works towards equality in order to function. Trans Friends or gender questioning Friends shouldn’t be made more vulnerable by speaking up. Quakers worked from the 1950s to combat illegality and discrimination against homosexuality to approach equality and marriage. Transgender remained taboo and incomprehensible until ten years ago when people began to come out. We are still working even now, on inclusion of black and working class people. We owe a lot to the campaigns for black civil rights, women’s equality, disability equality, gay rights.
A shifting perspective on transgender
Quaker awareness of transgender has changed – 20 years ago, a few transitioning Friends were in difficulty with their meetings. There was a short-lived Transsexual Friends Fellowship. MfS supported the Gender Recognition Act 2004. A few years ago, we began hearing personal stories, we affirmed the inclusion of all within Quakers. The media became more serious and less derisory about trans. Many felt able to come out.
Paradoxically, this gradual unfolding of trans awareness was severely reduced when a debate started about amending the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), to ease the process of reassigned gender.
At the same time, gender certainties, even those recognized by law, became less certain as we acknowledged and welcomed gender non-binary people and an openness to a breadth of gender identity across the binary of masculine / feminine.
All this was brought close to Quakers, who were often unaware of the debate, when Quaker Meeting Houses were used for public meetings challenging the reform of the GRA.
Quaker Life Central Committee draft statement
In 2017, Meeting for Sufferings asked Quaker Life Central Committee to consider trans and non-binary inclusion. In November 2018, it published a draft statement on its web page, asking for responses. This addressed the two-sided conflict and the use of our meeting houses by campaign groups.
The dispiriting thing for some is that Quaker Life Central Committee’s discernment was derailed from a positive starting place of inclusion, to a statement about use of our meeting houses. Instead of leading a discernment about gender diversity, Quakers became reactive to conflicting political positions. Local meetings now had to brief themselves about the GRA and campaign groups, rather than exploring and understanding our experiences as women and trans people.
A re-connect across Quakers
QLCC and Meeting for Sufferings continue their work. Friends House is working on diversity in our meetings through Yearly Meeting and two weekend workshops at Woodbrooke in 2019 and 2020. LMs and AMs, YFGM, Quaker Lesbian Group have held meetings and workshops, sometimes producing minutes; Where we perceive a disconnect between meetings, or between older Friends and young Friends, perhaps this can re-connect in slowly forming discernment.
Be led so we can lead
Our leadings as GSD Friends may help us determine the methods we use to approach clearness, as well as how we clarify and distinguish aspects of the concern. Are there some issues that can be eased out of the argument and clearness obtained for each? We all know there is both truth and falsity in campaigns, even the causes we support. As QGSDC, can we focus our affiliations to the truth as a community and as an example to other faith groups and wider society?
‘Only when diverse perspectives are included, respected, and valued can we start to get a full picture of the world: who we serve, what they need, and how to successfully meet people where they are.
Daring leaders fight for the inclusion of all people, opinions, and perspectives because that makes us all better and stronger. That means having the courage to acknowledge our own privilege, and staying open to learning about our biases and blind spots. It is also listening, centring, and honouring stories that reflect experiences that are different than our own.
Courage is listening, learning, unlearning, knowing when to lead, and knowing when to let others lead.’
Brené Brown Dare to lead