Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Defending Your Identity to the State: When Families of Trans Kids are Accused of Child Abuse

Like other families publicly fighting for their transgender kid and the greater trans community, we get a LOT of angry feedback. We get angry hate-filled messages and letters just about every way we can receive a message, so much so that I’m waiting for a carrier pigeon to drop off some hate mail next. Add in all the angry articles written in response to our family’s advocacy and we know quite well how this very loud portion of the population feels about our parenting and our child.

The messages say all sorts of things, but right now, I want to talk about one of the most common themes: outraged accusations of child abuse for supporting our transgender child. They tell us how our children should be taken away, and we should be prosecuted and put in jail. After a while, it became such a broken record that I went numb to it. These weren’t as bad as those messages threatening violence, so I just began to ignore them. I’d scroll on past the comments or click delete without a twinge of emotion… until New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency knocked on my door because someone had reported us.
Someone who has likely never met us reported us, anonymously and from a blocked phone number, for forcing our son to be a girl. They used her deadname. They said she was 7 years old when she’s actually 10, and they said we were forcing her to take hormones, something she won’t take for a few more years as medically appropriate, to make her into a girl. Honestly, it’s so absurd it’s almost laughable. It might be laughable if it weren’t so damn dangerous.

I’m finding this to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written both because I feel it is deeply important to communicate clearly and because it feels deeply vulnerable. There was so much pain, anger, stress, fear and waiting in this process, and then I went numb. I spoke with some parents who have been through this process, through a Child Protective Services investigation, and a few said it was no big deal. Maybe that is true for some. It was not true for my family. The fact that this investigation happened at all is a sign of the raging transphobia embedded in our culture and institutions, and while I wanted to trust that the system would see the truth and all would go well, I know all too well that isn’t always the case.

Now, I knew this was a possibility all along. In fact, when I do trainings or speak about transgender children and youth I often bring up the fact that parents are encouraged to have a “safe folder” filled with documents attesting to their child’s good health, gender expression and identity, and their good parenting in case someone reports them for abuse. People are almost universally shocked when I share this piece of information. They are shocked anyone would report a family for supporting their transgender child, and they are even more shocked that we would need documents to help prove our child is who they deeply know themselves to be.

They are more shocked than I expect them to be, because we live our lives in a day to day fight with this kind of thinking and hatred so much so that it becomes normal. Parents who support their trans kids are vilified across many circles. Usually it’s the mother’s fault. It’s her own mental illness, it’s her need for attention, it’s munchausen syndrome by proxy. Misogyny runs deep. Not every trans kid has two or any supportive parents, let alone two supportive parents who happen to be straight, cisgender, white, Christian and highly educated. Not every trans kid is neurotypical, white, economically secure, English speaking, or fits neatly into the gender binary. Kids and families who are not protected by these pretty little white picket fences of privilege are most at risk, and the results can be devastating.

At the same time, if I’m being honest which apparently I’m going to be, I didn’t think it could or at the very least would happen to us. I was naive. We have so much privilege, and we live in a little bubble of support. We live in a state with pretty good protections, and our rather conservative town has been very kind to us. Our family and friends from across the country have been incredible in their love and encouragement. It’s why we choose to be as visible as we are; we hope to be visible for those who can’t be.

So when the nice people from the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) showed up at our my door, my husband explained to them that our daughter was transgender and her name was legally changed to Rebekah. The two men were confused. They said, “well then why would someone call this in?” My husband patiently explained our public advocacy and the backlash we’d received. The two men were still confused. They said, “Okay, but still why would someone call making this accusation?” My husband still patiently, bless his heart, further explained that, at best, these people believe children cannot be transgender and so it could only be a result of abuse. They said, “Oh. So they’re just ignorant.” Yeah, something like that, except there is nothing small or minor about their ignorance, and the reality is at their worst this is a tactic being used by the far right to silence those of us speaking out for transgender rights.

That’s part of why I’m having a hard time writing this. I don’t want the haters to know they’ve gotten to us, but I need our allies to know this is what parents of transgender children face. I wish I could brush it off and say “Good try! You can’t rattle us”, but we were truly rattled. This happened two days before my daughter and I were scheduled to be on Good Day Philadelphia. I wanted to cancel. I wanted to hide. I wanted to never speak out again. It was my husband who reminded me that our silence is exactly what they want. I wasn’t about to let that happen.

