Bridging the Divide: Ministers Make a Difference for Transgender Youth

Bridging the Divide: Ministers Make a Difference for Transgender Youth May 26, 2016

Guest post: by Rev. Russ Boyd

I’m a parent of a kindergartner in the Fort Worth school district (and of three kids who are headed for our local elementary school in the coming years). I’m also a pastor who primarily works with middle and high school youth in a Fort Worth congregation. So there are many reasons I have a keen interest in the controversy surrounding my school district’s guidelines related to transgender students.

I have lived in Fort Worth for nearly nine years, but an experience before I moved here shaped the way I approach the current conversation.

When I was serving a church in the suburbs of Memphis, Tenn., I spent three years volunteering with an LGBTQ youth group (MAGY, or Memphis Area Gay Youth), and I got to know a lot of trans teenagers.

And wow, did I learn a lot! I knew the terminology and was familiar with the concept, but interacting with transgender teenagers and hearing their stories provided a remarkable education.
wooden-bridge-919081_640I learned what it was like for these kids to come to terms with the fact that their gender identity didn’t match their biological sex, and how isolated they felt.

The avenues they usually turned to for support (their parents, their churches, their friends at school) didn’t feel safe, and before finding MAGY they often suffered through that pain in silence while navigating the daunting challenges of adolescence.

Because of that experience, when I first read the Fort Worth ISD guidelines on accommodating transgender students (allowing them to use the restroom of their choice) they made all the sense in the world.

Then I read a lot of the quotes from people criticizing the guidelines, and my immediate thought was: There is no way the people saying these hurtful things actually know a trans kid. No way.

In fact, most people who speak out against transgender youth (and adults) don’t actually know transgender people in real life. Opportunistic leaders frequently take advantage of that fact, working hard to frighten people into becoming culture warriors for their own cause.

As a pastor, part of my vocation is figuring out how to bridge such gaps, and I’m having a hard time figuring it out.

People’s response to this issue is deeply rooted in personal experience (or lack thereof), so I’m uncomfortable with the way I often see my friends and colleagues labeling and demonizing those who disagree with the school district’s policy.

When your elected leaders or your pastor or your news source work together to create an echo chamber telling you that you that your kids are in danger, that’s obviously going to resonate.

So here’s what I have decided I’m going to do: I will say that as the parent of four kids in Fort Worth, the guidelines for trans students in our school district make me feel like my kids will actually be safer, because it could be one of my kids whose life is made immeasurably better by the policy.

As a Christian, I’ll say that it shouldn’t matter if the kid who is helped by these guidelines is one of my kids, because my religion tells me that I should care about other people’s kids, too.

And as a pastor, I’ll say this: learning that youth group was the only place a transgender kid felt safe, was an incredible gift that profoundly shaped my perspective and ministry.

If people don’t know any trans kids, but they do know me, I hope my testimony will make a difference in how they understand this issue.

If personal experience with someone who identifies as transgender has shaped your understanding, I hope you will share your story as well.

Together we can do our part to make our schools safe for all of our kids.

12741915_10101169896365284_6957874289105102842_nThe Rev. Russ Boyd is a Fort Worth parent and Associate Minister for Youth at University Christian Church. This piece originally appeared in the Forth Worth Star-Telegram.


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