My family and I are refugees in our own country. I’m just trying to be a good parent and love my kids, but the state that always has been my home no longer is a safe place for me and my family.
My family lived and worked overseas as missionaries, serving the least of these and trying to give our kids a bigger understanding of our world and its God-given diversity. It was while we were transitioning back to our home country in the summer of 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic that our middle child came out to us as transgender.
That’s not exactly accurate. Queer people often oversimplify their journeys with gender and sexuality in order to make it more palatable for straight, cisgender folks. The truth is that gender and sexuality are a rich, complex reality for everyone, not just queer people. My child’s journey involved more exploring and questioning before understanding their gender identity fully. Allowing people the space to explore and question without requiring them to fully understand and have an answer to every question is crucial for creating safer spaces for LGBTQ people in our communities and churches.
I was blessed to have gay and transgender friends in my life before my child came out to me. I had time to work through my feelings, understanding and theology and had generous guides along the way. This was a gift for my child who never had to doubt they were loved and cherished just as they are.
“I wondered if the people saying parents and doctors were rushing children into treatment had used our health care system recently.”
But it also was a gift for me. Growing up as a straight, white, cisgender male, I never was asked to think about things like my sexuality or gender. I fit all the boxes nicely and could just move through the world without having to think too hard about those things. My LGBTQ friends and eventually my trans child challenged me to think more deeply about these things and ask myself, “When did I come out as straight? How did I know that my gender matched what I was assigned at birth?” These questions have made my understanding of myself and my life so much richer.
Unfortunately, not everyone feels or thinks the same way about the gift of LGBTQ people to the world. Soon after my child began their gender journey, while we were in the midst of a desperate search for a place that could give them the support and expertise they needed on that journey, the Texas Legislature introduced a bill that would label me and my spouse “child abusers” for seeking gender-affirming care for our child.
As someone with so much privilege, it was a bizarre experience to have legislation targeting me. It also was a strange feeling to hear so much misinformation being spread about the exact thing we were going through with our child. It was clear what was happening was not about understanding families like mine or listening to the professionals and experts who have been working with transgender youth for decades. I wondered if the people saying parents and doctors were rushing children into treatment had used our health care system recently. Lies that were easy to disprove continued to be shared and spread, stoking fear and hatred.
I felt a sense of obligation as someone with so much privilege and a lot of supportive community to do more. I started a parent support group for parents of LGBTQ kids, and the email list for that group grew quickly. I worked with our local pride network to have more activities for LGBTQ youth. I also spoke to the media to help make our community more visible and hopefully help others know they were not alone.
Not everyone appreciated or understood our family. People within our faith community questioned our choices, and we eventually made the painful decision to leave a church that had been a home for 14 years and where our children grew up.
“Without institutional practices, policies and systems in place to protect vulnerable people, the church is not a safe place even if they have decided to take a stance as an affirming congregation.”
Many of the people in that community are affirming and continue to be a supportive presence in our lives, but it’s important to recognize that without institutional practices, policies and systems in place to protect vulnerable people, the church is not a safe place even if they have decided to take a stance as an affirming congregation.
We are thankful we found a church that not only has made the decision to be fully affirming and inclusive but has taken steps to put that into practice. While imperfect, it has been a place of healing and community for our family.
At the end of February 2022, while we were getting ready for a family spring break trip, we saw the news that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had issued a memo declaring gender-affirming care should be considered child abuse under the Texas Family Code, followed by Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services could and should investigate families whose only offense was seeking out the help of medical professionals to support their transgender children.
This was a punch to the gut. I remember vividly being on that vacation and daydreaming about what would happen if CPS took my child away, how it would feel and what I would do. We discussed our options and, even though we were in the process of buying a house, we discussed whether we should consider moving and how we might make that decision. Because of the efforts of ACLU, Lambda Legal, PFLAG and others in the next weeks and months to challenge this order (and because of our incredible supportive community), we decided to wait and stay longer.
However, because of the climate we no longer felt comfortable being so vocal in advocating for families like ours. My spouse’s job was threatened by people saying they “knew about our family.” A local pride event in our community was targeted by viral videos and I received calls at my job asking why we were supporting “pedophiles” and “grooming” children. Local churches held vigils to pray against drag shows and claimed victory when their intimidation and misinformation led to cancellations and businesses being forced to close.
In fall 2022 when bills for the current legislative session began to be filed, it became clear it was not going to be getting better any time soon, and we made the difficult decision to begin looking for opportunities to move out of the state that we have called home our entire lives.
“Many people can’t leave to find refuge from the dangerous rhetoric and deadly legislation that is being proposed and passed in many states.”
I am lucky I was able to find a job in a state with better legal protections for LGBTQ people and where access to gender-affirming care for my child is not being threatened. Many of my friends with LGBTQ families are not so lucky. Whether it is because of jobs or custody or family situations, many people can’t leave to find refuge from the dangerous rhetoric and deadly legislation that is being proposed and passed in many states.
The recent call at the CPAC conference to “eradicate transgenderism” should be more than enough for all people of good conscience to recognize this current wave of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and bills is meant to erase LGBTQ and trans people from existence. Families like mine only want to exist and be free to love and support our children without the state or anyone else threatening us.
Why being transgender is not a sin | Opinion by Mark Wingfield