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Transgender clergy are seen in liberal Christian denominations, but they seem to have spent an earlier part of their lives in conservative or traditionalist churches. (photo: TransEpiscopal)

Transgender clergy are seen in liberal Christian denominations, but they seem to have spent an earlier part of their lives in conservative or traditionalist churches. (photo: TransEpiscopal)

Liberal activist and Episcopal clergywoman Susan Russell recently tweeted an interesting article from Politics and Religion about Cameron Partridge, a transgender clergyman appointed by Massachusetts Bishop Thomas Shaw to be Episcopal Chaplain for Boston University. While Russell celebrates Partridge’s distinction of being one of the first transgender chaplains at a major university, another item was also worth noting:

Partridge “grew up in a fairly conservative church in California with little exposure to women or gay clergy until just before he left for college.”

The concept of transgender clergy originating from conservative/traditionalist circles isn’t remarkable – we have many examples of transgender clergy persons from more orthodox backgrounds, it may even be closer to the rule than the exception. Granted, the Episcopal Church (TEC) currently only has seven transgender persons ordained as clergy – not exactly a large field to collect data from.

My question is not “do conservative religious households produce more children that eventually identify as transgender?” but rather “are children from these households the ones who end up in liberal religious groups, as opposed to children raised either in those liberal circles to begin with, or outside of the church altogether?” If so, why?

A few other examples:

Deacon Carolyn Woodall (the first openly transgender person to be ordained in the Episcopal Church –others transitioned to opposite gender identities after being ordained) was from the traditionalist Anglo-Catholic Diocese of San Joaquin. The remaining Episcopal portion of the diocese pulled a dramatic 180-degree shift after conservative Anglicans took the diocesan majority to the Anglican Church in North America, and Woodall was eventually ordained by much more liberal Provisional Bishop Chester Talton. Still, Woodall participated in the life of – and unsuccessfully sought ordination in – the much more conservative diocese.

Immediately before the push to place gender identity and expression into the Episcopal Church’s nondiscrimination canons, Episcopal LGBT caucus Integrity USA released a documentary entitled “Voices of Witness: Out of the Box.” Both Partridge and Woodall are prominently featured in the short film, as is Carla Robinson, an Episcopal Priest who was previously a male pastor in the traditionalist Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

These now-liberal Episcopal clergy are not the only ones: a few years ago, I attended the homosexual activist organization Human Rights Campaign’s clergy call, intended to bring LGBT-affirming clergy to the nation’s capital in order to lobby Congress. Attendees were welcomed by Allyson Robinson, an HRC Foundation Deputy Director. Robinson previously lived as a man and was ordained as a Baptist minister after graduating from Baylor University’s Evangelical Truett Theological Seminary.

I’m not sure if transgenderism will ever reach the prominence of homosexuality in Episcopal circles – quite simply, there just aren’t that many transgender persons within the church. Even at a special Integrity USA service during Episcopal General Convention that was largely focused upon transgender persons, less than 20 were at the actual event. Some of these individuals left their conservative church communities as soon as they decided to manifest their gender perceptions, and then landed within liberal religious circles. It seems less common to meet transgender people who grew up in liberal religion (or outside the church to begin with) and then came to groups like TEC.

Part of the answer may be that those children who grew up in traditionalist religious circles may have had more of a positive imprint of faith in their lives – even though they must now leave those circles in order to embrace what is taboo. Children from liberal religious groups seem to replicate their parents’ religious practices less. Those who grew up outside the church will likely not be drawn into liberal Christianity.

Follow Jeff Walton on Twitter @JeffreyHWalton