Ahead of Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) 2017 I was invited to speak to staff at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. It wanted to signal its on-going commitment to diversity and equality, especially its commitment to celebrate and respect trans lives.
It was a vibrant, well-supported occasion. I attempted to tell a little of my story as a trans person, a priest and fellow traveller with others in matters of identity and human flourishing.
As ever, what moved me was hearing other people’s stories. I was reminded that there a hunger for all of us to be heard and respected and loved. I sense some people were heard into speech.
However, if there was one aspect of this event which challenged me and reminded just how far we in the Church of England are yet to travel it lay in one seemingly banal detail.
At one point the hospital HR officer in charge of equalities announced that she’d brought along some NHS rainbow lanyards because ‘people were always asking for one’.
OK, she was talking about a lanyard, arguably that bane of all large organisations where employees have to signal who they are by having an ID card on display.
And, yet, what struck me was the ‘non-issue’ about having a rainbow lanyard with ‘NHS’ emblazoned on it.
It was the ordinariness of the fact that a major (perhaps *the*) icon of ‘respected national institution’ issues lanyards with a rainbow flag emblazoned on them.
OK, it’s just a lanyard. Yet it's a signal of a national institution’s commitment to the celebration, respect and honouring of LGBT+ lives.
As I was shown around the hospital I started seeing staff wearing them everywhere. I saw people who – with my unconsciously biased eyes – I would not have expected to be wearing them.
It’s just a lanyard. Yet, seeing staff wearing them as ordinary practice gave me hope. I felt like I was included in that institution. That an institution I was proud of and cared for has people like me at its heart – not as inconveniences, but as honoured members.
I was also challenged: what if the Church of England or even one of its dioceses could be like the NHS on this?
Now, you’ll tell me that clergy and staff of the C of E don’t usually wear lanyards (unless they work for some trendy resource church, or the diocesan offices), and that’s right. Furthermore, I didn't visit Newcastle as 'C of E rep on trans matters'.
My point is: I am profoundly committed to the C of E as a national institution. I want it worthy of mention in the same breath as the NHS as a respected institution committed to serving all. (Well, maybe that ship sailed decades ago, but you know what I mean.)
I am a dreamer and fool I think.
As I’ve processed my visit to Newcastle I’ve thought, ‘Goodness, what would it have signalled to assembled staff if I too could have walked into that room wearing a rainbow lanyard with ‘Diocese of Manchester’ or ‘C of E’ emblazoned on it?’
What – from a missional, a human, a personal point of view – might that have said to the assembled people?
Of course, given where we are at as an institution, the possibility of a bishop, priest, minister walking around with a rainbow anything with ‘C of E’ or ‘Diocese of …’ on it, seems remote.
Despite great local initiatives or even the new C of E advice to its schools about respecting LGBT+ people, I am often shame-faced about the national institution I serve and love. (It's difficult to be otherwise when, as far as I can see, McDonalds (e.g) has better LGBT policies for those who work for it than the national church.)
My hope is not so much that we all end up wearing lanyards! Rather I hope that, qua institution, the C of E and its dioceses becomes something that has a public, visible rainbow reality showing forth from it. Then it might signal that it is a place where the great majority of people can locate their complex, rich and wondrous lives.