Note: Author Beth Leyba asked us to please share this piece, which was first published by our friends at HuffPo Gay Voices. We're happy to do so. Note that the author uses the pronouns xe, xyr and xem as opposed to gendered pronouns throughout the piece.
Like so many, I was devastated to hear the news of Leelah Alcorn's death. As a parent of a trans teenager, I was heartbroken that Leelah never knew what it was to fully and fearlessly be herself and to be loved and accepted for who she was. As a former Christian I was saddened, but not surprised, that her parents were unable to give her that. As a stepparent who recently lost a young adult stepchild to a sudden and traumatic death, my heart still goes out to them in spite of their refusal to accept their daughter. Losing a child is a horrific experience.
I want to speak directly to other parents of LGBTQ youth, especially those who are having difficulty accepting their child, be they Christian or not. I understand, since I was raised in an environment where being gay or trans is considered to be one of the worst things that a person can be, and quite frankly, that was one of the main reasons I let go of my faith.
When my child first came out as gender fluid a year ago, some Christians in our extended family were outspoken in their distaste, with one even confronting xem directly and letting xyr know they were unable to call xyr by the name xe has chosen because of their "belief."
If I remember correctly from my years as a Christian, there are two commandments that come above all others:
Love your neighbor as yourself.
If any aspect of your belief system is coming into direct opposition of your ability to do the second one, you are not doing the first. You love God by loving your neighbor, and especially by loving your own family members. What does love mean if not fully accepting, embracing and affirming people, exactly where they are at in this moment, regardless of if you understand or agree?
Do you choose the relationship (love) or being right? What do you gain by choosing the latter? There are many people who share your label of Christian who do not agree that a non-heterosexual orientation or nonconforming gender identity is sinful. In fact, there are many LGBTQ people who are Christian. Have you explored their viewpoint?
The Bible should not be coming into opposition to your ability to fully love. Saying, "I'll treat you kindly, but I need you to know I don't agree with who you are," is not loving. Refusing to use a preferred name is just rude, and you'd have no problem with it if it were simply a preferred nickname.
It is my job as a parent to protect my child. I am thrilled that my child felt comfortable to come out to me as bisexual at the tender age of 13, and that over the last three years as knowledge about xemself and labels grew xe now identifies in other ways that feel right for xem. Thrilled. Why? Because xe is learning how to know xemself, how to express xemself, and how to be fearlessly authentic in a world that desperately needs brave self-expression, as eventually it will lead to acceptance and people championing those who have historically been viewed and treated as less than.
Xyr response to all this amazes me. I can sense a touch of anger, and more than a touch of hurt, but more than anything, xe understands that people get set in their ways, especially in regard to belief systems, and xe loves xyr family regardless. Xe's not about to cast anyone off because they believe differently than xem, even though xe's the one being harmed. That is the true example of love here.
Xe is strong, but xe is still young, and if I need to protect xyr psyche by keeping xem away from judgmental family members, so be it. I want to choose love. I want to choose the relationship over being right, but not at the expense of damaging my child, of taking the risk that xe may internalize the judgment and shame that you are trying to place on xem. I will not accept it. As Leelah's death illustrates, LGBTQ youth are exponentially more likely to contemplate and attempt suicide, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that it is something xe never even considers.
Xe is strong because xyr dad and I have built xem up to be, because we have raised xem in a home where xe knows deep down in the center of xyr being that we love xem, just as xe is, unconditionally and forever. We have created an environment where everyone is accepted, where gay, lesbian, bi, trans and queer are perfectly normal. Xyr dad and I had a long talk over the phone about this, and while our divorce obviously shows that there were things we didn't agree on, in this we are a completely united front.
To any Christian parents of LGBTQ youth who are reading this and struggling with knowing what to do, please consider the following:
What if turning your back on your child (or anyone) was not turning toward God? What if the opposite were true? What if it were an opportunity to practice the radical love and acceptance that Jesus taught? God does not want you to sacrifice your relationship with your child or your child's life in order to please him, and if he does, is that a God you really want to serve?
You may be afraid of what people in your family or in your church may say. You may even be asked to leave your church if you choose to embrace and defend your child, but I believe that if there is a God, that is the kind of love he has for us and that he wants to see us give in turn to our children.
I am fully aware that I cannot protect my child fully in the larger world, that xe will likely face persecution, bullying, and discrimination from some. However, I am fully committed to loving my child unconditionally, and I know that if others take the time to get to know xem, they will become better people in doing so, for xe is a fantastic and amazing human being.
Certainly there is some anger behind these words, but more than anything it comes from a place of love, and a deep desire for no more sweet children who have so much to offer the world to die before they can get through the darkness of hatred and into the light of love and acceptance. Please--I implore you--let the light of love and acceptance start with you. Let your heart and your home be their safe place.
An out and proud bisexual woman, loving mom and former Christian who celebrates her rainbow kid(s)