[Episcopal News Service] Among the groups with a presence at this year’s General Convention will be a new self-organized caucus of LGBTQ+ members of the House of Deputies. The group of over 100 members is working in small groups as the July 7-14 convention scheduled to take place in person in Baltimore, Maryland, approaches, identifying priorities and developing potential resolutions that could advance the cause of LGBTQ+ inclusion across the church.
The LGBTQ Caucus, one of several groups of deputies who have organized themselves around common identities and interests, was formed around the idea that “there’s still plenty of work to do in The Episcopal Church” for LGBTQ+ people, the Rev. Susan Russell told Episcopal News Service. Russell, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ+ Episcopalians, is one of seven members of the caucus’s planning team.
Among the caucus’s priorities are issues relating to transgender and nonbinary people – such as introducing gender-expansive language and opposing anti-transgender laws – and ensuring that existing canons on equal access to the sacraments are consistently followed across the church.
In some ways, the caucus is taking up the work that was pursued by Integrity USA, the former LGBTQ+ advocacy organization that has been essentially defunct since 2018, when General Convention approved a resolution granting full churchwide access to same-sex marriage rites. That resolution marked the achievement of Integrity’s decades-long goal of full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the sacraments – at least on paper – some LGBTQ+ Episcopalians point out that some dioceses and parishes are still not LGBTQ+-affirming in practice.
The Rev. Charles Graves IV, another member of the planning team who is not a deputy but a member of Executive Council, hatched the idea for the caucus last summer after being interviewed by ENS for a story about the next phase in the campaign for LGBTQ+ inclusion. With General Convention approaching, Graves asked himself, “Is there anybody who’s organizing around policy?”
After asking the office of the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, he got his answer: “‘No, nobody’s doing that. But would you like to?’”
There are several other caucuses organized around ethnic identities, which also work together under the Deputies of Color caucus. The caucuses are self-organized, not official branches of the House of Deputies or General Convention “because they need to be able to maintain independence,” Graves said. “Fortunately, we have in Gay a president who’s an incredible advocate.”
“Caucuses are the lifeblood of General Convention,” Jennings told ENS, adding that she owes her ordination as a priest to the now-defunct Episcopal Women’s Caucus, which pushed General Convention to open the priesthood to women in 1976.
General Convention “needs to include the voices and perspectives of LGBTQI+ people, whose journey to full inclusion has been slow and is still unfinished,” Jennings said. “Caucuses help ensure that those voices are heard.”
Graves started by creating a Facebook group for LGBTQ+ deputies and Executive Council members. Jennings’ office assisted by adding a question about LGBTQ+ identity to a demographic survey of deputies intended to connect them with caucuses they might want to join. Just over 100 deputies opted to join the caucus, out of the House’s 800-plus members.
“It surprised us when we were able to see how many folks were interested and willing to be not only self-identified as LGBTQ, but to actively be part of a caucus that would advocate for moving the church forward to making full inclusion not just a resolution but a reality,” Russell said.
Graves and deputy Jon Rania from the Diocese of Delaware invited the respondents to an online plenary gathering in November, at which Jennings and the Rev. Michael Barlowe, General Convention secretary, offered the opening remarks. The members were organized into nine working groups addressing topics including marriage and ordination, political advocacy and employment practices.
The caucus leaders have identified several proposed resolutions that they might support, including one from the Diocese of Los Angeles calling for The Episcopal Church to conduct an audit of the state of LGBTQ+ acceptance and inclusion across the church, inspired by the racial justice audit released in 2021. The proposed project would document the history of LGBTQ+ people in the church and identify areas where the church is currently falling short of full inclusion. The goal, Russell said, is to “be honest about, and be able to celebrate, the progress we’ve made, but also to own how much work there is left to do.”
One important part of that work, caucus leaders say, is “closing the loophole” in marriage equality created by General Convention Resolution B012 in 2018. Though that resolution guarantees same-sex couples access to marriage rites wherever it is legal, it also allows bishops to formally reject same-sex marriage in their dioceses and have another bishop provide any oversight that might be necessary – an arrangement known as DEPO, or Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. A bishop’s oversight is normally not needed for a marriage (though it is in cases involving divorce), but the canons of some dioceses still officially ban same-sex marriages, including Albany, Dallas and Central Florida.
“The liturgies are available but with conditions, so it’s a separate but inherently unequal status for same-sex couples,” Russell said.
Russell said there isn’t yet a proposed solution to that loophole, but it is one of many ideas the caucus’s working groups are considering. Other ideas under discussion include creating a churchwide LGBTQ+ ministries office, encouraging churches to make their buildings inclusive to all genders (such as by changing bathroom facilities) and supporting LGBTQ+ people in non-U.S. dioceses “in a way that is culturally sensitive and not paternalistic.”
Another primary focus is crafting a resolution that would require the creation (or broadening of existing) training on sensitivity around transgender and nonbinary people that would be available to all levels of The Episcopal Church, said the Rev. Cameron Partridge, a deputy from the Diocese of California. Potential resolutions condemning recent anti-transgender state-level legislation are also being discussed, Partridge said. Such a resolution might express opposition to bills in multiple states limiting the ability of transgender youth to access medical care and an order from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that state agencies should investigate certain medical treatments for transgender children as child abuse.
There are also some existing proposed resolutions that the caucus is following, such as A060, which would endorse guidelines for expansive and inclusive language – language that includes people of all genders – that would be used in the planned revision of the Book of Common Prayer.
The caucus will have its next meeting on March 5 to discuss the progress that working groups have made and plan next steps as the convention approaches, including testifying in support of resolutions at virtual hearings. Anyone who is interested in following proposed resolutions or testifying on their behalf can do so here.
Graves said the caucus is not intended to be a permanent organization like Integrity but a group that is focused on the specific issues that will be debated at General Convention.
“What I’m excited about is being able, hopefully, to make some really strong progress in Baltimore,” he said. “And after that, it’s up to the Holy Spirit and up to the church to figure out.”
When the caucus finally does meet in person in Baltimore, “I hope we will come together with a renewed sense of focus and energy for the work before us,” Partridge told ENS.
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.