When Moms Get It Right

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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When Moms Get It Right

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about a group of Moms I have been privileged to meet—some in person and some just online through a closed Facebook group.

Now, if you’re one of my followers, you have probably noticed that I haven’t created a new podcast in quite some time…almost two months. So why today? I waited for this moment because I had a lot to process during this time about what’s going on in the world around me and what I really want to represent here on my podcast. I chose today to reappear because it’s the last day of June—the last day of Pride Month. Many people who are in the LGBTQ community and many who are allies have marched in parades this month, attended festivals, and honored the past heroes who have stood courageously for the rights of all people.

I’m not going to go into much history about Pride here—you can look that up and find many wonderful articles doing that already. I’m going to talk about some Moms who are really working to bring love to all people during Pride month and every day of the year.

I’ll give you a short history of my involvement with Pride parades and festivals…short because my involvement is short. In the early 1990s, my cousin whom I loved dearly died of AIDS. I went to Key West to perform his funeral because at the time, no one wanted to have anything to do with AIDS patients. They were all told they deserved to die because of who they were—mostly gay men at the time. So, I went to Key West and honored my cousin and his friends. Not really an official Pride moment, but it was a form of resistance for me because I was defying the major religious groups I was associated with and I shocked many of my friends by standing with these men facing the AIDS epidemic.

My second moment I remember was wearing a rainbow Pride pin around campus when a group of students protested having a female Episcopal priest who was openly married to a woman preach at our chapel service. A vocal group of students demanded that she be blocked from speaking and demanded that LGBTQ students face some consequence if they were open about their identity. Several students decided to openly wear Pride pins to show that they were not ashamed of who they were. Several of us decided to walk with them as an ally for the day. It felt like the right thing to do.

Fast forward 25 years later and find me at my first Pride parade—nothing in between—no show of support or really even thinking about anything significant as far as rights of the LGBTQ community. I had other things on my mind and just didn’t step up in any way.

So why my first Pride in 2018? Because I went to support my own son. He was courageous enough to come out and I had a choice to make. I could stand with my son and love my son and fully support my son, or we could forever lose the bond that we had. Before Pride, I messaged a Mom who is a minister and had made a post about offering resources to anyone who needed information about supporting the LGBTQ community. She serves an affirming church and was willing to connect me with an online group of Moms.

The group I first joined was Serendipitydodah for Moms. Here’s the official description of the group: This is a private Facebook group exclusively for moms of LGBTQ kids. The group was started in June 2014 and as of December 2018 there are more than 5,000 members. Each day moms of LGBTQ kids gather to share a journey that is unique and often very difficult. The group is a place where members share a lot of information, ask questions, support one another, learn a lot and brag on their kids. The official motto is “Better Together” and the members call themselves “Mama Bears.” An incredibly strong and loving woman named Liz Dyer moderates the group. I can give her name because she openly invites others to join and speaks publicly about the group. No other names or personal information will be shared.

What’s the first thing I felt when I joined the group—acceptance—no judgment. I could ask questions; I could research; I could openly learn from the Moms in the group. These Moms talked openly about their children of all ages—how much they loved them—how much we as parents had to learn—and how much we worry because so many people hate our children just because of who they are—who they were created to be.

The next thing I felt was community. This is a page where we can share our joys that we don’t feel free to share elsewhere because of potential negative comments from non-affirming friends or family members. Wedding pictures—baby announcements—new friends—new support groups—transitions for our transgender kids—prom photos—engagements—prayer requests. These are all things other parents get to be more open about. But if we share online, our bosses may fire us, our friends may scold us, and our family members may distance themselves from us over our joys…so we share with each other and cry and celebrate and love.

The next thing I felt was a Holy presence. Many of the moms are religious and struggle with being told that we are wrong for loving our children. Our faith communities ask us to be silent, or to find conversion therapies, or pray that our kids won’t really be gay or trans or queer. But we study Scripture together and pray together and find the presence of God in our midst—the very God who created our kids and loves them and is teaching us how to parent them.

