Oct. 8, 2018.

By Karen Wolf, Equality UUCF.

One thing that drew me to UUCF, and Unitarian Universalism in general, was the promise of radical welcome for people of all genders and sexualities. UUCF became a “Welcoming Congregation” (going through the Welcoming Congregation curriculum) in 1994. Since then, we’ve fought for marriage equality, inclusive sexuality education in schools and been part of Reston’s first Pride celebration. The way the U.S. views gay, lesbian and bisexual people has changed a lot since 1994. Transgender rights, while also moving forward in the last 20 years, have lagged behind other issues

During our weekly greeting at worship services, congregational leaders say, “Whoever you are, and whomever you love …,” and the congregation responds, “You are welcome here.” Equality UUCF wants to make sure that people of all gender identities feel welcome at UUCF. One way to do that is by stopping by our table in the Commons over the next few weeks, and picking up a gender pronoun ribbon for your name tag.

Displaying our gender pronouns, and using the displayed pronouns instead of assuming, serves two purposes. One is pretty obvious: to find out what pronouns a person uses, and then to use those pronouns when referring to them. It avoids making assumptions about people’s gender identity, and honors the terms they use for themselves. This is a form of respect. If someone tells me their name is John, I don’t say, “Oh, well, you look like a Bartholomew to me!” and call them that. We call people what they ask to be called.

The other reason to display gender pronouns is a little more abstract: to make transparent the fact that everyone has personal pronouns. Everyone has a gender identity. If it’s aligned with the gender you were assigned at birth, we call that cisgender. If not, we generally call that transgender. Some people may have a more complex relationship to their gender identity, and may use pronouns like “they/them,” or one of several other pronouns like “zie/hir” or “ey/em.” Pronouns aren’t some special things we do for trans people. We all use them (our language relies on them). It normalizes the process of asking for and telling others your pronouns.

After handing out the ribbons at our table in the Commons over the next few weeks, Equality UUCF will make them available at the Welcome Table. You can also get your pronouns printed directly on your name tag if you have your name tag replaced.

The theme for October is “Sanctuary.” I want to see UUCF as a sanctuary for transgender and gender non-conforming people. The outside world can be hostile – from North Carolina’s bathroom laws to the high rates of homicide and suicide for transgender people – survival can be a struggle. I want our transgender siblings to experience UUCF as a place of refuge, where they’re allowed to be themselves. And I want transgender and gender non-conforming youth to know that they’re a beloved part of our community, and that it is safe here to explore their identities as they grow.