Member of an ELCA congregation in New Jersey (name and town omitted for privacy reasons)
Author of Raising Kids Beyond the Binary: Celebrating God’s Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children (Broadleaf Books, 2023), LGBTQ+ advocate and ELCA Church Council member
My earliest memory of church is actually from church camp. I started going to Cross Roads Camp and Retreat Center (formerly Camp Beisler) in New Jersey at 5 years old. My older sister went before me, and my mom attended before her. I remember Sunday school and worship as a child, but it’s my summers at camp that stand out. Camp is where I came to know the magnitude of God’s unconditional love and the overwhelming grace of being deeply known in the fullness of who God created me to be.
My church community is expansive. As a clergy spouse, someone who collaborates with various ministries and a member of the ELCA Church Council, it’s a joy to engage in all three expressions of the church—congregation, synod and churchwide. I love knowing that my church community spans the country and that we can offer each other both respite and challenge as we strive to do God’s work in the world.
My congregation is also the church community in which I grew up. After 20 years away, I returned to the community where I was baptized and confirmed, where I served as a leader in my teens, and where I formed relationships that continue to nourish me today. It’s been a joy to connect with members, new and old, and to watch as my children become the third generation in my family to be confirmed there, now with their dad as pastor.
My work as an LGBTQ+ advocate began when my oldest child came out as transgender. When Rebekah was born, we all thought she was a boy, but she deeply knows herself to be a girl. She transitioned at 8 years old, which just means we changed her name and pronouns so she could go out into the world as herself. My family worked to help the people around us, including our congregation, understand what it looks like to support a transgender child. Now I work with families, schools, businesses and community organizations across the country to build a world where LGBTQ+ people of all ages can thrive. Much of my work exists at the often fraught intersection of faith and queer identities.
Faith is too often a barrier to loving and trusting the transgender children in our midst, but it doesn’t have to be.
I wrote Raising Kids beyond the Binary: Celebrating God’s Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children because I discovered in my family’s journey raising a transgender child that there weren’t any books helping parents and communities of faith to raise up transgender and gender-diverse children. Faith is too often a barrier to loving and trusting the transgender children in our midst, but it doesn’t have to be. I want parents to know they don’t have to choose between their faith and their child, and I want leaders in the church to know how to create safer and more welcoming communities for LGBTQ+ youth.
I hope readers of my book take away a clear understanding that the church is a better and more faithful place when transgender and gender-diverse people of all ages are part of it. It’s more clear than ever that transgender and nonbinary young people need us to show up in real ways, but I hope it is just as clear that we need them at least as much as they need us, probably more. If each of us is made in God’s image—and we are—we are missing out on part of who God is if we are not in relationship with gender-expansive people.
For transgender and gender-diverse youth and adults, the church is complicated. In fact, church was the only place we told our daughter that she couldn’t show up fully as herself. We asked her to wait, so that we could figure out how to keep her safe while helping our community learn. People of faith have and continue to do the most significant harm to this community personally and politically. Still today, transgender and nonbinary people are watching what’s happening in our country and begging for our church to speak up and take action for the protection of transgender lives. It’s why it’s so critical for communities of faith to be boldly, loudly and joyfully clear in their affirmation of and advocacy for transgender and gender-diverse people.
Extraordinary things are possible when you truly listen to your children and show up willing to grow alongside them.
As a parent, I learned early on to listen to my child. We joke that our daughter, Rebekah, was born demanding her voice be heard or no one was ever going to sleep again. We realized we had to throw out all the parenting books and tune out everyone’s advice to follow her lead. That lesson has served me every single day of my parenting journey. Extraordinary things are possible when you truly listen to your children and show up willing to grow alongside them.
My hope for the future is a church and world wholly transformed by the bold and joyful acceptance and celebration of transgender and gender-diverse children and youth. Rebekah is now 16 years old. She’s been living as herself for more than half her life, and she advocates every day for kids like her. I dream of and hope for the day when kids like Rebekah don’t have to be brave or inspiring, when they can simply and safely be themselves.
I find joy in God’s creation. Dipping my toes in mountain streams and actually hugging trees leaves me giddy with gratitude for all God has given us.
I pray for families with transgender children and youth across the country who are being denied access to medical care and safe schools and are even being criminalized for supporting their children. I pray that we all might transform our prayers into action for the sake of these young people.
I’m a Lutheran because I don’t know how to do life without being grounded in God’s unconditional love and scandalous grace. That love and grace is not just for me but for every other person, and that pushes me to lead with love, work for justice, conspire toward collective liberation and see the image of God reflected in all my siblings.
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