I soon connected with another amazing nonprofit group called Free Mom Hugs. Since 2014, Sara Cunningham, who is the executive director, and many other parents of the LGBTQ community have joined in the fight for human rights of equality for all. Free Mom Hugs is a registered nonprofit organization made up of parents and allies who love the LGBTQ+ community unconditionally and are working toward full affirmation and equality for all. We are dedicated to educating families, church and civic leaders, encouraging them to not only affirm the value of the LGBTQ+ community but celebrate them.

This is who I walked with at my first Pride in my hometown. I gave out free hugs to all who needed one and found so much love and community there at the event. It broke my heart to see young people needing hugs because they were rejected by their own families. This year I marched in my state capital’s Pride parade with both of my children. My daughter joined in as an ally. I stood with a large group of other Moms and hugged as many people as I could. I was also privileged to stand in as an honorary Mom at a wedding this year because one member of the wedding party wasn’t accepted by his family.

So, all of this make it sounds like this podcast is about me—no, it’s about the LGBTQ community and how far we still have to go to grant equality in this nation. It’s about serving wedding cakes and Moms being allowed to show the wedding photos. It’s about not being fired because you are gay. It’s about being allowed to serve even if you are transgender. It’s about no person being attacked or killed because of who they are. It’s about remembering that the first Pride was a riot because of police brutality. It’s about the long line of people that have been hurt because of religious people declaring them unworthy.

My silence though the years allowed all of this discrimination to continue. These two groups of Moms have given me the courage to speak out and to love and to find hope for all people. There is no pride for me in all that I failed to say—didn’t do. For the people I never fought for and spoke up with. I’m so glad the LGBTQ community has never given up the fight even when so many of us stayed silent.

I’m silent no more. I’m a proud Mama Bear giving free mom hugs. See you at the next Pride Parade…Happy Pride Month…Happy World Pride.

You are loved…be courageous…be strong…be you….

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

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You Are

When a General Conference tries to tell you otherwise, remember:

 

 

You Are

you

you are

it’s who you are…

you are love…you are loved…

you are seen…

your funny smile when you are

up to a little mischief…

your hand movements

when you are anxious…

your downward glance

when you know you have been judged…

your amazing artwork that hangs in your home…

your quick steps when you are excited…

your huge grin when you surprise someone

with a gift always perfectly chosen…

you are invaluable…we all need…

your ability to light up a room with your smile…

your talent when you play

the saxophone with the band…

your ability to handle a

complex accounting problem

without feeling stressed…

your compassion when you

sit with a dying hospice patient…

your hope when you wait for answers with a friend…

your patience when you teach in the schools…

your style when you dance across the stage…

your creativity and vision

when you design and invent and build and plan…

you are heard…

your laughter when it fills a room…

your voice when you speak out against injustice…

your song when it heals a broken heart…

your call to others when they lose hope…

your statement when you testify to truth…

you are queer…trans…gay…bi…lesbian

you are pan…asexual…questioning…straight…

you are young…old…

you are male…female…you are nonbinary…

you are black…white…

one of a thousand shades between…

you are Hispanic…European…

you are Asian…African…American

you are an islander…a native…

you are an immigrant…a refugee

you are a blend of people who came before…

you are love…you are loved

it’s who you are

you are

you

–Chris Pepple ©2019

The Teens I Know

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about a group of people that I know quite well because I’m a Mom. I’m going to talk about teenagers. Go ahead and laugh…what a crazy subject, right?

But teens truly play an important role in our society. We see them speaking out on many social and political issues. We see them taking a stand in their communities, stepping up and volunteering in local, national and international organizations, and developing new products that have the potential to truly save lives.

So, teens are definitely worth looking to see. I’m not going to talk about teens in general, though. I’m going to talk about some teens that have become very special to me because they are friends with my son.

