Considerations for Preaching on International Transgender Day of Visibility

[1] A preacher who is proclaiming the Word on International Transgender Day of Visibility, faces ethical decisions. Ethically, there are considerations of whether to address the significance of the day and how a cisgender preacher might authentically incorporate transgender voices without appropriation.[i] In addition, there is the considerable challenge of whether to explicitly reference trans theology or include it implicitly as a way of normalizing a marginalized perspective. Lastly, there is the challenge of whether to preach the lectionary texts for the day or select different ones. Each of these decisions are highly dependent on the context of the listeners receiving the proclamation. The first half of this paper reviews the challenges mentioned above, and the second half is a sermon modelling the resulting considerations.

[2] When considering whether to preach about any “special” day, the belief that the proclamation of the Word does what it proclaims reminds us that preaching is an ethical act.[ii] Words, Scriptural and otherwise, can both kill and give life, and sermons can therefore do the same. Statistics show that 61% of trans people have suffered from a mood disorder and 44% have seriously contemplated suicide, a number that is higher for trans youth.[iii] In the United States, this number will likely rise again as more and more states seek to criminalize trans-affirming actions.[iv] At the same time, suicidal ideation amongst youth drops to only 6% when they have highly supportive family members.[v] Given these contexts, a sermon that recognizes and includes trans people and preaches the Gospel for them is encouraged by a Lutheran theology of the cross that proclaims God’s new life at work in places of suffering and death. A sermon that recognizes and affirms the life-giving nature of transition choices is also ethically warranted by Luther’s interpretation of the Fifth Commandment to “help and support [our neighbour] in all of life’s needs” and the Eighth Commandment “to come to their defence, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”[vi]

[3] While it is preferable to invite someone to preach from the community being recognized, the reality is that there are not enough trans preachers. Cis preachers are therefore called to represent trans voices. One way is to share the stories of trans Christians (with permission) as they witness to the Gospel. Another is to integrate trans theologies’ emphases into proclamation: creation is formed through spectrums, not binaries; the life given by the Spirit is always in transition and never static; God desires abundant life for all.[vii] By doing so, a preacher can leverage their cisgendered authority to affirm these experiences of God and to be accountable when representing another community’s voice, asking a person from that community to read and correct one’s sermon before preaching is encouraged.[viii]

[4] Explicitly naming trans theology as the foundation for a sermon is not always recommended: if the sermon is for a congregation that is new to the topic, explicit naming can create opportunities for listeners to ‘harden their hearts.’ Preachers do not cite every theological source for their sermons, and it can be wise and compassionate to simply preach the Word that has been given, and only afterward disclose the source. However, if the listeners have already demonstrated openness and inclusivity to the voices and experiences of trans people, naming the theological contributors is ethical and affirmative. (In the case of the sermon below, the listeners had just learned about trans theologians and knew the sources underlying the preaching. The sermon intentionally did not name the theologians to model preaching trans theology for listeners who might not yet be affirming.)

[5] If the preacher wishes to normalize trans theology as one among many theologies that inform the proclamation of the Gospel, then it is preferable to use the lectionary texts assigned for that Sunday. Consistent use of trans theology and hermeneutics throughout the liturgical year is more effective than once-yearly occasions that silo trans theologians’ contributions and keep them on the margins and marginalized. That being said, a compromise can be made of intentionally (if not explicitly) using trans theologies during liturgical seasons that are particularly suited to themes of transition: Advent, Lent, and Holy Week.

[6] Adhering to the above guidelines, the sermon below was preached for Lutheran Theological Seminary Saskatoon’s chapel, during the week that a Queer Theologies course was taught, March 28-April 1, 2022. The class was a mix of cis- and transgender seminary students and lay and ordained auditors. LTS is a “Reconciling in Christ” seminary and works closely with Saint Andrew’s College (SAC), which is a United Church of Canada theological college that explicitly affirms and welcomes 2SLGBTQIA+ people. The service was attended by students and faculty of LTS, SAC, and the College of Emmanuel and St. Chad, which is not explicitly affirming.

[7] Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; John 12:1-8 (Lent 5)

[8] Mary and Judas. The one who sees and accepts, and the one who refuses to see and accept. Mary, blessed with strength, is able to accept what Jesus has been saying to everyone for so long – that he is going to die. Perhaps she’s willing to accept this because she‘s already seen in her brother Lazarus what death looks like, and more importantly, that death is not the end. Whatever the reason for her willingness to see, she takes the nard, one of the oils used to prepare bodies for burial, and she anoints Jesus with it. She accepts that he is going to die and she cares for him while he is still alive.

