Report by Elaine (UK) and Mark (Russia)
From June 28 – July 1 we (Elaine and Mark) had the opportunity to attend Transgender Europe’s biennial Council meeting in Antwerp, representing the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups. We are both core members of the Forum’s Trans Working Group. We are grateful to the Forum for this opportunity to meet many trans people, outside a faith setting.
The first evening’s social gave us the chance to meet some of the 250 delegates present, with an amazing variety of gender identities and expressions, all under the trans umbrella. Unbeknown to us, there was also an undercover police presence at the evening reception, and the next day a vote was taken and carried to have no further police presence at the venue.
Session on Trans and Faith
The conference programme was decided by the participants during a rather hectic initial planning meeting, where people gathered in interest groups to decide the content of their session. We met with a small number of people to plan our session on Trans and Faith, assisted by one of the TGEU facilitators. Each group was subsequently allocated a room and time for their session, but as there were more groups than space, five were left unallocated, and this including ours. Undeterred, we decided to hold our session anyway, in a corridor! But being left out did suggest to us that our topic wasn’t considered to be of great importance by TGEU.
When our session met, we had about twelve attendees, from a wide variety of faith backgrounds, which included Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist and others. This made it hard to be inclusive of everyone’s concerns, and there were inevitably a lot of generalisations. Because of this, the session didn’t have any particular concrete conclusions, which was a little disappointing. We need to consider how the Forum’s interfaith networking can best proceed.
However, the session did challenge us as to how the European Forum can be more involved with people whose faith has been damaged by traumatic religious communities, and how we can encourage and support them to seek loving and caring Christian churches where they live.
One of the most positive aspects of the weekend was the opportunity to meet and chat with people informally over coffee and at mealtimes. Many were interested in the work of the European Forum, and acknowledged the importance of addressing the conflicts faced by trans people of faith. But when we talked with staff members of TGEU, there was a less supportive attitude. We pointed out that their Activities Report did not refer to faith issues at all. They agreed that this was the case, but commented that at the moment this was not one of their priorities.
Mark met some delegates from Central Asia who expressed interest in attending the EECA Forum, and we felt that this could be a strategic involvement for the European Forum to consider.
How to Move on
We came away from the conference with a number of meaningful contacts with whom to stay in touch. From the perspective of networking with TGEU, we will consider in the Trans Working Group what we are able to offer the organisation, to encourage them to take faith issues more seriously, perhaps establishing a dialogue with key people of TGEU in the coming year.