Rebekah on Good Day Philadelphia with her mother and Christian Fuscarino of Garden State Equality
The people from DCPP were kind enough, but the entire situation was deeply problematic. We knew they had a trans affirming policy in place for how youth are handled in their care. We’d even heard from an acquaintance going through foster care training that our family was lifted up as an example of how you support transgender children. And yet, every professional we spoke to shared the same anxiety we did. They said things like, “The system is broken. I don’t trust them. They hurt good families and fail to help hurting ones.” Now, of course, I know that’s a sweeping generalization… but for the professionals in our family’s life to have such feelings said a lot to us. We all knew our family should come out of this okay, but we were collectively concerned nonetheless.

When they came on a Saturday and said they’d be in touch on Monday, I spent the next 48 hours struggling to breathe, cleaning every surface preparing someone to enter my home and assess my parenting, and scrambling for every document I knew we had that could prove my child is in good health, well cared for, and is, in fact, transgender, all while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy and calm for our family.

When I had to explain to my children that someone would be coming to the house to look around and ask us questions, I saw the look of terror on my transgender child’s face. Before I even said the words she knew someone had reported us. No matter how much I tried to tell her everything was okay, I still found myself holding her while she cried deeply worried the state would take her away from us because of who she is and our support for her.
When they asked for releases to speak to my child’s doctors and find out about details about her care in order to “ensure she was receiving the appropriate medical care”, I wondered how the state thinks they know more about care for transgender children than the Gender Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

When they asked my kid if she was really a girl, I know they don’t realize the depth of pain that caused a child who has fought to articulate and be accepted for her affirmed gender for years. My 10 year old child had to defend her identity to the state. Every. single. time. we ask transgender people to prove, authenticate, and demonstrate that they are trans-enough, that they are girl/boy-enough… it is deeply painful and damaging. This is exactly what I spend every day fighting against and that fight brought them into my home.

I share all this not because it’s so unique or we are so special. I share this because it happens to families with transgender children. It happens to those of us who are public in our advocacy, and it happens to those of us who are just trying to support our kids and live out our lives quietly. This experience was traumatic for my family, but we are the lucky ones. We are the ones with the support, resources, time, and education to provide document after document proving my kid’s identity and good health. We had family, friends, colleagues, and pastors graciously respond to our last minute call for letters of reference and support. We are the ones without a bunch of other check marks against us in the CPS handbooks, whether that be because of marital status, economic status, sexuality, gender identity, citizenship, race, religion, health, educational level, family background, or the state where we live. We are the ones who came out the other side relatively unscathed. Others are not so lucky.

The rhetoric that somehow parents force transgender identities on their kids is deeply damaging and downright dangerous. The idea that medical care for transgender children is abusive or that children shouldn’t be allowed to transition until they are 18 is life threatening to our children. The ripples created by anti-trans and anti-LGBT language and policy at the federal level impact our families on a far greater scale than most realize. The power those who think transgender people have no place in society have over families like mine is far too great. The system has to change, at every level. It starts in our homes but the change has to go deep into our institutions. Families shouldn’t have to live in fear of the courts, and misinformed strangers on the internet shouldn’t be able to put families through what we went through. Kids like mine shouldn’t have to be scared that they’ll be taken away because their parents love and affirm them, and no transgender person, let alone a child, should have to defend their gender identity to the state.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Dear Betsy Devos: This is What Happens When Your Support Trans Students

Dear Betsy DeVos,
You know what happens when trans students are supported in schools? They have the opportunity to succeed, to work to the best of their ability, and to grow, learn and excel in a safe and affirming environment.
My daughter is lucky to have support, and it's because of that support that she can focus on academics, being a positive member of the school community, and growing into an adult who will contribute to the betterment of our country.
It's because she is fully supported that she is able to "make the most of [her] educational opportunities... diligently working to reach [her] goals". Those are the words Donald J. Trump used in the letter she received as a recipient of the President's Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence. He continues on to implore her to continue to pursue her educational goals. He writes, "Your community and your country are counting on you."
Well, Ms. Devos and Mr. Trump, trans students are counting on their communities and, yes, their country to support them, to protect their rights and to ensure they have access to the education every single student in America deserves. They are counting on you. My daughter is lucky to live in a state and a district that protects her rights, but it shouldn't come down to luck. Do better.
A Proud Mama Bear to a Transgender Student

Originally posted on Facebook, June 15 2017.