[9] And Judas berates her for it. Now, the writer of the Gospel of John was a little cynical in his description of why Judas did this, and we are always warned as preachers not to ascribe intentions to people, but whatever the reason, Judas refuses to see and accept what Mary does for what it is. He’s heard all of the same words that Mary has, that Jesus has uttered about his death, and about his resurrection, but he rejects it. He does not accept that Jesus will die, and so he does not accept Mary’s death-associated ritual.

[10] Instead, Judas attempts to redirect everybody’s attention. He tries to stop others from seeing what Mary is doing, from seeing that Jesus is, in fact, on a journey that takes him through death to new life. He says, “Why was this perfume not sold and the money given to “the poor?” He refuses to even acknowledge the purpose of the perfume. He attempts to hide what Mary is doing by pointing elsewhere – don’t look at this act of accepting Jesus’ death, look over here, look at the poor! “The poor” – Judas is not particularly interested in people who are actually poor, in the widow and the orphan, he just waves over in the direction of some generic “poor.” He will not let go of this Jesus he is currently following, and thereby refuses to allow the process to unfold whereby Jesus will be fully transformed into who he has come among Israel to be. Judas refuses to bear witness to Jesus’ death – perhaps he doesn’t trust that Jesus will be resurrected… and he redirects everyone’s attention “over there.”

[11] But Jesus does not allow that. Jesus calls out Judas’ redirection. “You always have ‘the poor’ with you.” This is not Jesus saying Judas shouldn’t take care of the poor, or making some point about the eternal condition of poverty in this world. This is Jesus saying, Judas, you are using “the poor” as an excuse to ignore what is happening right in front of you. You are using “the poor” as a reason to hold me back from new life. You always have “the poor,” you do not always have me. Jesus is chiding Judas for refusing to see and accept what Jesus has said over and over again. He is going to his death. He was not sent to earth to continue on living the way he had – to be with them, and heal them, and feed them in a constrained way, limited to this particular part of Israel for this particular set of years. Jesus was being called to die to this finite existence, as life-giving as it was for some, and to be transformed through resurrection into the eternal Son of God who would heal and feed and give life to all people, in all places, for all eternity. God did not take on flesh and become incarnate in order to stay in the way his followers had encountered him up to now. The “old” Jesus that he was needed to come to an end to make room for the new resurrected Jesus, the incarnate Logos who was and is and will be the life of all Creation. Jesus was trying to prepare those who loved him for his leaving, for his death. He wanted them to accept that this Jesus whom they knew and loved would soon be gone. He wanted Judas to do what Mary was doing – anoint him, honor him for his life so far, and let him go.

[12] Today is Transgender Day of Visibility. It’s a day when we are called, like Mary, to see and to accept. Particularly, we are called to see and accept that there are people among God’s beloved, within our communities, within our families, who are being called to transformation. Who are on a journey of dying to whom we have known them to be, and transforming into whom God has always intended them to be.

[13] At times like Mary and at times like Judas, I have witnessed this journey because I love someone who is transgender. My daughter. My daughter is a wonderful almost-16-yr-old who is proud of being trans, who is a light to those who know her, a wise friend to her peers, and a proclaimer of the Gospel that “God loves you no matter what” to the church, and who has read this sermon and graciously encouraged me to preach it.

[14] But she was not always my daughter. For 12 years she was my son. My gender-nonconforming, dress-wearing son, but my son nonetheless. I raised two boys, both of them he/hims, and although my eldest son was “different,” I still knew him inside and out.

Until the day I didn’t. That is, until the day my child came to me and said, hey mom, my pronouns are she/her.

[15] Now I knew the statistics. I knew that 65% of trans youth experience mood disorders, and that 45% of them have attempted suicide. I’ve known that number since my child was 4. And I knew that a supportive family and community makes a huge dent in that statistic, and that being supportive means letting children dress how they want to dress, and using the pronouns that align with their gender. I did not arrive at this moment ignorant. I knew that for transgender people, being seen and accepted as the gender they are rather than the gender they have been assigned, is necessary for their well-being and even for their life.

[16] And yet I still behaved like Judas. I prevaricated. “Are you sure? Are you sure it’s not they/them? I mean, you’re still a boy in some ways.” I described her to others as gender non-conforming, gender queer, nonbinary. I couldn’t hear her words that this old life that I had loved her in was death for her. I refused to accept that I had to let that old person I knew go. I focused on other things. I talked about how gender identity wasn’t that important anyway, that it was better to focus on being kind, or a good Christian, or compassionate for others. I introduced her to others as “my oldest child,” or sometimes “my oldest,” leaving her gender out completely. I was happy to introduce her as a kind, caring, wise child. But not a girl. Not my daughter. I couldn’t quite let go. I couldn’t see that the path she was on would lead to new life, or resurrection.

