“Do we have a gender neutral bathroom?”
“No, though there is the ADA-accessible bathroom by the sacristy.”
“Well, can we make that a gender neutral bathroom? Can we order a sign this week? If that’s what people need to feel safe, then that’s what we need to have. And we need to advertise it.”
And voila. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Salem, OR, was going to have a gender neutral bathroom in order to make sure trans folks knew they were welcome in the space.
How did we get here? Let’s back up.
I am one of two interim priests serving this good-sized parish in the capitol of Oregon, known throughout the state for the excellence of its music programs. Worship is traditional, and conversation is lively. The Very Rev. Lin Knight serves as interim rector. He asked me to serve as associate beginning January of this year. I asked him if St. Paul’s was ready for a 34-year-old tattooed lesbian priest, and he laughed. I heard later he sold me to the staff as a “perky blonde.”
Lin had served St. Paul’s nearly a decade ago as interim as well. During this time, the Oregon Supreme Court ratified its Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), prohibiting same-sex marriages in the state of Oregon. Since St. Paul’s is in the capitol city, and since the Episcopalians had been getting a lot of press about the election of Bishop Gene Robinson, the paper called Lin to get a statement about this decision. He told them that he believed the church should be in the business of strengthening all committed relationships.
Well, I wasn’t here, but I heard this caused quite the kerfuffle. Letters were flying. The senior warden asked that Lin make a public apology and state that he was speaking for himself only, and not the church. The parking lot was on fire with chatter. Lin held the center with his signature grace, and eventually the parish calmed down, with many coming to him to thank him quietly for his words.