Extended Article Available at Huffington Post.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

NYC Pride Rally and Award

Rebekah and I were honored to speak at the NYC Pride Rally last month! I wrote this on Facebook the following day...

"This kid amazes me every day.
And this community continues to amaze me. I am humbled, and grateful beyond words to the LGBTQ community for the welcome they have offered Rebekah and our family. Rebekah walked away last night with an immense amount of love and encouragement, and even an editor to help her towards her dream of being a writer!
As I said last night, it's because of this community, it's thanks to every trans person who has gifted us with their story, their experience, and their friendship - whether in person or by putting it out into the world - that I can be the mom that Rebekah needs… It’s because of you that Rebekah sees possibility and hope in her future. Thank you. We will keep fighting alongside you."

She was honored a few weeks later to receive the NYC Pride Award for Outsanding Rally Speaker. She is humbled and grateful, and we are so proud of her and thankful to an incredible community.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Little Louder For the Folks in the Back

Dear Friends, because I keep running into this thinking ALL OVER THE PLACE, I'm going to say it a little louder for folks in the back.
Your child learning that transgender people exist WILL NOT make them transgender. It won't even increase the likelihood that they will be transgender or gender non-conforming.
Your child learning that gay people exist WILL NOT make them gay. It won't even increase the likelihood that they will be anything short of 100% straight (whatever that is 😂).
Your child learning that IT IS OKAY to be transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming, gay, bisexual, pansexual or anything else will not morph them into any of those things.
Do you know what it WILL do?
It will make them better friends and neighbors to people who are LGBTQ or whose loved ones are LGBTQ. I know my kid would really appreciate that.
It will reduce the likelihood that they will be ashamed or confused about who they are and how they are feeling if they happen to be LGBTQ.
It will introduce to them the rich and beautiful diversity of this world we live in filled with people who look, act, believe, love, and live in a million different ways.
Friends... gender identity and sexual orientation aren't contagious. They are not confusing ideas that you must keep out of pure little children's heads. The more we teach our kids from the. very. start. that there are all different ways to live and love... the less we'll have kids unintentionally (we're not even going to talk about the intentional messages right now!) shaming or insulting other kids about who they are or what their family looks like simply because they haven't been exposed to the idea that not every family looks like their family.
Thanks from this kid, our family, and all the other LGBTQ families out there.
#transkidsmatter #diversityisratedG #changetheworld #raisethemright

(Originally published on Facebook on July 20, 2017.)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Note to My Child on Their First Day of State Educational Testing

Originally published on Facebook on May 3, 2017.

This is just a test. It's a silly test really. It's a test the state uses to try to measure what you have learned in school and what your teachers have accomplished in teaching you. They think that by sitting you in front of a computer tablet and having you answer their oddly worded questions, they'll be able to know what you know. They won't. What you have learned in your 10 years thus far goes far beyond that school building, and even what your teachers have taught you in that school building goes far beyond what any test can possibly measure.
The test can't see your love of dance, your connection to nature, or your willingness to climb any mountain put in front of you. The test can't see how you take an assignment from a teacher, any assignment, and put all of yourself into it. The test can't see your passion for applying what you learn in books to the world around you, your desire to know about the world, then and now, in order to better serve it.
Sit down, take the test, and do your best.
But I need you to know that this test does not change absolutely anything about you. Regardless of what your test results read, you will still be strong and brave. You will still be a hard worker. You will still be a good friend and a kind human. You will still be deeply loved by your family, friends, and God. You will still be capable and determined. Your spirit will still shine. Your smile will still warm hearts. Your writing will still inspire us. You will still have a huge heart and an intense love of learning.
Maybe you think I only mean if you don't do as well as you'd like on this test that the results won't matter, but I truly mean whatever the results are, they. will. not. matter. Even if you have the highest of the highest scores... it will not make you more loved. High scores will not mean you are a better person or even a better student. They will not mean that anyone in your life values you more, because our love and your worth do not depend on a test score. You can't possibly lose or earn more love or worth. You've got it all, right now, just as you are.
So go ahead, take the test, think of it as a puzzle or a game... but know we love you, and you're an incredible human being we're all proud and grateful to know. No test can measure your worth.
Edited to add: I'm so thankful for the way my kids' teachers walk with them daily, the way they love them and care for them and yes, teach them... even when these pesky tests get in the way. These test says as little about teachers and the gifts of love and education they give their students as it does about their students' worth and abilities.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Rated G: Diversity for All Ages