They are amazing teens in my eyes, but they are also very average as teenagers go. They are very “normal” in so many ways—they need a lot of snacks, like caffeine in a variety of forms (coffee, sodas, etc.,)—are constantly either moving, talking, or napping—they know a lot about fashion, but their choices in clothes for the day often reflect comfy rather than trendy. Some of them aced the ACT, and some of them struggled with it. Some of them can work any math problem you hand them, and some of them avoid math as much as possible. There are both readers and writers, artists and comedians in the group. The shy ones surprise me at times when they are laughing and talking as much as the others. The more social ones surprise me at times with their reflectiveness. You know what I’m talking about if you are around teens much.

I’m not around these teens a lot, but I have gotten to know them through some time spent around a local community group and through my son. They’ve been over to the house for a crazy camp out. They’ve bowed for applause together in local plays. They’ve let me know who is vegan and who can’t have dairy and who eats gluten free. I know who needs a ride from time to time and who is always late. I know a few of the Moms and a couple of Dads.

So, ok, teenagers…is this group of people really worth a podcast episode. To me they are. Why? Because so many in this group are misunderstood in today’s society. I’m speaking for the ones that aren’t currently being heard. I’m an ally for this group of kids… this group of transgender teens.

Yes, you heard me correctly…transgender teens. Being a life-long learner, I have been reading everything I can about the transgender community and individuals who walk among us who have declared that they are no longer living as the gender assigned to them at birth.

When I first started to learn about what it truly means to be transgender, I found a lot of misinformation. So, how do I know it’s misinformation? Well, I’m currently teaching a critical writing class to teens. In the class, I teach the students how to identify accurate sources when doing research on a topic. I tell them to look and see the credentials of the person sharing the information. Do they work in the field you are researching? Do they represent an organization that works in the field you are researching? Do they offer actual data instead of opinions? Do they give you the sources of their data—sources you can then verify yourself? Are the sources professional sources in the field?

Why does all of this matter? Well, let me give you an example before I go back and talk more about the teens. Any emotional person connected to an event is certainly qualified to give you their opinion … an eyewitness to a tragedy, a grieving parent, a victim. We need to hear their stories. I don’t ever want to silence anyone. I read many blogs and follow many sites that offer personal accounts on a variety of topics. However, most of the posts that I read are just that…personal, emotional accounts. They teach me a lot about human experiences and perspectives, and I certainly grow a lot because I read them.

However, if that’s all I read about a topic, then I am possibly missing a lot of information. For example, I listened to a college student talk about the trauma of being raped on her college campus. I was able to glimpse the emotional pain she still carried with her. I read posts by a Mom whose teen has faced cancer and had her life forever altered by the damage caused by the very chemo that saved her life. I had no idea how long the effects from chemo could last.

But if I stop by reading these two posts, I certainly am not qualified to make a statement about rape on campuses or about surviving childhood cancer. If I want to really understand these issues, I need to dig further and go to professionals in the field and find verifiable statistics about rape on campuses and about lifelong effects of some life-saving cancer treatments. I have to read data from professionals in the law enforcement field, in the victims’ advocacy field. I have to find medical professionals writing about childhood cancers.

I go to the sources to gain a deeper understanding of the issue. It’s not that I don’t believe the personal accounts…actually, it’s just the opposite. I believe the people I listened to and want to educate myself on the issue so I can better understand how to support these individuals and how to respond to them with compassion and how to help bring about changes that may benefit others. What would bring about change? What groups should I support to bring about change? what research can I donate to? What family support groups can I volunteer with or donate to?

So why am I telling you all of this before I talk about transgender teens? Because we base a lot of our beliefs about transgender people on emotional testimony alone and on misinformation that stems from those statements. Many people aren’t looking at the information from medical professionals, psychologists, or professional organizations that work with transgender people. We are taking information from a religious source alone or from an individual who says they personally thought they were transgender but really weren’t, trying to lead us all to believe, therefore, that no one is really transgender.

