An intimate and eye-opening discussion regarding Quaker views on sexual orientation and gender identity was held Monday evening in the small and cozy lounge of the Memorial Chapel.

Key speakers included adjunct UMD professor Dr. Chloe Schwenke and Clerk Michael Levi, both members of the local Adelphi Quaker Meeting.

Levi’s role as a clerk within the Religious Society of Friends (also known as Quakers) is to handle all administrative and organizational tasks that are  typically  dealt with by the clergy in a church setting.

At the forefront of the meeting, Levi gave a proud yet brief rundown of the progressive history of the Quakers. He explained how their society has been promoting progressive ideals such as women’s rights, the abolition of slavery and the respectful and honorable treatment of Native Americans long before many institutions in this country.

However, Monday evening, the discussion surrounded transgender relations in the Quaker community and how Quakers are evolving to become even more diverse and inclusive.

Speaker Dr. Chloe Schwanke, an alumna of this university, is a post-operative transsexual woman with an extremely impressive resume involving human rights advocacy. She has  served  many roles, including the vice president for Global Programs at Freedom House, as well as the senior advisor for LGBTI Policy and the senior advisor on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (Africa) at the U.S. Agency for International Dependence – a senior political position appointment by President Obama.

Schwanke explained the loving and authentic support she received from her Quaker community when she came out was  crucial to her transition. When asked what was distinctly Quaker about her transition, she talked about the Quakers’ complete commitment to community and their sense of responsibility and accountability.

At the time of her decision to undergo transitioning, Schwanke had a wife and two kids, but she explained  living in the wrong body became unbearable. When she brought her honesty to the Quaker community, they reached out to her with “love and incredible patience.”

In the eyes of Quakers, the purpose of the community is to acknowledge the intertwining role each individual plays in each other’s spiritual life. Schwanke explained  her community stressed  it wasn’t simply about her, but her family and the entire spiritual community. They supported her decision and told Chloe (then known as Stephen) to show up to the next meeting as Chloe.

Dr. Schwanke expressed the happiness she felt sending her boy clothes to the Salvation Army. To her, it was  a refreshing and insightful eye-opener to the authentic ideals that are staples of the Quaker community, many of which are unknown to those  individuals who associate Quaker’s with oatmeal cereal and colonial times (people like myself, prior to this discussion.)

So how did the Quaker community become so accepting of the LGBTI community?

While there is no one speaker for the religion, Clerk Levi tried to explain how social decisions are made. In the Quaker community, a “testimony” defines a pattern that has occurred from friends acting accordingly with their faith.

Levi said Quakerism revolves around authenticity and truthfulness. Because it’s all about being true to who you are, in this perspective, supporting an individual undergoing gender reassignment surgery is supporting the true identity and authentic soul of that individual. This becomes testimony when consensus is made.

During the questions segment, a Maryland student in the audience expressed that her roommate was transitioning and asked what could be done on her part to mentally support her friend.

Schwanke immediately responded that the most helpful thing one can do is be an “unrushed listener.” It’s all about active listening and just knowing someone is there to listen and won’t be leaving anytime soon, she explained.

Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user Melvin E.

Racquel Royer is a freshman journalism major and may be reached at Royer.racquel.edu@gmail.com.

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