Home Pastors West Virginia pastor promotes safe space for transgender community | UVM News

West Virginia pastor promotes safe space for transgender community | UVM News

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Sherry Phillips became a lesbian 25 years ago. After opening up about her identity, she said her former church limited her ability to teach, sing and participate in activities she loved.

“I was welcome where I was raised, in my church, but I was told I couldn’t do anything in the church,” Phillips said.

Although she was urged to continue attending services, she said she didn’t really feel accepted.

“If someone says, ‘We welcome you, but we don’t affirm you,’ that’s like saying, ‘We’ll tolerate you, but we can’t celebrate you,'” she said. declared. “And to think that you’re just tolerated, for whatever reason, and they can’t celebrate who you are is just awful.”

Phillips is now the senior pastor of New Covenant Church in Princeton, West Virginia, which was founded in 2015.

Phillips was one of dozens of pastors who enrolled their congregations in the WVU LGBTQ+ Center’s Trans Safe Zone training.

The training aims to help organizations understand how to create an open and tolerant environment for people of diverse gender identities.

“I feel like the training was very educational,” Phillips said in an interview. “I feel like every house of faith really should bring their congregation along so we can all learn and make our churches a safer place for the trans community.”

Phillips pointed out that the training helped create a space where allies can ask questions and transgender people can talk about their experiences.

“I never meant to hurt any of my trans friends and dig too deep into asking too much information from them and offending them,” Phillips said. “So that gave us some freedom to ask questions.”

Phillips was invited to the training by Angel Smothers, clinical associate professor at the WVU School of Nursing. Smothers worked with the LGBTQ+ Center to deliver the classes.

“We know that West Virginia has one of the highest populations of transgender youth in the country,” Smothers said in an interview. “We also know that the rate of suicide and suicide attempts within the transgender community, especially among young people, is very high.”

Smothers said she saw an opportunity to educate religious groups in an effort to change this trend.

“My work as a faith-based community nurse has really paved the way for education within churches,” she said.

The course is a presentation format with question and answer sessions within it. Each session is intended for leaders and/or members of a specific church at a time.

The LGBTQ+ Center offers Trans Safe Zone classes as well as general LGBTQ+ Safe Zone training for a variety of groups, including any interested faculty, staff, students, or community members.

Classes are not exclusive to religious groups. To date, only one religious organization has completed the Trans Safe Zone training.

LGBTQ+ and Trans Safety Zone training is open to businesses, faculty, and other organizations.

Phillips said the training helped create a safe space for trans people they might not find elsewhere.

“It just gives you a better understanding… putting yourself in a trans person’s shoes and just beginning to understand some of the things they’ve struggled with and why they feel the way they feel and how they see themselves,” a- she declared.