When people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer (LGBTQ) first come to your congregation, they may be uneasy until they know they are welcome.
Many religious denominations and individual churches are actively hostile to and condemning of LGBTQ people, ignore them, and/or claim to treat everyone the same regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, refusing to acknowledge that LGBTQ people face additional issues in society and around matters of faith and religion. Because of this, many people who are marginalized due to sexual orientation and/or gender identity will assume that you and your congregation don’t want them unless you clearly invite them in.
To feel welcome in your congregation, members of oppressed groups need to know that the congregation is aware of their issues and that they are welcome as their full selves. Little things are often the most important. What will really make people feel welcome, and what will make them want to return, is inclusion in all aspects of congregational life. You can make it clear that they are welcome without their having to ask.
1. Engage or Reengage with the Welcoming Congregation Program
Go through the Welcoming Congregation Program. No matter what your congregation's unique circumstances are, you can become recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) for your work around education, congregational life, and community outreach in regards to LGBTQ issues.
The work of welcome is never done. Welcoming Congregations can learn more about how to be truly welcoming to all people by renewing their commitment.
- Begin your Annual Welcoming Congregation Renewal program - The Five Practices of Welcome Renewal
2. Proclaim Your Welcome
Advertise in local and regional LGBTQ publications and newsletters, including online ones. Also advertise in general venues: local newspapers, bulletin boards in community gathering places, and online publications with a local focus.
Place a note in your Orders of Service that states your welcome. You can make a general statement that you welcome all people, or you can use more specific language. If your congregation has a website, add a note there as well and consider how else you can make your website welcoming to LGBTQ visitors.
3. Make Information About LGBTQ People and Issues Available
In your literature area, bulletin boards, newsletter, and/or website, include literature and information about LGBTQ people and issues and what LGBTQ outreach and public witness your congregation is doing. LGBTQ Ministries and the inSpirit: The UU Book and Gift Shop have printed materials you might want to consider displaying.
4. Take Steps Toward Inclusive Language
Inclusive language is about more than stating a welcome to all. It's about intentionally understanding and challenging the ways that our language unconsciously assumes certain things and unintentionally makes people with marginalized identities feel unwelcome.
Provide written guidelines for inclusive language to all people who participate in your Sunday services (including ministers, lay leaders, guest speakers, and readers of announcements and readings), contribute to your newsletter and/or website, lead your religious education programs for all ages, and lead other programs. Also, give special attention to the role of your greeters—among other options, check out the UUA's Multicultural Welcome resource.
5. Acknowledge and Respect Individuals and Families
Accord full acknowledgment and respect to each person and family, as defined by the person/family. This includes the definition of pledging units, listings in the directory, family events, and all other aspects of congregational life. Take time to ask how individuals and families prefer to be acknowledged and referred to, rather than assuming things like family structure, preferred gender pronouns, and labels and other words people use to refer to themselves.
If your services include a time for people to participate as a family, invite families of all descriptions to take a turn in that part of the service: single people, single people with children, same and mixed gender couples with and without children, families of choice, etc.
6. Avoid Assumptions
Avoid making assumptions about the sexual orientation or gender identity of any of your members, visitors, or children, and be open to challenges to assumptions that you do make. Take time to ask, and then always respect, each person’s identity, self-labels, and pronoun preferences.
7. Take Intentional Steps Toward Transgender, Bisexual, and Queer Welcome
Do education around the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, and take intentional steps toward transgender welcome and inclusion, as well as bisexual and queer welcome and inclusion. For example, avoid dividing people into two genders in practice or in language. Avoid assuming all people are gay or straight, or that you can tell a person's sexual orientation by their partner. Prioritize education about gender diversity and non-binary sexual orientations, whether through Sunday services, film screenings, workshops, small group ministry, religious education programming, or more.
8. Make LGBTQ Issues a Part of Your Worship
Hold services and sermons that address LGBTQ issues. Ask worship leaders to do supportive sermons or openly LGBTQ members, friends, and/or family members to contribute sermons or other elements. Invite community leaders or interfaith partners to lead or collaborate in worship around LGBTQ issues. Honor LGBTQ events such as Pride, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and National Coming Out Day. Regularly include diversity of families, sexual orientations, and gender identities in stories, readings, and other worship elements.
9. Do Outreach and Public Witness Around LGBTQ Issues
There are a multitude of ways to take action and show your support for LGBTQ justice, no matter how small your congregation is or where you're located. Build relationships with LGBTQ groups or organizations in your area—ask them what they need and how you can help. If there are openly LGBTQ people in your congregation, respect their guidance and leadership.
10. Deepen Your Welcome Beyond Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Increasing your welcome of LGBTQ people is just one entry point into the conversation about how to truly be a Welcoming Congregation. LGBTQ people, like all people, have multifaceted identities. They are people of color, they are working class, they have disabilities, they are immigrants, they are children and youth and single parents and elders. Is your congregation a welcoming congregation to all of these people also?
Emphasize the fact that all people are multifaceted and that all oppressions are interrelated—weave this into everything that your congregation does. Explore how homophobia and transphobia affect people with multiple oppressed identities differently. Offer Building the World We Dream About, a program about race and ethnicity; check out more ways to nurture inclusivity.