So a weird thing happened on Tuesday. I posted a tweet that went viral.
On Twitter I’m usually more of a listener, follower and retweeter than a thought leader, so I was a little caught off guard to see my tweet explode this way. (I mean, really. WHAT IS MY LIFE that I, of all people, posted a tweet about transphobia that went viral????? I’ve barely tweeted in months, and then KAHBLAM, I get 6,000+ retweets and 150,000+ notes on Tumblr. Somebody please come clean me up off the floor because I just cannot comprehend.) Please pardon my incredulity.
But more seriously, I want to acknowledge the fact that I am not even remotely the first person to say what I said, even on Twitter. LGBTQ people have been talking about this for pretty much forever but very few are listening to them. I’m blown away by the response and grateful for those that shared it, but I would be sorely remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my privilege as a straight white girl whose tweet about this topic went viral.
So, given the overwhelming attention my tweet received, I thought I’d take a minute to expand on my thought behind the tweet and then offer some resources to those that have questions about it, especially Christians. My post here is not nearly as comprehensive and important as the people I’m linking to, so please don’t skip the part where you actually educate yourself with direct resources.
About Leelah Alcorn.
Leelah was a transgender teenage girl from Kings Mill, Ohio, who committed suicide on December 28. Before taking her life, she posted a suicide note to her Tumblr account, explaining her story. (Update: Her suicide note has since been taken down, so here is a google cache version of her post.) Most notably, Leelah expresses grief that her Christian parents refused to accept her transgender identity and isolated her from her community for attempting to come out. Leelah draws a clear, unquestionable connection between her parents’ bigotry and their conservative Christian beliefs. This part is especially heartbreaking:
“…they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.”
“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
The Connection between “Pro-life” and Transphobia.
So why did I tweet about “pro-life” Christians being transphobic, and what does it have to do with Leelah Alcorn’s suicide? Full disclosure: I cannot speak for the Alcorns and their stance on abortion, but I can speak to the kind of conservative, right-wing Christianity that claims to be adamantly pro-life when it comes to opposing abortion, and yet does not hold the same regard for the lives of LGTBQ people (or black people, or undocumented immigrants, or a whole host of other marginalized people in this world, for that matter.) “Every life is precious” in utero, but what if that life grows up to be gender nonconforming like Leelah’s? Too often I’ve seen this “unconditional” love go out the window for the LGBTQ children of conservative Christians. “Tough love” takes over, leaving LGBTQ children completely alienated from their families and communities.
There is a huge, gaping hole of disconnection between “pro-life” sentiments and the rejection of LGBTQ people, and it is not only heartbreaking, but life-threatening. According to the CDC,
“LGBTQ youth are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts, and suicide. A nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7–12 found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers.”
The suicide risk is even higher for transgender teens. This information alone should make it clear that LGBTQ youth feel unloved and unsafe in their homes. This is tragic. The fact that death feels like the better option to them should break our hearts enough to affect real change, in our selves and our communities, but so often it doesn’t, and that’s my point. The isolation, disregard, or flat-out rejection of LGBTQ people by Christians is in direct opposition to Jesus’ commandment to love one another, full stop.
Christians, we need to do better. If you claim to be “pro-life,” then be consistent. Care enough to change these statistics. Care about offering LGBTQ people hope through compassion, grace and unconditional love. Stop wielding your faith as a weapon against the LGBTQ community. Stop blaming Jesus for your bigotry. And please, for the love, if you cannot embrace the LGBTQ people in your midst, then stop claiming to be “pro-life” and start calling yourselves what you really are: “anti-abortion.” If compassion and unconditional grace are not a part of your “pro-life” ethic, then you are not pro-life.
“But Not All Christians…”
Many many people responded to my tweet with “not all Christians are like that” or “why are you singling out Christians.”
The reason I was specific about Christians perpetuating LGBTQ-phobia is because Leelah Alcorn draws an inextricable connection between her depression and her parents’ faith. Her parents used their Christian identity as an excuse to reject Leelah’s transgender identity, and shamed her for not being Christian enough to conform to a straight identity. I am not being assumptive or jumping to conclusions about Leelah’s story when I address the systemic LGBTQ-phobia that is prevalent in conservative Christian culture; Leelah confronts this herself in her post. To not address this, to not critique the conservative evangelical Church for its systemic LGBTQ-phobia, is to erase Leelah’s experience as a transgender girl who was rejected by her parents based on their religion.
When I addressed Christians in my tweet, I was addressing those that identify as staunchly “pro-life” and also oppose the LGBTQ “lifestyle.” This is a very specific group of Christians, mainly conservative, right-wing evangelicals. I know that Not All Christians are homophobic or transphobic, because I found the ones that aren’t and they changed my perspective! This seems like it would be glaringly obvious given my tweet, but I’ve had a surprising number of people bombard my mentions with this nonsense.
So here’s the thing: if you are a Christian and you do not agree with the Alcorn’s choice to reject their child, then do not waste time trying to pretend like hatred of LGBTQ people isn’t a problem in the Christian church, because that in itself is a rejection of them and their lived experiences. Pretending that oppression doesn’t exist is not any more moral than actively waging oppression; it IS oppression. If you really want to love someone, start by believing them when they say they’ve experienced oppression and persecution. Stop centering the conversation around yourself by whining that you and your religious community have been unfairly generalized.
For further reading on this point, I highly recommend this post from Eliel Cruz, “On #NotAllChristians,” especially this bit:
It’s time we started being less defensive and more reflective. If the statement that was made doesn’t apply to you, there shouldn’t be any reason for you to feel defensive. But perhaps you feel defensive because it hits too close to home. If that’s the case, then it is the perfect opportunity for you to be reflective — and we shouldn’t feel ashamed about that.
Resources for Educating Yourself about LGBTQ Experiences.
Here’s a comprehensive explanation of what being transgender means, for those of you trying to understand Leelah’s experience.
Also, let me just acknowledge again that my tweet was not anything that hasn’t already been said before. Consider this section of this post my sources cited for my tweet. I did not always hold an LGBTQ-affirming perspective; in fact my change of heart has been fairly recent. The last 5 years have been a slow 180-turn for me, and you can read more about my journey in a guest post I wrote, A Love Letter for the LGBTQ Community. I’m deeply indebted to some smart, wise, kind individuals that are working hard to educate others on how to love LGBTQ people well. Here are a few to start you off:
– “And Though I Find Here No Permanent Dwelling” by Sarah Moon
– Dianna Anderson’s entire series on Queer Theology (and basically her whole blog)
– “The False Gospel of Gender Binaries” by Rachel Held Evans
– Why the “love the sinner, hate the sin” trope isn’t loving at all, by Micah Murray
– “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be ‘Allies’” by Abi Bechtel
– If you’re on twitter, I would highly recommend following these folks who share their lived experiences as LGBTQ people on the daily: Eliel Cruz, Broderick Greer, AW Hooker, Dianna Anderson, Sarah Moon, Ben Moberg, Saeed Jones. And some trustworthy allies that are also educating me well: Suzannah Paul, Abi Bechtel, Luke Harms, Micah Murray.
Next Steps for Honoring Leelah Alcorn & Supporting the LGBTQ Community.
– Read about the hashtag #RealLiveTransAdult to understand their lived experience. Reverend Lawrence T. Richardson’s post for The Salt Collective, “Transgender and Christian… and Crying for Leelah Alcorn” is a good place to start.
– The Marin Foundation is full of wonderful resources for reconciling the Christian faith and affirming LGBTQ people. Educate yourself.
– Shut up and listen.