Why Won’t a Christian Retreat Center Let This Woman Marry a Man?

Planning your wedding when your faith rejects your identity

Photo from the personal collection of Staley

Meet Staley.

She’s a tall glamazon with signature silver hair, a gentle way of speaking, powerwatt smile, and personal style that is forever #outfitgoals. She’s an art director, a devout Christian, and a pillar of her community.

Photo from the personal collection of Staley

This is Staley and her partner Andrew, who she’s excited to share her life with.

Photo via Serra Retreat

And this is the Serra Retreat in Malibu, where Staley and Andrew dream of getting married. The website describes the space as a “Catholic retreat and conference center which provides the space, in a beautiful setting, for peace, serenity, and reflection.” When Staley visited the grounds as an invited speaker, she was attracted to both its beautiful setting and legacy. Her spirit had decided; this was the spot for her wedding.

She gathered her funds, started looking for vendors, and put on her art director hat to start planning her vision.

Except, as it turns out, her wedding location isn’t available for girls… like her.


The problem, according to Serra, is that Staley is transgender.


She’s been very public about the intersection of her trans identity and faith, explaining:

I often find myself on the fringe of two very different groups of people. One, the religious and spiritual, as I am a follower of Jesus and Christian. The other, the LGBTQ community, as a proud Transgender woman.

It has been a difficult journey to reconcile those two mutual identities, as both seem to constantly wage war on the other, yet each claiming to be fundamentally rooted in love. I’m grateful that through a great deal of prayer, introspection, time, study, and concentrated intentional relationships, I’ve come to a place of sincere peace about who I am, why I am on this earth, and how to daily live my life.


She has served for an inspiration in her community.


The irony is that Staley landed at the Serra Retreat because of her trans advocacy work. As she tells it:

I first discovered Serra Retreat at an “Oriented to Love” dialogue, where I was invited to speak. With a vision of “Unity that is deeper than agreement,” The Oriented to Love program seeks to “help Christ followers come together around the highly charged and challenging topic of sexual and gender diversity in the church.” Their mission is, “To build community in the church amidst theological diversity, through loving dialogue and mutual vulnerability.”

Naturally, I never questioned whether or not Serra would host an LGBTQ wedding, as every conversation on the matter relayed how progressive and open-minded the Franciscan Catholic perspective remains. Charity, the environment, and aiding the plights of the disenfranchised have always been at the forefront of their ministries.


In a political climate where trans people are fighting for their basic rights, it’s important to remember that finding love is even more precious. Says Staley:

Andrew was the first man I’d dated who earnestly pursued me without the standard, typical experience I’d come to know of men treating me as a fetish, dirty secret, or possession.

He and I share a faith in God, despite the nuanced differences in his Catholicism and my Protestantism, and together we’ve pursued relational health, honesty, and transparency. Our time together has empowered us to learn, challenge one another, and grow far beyond any initial differences. He remains my champion, sweetheart, and partner.


Turns out it was Andrew who suspected she may need to “officially” ask the Serra retreat about hosting their wedding.

I was shocked to learn that Serra in fact does NOT participate in LGBTQ marriage ceremonies. The response read simply…

“Unfortunately this facility does not allow to have LGBT weddings just yet but hopeful that sometime in the future we will. We wish you the very best.”

Staley was crushed. She recounts, in tears, the many losses she’s experienced in her journey:

My mother does not support my marriage and will not attend. Neither will my sister or father. To lose them hurts enough without now having to lose my dream location for the same reasons.

Life has taught me many hard lessons, with this most recent event a sobering reminder that not everyone who hopes to love unconditionally feels they can do so AND reconcile their convictions. A part of me realizes that it’s best to “get in where we fit in,” while another grieves that of all places, we don’t “fit in” at Serra.

Angrily, I question why our money isn’t as good as anyone else’s, or how our love is “less sacred”… but then I recalled my own dilemmas when processing my faith and gender identity, and how the many moving parts can lead to unfortunate conclusions if uninformed. The email did feature a tone of sympathy, but the door remains closed.

I have since called multiple times, leaving voicemails with the retreat’s wedding coordinator, asking to plead my case, and be passed to whomever the decision makers are in hopes of changing their minds, or at least expressing my heart.


While the pain of rejection is real, Staley acknowledges:

All of this is a small reminder of the battles for acceptance many in the LGBTQ community continue to face every day in our efforts to exist publicly and thrive openly in our country, and the greater plight of the queer community around the world. Mine is one simple and comparatively minor rejection story out of millions, though all share the fact that we are not yet truly equal.

In a world where real love is SO HARD for anyone to find, that the church of all places is all too often one of the most damaging environments for those seeking complete acceptance. Regardless, I refuse to give up on my faith, and I will not blame Jesus for the hurt caused by some of his people.

Religious groups continue to fund and fuel most oppressive political legislation threatening human rights, so they are where our greatest work of bridge-building through shared human experiences and relational equity must begin. The good news is that many in these groups are not trying to be malicious. They’re our brothers and sisters who simply need informed and enlightened. It takes time and a great deal of grace, but destructive paradigms can be shifted when real truth is spoken in love.


Staley is hoping Serra Retreat will stand behind the Christian tenets they seemed to believe in, and change their stance on LGBTQ weddings. She acknowledges that simply being able to marry there as a passing trans woman isn’t enough. In a comment on her Instagram, Staley asserts, “I am Transgender. I am the T. If any of my LGBQ friends would not be welcomed to be married there, then I don’t belong there either.”

And while Staley and Andrew are grateful for the support of friends and family (both chosen and natural), as of this article, Staley is still looking for a seaside Christian California venue to host her wedding, one that genuinely embraces ALL love.

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