My 10 year old daughter is transgender. Overwhelmingly, when people in our lives find that out, they are surprised but supportive. She, of course, doesn't go around introducing herself to everyone she meets as transgender, but when she gets close to a new friend she usually tells them. More often than not, they simply don't believe her. They know her as their friend, Rebekah, and they can't conceive of her ever having appeared to be anything else. They see her as a girl through and through, which is good, because she is. In those situations, I get the sticky task of contacting parents and trying to facilitate a conversation with them. We have been lucky beyond words that most of these parents have been very receptive, eager for resources, and happy to help. We send home some children's books and websites for parents, and everyone leaves the situation feeling grateful to have a little more understanding and connection.

Photo by Maegan Dougherty
Of course, Rebekah could choose not to tell them. She has no responsibility to out herself to anyone. However, for her, it seems important to share this part of herself with those whom she builds community. 

Unfortunately, even supposedly supportive people don't respond this way. Some people don't want to tell their child about my daughter's identity. They say things like... "Oh she's too young to know." "I don't want to have to explain that." "That's not a conversation I'm ready for..." If you're not the parent of a transgender child, perhaps you don't realize how those statements feel like a punch in the gut. They are saying my daughter's identity is somehow inappropriate, is mature content, is not G-rated. They are suggesting she is scandalous, dirty, or somehow seuxal. She's not. She's 10. There's nothing inappropriate about who she is, and pretending to be okay with who she is while hiding it from your children isn't helping anyone.

Oh no, they'll say. We don't have a problem with Rebekah. We just don't want to tell our daughter about that yet.

But what if the that  you were referring to wasn't my child's gender identity, but some other type of diversity seen in children. What if the child had a limb difference? Surely, we all agree that averting your child's eyes and rushing away so as to not have to explain that is wildly inappropriate. What if it isn't something seen on the outside, what if the child has type 1 diabetes and a parent contacts you because their child wants their friends to understand who they are and what they live with? Surely, no one would imagine saying "oh I'm sorry, I just don't want to have to explain that to my child." How about a child in a wheelchair? A child who has Autism Spectrum Disorder? We all rejoice when these children are featured in books and media. We all agree that to create empathetic and accepting children, they need to learn about their peers in all of their diversity. Why is my daughter excluded from that? 

This is who my child is. She was born this way. This isn't a choice. It has nothing to do with sexuality. Teaching your child about it will not suggest to them that they should be transgender anymore than teaching them about diabetes makes them want to start taking insulin. She deserves to been seen, valued, and celebrated for who she is the way every other child does in their uniqueness, and she deserves peers who are taught about gender diversity just like any other type of diversity. 

It's why we're so thankful for books for all age levels that tell the rich and varied stories of transgender and gender diverse people. This list is a great place to start for children's books. So grab a book and have a conversation. Or join in a reading of I Am Jazz on HRC's National I am Jazz Reading Day coming up on May 18. No reading happening by you? Maybe you're just the person to host one. They have some fantastic resources on having age-appropriate conversations with children about gender (nothing scandalous here, promise!). Anyone can host a reading - parents, educators, librarians, faith leaders, Scout Leaders, and beyond. Check out a copy from your local library, grab a copy from your local bookstore, or order on Amazon and you'll have it with plenty of time!
I'll thank you in advance on behalf of my little girl who is anything but a reason to cover your child's ears or avert their eyes. She's just a 10 year old girl who takes dance class, goes to Girl Scouts, works hard in school, loves her friends, and happens to be transgender.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

God Bless Rebekah and her "Forever Name"

