An Adventist pastor and his wife (a nurse), who are parents of a transgender daughter recently wrote an open letter to other parents of LGBT+ children. It's been eliciting incredible responses and has been seen almost 20,000 times just from our SGA FB page. This is the power of people within a close community (which all of Adventism is) opening up and sharing. Suddenly the "thems" become "us", and we realize those we might have been talking about or making assumptions about are right next to us at the table of fellowship, or even speaking from the pulpit. We're incredibly grateful to Pastor Kris and Debbie Widmer for their courage to speak up and commitment to love. Parents of LGBT+ children in the church often feel incredibly isolated, marginalized, and shamed also. They often go into a "second closet" as the Widmers describe, so please consider sharing this letter with your network. You never know who really might need to know they aren't alone.
Here's their letter:
Recently and ongoingly (Kris is a poet and wordsmith so occasionally he forges odd words), transgender people have been in the news. The world and national news and the internal news that Adventists hear through their social media and other communication channels.
Transgender people have been in our personal news lately as well. We have been asked to share our experience as parents of an MTF transgender daughter. We have known about this reality in our lives for the past four years.
In this open letter, we write a listing of a few of our decisions and learnings. Perhaps they will be helpful to others who also walk the path of parenthood with an LGBT child of any age.
1. We decided to listen. When our son came out to us, he asked us to listen to a 10-page letter he wrote and read to us sobbing. We listened then held her close.
2. We decided to grieve. The fact is we had “lost” a son. We didn’t announce it in church and there was no funeral—but our son had “died.” Accepting this loss prepared the way for our acceptance of the new reality…so we could accept the daughter he told us she was.
3. We decided we had been placed in a “second closet” when she came out. At first, we didn’t talk about “it.” To complicate matters, we are a pastoral family. Who should we talk to? How would we answer the question, “How is your son?” Closets are protective…but they are dark and unhealthy places to live. So, we decided to open the door to our closet…swallow hard…and talk about “it” appropriately to others.
4. We decided to educate ourselves through reading. We searched the internet for information. We read books. We read other people’s testimonies. We adopted an open mind on the topic and read to learn…not to confirm preconceived opinions or longstanding traditions.
5. We decided we are still a family. We decided God was calling us to live out the deepest depth of parental love. “Can a mother forget her nursing child…Yes, they can.” Isaiah 49:15. Could we? Yes. Should we? No! We decided we would never emotionally or physically abandon the person that carries our genes…regardless of her gender identity or presentation, regardless of her name, clothing, hair color, piercings or tattoos. She’s stuck with us. We’re her parents. We’re stuck with her. She is our child.
6. We decided to stay in family fellowship. This wasn’t a hard decision…but it had to be intentional. We continue to claim her as our flesh and blood…and we still want to do things together, now in adulthood. Her master’s degree graduation happened six months after she came out. Of course, we were there. And there are holidays to enjoy, ball games to attend, dinners out together. Her sister sibling is getting married. She is included. Period.
7. We decided to continue to be parentally physically affectionate. The experts say a person needs 12 hugs a day. She probably isn’t getting that, given the fact that she’s single and transgender…so we are committed to hugging her in greeting and parting…and other times in between.
8. We decided to believe her story and experience. Rather than discounting her perspective on her thoughts about herself, we choose to take her word for it. We believe you, girl.
9. We decided to use feminine pronouns and her female name. (The name she settled on was actually suggested by her mother!) We did this out of respect for her as a person and also to communicate love and acceptance. To do otherwise, to insist on using his old name and calling him “he” may have resulted in pushing her away.
10. We decided to put ourselves in her place. What would we want from our family were we in her situation? We feel the Golden Rule applies here. We decided to model God’s grace…taught in The Prodigal Son (Luke 15). We choose to NOT give her what some felt she deserved (rejection)…but what she needed (inclusion).
11. We decided that we are not alone. So we sought others for peer support and counseling. We heard from caring friends and family—some ahead and some behind us in a similar life journey. Out of these emails, conversations, and meals out…we found that we were “normal” in our feelings and thoughts. We found other Adventist parents who found the grace to love their children, too.
12. We decided to take a break from ministry. We took a sabbatical, and the time away from the daily grind of work gave us schedule space to deal with thoughts and emotions.
13. We decided to have a key heart-to-heart talk with our children… individually alone and then together. This was a turning point in our family dynamics, and no one could do it but the two of us. We…mom and dad…did it together. It was transformative.
14. We decided to keep praying with and for her. God is not dead…and the Divine is still at work…in our lives and her life. We lift her up in prayer daily, and when she leaves our presence, she joins us in a family prayer circle.
15. We decided to stop asking God to change her back into a him…and began asking God to change us. God has been answering those prayers.
16. We decided talking about our family was healthy. We talk about our own feelings and our daughter in appropriate ways with people we can trust. We have slowly moved from silence to advocacy for others in the LGBT community, offering love and care where we can.
17. We decided that we would stop blaming ourselves. We know it’s not our fault as parents that our child has these thoughts about herself. We didn’t cause this. The jury is still out on causative factors (a choice of nurture or a condition of nature?), so we have decided to blame the reality of humanity’s fall instead.
18. We decided to get acquainted with her friends…other members of the LGBT community. This includes attending worships, parties, and outings. Even a pizza night. You know…normal human kindness kinds of interactions.
SDA Elder O. Kris and Mrs. Debbie Widmer
End Part One of Two