[17] But she persisted, like Jesus. (Not that my daughter is like Jesus, just to be clear, she’s a teenager…) But, like Jesus, she continued to remind me, she continued to proclaim to me that the person I knew and loved was leaving, was dying, and that I had to say goodbye and prepare for her transformation, for her new life. I had to allow her “him” to die.

[18] And by the grace of God, truly by the grace of God’s Spirit, I was able to see and accept that. Perhaps it was because I, like Mary, have been given the strength to trust that death is not the end, that resurrection is real. And so I accepted the death of this son I loved. I stopped using he/him pronouns. I stopped referring to my son, or even my non-gendered child. I began using her pronouns, I began calling her my daughter, I supported her in hormonal transition, and I will support her in surgical transition, which permanently ends her capacity to reproduce. As the oldest child of the oldest child of the oldest child going back twenty generations, I accepted the death of that genetic progression, so that she might move into the new life God has waiting for her.

[19] And with the proper pronouns, with the proper hormones, and with the promise of gender-aligning surgery, my daughter is experiencing new life. She has become the wonderful, light-giving, life-giving girl she is today. The way that I introduced her in the beginning, as a light, a wise friend, and a proclaimer of the Gospel? All of that emerged after she began transitioning. After her old self died. Yes, the son I thought I had for 12 years was a delight to us, but this daughter I have now is a delight and a blessing to the world. She speaks up for those who are bullied, for the oppressed, for victims of racism, for victims of sexism, for victims of religious discrimination. She has a keen heart for justice and now she is bold in proclaiming that God’s love comes in the form of justice for all.

[20[ “Thus says the Lord … do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old, I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? … for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself, that they might declare my praise.” (Isaiah 43:19-21)

[21] In this period of Lent, I lament that I was too often like Judas, refusing to allow the promise of resurrection to be real. I lament that I tried to make invisible my trans daughter. And I give thanks that on this day, and every day, Jesus calls us to be like Mary. To see and accept transgender people in our midst, to let their old selves, their old pronouns, their old names, their old bodies die as they move into the new life that awaits them. As they are resurrected, as they receive this new thing that God is doing in their lives, as they fully and truly become the people whom God has formed for God’s self. I give thanks that even when we act like Judas, God acts like Mary, who not only allowed Jesus to go to his cross, but was the first to witness his resurrection. I give thanks for the witness of trans Christians who offer their praise that death is not the end, that resurrection is real, that God is constantly bestowing new life. I give thanks that in their resurrection, they give us hope for new life for all. Thanks be to God. Amen.



[i] Cisgender(ed) refers to people whose sex assigned at birth (male or female) aligns with their gender identity (man or woman). Transgender(ed) refers to people whose sex and gender do not align, or whose gender identity falls outside the man/woman binary (eg. bigender, gender fluid, agender, etc.) Both sex and gender exist beyond the binary, and cisgender continues to be an overly simplistic category. For more on sex beyond the binary, see Amanda Montañez, “Beyond XX and XY: The Extraordinary Complexity of Sex Determination,” Scientific American 317, no. 3 (September 2017) 50-51. (accessed May 17, 2022).

[ii] “The Augsburg Confession: Article IV,” in The Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2020), 40.

[iii] Statistics Canada. “Cisgender and transgender Canadian’s mental health indicators, by indicator, 2018.” (accessed May 17, 2022).

[iv] As of May 2022, Alabama has criminalized doctors providing gender-affirming medical care to people under 18, Tennessee protects teachers who use only pronouns that align with the sex assigned at birth, and the Attorney General of Texas issued a legal opinion that gender-affirming care is a form of child abuse. Maria Caspani, “Alabama ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth takes effect,” ; Matt Lavietes, “Transgender pronoun bill advances in Tennessee’s Legislature,” ; Tori B. Powell, “Texas Governor Greg Abbott orders state agencies to investigate gender-transitioning procedures as child abuse,”  (all accessed May 17, 2022).

[v] The Trevor Project. “Suicide attempt rate by LGBTQ social support,” in 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health  (accessed May 18, 2022).

[vi] “The Small Catechism,” in Kolb and Wengert, 352, 353.

[vii] Justin Sabia-Tanis, “Holy Creation, Wholly Creative: God’s Intention for Gender Diversity,” in Understanding Transgender Identities: Four Views, edited by James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), 195-222.

[viii] This sermon was vetted by Rev. Lindsey Jorgensen-Skakum (they/them) and Akira H. (she/her), a trans girl.

Kayko Driedger Hesslein

Kayko Driedger Hesslein is a rostered minister of Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is Affiliate Professor of Theology and Director of Contextual Education for Lutheran Theological Seminary Saskatoon. She teaches and researches from Treaty 7 territory in Canada.