So, first, I met some wonderful transgender teens through a community group in my hometown. I’m guessing I knew transgender people in my past, but none that were open about their lives. I heard rumors about people, but I never asked questions or tried to engage anyone. I stayed in my own little safe world and minded my own business, which is what I was taught was the best way to live as a Southern woman.

Even when I had a family die of AIDS in 1993, no one close to me talked very openly about the LGBTQ community. Then I made a few friends while getting my master’s degree who were part of the LGBTQ community…people who were fun to be around, good students to study with, loyal friends. I babysat for some single mothers who also happened to be lesbians who had adopted children. These women were such amazingly good moms and were mentors to me in some ways as I struggled with an abusive marriage and so much confusion around what my career path would be.

But, really, after I graduated, I retreated back into my own world of church life and family struggles and eventually children of my own.

But then I opened my eyes and opened my heart and realized that I was going to miss out on knowing some wonderful people if I turned my back on someone just because they are different than me.

What I loved most about these kids I met was how much grace they showed me as I was learning about what it means to them to be transgender. If you are caring and respectful to this group I met, they will return that respect.

So here’s a few things I learned. I’m not going to quote all of the sources here. I’ll try to link to some when I post this on my WordPress blog. I’ll mention my sources here, of course, because I don’t believe conversations can occur without people quoting from reliable sources that can be cross checked by others in the conversation.

  • I’ve learned that science tells us that people are born transgender. This isn’t some new trend to come out and change your identity. There’s a lot of researchthat states that hormone levels of the mother can affect the gender identity of the child. Science also tells us that our “outside” sex organs develop early—by the end of the first trimester. Brain sexuality isn’t developed until the end of the second or the beginning of the third trimester. There are differences in our brain structure that direct our gender identity—our internal sense of whether we are a boy or a girl. Gender isn’t defined just by our visible sex organs. Gender involves our sex chromosomes, internal sex organs, outside parts, hormones, and brain sexuality. This is just a quick bit of information offered here, but you can find Harvard research studies and many othersthat back this up.
  • I’ve learned that Judaism—even in ancient times—recognizes at least five genders. There are even six genders in the Jewish Mishnah and Talmud. God created day and night (and many times between–dawn, dusk, high noon, darkest midnight, and lands that see days and nights stretch on for months at a time); God created land and water (and many forms between–marshy areas, quicksand, swamps, deserts, ocean floors); God created male and female (and many gender expressions between).
  • I’ve learned that many transgender children are now being vocalabout who they are at a very early age.
  • I’m not going into Scripture here or sexuality in depth because sexual identity is different from gender identity, but you can read a book titled Unclobberedthat goes into depth about our misuse of the Bible on the topic of homosexuality. Oh, I also learned that the word homosexual wasn’t in the Bible until a translation in 1946. In Corinthians, the word we translate as homosexual technically translates as “soft man” and in other places in the Bible this is translated as “a soft man who has not earned his place, but has inherited his wealth without working hard and still doesn’t work hard.” There are only six verses that we today translate as anything to do with being gay, and two are in Leviticus. None of us live by Leviticus. It’s a sin to eat any shellfish, it’s a sin to be in the room with a woman menstruating, Leviticus calls for all debts to be forgiven every Jubilee year. We can’t wear woven cloth made from two types of fabric—so all of our clothes purchased in stores that aren’t pure cotton are sinful according to Leviticus.

 

Why tell you this? Because we are doing serious harm in our nation when we misunderstand gender identity. I have walked past signs telling transgender teens they are going to hell. I have read too many news stories about bullying and high suicide rates among the transgender community. People are murdered just because they are transgender. And people fear them just because they don’t have information to understand.

These teens I’ve gotten to know are amazing. They are smart and strong and funny and talented and loyal to each other and compassionate and leaders and also just teens. They are beautifully and wonderfully made. Let’s look to see the transgender people in our communities. Have a meal with a teen. Go see a play by a queer theater group. Read books such as Becoming Nicole; Being Jazz; Transgender History; or Redefining Realness.

