It’s okay to change.
It’s okay to grow.
It’s okay if you have become more informed and have decided to act more positively towards others with this new information. We are meant to grow as humans, and allowing others to grow and change is a way to show acceptance. Sometimes others won’t understand and they’ll decide to leave your life. Let them. Being true to your own spirit may require this sacrifice.
This past week, I started, and quickly finished, the book It’s Okay To Say “They”: Tips for Educator Allies of Transgender and Nonbinary Students by Christy Whittlesey, PhD. I wanted to read this book because of my journey to be more inclusive for all students. Normally, I focus on matters of race, but I felt clueless where to start when addressing needs of students who are LGBTQ and nonbinary. My goal is to be a voice of change in our education system by being transparent in my journey as an educator who has struggled with implicit bias and learned how to change for the benefit of my students,community, and family. Equity issues tend to be controversial, but it’s even harder to talk about inclusion issues for LGBTQ and nonbinary students. Some of us don’t know the proper terms and we are not sure how we can stay true to our Christian values and support those in this community. Coming from a conservative Christian background has given me an insight to this internal struggle, and I hope to help others who have similar backgrounds find a way to accept our youth.
Growing up in our household, being gay seemed the worst possible thing you could become. As kids, we used the word “gay” as a way to make fun of others. I even remember hearing conversations about parents using “tough love” on their gay children. This tough love meant throwing them out for making this decision (refusing to consider the possibility that their kids were born with their sexuality) and finding that others in the faith community believed these parents had no other choice. There was a hard stance against homosexuality and anything along the lines of being LGBTQ. It was ungodly and sinful. Like clockwork, the Scripture to back it up was always about Sodom and Gomorrah. This was my world growing up and this became part of my views as a young adult…until I started questioning these absolute stances that lacked any sort of compassion and grace.
At almost 40 years old, being able to question everything is probably the greatest gift my education has given me! I am still a person of faith, but in the last decade, as a student of the Scripture, I became acutely aware that our roles as Believers is not to spread condemnation. Quite the opposite, actually. But like so many, I was either a mouthpiece of hate, or didn’t say anything, for a long time. For this I am sincerely sorry and hope that this next leg in life is to help others feel lifted up and accepted for who they are, and that includes their sexuality.
So maybe you are like me. Maybe you wonder how you can care for your LGBTQ and nonbinary students without feeling like you are going angainst your Christian values? I pray my journey can help you find some light, too.
The first thing to consider is that our faith does not allow us to hate anyone. If you feel hate for the LGBTQ movement of people, there has got to be a check on your heart. When Jesus was asked for the greatest commandment, He answered, “Love your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and then to love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving your LGBTQ neighbor is OKAY. And if you want to go even deeper into this, remember that God created every human being and has given them their unique abilities. When others don’t look or act like us, a feeling of superiority can be detrimental and kill connection. Feeling like we can condemn others comes from that sense of superiority.
Another thing to question is ‘why’? Why do we, as Christians, feel so outraged against people who are LGBTQ or nonbinary? The first time I talked with a young person who was gay and loved Jesus, my walls crumbled. That was over ten years ago and it helped me see a human side to an issue highly politicized and polarizing in the faith community. We do not need to change these people. We do not need them to be straight so they can enter Heaven. It became obvious to me that we need to LOVE people like my young friend. To them, our acceptance is our love. We are not God. We do not know all the answers or decide the fate of anyone. Heaping judgement and condemnation is the antithesis to what the Bible has called us to do.
This is an important issue to work through if you are an educator, parent, or human. I read an article several years ago that gave a statistic of the number of young people who are gay in the church. They grew up in a church culture. They know who Jesus Christ is, but they are still not heterosexual. They may be LGBTQ. They may even want to transition into a different gender, or ultimately decide they fit into neither gender category. As an educator, I need to be prepared to have a student in my class working through this identity discovery. As a mother, I want to love my child for anything and everything without feeling I have to force my beliefs on them and creating a division where they feel they can no longer share their life with me. As a human, who thrives on connection, I do not want anyone to feel I look down upon them for living a life I have never lived through myself.
The book It’s Ok to Say “They” and its author, Dr. Whittlesey, has given many insights on how we can welcome transgender and nonbinary students into our classrooms. Using “they” is one important way to help them feel safe and accepted, while letting them know we genuinely care about their lives. It’s important we learn to do this because their bullying and suicide rates indicate the need they have for allies. If you see others put their pronouns in their information, that is a welcome mat stating they’ve heard and they see our students who have been marginalized. As a parent, my child being hurt by others and ultimately taking their own life scares me more than anything else! I want to be a person who can connect with others, even when they don’t have the same lifestyle or sexuality as me. Their lives are as important as mine. They have unique ideas and talents to share. They will help make this world better like their heterosexual, binary, and cisgender peers.
If you are hoping to learn more about being an ally, this book is a great place to start. My eleven year old asked if she could read this book and she did. When I asked her what she learned, she said, “It’s going to help me know how to treat trans people.” And then I asked her how she was going to do that, and she said, “Like everyone else.” In her mind, it’s simple because we have had conversations at home about this and she is growing up with a strong value of loving others as they are. Recently, when they met a transgender woman during a holiday party, my oldest daughter and son were polite. I saw my son’s eyes widen as I watched his reaction to meeting our new friend, but that was it. When we talked about it the next day, both children said it confused them why a man would want to be a woman, but they knew judging her was not an option. They have both decided to follow our faith and the Bible, and I could not be more proud of them. The conversations we have are powerful in regards to how we treat others, but they also know that I am a safe place of love for them as they grow up. I hope all five of my children understand this because it’s the truth. I will not turn my back on them as they grow into the people they will become.
But you and I are not children. We have probably struggled with this topic because many of us grew up in a hostile environment regarding those who are LGBTQ. For us, it requires change in a rigid mindset and a purposeful game plan for more inclusive thought. It requires us to genuinely care for the comfort of our transgender and nonbinary students and neighbors.
My thoughts are not popular in a conservative circle. My thoughts are not politically driven. I accept that I might be harshly judged and criticized by others for putting this out in the world. But it’s my belief, that we are here to love others without an agenda. Living with that belief will keep me from changing back into the person I used to be. It’s not that I don’t care about rejection, but at the end of the day, I have to live with myself and I refuse to hate or judge others simply because they don’t fit the status quo. If you’re with me and you want to be a changemaker for these young people, you have to take action. Not taking action, afraid you will offend them or others, actually hurts our students and that is the message of It’s OK to Say They. If you are ready and want a place to start, this is a great way to begin.
And remember, it’s okay to change.
They are depending on it.