Maegan Dougherty Photography
Originally published on Facebook on April 25, 2017.
On Sunday morning, we had a blessing of Rebekah and her “forever name” during worship. Over the past year, we changed her name legally, in the eyes of the courts and the government. This weekend, a week after her second anniversary of living as herself out in the world and on the weekend of her tenth baptismal anniversary, we gathered with friends, family, godparents, and church members to affirm her new name as a community of faith. We remembered Rebekah's baptism and rejoiced in her identity as a Child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever.
After all the love and affirmation she’s received in the past two years, why did we need to do this? Believe it or not, our day to day life doesn’t center around Rebekah being transgender. She’s just Rebekah (and we know what a privilege that is). With the recent media attention she’s received from speaking out in support of trans rights, it felt a little over the top to do one more thing. But we’d been planning this for months, and it was really important.
It was important because we need her to know that not only her friends and family support her, but that her community of faith stood and affirmed her. It’s not just Mommy and Daddy saying God made you and God loves you. We need her to know that when she encounters Christians who tell her she is less than, she is sinful, she is dangerous, she is going to hell… we need her to know that her faith family gathered around her, laid their hands on her, affirmed her and blessed her in the name of God.
And it was important because it matters to the church. It matters to the church that we boldly, openly support and celebrate transgender people of faith. It matters that the church that watched our journey, that knew Rebekah before she was Rebekah and witnessed her transformation and offered love and support while also wrestling with their own questions, that they be given the opportunity to stand with her in this way. This is not something separate from God. This is her identity in God. Claiming and celebrating that identity in a community of faith mattered.
We are deeply grateful to our family and community for their love and support, and we will continue to do this work until every child (and adult!) is met with this much love from not only their families and communities, but from people and places of faith.
Thank you to Maegan Dougherty Photography for the beautiful photo and the ever gracious presence.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Thursday, April 13, 2017


We had so much fun being a part of this project. Many thanks to the The Scene for putting together a beautiful piece and lifting up trans kids (and their parents) in such a positive way!

(And oh my goodness, do you not just want to hug that little boy with the glasses?!)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rebekah Day and Giving Back

On April 16, we will celebrate what we affectionately named “Rebekah Day”. It will be the second anniversary of Rebekah going out into the world as herself, a girl named Rebekah. Last year I wrote her this letter to celebrate the one year anniversary…. and every word of that still rings true. I will read it to her every year on this special day.

On this year's anniversary, we want to thank those who have paved the way for Rebekah to be who she is. We are deeply grateful to every transgender person who has come before her, living their truth despite the violence, discrimination and struggle, fighting to be seen and respected in a world that said loudly and clearly “you don’t belong here”. The world was and is wrong. You do belong here, and we are so deeply, deeply glad you’re here. Connecting with this trans community has been the biggest gift we have received. I am not transgender, and yet this community has truly welcomed us as parents with open arms.
The people who have shared their trans identities with us, publicly and personally, help us better understand our daughter - her experience, her challenges, and how we can best support her now and also prepare her for the future. We know that hearing one person’s story is exactly and only that - one person’s story. There is no one-size-fits-all trans experience. But, it has been and continues to be a truly holy experience to share space, in person or online, with people in the trans community who generously and graciously share their stories, share their whole selves with us.

We give thanks to every parent who has supported their transgender child in the truest sense of that word, who has had the difficult conversations with families, schools, and communities, who have fought for their child’s safety and respect. Parents who have shared their families’ stories gave us much needed perspective, affirmation, hope and joy as we navigated our family’s own story.

Finally, we are so thankful for allies and advocates - organizations, community leaders, legislators, school administrators and educators, communities, and families. On every level, from local to global, their work changes the societal landscape for transgender people. These are people who work seemingly tirelessly, although I know many of them are so very tired. They are relentless in this fight for equality, and we are so thankful to know they are fighting for kids like Rebekah along with all trans and gender non-conforming people, especially those who are most vulnerable, whose identities lie at the intersection of more than one oppressed and marginalized community. There is much work to be done.
With that in mind, we’d like to invite you to celebrate with us two years of Rebekah being “Rebekah” by joining us in supporting one of the organizations doing this work. Rebekah thought that each year we could pick a different organization to support, and this year she chose Garden State Equality.
Garden State Equality is working constantly to address the needs of the LGBTQ community in New Jersey, and just last month, their office in Asbury Park was vandalized. New Jersey has been a leader in equality, but there is work to be done. In our current political landscape, our work on a state level matters more than ever. Garden State Equality is working in healthcare, policy, legislation, education, community support, and beyond. They stood with 8 year old Joe Maldonaldo when he was kicked out of Boy Scouts for being transgender and as his family fought to change that. They are working with the community in Egg Harbor Township who is fighting the school board to adopt a policy for transgender students. They are advocating with the New Jersey Department of Education and in the legislative bodies for statewide guidance to be in place to protect transgender students in schools. And on a personal level, they have empowered Rebekah in her advocacy, lifting up her voice, and helping her gain confidence in her trans identity and her strength.

