Dear Senator Burr,
As Mother’s Day approaches, I am thinking back to how every Mother’s Day at our church, the men’s ministry group would get buckets full of carnations in every color to hand out to all the mamas (and mamas come in all varieties – by birth, adoption, chosen, caring for other, and more). All the kids in the church couldn’t wait to get those flowers to present lovingly to their moms. It was so sweet, and as a mom myself, I must admit, it did make me feel special.
This year, my focus is more on the two young humans who made me a mom – my two daughters, Grace (16) and Maddie (13) and my own mothering journey over the years. You see, both my kids are queer, and I am a proud mama bear – which means that I fiercely advocate for my children.
When I had my kids, I was working full-time as a director of Christian Education at a United Methodist Church. My kids grew up in the church. My husband and I did everything “right” when it came to bringing up Christian kids. We had them baptized as babies, sent them to Sunday school and kids’ church every Sunday, and signed them up for confirmation classes and youth group. Our church vowed to “nurture [our kids] in the Christian faith and life” and to “surround [our kids] with a community of love and forgiveness” when we had each of them baptized. Our church was an extension of our family and was actively involved in helping to raise our kids.
That was…until our youngest daughter came out as transgender.
By the time my husband and I realized Maddie was trans, I had worked for the church for almost nine years. We had been going through this process of discovery as a family for about two years with Maddie, her therapist, and all the resources and books I could find on transgender children. When it came time for Maddie to socially transition into the little girl she always was, we wrote a letter to all our closest friends, family, and church family introducing them to our daughter.
We were surprised by so many loving responses from our church family from notes and cards to being stopped in the church hallways and told we were supported. Then again, there were some equally disapproving responses from anonymous notes quoting scripture to us, to a couple spending hours trying to convince my husband and I to send Maddie to conversion therapy, to people leaving the church because they didn’t want us influencing their children anymore.
I remember thinking, “What happened to their vows to nurture and surround Maddie with a ‘community of love’ now?” She is the same kid, and we are the same family. Why is she any less deserving of Christian love, and care, and family now?
This goes for all LGBTQ+ people. No one should face “othering” or discrimination for who they are or who they love. And no family should ever be their child’s first bully.
I hear a lot about trans kids being a trend or something new. Transgender people have always existed. What has changed is us – parents. We have finally realized that parenting includes loving our kids unconditionally for exactly who they are. What’s more, it has been confirmed that LGBTQ+ kids who grow up in supportive families have lower rates of substance abuse, depression, and suicide than those who don’t.
Look, I’m just a regular mom and like a lot of moms out there I think we’re all just trying to raise happy and healthy kids. We want our kids to be safe and treated with the same respect and dignity as anyone else. As a mama bear, one of my biggest roles is protecting my children and one way to do that is to pass the Equality Act.
Our town, Carrboro, N.C., passed LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections just a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t be prouder of that, but just a quick drive a few miles down the road and that protection ends for my children in neighboring towns. My kids and all LGBTQ+ folks are vulnerable to being denied service, evicted, mistreated at health care facilities solely because of who they are or who they love. As a matter of fact, our home state of North Carolina just tried to pass three anti-trans bills in the last couple of months.
My husband and I have done what we can to protect our kids, now we’re ready for or congress to take up the mantle of federal protections for LGBTQ+ people. In fact, seven in 10 voters support the Equality Act. LGBTQ+ people aren’t asking for special rights. We’re just asking to be treated with human dignity like anyone else. For my children, for your children, for all of us, and as lasting legacy of your many years of public service to the people of North Carolina, please support the Equality Act.
Katie A. Jenifer
Katie Jenifer is a licensed attorney from North Carolina and the proud mom of two queer kids. When her youngest daughter transitioned, Katie and her family realized that having a legal advocate in their corner would be beneficial so after 20 years working in nonprofits, Katie dropped everything and went to law school. Now, she is a resource for other parents of queer kids; spearheading a name and gender marker change clinic at her law school, helping to launch a PFLAG chapter in her local community, and serving on the Boards of Genderbands and Conversion Therapy Dropout Network. In her spare time, Katie enjoys spending time with her family and reading.