Let’s don’t cause harm to others just because we don’t understand someone with a different identity than our own. Let’s don’t fear what we don’t understand. Instead, reach out and look to see the reality of others. I’m glad I have.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Walking Together

I want to tell you a true story. Johnny was my cousin and my favorite person to hang out with as a kid. He was four years older than me, but never excluded me from what he was doing. We played in my grandmother’s attic for hours in the winter and on top of her flat-roofed garage every summer. During his teen years he turned to music. He could play anything. I loved to hear him on the piano. Once, when I was a teen, I told him that more than anything I wanted to play a song on the piano (I couldn’t read music). He numbered the keys in the order I would hit them, and I played The Entertainer!

He died when he was 30–January 1993. I lost someone very special. He died of AIDS. Yes, he was gay, but to me he was almost a big brother, a musician, an artist–he could turn any fabric into bedspreads, comforters, curtains…he died in Key West surrounded by friends and his parents. I flew down and conducted his funeral because, despite the fact that he had been a church musician before he contracted AIDS, no preacher would visit him. The church as a whole…all churches I knew of…turned away. It was that same year I met a woman in Georgia as she wept. When I asked her what was wrong, she answered, “I can’t tell my church that my son is dying of AIDS. They won’t let me return, or they won’t conduct his funeral.”

When I flew into Key West, a very kind gay young man picked me and fed me lunch. That night two gay men fed me dinner and invited me into their home as a friend. They rented a boat and a group of gay men went out onto the ocean (along with his parents) to scatter his ashes. They packed a lunch for us all. They never asked me to pay for my own meal.

The year before, I had been struggling with serious family issues. The only professor at Emory to reach out to me was a professor who also happened to be a lesbian. She helped me find a Christian counseling group that basically saved my life for the next two years.

During my lifetime, I have been friends with several people in the LGBTQ community. I haven’t thought of it much until lately, because I just thought of them as friends. I didn’t worry about their sexuality. But with all of the news about their rights being taken back away, I can’t help but want to speak up. No one in that community has ever harmed me, tried to have sexual relations with me, tried to “recruit” me, judged me for my faith or my struggles. They have just been friends.

As both a married and now a single woman, plenty of straight white Christian men have invited me to “sleep around,” let them “comfort” me, have a little fun that I didn’t ask for. Some of them were married and asked me to be discreet if I accepted their offer. I turned them down. That’s not who I am.

I get it that for some of you this is an issue of faith–you see a gay person as a sinner based on your theology. Please live out your faith! If that’s what you believe, never engage in a same-sex marriage. I live in a democracy that supports religious freedom. Many of my friends live out their faith differently. Many of my friends identify as Christians also and worship, serve on mission teams, teach, etc. I support their rights in this democracy also.

I will be hurt if my friends lose the right to love whom they choose to love after they fought for that right. They have stood by me when the church didn’t. I will stand by them out of the same friendship and love that they showed me. I am not going to try to define anyone’s theology. But I am going to speak up for someone who wants to grow old with a person they love. That’s beautiful, and it hurts no one!

This is not a theological debate on what defines sin. None of us would ever agree on that. When I was going through my divorce, I had plenty of people quoting Scripture to me and telling me how sinful I was. And for friends remarried, many Christians believe a second marriage is a sin. Divorce and remarriage are legal in this country (even though I wish divorce never had to happen–it hurts many people). I would not have survived my marriage if it had not ended.

But nowhere does Jesus tell me to legislate what I define as sin. And if I could, I would legislate most of his words that people forget to live by. Feed my sheep. And what if we legislate his words to the rich young ruler when he said the man had to give everything away? And what if we legislate turn the other cheek? Luke 14 telling us to bring in the poor? Matthew 20, lead by being a servant.

We can’t legislate our beliefs. We can only live them and in this nation we are blessed that we can share them. But this is about the secular world and democracy. I will not legislate away the rights of people I care about.