Yes, Queer Kids Can Grow Up With Faith and Church—But It Takes a Village
Transgender and queer advocates Rebekah Bruesehoff and her mom, Jamie, discuss the intersection of faith and queerness by sharing their own experiences between the church and their identities.
Rebekah Bruesehoff, 14, socially transitioned into the girl she always knew she was when she was 8 years old. Her parents are very involved in their Christian faith–her dad is a Lutheran pastor–but their faith never made them question their love and support of their daughter. Rebekah did not have to choose between being her true self or being a Christian. They want to help other families create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth within their religious communities. Here, Rebekah and her mother, Jamie, share their story in their own words.
Rebekah Bruesehoff: God doesn't make mistakes. People say it all the time, usually as an argument against people like me because I'm transgender. That means that when I was born everyone thought I was a boy, but I deeply know myself to be a girl. I've been living as myself out in the world for 6 years now. Sometimes people are really surprised when they find out I'm transgender, but they're usually more surprised when they find out I'm transgender and a Christian. Somehow, we've absorbed this idea that you can't be both, that the two identities are mutually exclusive. After all, God doesn't make mistakes.
I was 8 years old the first time I heard that statement, and I heard it differently. I had just socially transitioned (that means I changed my name and pronouns so I could be me!), and I was having a lot of feelings. Everyone around me loved and supported me, but I wondered if I was broken. Did God mean to make me this way? Was I a mistake? I confided all this to my mom, and she said emphatically, "God created you to be exactly who you know you are. God knows you and loves you, and God knows you're changing the world by being you. God does not make mistakes." For me, knowing that the God who created me doesn't make mistakes was a gift in understanding my queer identity and my faith. I didn't learn that people used this truth about God as a weapon against LGBTQ+ people until much later.
Jamie Bruesehoff: It was never a question for us of whether God created Rebekah to be Rebekah. It was never a question of whether we support our child in being the most authentic version of herself.
We are a family of faith. Between my husband and myself, we have four degrees in religion. We didn't need to dig through Bible verses or open big books of theology to figure out if our kid was okay. We saw it in her. We saw her struggle with not being herself in the world, with depression and anxiety at a terrifyingly young age. And then, we saw her joy explode when she finally got to be herself, when she didn't have to pretend anymore to be someone she wasn't. We watched our child step into who God created her to be, and it was beautiful and holy.
Rebekah: My dad is a Lutheran pastor, and my mom worked in youth and camp ministry. I've grown up in the church. It gives me community and a place where I always belong. It helps me know who I am when I go out in the world. My faith says I am a called and claimed child of God. With that identity comes God's endless love and limitless grace. I carry that with me always.
Jamie: God isn't who we feared when Rebekah transitioned. It was human beings. It was the church, the institution. We feared for her safety and for her future, not because there was anything wrong or scary about her, but because the church has been a place of deep harm for the LGBTQ+ community. There was space for affirmation and celebration of queer lives and leaders in our denomination, but that doesn't guarantee safety in any given congregation.
With my spouse as the pastor of a small congregation in a rural, conservative area, we weren't sure how they would respond to our daughter coming out. We were prepared to leave our congregation, leave my spouse's job, and leave our home to protect her. We were not prepared to leave our Christian faith. Those are two different things. Gratefully, our congregation showed up in love for Rebekah. It wasn't perfect all at once, but they learned and grew alongside us.
Rebekah: On the tenth anniversary of my baptism and two years after I transitioned, we had a name blessing at church. My grandfather, the Lutheran pastor who baptized me, led the service. My church community and my family gathered together to celebrate me and my forever name. That's what church can and should look like for LGBTQ+ people.
I know how lucky I am. My family has loved, celebrated, and protected me, not in spite of their faith, but because of their faith. I didn't realize the level of hate and exclusion there is in God's name until I stumbled into public advocacy. My family gets hate mail in the name of Jesus. It infuriates me to see the Bible used as a weapon, and it breaks my heart to know that so many of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community have experienced harm at the hands of the church. God is so much bigger than the box into which people want to shove God.
Jamie: You don't have to choose between your faith and your identity, between your faith and your values, or between your faith and people you love, but you may have to choose between the church you belong to and the people you love. That may sound scary or harsh, but it's true. There are churches doing unspeakable harm to LGBTQ people, personally and politically. You cannot continue to support or participate in those communities and be an ally to your LGBTQ+ loved one. The good news is that there are beautiful and affirming faith communities waiting for you.
Inclusivity is not just about being tolerated or welcomed. It's not about simply being allowed to sit in the pews of a worship service. It's about being celebrated in the fullness of your identity. Christianity believes that humans are created in God's image. All humans. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary humans were created in God's own image! That means that God must be all those things, too. If we know queer humans exist (and we do!) and that they were made in God's own image, then we know that God's image includes queerness.
Rebekah: A few years ago, I had the opportunity to speak at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Youth Gathering. My mom and I stood on stage in a stadium in Houston, Texas in front of 31,000 high school youth and their adult leaders. I shared my story, and I told them that God doesn't make mistakes. I received three standing ovations. There were 31,000 Christians on their feet cheering and clapping for an 11-year-old transgender girl. That's hope.
Jamie: Being Rebekah's mom has taught me about love, authenticity, courage, and advocacy. She inspired my own coming out as queer and bisexual. I've known for years that I'm a better person because of her, but I've only recently come to understand how much she's taught me about God and my faith. Without Rebekah, there's a part of God I would have never known. Without queer people, the Christian community is not only missing part of God's beautifully diverse creation, they are missing a part of God's identity. The church isn't doing queer people a favor when they invite them in. When LGBTQ+ people are present in faith communities, the Body of Christ is more fully present. The Church needs us.
Rebekah: This year, I'll be confirmed in the Lutheran church. For our denomination, confirmation is a time when teenagers affirm the promises their parents made for them at baptism. I will publicly declare what I believe to be true about God. I believe God's love is bigger than we can imagine, and God's grace is like glitter from last year's Pride. No matter how hard you try to shake it, it's always there waiting for you. Knowing I am loved no matter what and overwhelmed with God's grace makes me brave in the face of those who say otherwise. That's how I go out into the world, rooted in grace and working towards justice. Most of all, I know that God didn't make a mistake with me, and God didn't with you either.
Jamie: My family lives our faith every day. Our theology is woven into every part of life and the fabric of who we are. We believe God loves us wildly, deeply, and recklessly, and in response we are called to love God and love each other in the same way. There is nothing about our theology or even in the Bible (despite what you may have heard) that suggests LGBTQ+ people are a problem to be fixed. So whether you're LGBTQ+, love someone who is, or you're a person of faith figuring out whether your church can be a safe, affirming, and celebratory place for LGBTQ+ people, God doesn't make mistakes. We're not problems to be fixed. God created the rich and beautiful diversity of this world, and that includes trans teens like Rebekah, queer adults like me, and you in all your uniqueness.