All this century, Quakers in Britain have supported trans people. This support is based on our fundamental principles and ways of seeing reality and human beings, drawing on our support of gay people against the prejudice of the mainstream churches since the 1970s. Our position comes from the courage of gay and trans people and the enthusiastic support of cis straight people speaking up for what they know is right.
Quakers supported the original Gender Recognition Bill in 2003. 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.” Our issue with the Bill, the matter we did not support, was the idea that marriages where one partner sought a gender recognition certificate would have to be dissolved. We saw no need for that, and were already lobbying for gay relationships to be recognised.
My own article in The Friend magazine on 26 September 2003 helped our increasing understanding.
The decision to support the Bill was taken by Meeting for Sufferings, by representatives of Quaker meetings all round the country, by people who knew trans people personally as friends, based on our testimony to the equality of all people. It followed in depth work by Quaker Life, the committee of Quakers supporting the pastoral care and vivacity of Quaker communities. Quaker Life asked the Yearly Meeting to support the Bill. Our committees restrict their approaches to government to those issues on which we speak from experience. Here, we had the experience of pastoral care.
Quaker Life wrote, We are challenged to develop our ability to handle uncomfortable questions…How can we build a community in the yearly meeting which is open to change and takes account of everyone’s true needs? Action often seems to stem from pressure, passion or even anger from section of the community, by which, as individuals, we can become transformed. We learn from experience.
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.
Because of these minutes, the official Quaker position is supporting gender recognition.
Some Quaker meeting houses have hosted meetings organised by Woman’s Place UK, a transphobic organisation. Meeting houses are generally hired out to people who pay the fees, like other buildings with meeting rooms for hire. WPUK sought to conceal their true nature from the Quakers. They refused to publicise the venue of their meetings in order to prevent cis and trans campaigners for trans rights from explaining why the venue should not provide a room for the meeting.
When Brighton Quaker meeting found out the nature of the room hire, they cancelled the meeting before it was held. WPUK had to go to another venue in the city. As they said, WPUK events have resulted in acrimony and discord… We do not believe that a meeting of this kind will enhance the wider debate or a mutual understanding… We think it more likely to aggravate the situation.
Any organisation will have a number of transphobes, but the Quakers opposed to trans human rights as defined in international law tend to be so on principle, believing that people should be able to be gender diverse without needing to transition or alter their bodies. Not accepting trans people’s right to choose chest masculinisation or other surgery is clearly transphobic, but their aim is to allow greater gender diversity. They do not oppose our rights on some idea of the God-given differences between men and women. Trans people are welcome in Quaker meetings, and take positions of leadership among Quakers.
The Quaker Gender and Sexual Diversity Community supports trans rights. Here is their statement: We strongly challenge the misrepresentation, misinformation, disrespect and intrinsic antagonism towards trans people by Woman’s Place UK and others in pursuing their stated aims around gender identity legislation (including the GRA), and want to highlight the hugely negative effect this is having on trans people in Britain, including trans Friends.
We believe peace starts with us, and would be interested in seeking a peaceful way forward with those who are open to doing so. For dialogue to be fruitful each party has to commit to ending behaviour that is likely to kill, hurt or antagonise, and thereby clearly demonstrate a change in attitude. If it can be done in Northern Ireland and South Africa it can be done anywhere.
We don’t think Twitter, Facebook or any other social media is the place to do this work: it’s too easy for feelings to become heightened and for a situation to escalate very quickly, as demonstrated this week.
QGSDC continues to be a community of support and solidarity for trans people, and a resource for the wider Religious Society of Friends.
We believe that focusing on, and responding to, that of God (or good) in the other, however hidden, is key in all of this.
North Pacific YM, in the US, is ahead of Britain in expressing its support for trans people: North Pacific Yearly Meeting understands that the Divine Source is leading our Meeting to honor the gender identity and expression of each person, as understood by that person. We affirm that gender expression and identity may be fluid and changeable. We recognize that when we embrace the Light within the full spectrum of gender identities on our Meeting, our worship deepens and our community is enriched.
As part of our evolving struggle to live our testimony of equality, North Pacific Yearly Meeting minutes our commitment to becoming an affirming, safe, and nurturing place for everyone to live fully that which the Spirit is leading them to be.
We extend our loving care to people of all genders, including, but not limited to, transgender, genderqueer, cisgender, gender-fluid, agender, gender non-conforming, and intersex persons, their families and friends. We will continue to educate ourselves and our communities and take appropriate action to bring about a more equal world.
Young Friends General Meeting, for Quakers from 18-30ish, support trans and non-binary inclusion and rights.
Meeting for Sufferings wrote a minute in July 2019:
MfS/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.
In their covering letter the clerk explained,
The key items are: 1) A consideration of the documents received from QLCC and YFGM and for us to try to understand the issues involved in the current debate around gender diversity. We heard that working in small groups to consider this may be a good way forward and that QLCC would like to receive further comments – please send your comments to email@example.com We hope that when we return to this we may be able to articulate more clearly what specific Quaker contribution there may be to this issue, remembering that the basis of our response is love and the recognition that each person is a child of God.