A diverse crowd of people representing the colorful breadth of the sexuality spectrum filled St. Peter's Episcopal Church parish hall in Lewes July 13 to discuss transgender issues as part of the church’s Summer Spirituality Series. The Rev. Rita Nelson, a retired Episocopal priest from Millsboro, led the group, using her newly published book "Always Kristen" as a springboard for discussion. The book tells of Nelson's journey raising a transgender daughter.
"I started writing just to get it out of my system," she said. "This has been an unusual experience, a very spiritual experience."
Nelson had noticed that not a lot had been written from the perspective of family or parents on transgender issues, and she wanted to change that. She hopes her book will help other parents - as well as transgender people - to know that they are not alone.
"Your child is still the same person. The only thing that has changed is the gender with which they represent themselves, but their brilliance and their brains and their beauty are all still the same," Nelson said.
She called upon the audience, saying, "We need to speak up and speak out." She cited a 2010 survey from the National LGBTQ Task Force and said, "More than half of transgender and gender-nonconforming people who were bullied or harassed or insulted at school because of their gender identity have attempted suicide."
"Transgenders and their families live through fear of this abuse," Nelson said. "My constant prayer is that someday that fear will be gone. Someday we can go to sleep in peace knowing our children are safe."
Linda Gregory representing Rehoboth Beach Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays attended and said, "This is a very important meeting I think for our world, our country, our nation, our community. It's important because education is the key to acceptance."
"PFLAG is all about support. No. 1, we support the LGBT community and their parents, their families, their friends. Thats what we're all about, but more so when you have opportunities to learn; that’s how we're going to build bridges," said Gregory.
It was clear that those who had come out to show their support also wanted to educate themselves. Questions were asked and answered with enthusiasm. The tone of the room was curious, collaborative and supportive. Topics ranged from the efficacy of school uniforms in preventing bullying, to healthcare specifics, labels, and representations of transgender people in popular culture.
One woman promised to advocate to her supervisor, the director of nursing at Beebe, for increased workplace education and sensitivity training involving transgender issues.
"There's communication and there's education, and that's why it's important to have these kind of talks," said Nelson. "Get to know those who are different. Talk to them. They're just like us."
Gregory said, "I really believe that in my granddaughter's lifetime - she's going to be 5 soon - I really believe in my heart that this is going to be a non-issue. If you talk to kids and just let little kids play together, this is a non-issue, but when you start getting grownups and their prejudices in the mix then it becomes an issue and they don't understand it."
Nelson said, "The bottom line is to get educated. It'll change your perspective. It'll change your heart and hopefully ... hopefully ... one by one we can change the world."