The beginning of Summer has brought with it a sense of affirmation and relief to many Friends as a formal reconciliation process concerning the PYM Transgender Youth Policy has concluded its initial steps.
This past winter, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting asked the Traveling Ministries service of Friends General Conference to help our community address and resolve the various conflicts and hurt feelings that resulted from last year’s announcement and subsequent suspension of a new PYM Youth Programs Transgender Policy. (Please see the end of this article for background information.) The FGC Traveling Ministries service connects meetings seeking support with experienced Friends who have spiritual gifts to share. The Traveling Ministries service has started us on a reconciliation process in a way that has been supportive and opening to everyone concerned and the connection has been a nurturing and effective support for our faith community.
Following the suspension of the PYM Youth Programs Transgender policy last summer, the Young Friends Program continued operating in the same manner it had the previous year, including the practice of all youth and adults using the facilities of the gender with which they identify. Some aspects of this practice are complicated and continue to need attention and the Young Friends community is laboring to find practices that best meet its needs. While practical concerns such as this are being addressed, it is also important for us to to engage and work with Friends who have felt alienated or hurt over this issue.
Elaine Bishop, of Canadian Yearly Meeting and her elder Rosalie Dance, of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, agreed to travel in the ministry and serve as visitors to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to assist and facilitate healing. After reviewing documents and a general timeline of our experience, Elaine engaged in deep listening with Friends across our faith community. She listened with staff, Young Friends, Friendly Adult Presences, committee members and parents. Her compassion, paired with her deep knowledge of Friends community and process, and her understanding of the issues that trans* people face has helped create a trusting space where Friends are felt heard and engaged. (Elaine’s professional work has included advocating and developing resources for trans* people in the medical field.)
The first step of our reconciliation process took place this Spring. Elaine and Rosalie came to Philadelphia for four days, during which time they spoke individually with Young Friends; Program Staff, the Associate Secretary for Program & Religious Life and the General Secretary; Friendly Adult presences and the Clerk. They then met with people in small groups for sharing of experiences and feelings. Some of the meetings were in person and some were on the phone, allowing for the most flexibility and inclusiveness. Elaine and Rosalie met with Staff as a group and with Friendly Presences in their own group. They attempted to set up a meeting with Young Friends as a group but the timing and illnesses of two youth meant that it didn’t work out this time. Elaine and Rosalie also met with the entire Education Standing Committee, whose members demonstrated commitment to our reconciliation process, even those committee members who were not active as the policy was originally being developed.
Many Friends expressed how deeply moving their time and experiences with Elaine and Rosalie had been; that they felt heard and understood during the grounded listening that allowed them to voice their feelings and concerns.
The next step in the reconciliation process will take place this Fall when Elaine and Rosalie will return to Philadelphia to bring groups together to talk with one another. The process is proceeding at a careful and deliberate pace to help ensure inclusiveness and completion.
Friends with questions or other thoughts may contact Christie Duncan-Tessmer, Associate Secretary for Program & Religious Life at 215-241-7008 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Young Friends & Education Standing Committee – A Reconciliation Opportunity, April 8, 2014
- Transgender Youth Policy Suspended by Action of the Clerk, July 24, 2013
- Youth Programs Transgender Policy, July 19, 2013