When I was visiting a church for the first time, I asked the greeter where I could find a restroom. She asked, in a friendly voice, would I prefer the men’s room, the women’s room, or the gender-neutral restroom? This told me immediately that this church was ready and welcoming of transgender and gender non-conforming visitors. I guessed—correctly, as it turns out—that they were a congregation that included LGBTQ people and had done their homework in preparing their greeters.
The impression that you make on a newcomer in just the first few minutes can determine whether they will return to your congregation. In preparing those who stand at the door and greet those coming to worship or an event, have you considered how they will welcome LGBTQ people? Here are a few thoughts:
- Some LGBTQ people—especially those who have been rejected by a community of faith before—may come in the door worrying that they will be sent away and condemned. They may joke about causing a bolt of lightening to hit the building or look for signs of unwelcome. Being clear that all people are welcome is key! It is important for these folks to see a visible sign of acceptance—like rainbow flags or clearly labelled posters or brochures—so that they know they are in a welcoming community.
- Greeters should take care not to make assumptions about people as they enter. Same-sex couples are sometimes asked, “oh, are you siblings?” by well-meaning greeters, sending a signal that not many LGBTQ couples are present or expected. This can feel like denigrating the relationship the two do share. After all, greeters wouldn’t ask a man and a woman entering together if they are brother and sister. Bisexuals with opposite gender partners are also sometimes mistakenly assumed to be straight. Consider welcoming each person as an individual rather than making assumptions about their identities and relationships.
- Take care not to be too assertive or you may put off those who are shy or want to take their time getting to know your community. Sometimes greeters are so eager to include those who are different that it can be off-putting. Remember that while you may have important and worthy goals of diversifying your congregation, newcomers shouldn’t bear the responsibility of “being the diversity” you want to see.
- Be prepared to answer any questions that a non-binary or transgender person may have about using the restrooms in your facility. If you don’t have a designated non-gendered restroom, you can tell people that they are welcome to use the one they feel most comfortable in (and teach your congregation that this is your policy!).
- Offer a genuine greeting in the same way to each and every person who enters. Those who have been marginalized will often notice if they are greeted differently than others. Leave a great first impression with your visitors by making sure that everyone is welcomed and that your congregation is a truly friendly place.