Reverend Lawrence Tanner Richardson, a transgendered pastor from St. Paul, Minn., spoke about his experiences with being both queer and religious on Monday, Nov. 3 at a GLOW organized event.
Richardson describes growing up in a “very, very traditional” Southern Baptist church. He is currently a pastor with the United Church of Christ.
His identity issues started at a young age. “By the time I was in seventh grade, I’d tried to kill myself three times,” Richardson said. “It felt like my body wasn’t mine.”
When he went to an “all-girls liberal arts Catholic college,” Richardson “found that I fit nowhere on campus.” By his freshman year, he was out as a lesbian.
“I figured maybe God did hate me,” he said. “I took a combination of over 60 pills and prayed. ‘God, if there is some purpose for me, then let me live.’”
He woke up in a hospital bed afterwards, which he described as being like “’Oh shit, I’m actually alive. I need a plan B now.”
“I had never heard of the term ‘transgender,’” he said. “The people who introduced me to this term were church people.”
“I decided to Google ‘transgender,’” Richardson said. “Within the first 30 seconds of the first video, I started bawling. It was able to articulate what I’d been feeling. This was my life!”
That was at the end of January of 2010. “Within four months, I was on hormones; within a year, I had gender reassignment surgery,” he said.
Richardson was able to reconcile his faith with his gender identity. “I knew the spirit [of God] was with me; it didn’t matter what anyone else had to say,” he said. “I knew I was where I was supposed to be.”
“To believe in a male-bodied God that hated me made no sense,” he said. “I grew up fearing God and now I love God.”
The issue of identity played a role in Richardson’s speech. “Being transgender is not based on sex,” he said. “It will take all people, not just transgendered people, to stand up for change.”
“Don’t box yourself in and don’t live in other people’s boxes,” Richardson said. “It’s the fear that keeps people in closets and fear is no way to live and thrive.”
Freshman Dan Thomas-Commins had the opportunity to eat lunch with Richardson before he spoke. “During lunch, Rev. Richardson seemed legitimately interested in how people of different races, faiths, and sexualities are treated on campus and how accepting campus is towards and how many steps Lawrence has taken to make this a more accepting place,” Dan said.
“I thought it was a powerful example of how a person can be both queer and of faith,” he said. “As an atheist, it showed me how important someone’s idea of God can be in their life and that how it can be a force for good.”
“With faith, we can overcome any difficulty,” Richardson said. “God has created each of us to be beautiful expressions of all that is divine in this world, and we are not limited in that regard.”