The Church of England has taken some steps toward LGBT acceptance, although some activists point out that it still has far to go.
Members of the General Synod, the church’s national governing body, voted over the weekend to condemn so-called conversion therapy and to welcome and affirm transgender members.
The synod approved a motion Saturday calling on the U.K. government to ban conversion therapy, usually performed on LGBT people in hopes of turning them straight or cisgender, The Guardian reports. Members endorsed a statement from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other organizations calling the practice unethical, potentially harmful, and with “no place in the modern world.” Jayne Ozanne, a lesbian and lay activist, proposed that the synod make the endorsement.
Several other attendees spoke in favor of it, according to The Guardian. “The sooner the practice of so-called conversion therapy is banned, I can sleep at night,” said John Sentamu, the archbishop of York. Paul Bayes, the bishop of Liverpool, added, “As the world listens to us the world needs to hear us say that LGBTI+ orientation and identity is not a crime. LGBTI+ orientation and identity is not a sickness. And LGBTI+ orientation and identity is not a sin.” Some conservative members of the synod opposed the motion, but it carried by a large margin.
The synod then voted Sunday, again by an overwhelming margin, to recognize “the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church” and to consider preparing a church rite to mark gender transition.
“I hope that we can make a powerful statement to say that we believe that trans people are cherished and loved by God, who created them and is present through all the twists and turns of their lives,” said Rev. Chris Newlands, who proposed the motion.
Some activists noted that the church, despite these pro-LGBT moves, still will not provide church weddings to same-sex couples and denies ordination to people in same-sex relationships. The denomination once was a strong advocate of conversion therapy and “might be pushing this issue to project a pro-LGBT image” in order to “counter the masses of negative criticism” over its policy on same-sex marriage, U.K. activist Peter Tatchell told the Washington Blade. Still, calling for an end to such therapy “is a surprising and encouraging development,” he said.
The church has appointed working groups to study whether to allow same-sex marriages, and they will not report back until at least 2020, The Guardian notes. Some clergy and laity would like to see the issue addressed sooner. “There is a lot of potential for things to be sidelined, postponed, and delayed,” Joyce Hill, a lay member of the synod, told the paper.
The vote on welcoming transgender people may be a harbinger of more openness to come, according to a retired clergy member who is trans. “Being transgender was not a barrier to ordination in the Church of England, though much still depended on one’s bishop, as Church of England bishops have a degree of autonomy in their dioceses,” Tina Beardsley, who transitioned in 2001, 20 years after her ordination, wrote in The Guardian. She continued as a clergy member for several years before retiring.
“Does this mean the Church of England finds it easier to accept trans people than lesbian or gay people?” she went on. “Possibly, though it has sometimes been less than comfortable with either group. But given the tone of recent General Synod debates, it now seems prepared to listen, learn and change. Trans people who transition, as I did, seem to fit the male/female binary the church tends to insist on. Non-binary people appear to question that distinction, but were mentioned in Sunday’s debate, which was said to signal hope for all gender-variant people.”
The Church of England is part of the global Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church in the U.S. National churches are free to set their own policies; the Episcopal Church in recent years has become thoroughly LGBT-accepting.