The hero stands in a resolute pose, her bright hair swirling around her face. She calls her team to action as a flag flaps in the wind behind her. It’s the stuff of comic-book legend—only this isn’t Captain Marvel. It’s the new Marvel teen superhero—and real-life ELCA member—the Mighty Rebekah.
Rebekah Bruesehoff is a 13-year-old transgender activist whose advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ+ youth has become increasingly public. She has testified before the New Jersey Legislature, spoken at rallies and in the media, and shared her hopes for the church at the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering. And now she’s the subject of an episode of the Disney+ series Marvel’s Hero Project.
In 2018, the new streaming service Disney+ contacted the Bruesehoff family about participating in a reality series that would highlight young people working to effect change in their communities. In each episode, the featured young person would learn they’d been immortalized in a Marvel comic.
“I didn’t know it had anything to do with Marvel until the very end,” Rebekah said. “It’s wild to think the people at Marvel were creating a comic about me. It’s like every kid’s dream!”
In her episode, Rebekah opens a package containing her comic book, a team uniform jacket and a letter welcoming her to the Marvel Hero Project. The letter highlights Rebekah’s “bravery, determination and compassion.”
“Part of what makes a Marvel superhero is that it’s someone who is not just saving the day but is acting from a genuine drive to see wrongs righted,” said Liza Wyles, executive producer of Marvel’s Hero Project and director of development for Marvel New Media.
“It’s not merely an act of bravery—it’s a character trait that compels them to do the right thing, especially for others who are not in positions of power. What we see in the kids on Marvel’s Hero Project is exactly that—these kids want to make their school, their neighborhood, their country a kinder, safer place for everyone.”
Affirmed and empowered
Rebekah’s faith is central to her story, and Hero Project features her serving at Holy Counselor Lutheran Church, Vernon, N.J., where her father, Christopher Bruesehoff, is pastor. “The fact that my faith is such a big part of my life and the episode is really powerful,” she said.
“Seeing the damage that the faith community does to LGBTQ+ people gave me something to learn about and inspired me to help others understand that God made you who you are, and God does not make mistakes.”
The Holy Counselor community has walked alongside Rebekah as she has grown in her identity and as a public figure, Christopher said. “Knowing someone makes all the difference in the world, and Holy Counselor has come along with Rebekah on this journey because they know her. They have seen her and the joy that comes along with being supported in being you.”
Rebekah’s mother, Jamie, agrees: “Folks often say that it’s not just a transgender child who transitions, it’s the whole family and community. That certainly has been our experience. Holy Counselor has transitioned with us. They have seen, loved and celebrated Rebekah, and they are learning what it means to see, love and celebrate all members of the LGBTQ+ community.”
When Rebekah spoke at the Youth Gathering, she encouraged ELCA members not only to welcome members of the LGBTQ+ community to their churches but to celebrate them. Jamie has found that this process starts with intentionally learning from LGBTQ+ voices in people’s communities. “Listening to real people and their lived experiences helps us take things like this from issues to human beings, children of God,” she said.
This can lead to communities that “loudly, boldly and joyfully” affirm LGBTQ+ people, Jamie said, adding, “I think that’s where celebrating comes in. You don’t celebrate quietly. You do it loudly and with joy, for all to hear.”
“She is not just talking the talk, she is walking the walk.”
Jamie serves as coordinator for the New Jersey Synod’s annual event called “Faith, Hope & Love: Building Safer & More Welcoming Congregations for LGBTQ Youth.” Rebekah, who has led workshops there, is encouraged by the ways she has felt celebrated in the ELCA.
“My congregation, my synod youth ministry programs and my outdoor ministry experience have all affirmed me in being me,” she said. “That empowers me to create spaces like that for other kids.”
The Bruesehoffs have gone to Cross Roads Camp and Retreat Center, Port Murray, N.J., for generations. Rebekah has been a camper there during family camp, youth summer camp, winter youth retreats and more. “I have known Rebekah since she was young,” said Anthony Briggs, Cross Roads executive director. “Rebekah and the Bruessehoff family have taught us tangible ways to ensure that message [that all are celebrated] is communicated loudly and clearly to potential campers and families.
“At Cross Roads, we emphasize that camp is a place where you can be yourself; you can remove the mask you might wear in other parts of your life and shine as a unique child of God,” Briggs said. “Rebekah has done that here at Cross Roads: she has blossomed into a kind and outgoing camper. … She connects with other campers, serving as a leader for her peers and younger kids. And has a whole bunch of fun just being a kid.”
Since the Disney+ episode went live, Rebekah has been flooded with positive messages from youth and families inside and outside of the church. “I’ve heard from churches who held viewing parties,” she said. “[I’ve heard from] people who say they better understand what trans kids go through. [From] trans kids who are so excited and empowered to see themselves reflected in my episode.”
Wyles said the same is true at Marvel. “We’re seeing so many comments from viewers about being inspired by Rebekah’s story and her dedication to making a difference in the world by being herself. She is not just talking the talk, she is walking the walk, and so many people appear to be truly moved by knowing her story.”
Learn more about Rebekah Bruesehoff’s advocacy, including how to help in her efforts to collect LGBTQ+-inclusive books to donate to schools, libraries, community organizations and faith communities, at mightyrebekah.com.