Trans Christians express disappointment over Church report and reiterate calls for inclusion

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A Christian trans group has described the publication of last week’s Pilling Report as having “very little to say about transgender people” in the Church of England.

The report which was produced by four bishops and chaired by former civil servant Sir Joseph Pilling recommended members of the clergy should be allowed to offer blessings to same-sex couples.

The House of Bishops Working Party also urged the Church of England to tackle homophobia and to embrace “gay and lesbian people both lay and ordained.”

Sibyls, a UK based confidential spirituality group for transgender people and their supporters, described the Pilling Report as “a tentative first step towards equality for transgender, lesbian, bisexual and gay members of the Church of England” – but Sibyls quickly went on to express disappointment that trans Christians had been excluded from the working party’s remit.

A statement from Sibyls read: “The prospect of a further two years of conversations, after so many years of the listening process, is a daunting prospect, but as an organisation we are committed to developing relationships and dialogue with those who disagree with us.

“Our submission to the working party commended the use of the carefully-managed group listening exercise, developed in the Sibyls’ ‘Gender, sexuality and spirituality’ workshop, as a template for any continuing listening process in the Church of England. This workshop, which was tested on many occasions, and in different settings, has been written up in the peer-reviewed journal, Theology & Sexuality Vol. 16:3, 2010. Uniquely, it addresses gender identity and spirituality in addition to sexuality. In our view it is not possible to isolate issues of sexuality from issues of gender and spirituality.”

Sibyls added: “We are particularly disappointed, therefore, that the Pilling Report has very little to say about transgender and transsexual people, despite our written submission, and the meetings that took place between members of the working party and Christian trans people. There is real hurt that we do not appear to have been listened to on this occasion. We note that Paragraph 38 of the report’s Introduction specifically excludes transgender people from the working party’s remit. It scarcely does justice to transgender issues to remove them from the discussion of human sexuality which is now urgently needed.

“We are troubled too that the report confines its warm welcome and affirmation to gay and lesbian people in the Church, lay and ordained, with no mention of transgender people. We will though persevere as participants in any further conversation in the hope that our particular perspective will be eventually heard.”

Sibyls Committee member Christina Beardsley said: “Trans people have been used to living on the margins of society and the Church but times are changing for the better. Church of England statements and practice in relation to transsexual people are more progressive than the Pilling Report suggests. Trans Christians are increasingly conscious that they bring special gifts to their faith community. The proposed listening process is an opportunity for those gifts to become a blessing to others.”