By Karen Heath Penman
A few months ago, the Spirit moved upon me to do something to fellowship my transgender and gender variant brothers and sisters. I am the mother of a 22 year old transgender son who has left the church, but more importantly, lost faith. I wanted to provide a safe, non-judgmental, loving way to help my brothers and sisters continue to live a spiritual life, even when circumstances may have closed them out of the circle of fellowship within the church.
I approached my wonderful husband with the idea and we both thought it would be a great way to help others feel our Savior’s love. We had our first family home evening (FHE) in June at our home in Ogden, and we had a good first turnout. There were a few sets of parents, a young couple, an ally, and several single friends. There were 11 of us. We were excited.
We held another FHE in August, with a similar turnout. We keep the evening simple and basic. We have introductions (if they would like to share a little about themselves, they may, but no one is forced to speak), a short lesson, and then social time with refreshments (we have some WONDERFUL bakers in our group).
On Sunday, October 12, we had our most recent FHE. I had met a few new friends the day before at the Inclusive Families Conference and they were excited to come as well. This one was held at the home of Doug and Charlotte Parrish in Bountiful. People just kept showing up and we filled their living room. We had 27 people. We had allies, parents, couples, and individuals. We had some from other faiths, some who are practicing LDS, and some who have left the church, but who still continue to believe. We had individuals associated with Affirmation, North Star, and other LDS transgender focused groups. We had a wonderful time of sharing and introductions, a few hymns, and then Brother Parrish started his lesson. To break the ice, he sang a version of “I’m My Own Grandpa” with his ukulele.
For those of you who know Brother Parrish, he was blessed with a beautiful BALD head. He told us that he started going bald in high school and was teased about it. He said that the other boys wouldn’t share a comb with him. Then he went on a mission, and even the mission president gave him grief about going bald. He continued on in life, feeling kind of bad about this bald head he had been given. He told us it reminded him of a situation the Savior found himself in. The story is found in John 9. This is exactly how Brother Parrish told it:
1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was [BALD] from his birth.
2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born [BALD]?
3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
This man was healed by the power of the Savior of Mankind. This man bore witness to the miracles and power of the Savior to friends, family and neighbors. He told them that Jesus was a prophet. Later, when the man met the Savior again, even though he was pressured by the Pharisees, the Savior told of his divine title as Son of God and the man said, “Lord, I believe.” Brother Parrish shared that sometimes we have challenges in life that “the works of God should be made manifest” in us. He shared that he and Sister Parrish served an inner-city mission in a Salt Lake ward, mostly working with immigrant families and individuals. He told stories of people with amazing faith, who left all they had for a better life and so their children could be safe. He told the story of a single mother—who had left a country in Africa with her four children—of her faith and testimony. She took in 2 of her nieces as well. He told of a sister from Croatia who was placed in the path of another woman by “coincidence” to help this woman escape an abusive relationship. They each had hard, hard lives, but the Lord was able to make His works manifest through them.
We each have challenges. Some seem greater than others. Some may seem unbearable at times, but often, we have those challenges to help out another fellow traveler or so that others can learn and grow from our experiences.
After the lesson, we played a hilarious game of 2 Truths and a Lie, finding out more about each of our new friends. We socialized with wonderful refreshments and went away with new friends and “family.”
My heart is full. I feel selfish at times, because I receive so much more from my relationship with these beautiful sons and daughters of God than I give. This is what the gospel of Jesus Christ is about. “And he commanded them… that they should look forward with one eye… having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.” (Mosiah 18:21)
If you have never participated in a Family Home Evening or Fireside experience with our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community, I encourage you to seek one out. If there is not one already happening in your area, I encourage you to band together with others to organize one. Your life will be so blessed from your participation with these spiritual giants, some of the most valiant people I am privileged to know.