Please consider making a donation, in Rebekah’s honor, to celebrate with us and to support the work of Garden State Equality. No donation is too small, and every bit counts. We thank you for your ongoing support and love. Let’s show Rebekah what she can do with the help of her family, friends, and supporters!!!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My Transgender Daughter is a Beloved Child of God

Originally published on Medium on March 1, 2017 (prior to the Supreme Court vacating Gavin Grimm's case).

I am a lifelong Lutheran, a pastor’s wife, and a mom to three amazing kids. My firstborn child is named Rebekah. She is an excellent student with a deep love of learning. She is adored by classmates and teachers. She’s just as happy mountain biking and swimming in waterfalls and as she is twirling in fancy dresses and performing on stage. She is strong and determined. She is a beloved child of God. She is ten years old, and she is transgender.

She hasn’t always been the happy, thriving kid that she is now. In the years before she transitioned to live as her authentic self in the world, my husband and I watched our child grow more and more anxious. We watched as she became increasingly uncomfortable in her own body and confused about her place in the world. We watched as depression took over, and before we knew it, we had a seven-year-old child in crisis. We had a seven-year-old child who pushed out the screen of her second story window and tried to jump out, a seven-year-old child who wanted to die. We have never been more scared in our lives.

With the support of excellent professionals and a lot of of learning, we were able to pull her back from that window ledge and give her space to unpack her identity. We all came to realize she wasn’t a boy. She was a girl. At eight years old, we changed her name and pronouns and she began living as herself in the world. She immediately transformed into a confident, joyful child whose smile lights up an entire room.

My husband is a Lutheran pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As a clergy family, we have lived out this journey publicly in our church and our community where Rebekah has been welcomed with open arms. We may not entirely understand the science around why people are born transgender or even what it all means for our daughter’s future, but we know that God created each and every one of us in God’s own image. God does not love our daughter in spite of her gender identity. God did not put her in the wrong body. This is who she has always been, who God created her to be, and like I've heard from so many who want to dispute transgender identities, God doesn’t make mistakes.

As beloved children of God, we are one. We are one  body in Christ. When we claim our stories, tell our stories, and hear each other’s stories we are better able to enter into community with all God’s children and care for each member of the body. My daughter is transgender, and she is okay.

My family stands with Gavin Grimm in the upcoming Supreme Court case as he fights for the rights of all students to a safe and affirming education. This case may specifically be about a transgender child's ability to use the proper restroom, but it really is so much more than that. This is about dignity and compassion for transgender people. This is about the right to be who you are in the world with the same rights and protections of any other individual.

My husband, Rev. Christopher Bruesehoff, was one of nearly 2,000 faith leaders to sign an amicus brief supporting Gavin Grimm and the rights of all transgender students, standing in solidarity with the trans community. We are proud to be a part of this historic case, the first concerning transgender equality to ever go before the U.S. Supreme Court - and we hope to see the Supreme Court rule on the right side of history in this case this spring.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Privilege through the eyes of an 8 Year Old

Originally published on Facebook February 25, 2017.

In the past two weeks, I've done a handful of interviews about transgender rights and why it's important to our family. The first time my husband and I were interviewed on the news, it was fun to watch the kids' reactions. Rebekah was really proud to see her picture and hear us fighting for her. Oliver was SUPER excited to see mommy on television "mama, mama, see mama", he squealed.

And then there's Elijah. E thinks aloud so we get a running commentary on what's going on in his head on a regular basis. (Yes, this can be just as enlightening, entertaining, and, yes, sometimes painful as it sounds. I love him and the amazing way his brain works.)

