Last week a judge acknowledged what I have known for some time: My child is named Sasha.
Sasha celebrated her 16th birthday during Transgender Awareness Week, Nov. 12-19. This is a truly sweet 16 because after years of struggle, Sasha is finding clarity about her identity. I am committed to loving her as she is – a teen who found the courage to come out as transgender.
Neighbors, you may know a transgender person too. Should they choose to reveal their true gender, they need your support as they navigate a path made more treacherous by misunderstanding, hate and prejudice. They need you to hear their stories, and to advocate for their rights.
Having such support can be the difference between life and death. Suicide, the leading cause of death between the ages of 10-14, happens up to 10 times the national average among transgender teens. When Sasha came out, knowing that there is a history of depression in our family, I was worried.
Yet, family and community support dramatically reduce the likelihood that a transgender teen will attempt suicide. When Sasha came out, I was moved to advocate for our young transgender neighbors. To work toward that goal, I joined the board of directors of one·n·ten, which offers youth support groups, including transgender support groups, across the Valley and around Arizona.
The group one·n·ten knows first-hand that the LGBTQ+ youth they work with struggle with self-harm, bullying and a number of other issues. They report that more than 50 percent of the youth ages 11-24 they serve now identify as transgender. Yet people who are aggressively anti-trans, who stand in the way of simple things like getting a name change, put transgender kids at risk.
We are called by God to do better, to take care of our friends, neighbors and family members who arrive at this crossroads.
As we head into the holiday season, I urge you to remember that family shows up in all kinds of ways – across a festive holiday table, in community, in partnership, using new pronouns, wearing a new style of clothes, or taking on a new name. We need to make room for the diversity of our human family at the table this holiday season.
On a recent Sunday, Sasha and I together delivered a sermon about our experience as a trans teen and her dad. I was proud to hear her talking about her love of writing and art. I hurt with her when she described flinching at her birth name and feeling like she didn’t fit in.
Yet, in spite of bullying and boorish behavior from some people, she declared at the end of the sermon: “I’m not afraid of hateful people anymore, because I am stronger.”
I’m stronger too, because I know and love Sasha. Neighbors, let us not allow fear to cause us to miss out on the gifts transgender people bring. In caring for our transgender loved ones, we may save a life. We will certainly enrich our own.
-Rev. Andy Burnette of Ahwatukee is the senior minister at the Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation and a board member of one.n.ten, an LGBTQ Youth organization.