Among the 30 or so children who came to the chancel every Sunday for the children’s moment in the last church I served, there was a little girl who was discovering she was really a little boy. I cannot imagine what that must be like but I know it happens all the time. And I know every follower of Jesus has a responsibility to give loving support to all those transgender souls.
That little boy is almost grown now and is fully identified as male. It’s a monumental change for him and for everyone who loves him. His grandfather is a retired pastor like me. His mother recently wrote about it in an impassioned post on Facebook, in response to someone who asserted that transgender youth should only be allowed to participate on all-trans sports teams.
“I have a trans son,” she wrote. “He will most likely be playing on a male tennis team this spring … To say we should have ‘trans teams?’ What, with the six trans people in our entire school? God IS in control of my son. God did NOT make a mistake. The brain and gender is just too complicated to only look at a person physically and say ‘that is that’ … No one pretends to be trans to get to (play) in a sport or get a leg up in society. I know; my son is living proof. If you want to learn more about trans people, instead of telling them what they can’t do I would suggest sitting down with someone like my son so a name goes with the struggle.”
I asked a friend whom I confirmed many years ago in another church I served, what it was like when her now-declared daughter told her about her identity when she was in her late-20s.
“I was surprised,” she wrote. “Really I had no clue that this was happening. I knew that she was moody, depressed and withdrawn. That had been going on since high school. I told her I loved her and that would never change.
“I know I asked lots of questions. I don’t remember what, but I’m sure it was the ‘how did you know, when did you know,’ etc. Also ‘what does this mean?’ It’s a whole new set of words to learn. Looking back, I asked too many personal questions. But she was okay with that.
“My husband and I talked about what family, friends and church members might say. We knew that we could potentially lose friends and family due to them not being supportive or accepting. We were okay with that; we knew that our child came first.
“I never told our pastor. I did tell the youth leader. I asked if he heard of materials for Christian parents of LGBTQ kids. I started searching for answers, any information. We later learned about the non-inclusive policy in our denomination. We knew that we could stay and fight, or leave. We found a church and left. We felt we needed to walk away as we needed to be supported.
“Our daughter was torn to tell us, and she felt I would be the hardest to tell. She knew our faith and church meant a lot, and didn’t want to cause problems. When I think back on that I appreciate her thinking that, as it shows she cares. But to know that she had those thoughts and maybe struggled internally with that, it makes me sad. I now hear stories of kids who struggle before coming out. Even though we raise our kids to be open and talk to us, there are times that they have this thought process. Now I’m so thankful she told us. Some run away; some self-hurt or use suicide as an answer. What a burden to bear!”
A study by the Trevor Project shined a light on the importance of supportive adult voices in the lives of LGBT youth. Just having at least one accepting adult in their lives reduced the chance of a suicide attempt by 40 percent. It makes an enormous difference if parents are supportive, but any supportive adult can make a difference.
Using a transgender youth’s chosen name at work, at school, with friends and at home reduces depression symptoms by 71 percent, reduces thoughts of suicide by 34 percent and reduces suicide attempts by 65 percent.
My friend added, “There are resources for parents who struggle with LGBTQ support and what they believe in their faith. It’s important for parents to reach out for help to navigate and learn. They are not alone as there are many great resources to help them. I belong to groups for trans parents and have a wonderful Bible study on examining God’s word and what it means. Parents need support as well on this journey.”
Those of us who follow Jesus and love God with all our hearts can make a saving difference in the lives of our transgender children by simply loving them unconditionally – and including them fully in our family and church life. Call them by their names.
John Sumwalt is a retired pastor and the son of dairy farmers. He is the author of “Shining Moments: Visions of the Holy in Ordinary Lives.” Email email@example.com to reach him.