At first he understandably said, "Hey! Why does Rebekah get to be on tv?" But then he realized what we were talking about in the interview, "ohhhh it's because she's transgender and she needs us to protect her rights." He continued, "So that means Jaxon might be on tv sometime too! He needs us to protect him, too!"

Jaxon is my nephew, and he happens to not be white. Well, actually he's biracial.

After another night with us on the evening news and the segment showing a few times over the course of the night, he said "Mommy is on tv, again?! Well, I want Rebekah to have her rights. And I want Jaxon to have his rights. I know I don't have to worry about my rights, but I want them to have theirs." And off he went to build something cool.

He's not quite 8 years old, and he gets it. He knows the privilege he has as a white, cisgender male, and he knows we have to fight for and lift up all of those who are vulnerable. If only the rest of the world would catch up.

#ourchildrenarewatching #raisethemright#protecttranskids #stophate

Monday, April 3, 2017

Fighting for Transgender Students

Originally published on Facebook February 22, 2017.

Last year, my daughter dressed up as Matilda for Love of Reading Week at school. It fit her perfectly. She's a hardworking, curious student with a deep love of learning and books! With a supportive educational environment, she is absolutely thriving. Matilda had to fight for her own supportive educational environment. Transgender students (and their parents) have been fighting for their's for years, and we aren't about to stop now.
We've heard from sources inside the Trump administration that they are planning to rescind the Obama administration's guidelines to schools on how to protect transgender students under Title IX. This sends a very clear message that the rights of transgender students do not matter as much as any other student's rights. This sends a very clear message that the EDUCATION of transgender students does not matter.
We are lucky that my daughter has been supported and affirmed in her public school setting, but we shouldn't have to worry if that will change with any changes in school administration. We shouldn't have to worry about what happens if we move. It shouldn't come down to luck. Every single child, including my daughter and every kid like her, deserves access to a safe education free from bullying and discrimination.
My daughter used this quote that resonated deeply with her in her presentation, "So Matilda's strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: you are not alone." - Roald Dahl, Matilda
We are not alone. You are not alone. We will fight for transgender students. We will fight for safe, bully-free, discrimination-free educational settings where all students can thrive. And we will #standwithGavin as he heads to the Supreme Court for all transgender students.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

What Makes Your Light Shine Bright?

Originally published on Facebook on February 20, 2017.

I spent the weekend at an elementary school retreat at camp with some awesome young people talking about being bright lights in the darkness.

For one activity, we finished the sentence "my light shines bright when...." on pieces of paper to fill a lightbulb. How would you finish that sentence? What can you do today and this week to be light in the darkness?

I know my light shines bright when I get good sleep. My light shines bright when I spend time in nature. My light shines bright when I care for my family and my community. My light shines bright when I make people laugh. My light shines bright when I am brave and kind. My light shines bright when I listen to others. My light shines bright when I tell my story.

I love that being of service to others and caring deeply for myself are both things that make my light shine bright. It's not one or the other, it's both! What makes your light shine bright?

#lightoftheworld #braveandkind #selfcareisntselfish

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Gender Revolution - A Conversation in Faith

Originally posted on Facebook on February 7, 2017.

Last night, at a Lutheran church, we screened the National Geographic documentary #GenderRevolution just a few hours before the television premiere and followed it with a panel discussion of clinicians, advocates, clergy, and parents of transgender kids. We threw together the event on just 8 days notice, and we had just about 50 people join us from the local community and beyond.
The film was great (watch it! It's available On Demand starting today, and will be streaming from the web in a couple weeks), and the panel and conversation was interesting and informative (even for me who served on the panel!). But two things stick out for me, as a parent of a transgender kid and as a person of faith.
First, seeing fifty people gather to have this conversation, share their stories, and ask questions about how we can do better for the trans community was extremely affirming for my 10 year old daughter. She didn't want to be a part of the panel ahead of time (which was more than fine!), but afterwards she said "you know, it would have been good if a kid could answer their questions, I could have answered their questions". This opportunity and conversation helped her find her voice and encouraged her that even people in our little part of the world care and want to listen and learn.
Second, a church creating this opportunity is significant for both people of faith and people who are not connected to a faith tradition. I know there are many, many churches doing things like this and so much more, but the church-based opposition is still louder. With so many in the country using faith as a weapon against the LGBTQ community, people of faith and our communities absolutely must boldly, intentionally, and loudly stand as places and people of welcome, support, and advocacy. It is not enough to say "well not all Christians..." in our own defense. It's not about us. It's about a community being actively marginalized by the 47% of people of faith who do not support them. We're the majority. Let's make that clear.

