Monday, June 16, 2014

A Happy Pride

Portland Pride 2014
Photo Credit Dustin Vance

To fully explain my amazing weekend at Pride this year, I need to take you back almost 15 months to some of the fear I experienced as I was first coming out as trans.

But first, an aside:  Even though I write as a person of faith, please know: my goal is never, ever, EVER to try to get people to go to church, or to convince them to believe in God. That is just not my job. Your faith is not my business.  I do want everyone to know they are loved, no matter what, and I want to make churches safe and welcoming for those who might want to go to one.

So back to my story.  It was March 31st, 2013, only five days since I had become aware that this word "trans" might apply to me. I was still the president of my church and actively advocating for welcome and affirmation of the LGBT community in our church, including beginning conversations about welcome with the local boy scout troop. Then, as now, I would proclaim that God's love included everyone, that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender wasn't just "something to be tolerated", but one of the many diverse and beautiful ways that God creates us all.

It was Easter Sunday, a pretty big day, and I was supposed to be driving to church already. Instead I stood in my closet (both literally and figuratively). I could not bring myself to dress as a woman, but was afraid to dress as a man. I called my roommate, half naked, frozen in inaction, and he told me to just put anything on and go to church.  I dressed as "male" as I could or dared at the time - jeans, t-shirt with sports bra and Converse all stars.

I got to church fifteen minutes late and snuck into one of the pews. As I sat there, knowing I could not put on a dress, aware of this growing realization that my gender identity is male, I felt shame. I was struck with the fear that God was mad at me, that I was doing something bad. As much as I would have vehemently argued with anyone who tried to make that claim about any other member of the LGBT community (or anyone for that matter), here I sat, full of fear and internalized transphobia.  I wanted to walk out on Easter Sunday service and go home.

Over the next months, as I came out further to myself, my friends, and my family, this feeling continued to surface. I really didn't want to go to church. I completed my term as president but resigned from the church council. I felt that I could not attend the church I had been a member of for 18 years, because I wasn't sure they would accept me.

I am grateful that through study and prayer I have let go of (hopefully most of) my internal transphobia. I am as God made me, and living more authentically will not only enable me to be closer to God, but to be more giving of myself to others.  I don't know why God made me male in a female body, but I don't need to know the why. I can rest in the knowledge that God loves me passionately as I am, just as God loves each of you passionately just as you are.

And over the last fourteen months, my church has impressed me by living out the welcome that we voted on in December, 2012.  Two weeks ago, one of my pastors, Pastor Robyn Hartwig, preached on the spirit of God moving through the congregation, leading us to stretch out of our comfort zone for our brothers and sisters. From the pulpit, she spoke of how she met me as Laura and now knew me as Leo, that I was a she and am now a he. She told us that the spirit of God moves out ahead of us, welcoming and including those who are different from ourselves, but who are already included in and part of what God is doing in the world. 

I had been known as Laura for 18 years in that congregation and didn't know if I had a place there now as Leo, but hearing this word of welcome from the pulpit was powerful. I did not mind being mentioned in a sermon, but was deeply moved by the words of support. Both pastors have also been calling me Leo when they present me with the bread at communion, and this is holy hospitality. In a few weeks, we will have a formal name blessing in the church of my new name, Leo Channing.

At Pride, this welcome and love from my church was made tangible again. This year, my congregation had about 25 members buy matching t-shirts to represent our local church and walk in the Pride parade, joining several other churches from a variety of denominations, and about 75 other Lutherans.  

This church of mine, this people I did not know could be my people, called me Leo and marched with me, holding signs, blowing bubbles, and waving sticks with rainbow streamers, offering holy hospitality and welcome to all they met on the parade route.

At one point in the parade, the route goes past the bar CC Slaughters. Several of my friends were standing under the balcony, cheering us on. They have loved me and supported me through the twists and turns of coming out as trans, and have always made me feel that I was one of the guys. I love them fiercely. The parade announcer at CC's is also my friend Summer Seasons. Walking with my mom, seeing my friends, hearing Summer greet us and talk about the welcome and advocacy of our church made me leap for joy.

The picture above, taken by my friend Dustin Vance, captured this moment. This was Pride for me. As I wrote on the photo on facebook, "What moves me to such joy is the love I receive from the LGBT community in Portland, and the love I receive from my church family, and all of this love crashing around in a tidal wave of awesomeness in the same place." My heart burst with gratitude for each of you: the words of support you have provided, the hugs, the love, the joyful greetings of "Happy Pride!" -- I knew that I was in the right place, being my authentic self, my authentic trans self, and it was amazing. 

In that moment, I felt encouraged to continue the work of making churches safe and welcoming for all people, especially for those in the LGBT community. I do not take that moment of joy and love for granted, Many people, including friends I love dearly, have struggled with rejection by friends, family or church community. For those of you who are allies and members of faith communities, I ask that you will join me in advocating for the LGBT community, so that all may know they are truly welcome. (here are links for Lutherans and for others)

If you have been hurt by a church community or people using the Bible against you, please know that the word of hate does not come from God, nor does "love the sinner, hate the sin."  I am sorry you have been hurt.  God rejoices in YOU, in all that makes you wonderful and unique. God celebrates your glitter and sparkle and rainbow, or however you express yourself.

There is a lot of joy in this picture from Pride, but my weekend wasn't all smiles. I also experienced a decent amount of gender dysphoria. That is the clinical term for the distress caused by my perceived gender (female) being different than my gender identity (male).  Several friends either spotted that moment when I got quiet and withdrew or jumped in when I asked for help, and they provided hugs and words of encouragement. I am forever grateful to each of you.

I also felt extremely empowered and uplifted by participating in the first trans march in Portland. For me, the most incredible moment was being a part of a large group of people, voices reverberating off the buildings with repeated chants of: "What do we want?" "Trans rights!" "When do we want them?" "Now!"  I did not expect the tears that threatened to fall as I felt in my bones that I am not alone in this journey. Please know that you are not alone either.

Pride weekend is over for Portland, but I will try to continue to live out what Pride means to me: love, empowerment, authenticity, advocacy, joy, friendship and solidarity. And lots of glitter and rainbows.

Thank you all for the many ways you have blessed my life.

Happy Pride!


  1. This is beautiful, Leo. You continue to bless others as you speak honestly and authentically about your life. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much, Michael! I really appreciate it.

  2. I can caption this photo for you "I'm walking in the Pride Parade!!!" I remember this moment and seeing you and what a smile it brought to my face. Great writing. I enjoyed and I am so glad the photo was captured!

    1. :-D Thanks, Cory! What a great moment - I'm so glad you were there. Thanks for reading my blog - I'm glad you enjoyed it. Hugs!