Our Transgender Siblings: Absolutely Beloved
The Rev. Laurel Hart, Deacon
Scripture: John 12:20-33
One of the best short seminars I’ve ever attended was right here in this very building. It happened downstairs in the parish hall during a coffee hour in September of 2014. That was the month I returned to St. Luke’s as your deacon and this educational opportunity occurred on my first or second Sunday back as a clergy person. My husband and I had been parishioners here for a few years after our marriage in 1999. We’d moved on in our church journey, I entered the ordination process and as life takes interesting turns I was assigned here by the Bishop. Jim and I were thrilled to be back.
Oh, the seminar – well it was a private event just me and the presenter. Let me explain – I grabbed my cup of coffee and sat down to chat with Peggy Long. I’m sorry that many of you don’t know Peggy Long – due to issues of age and health, she’s been unable to attend worship with us for some time. Peggy was a pillar of this community for years. She’d served this parish in many roles including Senior Warden, Treasurer, Vestry member – she was and still is a faithful follower of Jesus. Peggy had a career in the legal field, and she is a straight talker. What you see is what you get with Peggy. I knew she and her husband Keith (who had died) had been raising their great grandchildren and I wanted to chat to find out how the family was doing. When I inquired about the youngest child, who I knew as Michael that’s when my education began. Peggy told me that the child’s name was now Britney and she shared with me the story of this child transformation from M to F (that is male to female). Peggy was very factual and open with me explaining what it means to grown into the awareness that you’re not the gender which was assigned to you at birth; that the person is transgender. Britney was only about 4-years-old when she told her grandparents - she knew even as this young age that she was a girl. After their initial shock, they reach out for help and work with the child to make the transition when she was in first grade.
I felt like that grain of seed – I was cracked open to a new understanding. I will forever be grateful to Peggy for taking the time to educate me. Over time I did further reading on this subject, some about human biology, some of history on human development. I learned there is not just two way for human bodies to be. Babies are born with a range of different physical characteristics and not all girls are XX or boys XY. It is a myth that gender is only binary, apparent at birth, and identifiable through singular biological characteristics. Sometime later, I began attending PFLAG meetings (which were held in the Birch room here in our building for a few years) as a representative of our parish. At these meetings I met several transgender people and their families and heard their stories. Of course, a person can’t spend many monthly meetings with people who share from their hearts their hopes, dreams, and challenges without coming to love them. Last year a beloved cousin of mine told me one of her grandchildren had identified at age 16 as transgender. Many families just like mine are blessed with a variety of people who help us to see and begin to understand God’s beloved community in new ways.
Why am I talking to the community about transgender people today? Because to quote Jesus from today’s gospel “now my soul is troubled”. There are several state legislatures; South Dakota and Montana are two working on legislation to restrict transgender women in athletics. This is just one example of the closed-minded actions based on false myths which are in danger of becoming laws across our nation. These laws will negatively and dangerously impact the lives of many transgender people. According to the U.S. Trans Survey, 22 percent of trans women who were perceived as trans in school were harassed so badly they had to leave school because of it. Another 10 percent were kicked out of school. Transgender persons have higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to others. These problems are often worse for those who do not have adequate social support or who are unable to live out their gender identity. As a result, teenagers and young adults have an increased risk of suicide. Culturally sensitive mental health services can help prevent and treat these problems and save lives. Religious congregations such as St. Luke’s can play an increased role in providing loving and safe community where all are welcome without prejudice. As a community we need to know how and where to offer support, understanding and acceptance of all persons.
This last year of pandemic has proved to us there is a thirst for authentic community where moral teachings and relationships built on meaning can prosper. In social isolation, we have learned the truth of theologian and Pastor Frederick Buechner’s words: “You can survive on your own; you can grow strong on your own; you can prevail on your own; but you cannot become human on your own.” We need the lessons which are offered by Jesus. If we are willing to let our lives crack open like a seed planted in the earth, we will witness an abundant outpouring of life: in us and given through us. Jesus is the living word that continues to educate and guide people today and always. Jesus is love, an action that we are commanded to carry on. By following Jesus, we learn to heal, teach, learn, speak, listen, and most of all, love all our fellow sisters and brothers. Amen.