Friday, March 31, 2017

My Trans Daughter's Resistance

March 31 is Transgender Day of Visibility: #TransResistance

A photo my daughter taken at a rally for transgender students

While visibility alone is not enough, trans visibility is, in and of itself, a tool of resistance, an act of revolution.

Last month, our transgender daughter’s picture went viral and our family discovered a whole new level of visibility as we continued to advocate for trans young people. It’s been exciting, encouraging, overwhelming, and more than a little scary. We discovered a small taste of what many other public families of transgender young people know. There is an enormous heartwarming community supporting and loving our kids. There are also far too many people filled with hate, anger, and, seemingly, a lack of meaningful hobbies as they go out of their way to vilify transgender kids and their families. We know the rule, “don’t read the comments”, but sometimes the comments find you via private messages, email and beyond.
As our newsfeed filled with my kid’s face, family and friends were generally supportive but some wondered. They said things like “We love and support Rebekah, but why did you have to do all this? Why couldn’t you go about your daily lives and just let her be a girl? Why did you have to go so public? With all the hate in the world, don’t you worry about her privacy and her safety?”
That right there seems to be the question of Transgender Day of Visibility for me this year. Why visibility? Isn’t it safer/easier to just lay low? Day to day, her trans identity doesn’t have much of an impact on her. She’s fits into society’s expectations for girls. You don’t know she’s transgender when you meet her. She has a supportive school that protects her rights and identity. She has a supportive family. We know that being so public will impact her for the rest of her life. We’re not naive about any of this.
We could tell Rebekah to keep her identity quiet. We could hide our family’s story. We would absolutely be safer. We wouldn’t be receiving hateful messages calling us sick and horrible criminals, accusing us of abuse and threatening to have our kids taken away, or suggesting the world would be a better a place if our family died of cancer. We wouldn’t be trying to walk these fine lines of preserving the normalcy of everyday life, ensuring the safety of our family to the best of our ability, and carefully, intentionally trying to use this voice we’ve been given, not knowing what Rebekah will think of any of it ten or twenty years from now. Life might be a lot more calmer, quieter, easier.

But we know Rebekah is only able to be who she is, live a life where joy, love, and acceptance greatly overpower the fear and uncertainty because of the transgender people who bravely came before her, who lived their truth despite the violence they faced, who fought for their rights and against discrimination.

The rights of the transgender community are under attack, and those who are not as fortunate as Rebekah are the ones most impacted — those youth who don’t have supportive families, communities, or schools, those youth who don’t fit so neatly into the gender binary, those who already face discrimination based on their color, culture, creed, ability, income, and/or immigration status.
We are called not to hide behind our privilege, but to boldly tell our story and fight for those who aren’t in a position to do so publicly. And in that visibility, there is joy and hope. There are the messages we receive of love, support, and encouragement. Messages from people in the trans community telling us we’re in this together. Parents reaching out for support and resources. Young people thanking us for seeing them, valuing them when maybe their families or their schools don’t. The allies stepping forward, finding their voices, and taking action to support the trans community.
None of that is because our family is so special, or even because Rebekah is special, although we do think she’s pretty great. It’s because the trans community is strong, determined, brave, and resilient. They show us that every day just by existing and living out their lives when society tells them they don’t have a place here. The very act of being visible as a transgender person is an act of revolution.
We have watched Rebekah become more confident in herself and her identity as she uses her voice to stand up for her rights and the rights of all transgender kids. Being boldly, proudly, and joyfully visible sends a message to the community and the world, that this is not a secret, this is not a source of shame. My daughter’s identity is one to be seen and celebrated. As parents, as allies, we will continue to raise up trans voices, to see and celebrate trans identities, and to mobilize for transgender justice.