(In the above photo, Tori Phillips is on the top left.)
By Rachel Vroege, DMC Staff
I first met Tori just over a year ago after a New Direction gathering at Vancouver First CRC. Tori is a Trans* woman and a Christian who attends Lighthouse of Hope Christian Fellowship in New Westminster, British Columbia. She is passionate about the Church, helping churches to understand the LGBTQ+ community, and breaking down the barriers that lead LGBTQ+ people to feel marginalized in the church.
Meeting Tori changed my life and opened my eyes to the barriers experienced by Trans* people both within and without the church. When I opened my heart to Tori to learn more about the experiences of Trans* people I came face to face with the reality of what it means to live justly.
Tori graciously agreed to chat with me about the barriers and challenges that exist and how the church and deacons can reach out to make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Rachel: What does the term Trans* mean, and why the asterisk?
Tori: Trans* is an umbrella term that refers to all of the identities within the gender identity spectrum. Trans (without the asterisk) can be intentionally used to describe trans men and trans women, while the asterisk makes special note in an effort to include all transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming identities.
Rachel: What is the most compelling justice concern facing LGBTQ+ people in society?
Tori: A 2013 National Report stated that at least 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness in any given year and that youth account for 20% of the homeless. An estimated 25% to 40% of homeless youth are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or transgender. A third of trans* youth are rejected from shelters.
This occurs because LGBTQ+ youth face ridicule and non-acceptance in their families and communities, in particular those who are gender neutral and fluid. Due to family conflict after coming out, many LGBTQ+ youth are kicked out of their homes.
Trans* people are often turned away from food banks when they don’t look the same as the gender listed on their ID.
Although we have this information, there is still minimal support available to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ youth in Canada. The church can be a voice for the weakest in society.
Rachel: How can churches help Trans* people to feel like they are welcome and belong in their faith community?
Tori: It’s hard to walk through the doors of a church not knowing what kind of reception you will get. Will people stare? Will they whisper? It’s not very comfortable. Gender-neutral bathrooms are one way churches can communicate hospitality and welcome.
Rachel: What does biblical justice mean to you?
Tori: The golden rule—“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12), or in medical terminology: “do no harm.” Justice for LGBTQ+ looks like a place in society—to work, to pay taxes, to have dignity. Justice is to be heard, to have a place at the table.
Rachel: What would you like people to know about you (as a Trans* person)?
Tori: That beyond being Trans*, I live a normal life—I’m a parent to two young men aged 25 and 27, I work in automotive parts, I have a wife, Elaine, and a cat. That God designed diversity and I’m just another person with a soul, a soul well worth reaching out to with compassion and care.
For many Christians, especially those of us within the Christian Reformed tradition, interviews like these may raise feelings of indignation, guilt, or even anger. The LGBTQ+ issue is one that frequently divides families and churches. However, if we are to be taking a posture of humility and compassion, we cannot immediately dismiss these words as blasphemous or irreverent. We must journey alongside our Christian siblings, regardless of their sexual or gender orientation.
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” (Romans 14: 13)
If your diaconate or church is looking to get involved or start the conversation about LGBTQ+ persons, or if you have questions or comments about this piece, please feel free to email DMC’s Justice Mobilizer at email@example.com, or comment below.