Episcopal Priest Speaks Out for Transgender Freedom in Memory of Her Daughter April 19, 2018

It was just over a year ago that my 17-year old-came out as a transgender girl.

To the world looking in, my child was a typical guy’s guy — 6 foot 2 inches tall with wide shoulders, a deep baritone voice and a quick wit. But she told us that sometime during junior year of high school, she began to feel depressed and anxious as she became increasingly aware that she was not a boy after all — she was truly a girl.

My husband and I raised our child to be a high honors student, a valued crew team member, a star musician and a leader at a prestigious prep school, where she was elected president of her class all four years and was deeply loved and respected by her peers. She wanted her peers to know that even popular kids have struggles, and also wanted them to know that people they knew and respected could be transgender. So she courageously came out publicly last winter, adopting the name Emelia, which would have been the name we’d given her had she been born a girl.

Coming out as a transgender girl seemed to be a profound moment of liberation for Em, and she began to think about planning her transition. Then suddenly, on Jan. 28 of last year, she took her own life.

“It breaks my heart that our society didn’t feel like a safe place to Em, in large part due to the kind of discrimination she feared she would face.” —Rev. Elsa Worth, St. James Episcopal Church, Keene

Forty percent of all transgender teens either commit or attempt suicide. That’s 40 percent of all of our transgender sons, daughters, siblings, friends and family members. My husband and I did not know that statistic until it was too late. There is enormous stigma in our culture around being transgender no matter how much personal support you have, whether before or after a gender transition — especially for a transgender girl like Em. Even if your friends and family love and accept you, many in society do not, and there is little recourse should you encounter discrimination or hostility in housing, employment or in public spaces.

Right now, under New Hampshire law, there are no measures that explicitly protect transgender people from discrimination. Despite growing public awareness and support for the LGBTQ community, transgender people still face horrific discrimination, harassment and violence in all areas of life.

It breaks my heart that our society didn’t feel like a safe place to Em, in large part due to the kind of discrimination she feared she would face.

I was able to recently testify in support of House Bill 1319, New Hampshire’s transgender nondiscrimination bill, in front of the House Judiciary Committee to honor Em’s memory. I was both shocked and pained to hear opponents talk about transgender people as if they are broken, damaged and a danger to children. I heard people claim that God does not want to see transgender people protected from discrimination. Some opponents even had the audacity to question my faith, and the faith of the other clergy present who were there in support of HB 1319.

I serve as the priest at St. James Episcopal Church in Keene and have been an ordained clergy person for 22 years. I regret that so many hurtful and stigmatizing claims about LGBTQ people have been asserted in the name of religion — and I reject such claims.

“It is because of these promises that I and so many people of faith advocate for legal equality for transgender people. It is because we know that all are created in God’s image — in all our amazing and beautiful diversity — and that includes those who are transgender.”

In our church, we preach that no matter what our faith or creed, we should treat others the way we would want to be treated. Failing to protect others from discrimination goes against this value and it hurts us all. In our Episcopal baptismal covenant, we promise to seek and serve God in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

It is because of these promises that I and so many people of faith advocate for legal equality for transgender people. It is because we know that all are created in God’s image — in all our amazing and beautiful diversity — and that includes those who are transgender.

My daughter was loved by her family and by God, and we wish we had more time with her to show her that love. So I believe it is now part of my calling to make sure every transgender person knows how truly beloved they are.

“Putting nondiscriminatory measures in place are a basic and important step in offering vulnerable teens like Emelia the hope, confidence and inner peace to keep going despite the significant pressure of bias and stigma they will face.”

I have heard a great deal of fear expressed by the opponents of transgender equality. But love casts out fear, and this bill is grounded in compassion, fairness, equality and love. It assures our transgender citizens that New Hampshire intends to stand by them if they come up against life-damaging discrimination and provides them with more options than turning to desperate measures.

Putting nondiscriminatory measures in place are a basic and important step in offering vulnerable teens like Emelia the hope, confidence and inner peace to keep going despite the significant pressure of bias and stigma they will face. I’m extremely grateful the House of Representatives voted resoundingly to support HB 1319, and I urge the Senate to do the same.

I pray that all those like my daughter Emelia feel our support and the peace of knowing they are valued and upheld as equal and protected members of our communities.