Sunday, July 10, 2011

Turning Four in the Backyard of Westboro Baptist Church

It is the fourth anniversary of my living 24/7 as a woman. I have now lived 7.5% of my life as me, and 92.5% of my life pretending to be someone, not me. At times, the one thing I most wish people could understand about transgender, is that I did not become a woman. I simply stopped pretending to be a man.

In my four years of life, I hope I've blazed a trail or two, but most of the steps I have taken, were on a road first traveled in these parts, by Jane Newman. Not only did she blaze the trail, she did it in the backyard of Westboro Baptist Church at a time when that was extraordinarily dangerous. Every transgender person in Kansas owes this woman, and her wife (Helen), a huge debt of gratitude.

When interim Pastor Patrick Rogers asked me to be the Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka Outreach Ministry coordinator in the Fall of 2007, I told him, "If in six months, Fred Phelps doesn't know my name, I'm not doing my job." I believe that the most powerful weapon we have in the battle for equality is visibility. To that end, I have tried to be as visible as possible. Doing this in the backyard of Westboro Baptist is part of the fun.

The widely held perception that WBC sets the standard for LGBT discrimination in Topeka could not be further from the truth. That dubious distinction likely belongs to Topeka Bible Church, the church attended by Topeka's Mayor - Bill Bunten. I personally witnessed an "educational" workshop on the evils of being gay. This workshop was attended by over 300 people.

Being openly transgender in the backyard of WBC is like jumping off the low diving board into a pool with a few plastic sharks. They are like the flies at a picnic. The have so little impact in Topeka that they take their show on the road. In Topeka, they are pretty much a non-event.

That said, being openly transgender in Topeka, Kansas (anywhere in Kansas) is like walking blindfolded from the ten-meter diving platform without knowing if there is water in the pool. The potential for violence is always there. Every time I publicly identify myself as a transsexual woman, I increase the likelihood I will meet with this violence.

So as I celebrate my 4th birthday, I also celebrate the knowledge that what these people might do to me is meaningless, when compared to having to live with the knowledge that I could have done something to change the way it is, but chose not to.

The 27th Psalm vs 1-2 says, "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?"

In the first four years, I have spoken with, or in front of, easily a thousand people. Tens of thousands more have read about my journey in papers across the country, thanks to one article by Jan Biles of the Topeka Capital Journal (, which was subsequently picked up by Associated Press and Transgender News.

In my third year, I was honored to be chosen to be a member of the Board of Directors at Metropolitan Community Church ( Last August, some awesome people helped me found the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project (K-STEP - Recently, I was equally honored to become vice-chair of Kansas Equality Coalition (

I am looking now toward the 5th year of my life. I hope it is even more busy than the 4th year. As for turning four in the backyard of Westboro Baptist Church, I am pretty sure Fred Phelps knows my name.

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