The Humanity of Transgender and Nonbinary People

[1] I remember speaking at the microphone in a convention center in downtown Minneapolis on August 18, 2009. More than 1,200 people sat in the ballroom as the ELCA Churchwide Assembly debated the Human Sexuality Social Statement.[1] I felt nervous as I told my story of finding myself in Scripture. As a person of color who defied the gender binary, a queer transgender Latina, the narrative about the Ethiopian Eunuch from Acts 8:26-40 convinced me I was worthy of baptism.


[2] Raised in the Roman Catholic Church, I remember being a good Catholic boy who loved the church. I played guitar in two different choirs, went to mass multiple times a week, and sat on the church council. I loved church until it became clear to me that God refused to answer my prayers. I prayed for God to fix me as I did not act like my male cousins. Family members often chastised me for being in the kitchen or hanging out too much with my sisters and female cousins. I did not know how to be the boy everyone told me to be. I stopped going to church in my early twenties.


[3] I did not stop believing in God. I stopped talking to God. Without a compass to guide me, I was a lost child. I started drinking to dull the pain in my heart. After almost eight years of being lost, I found myself in a detox center. I was 29 years old. I lived in a room in a cousin’s mobile home and worked at a minimum wage job as a salesclerk. It was time to get my life back on track.


[4] The first step of Alcoholics Anonymous felt relatively easy for me.[2] I could accept that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life was unmanageable. The second step was problematic. I believed in God, but my relationship with God felt tricky. I did not think God could restore me to sanity because God had never bothered to fix me. The third step was out of the question because I was not about to turn myself over to God. But I was willing to start talking to God.


[5] In the mid 1990s, I fell in love with a beautiful woman and got married. I finally felt I was on the right track. To prove my manhood to myself and the world, I took a job in law enforcement. I found a mentor and learned how to walk, talk, and act like a real man. Unfortunately, it did not take long to realize the uniform I wore every day was only a façade. I became angry and bitter. After eight years of marriage, my wife asked me for a divorce. I blamed her for the way my life had become a disappointment, so I readily agreed.


[6] A few weeks after I had moved into a new house, I sat in my living room contemplating how I could end my life. I kept asking myself, why? Why did I walk away from everything I was supposed to have? I had a beautiful wife, a large home, and a new car. I was respected at my job, and together, we made great money. Why wasn’t I happy? I knew I could never take my own life, nor could I go on living the way things were. I remember yelling out, “If I come back, you better answer my prayers this time!” Within a few weeks I was in therapy. Within a month, I told my new therapist my deepest, darkest secret…I loved wearing women’s clothing. I have always loved wearing women’s clothing. Always.


[7] My therapist referred me to a support group at the Gender Identity Center of Colorado (GIC).[3] I met a few people and found the meetings helpful, but it was not enough. I decided to attend a transgender conference hosted by the GIC. On a Friday afternoon in March 2003, I nervously checked into a hotel in east Denver. I did my best to apply make-up and I picked out a nice feminine outfit. I felt terrified as I rode the elevator to the lobby. Then the doors opened, and I stepped into a room filled with people just like me. I attended several workshops, but in one, I heard someone else tell my story; it contained all the key elements. Things like, I never felt comfortable in my own skin. I never performed my gender up to anyone’s expectations. Others always chastised me for being too feminine and too soft. I realized, without a doubt, I had always been a woman. This clarity meant I did not need fixing. Instead, I must accept who God created me to be. God answered my prayer with the peace I craved all my life.


[8] Within a week, I knew it was time to go back to church. I did not think I could find a home in the Roman Catholic Church; not because I was transgender, but because I was divorced. A friend told me about a welcoming Lutheran church in downtown Denver. I held doubts about attending a church founded by the heretical, excommunicated priest, but I realized I must listen to God’s urging and the Spirit’s guiding me to where I needed to be. I put on my prettiest outfit and went to St. Paul Lutheran Church in Denver. I steeled myself for stares and the exclamation, “Look at that man in a dress.” The opposite happened; people were lovely and welcomed me with smiles and a bulletin. The service felt familiar, I knew all the responses, and many people crossed themselves just as much as I did. After the service, other congregants gave me coffee and encouraged me to come back. This was a huge step forward, for I found a place where people saw me for who God created me to be. I am the Ethiopian Eunuch.


[9] I formally became a member of the ELCA in October of 2003. I became aware of the Human Sexuality Social Statement when I was asked to be a member of the Reconciling in Christ (RIC) taskforce at St. Paul. In 2007, I was identified by a member of Lutherans Concerned/North America (LC/NA) as a leader within the RIC movement in Denver. I was invited to attend several meetings around the country and in 2008 I was elected to the board of directors of LC/NA. I was a voting member at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly where I described how I found myself in Scripture.


[10] I tell my story to help readers realize that I tried, with all my might, to conform to who society told me I must be. I told my story, so others might know I prayed with all my might to ask God to fix me. I thought God hated me and refused to listen to me, but ultimately, I realized I had refused to listen to God. When I accepted that God created me to be who I am, a queer transgender Latina, I flourished. I began my gender transition in 2003 and by early 2006, I completed my social, medical, and legal transition to become Nicole Garcia. I needed a career change from law enforcement, so I began a graduate program at the University of Colorado Denver. I earned a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology in 2014. I am now a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado.


[11] The executive director of LC/NA saw something special in me. She made sure I was trained to present workshops and how to tell my story. I have told my story in church basements, fellowship halls, school cafeterias, and from ornate pulpits in incredible cathedrals. God called me to others to tell my story so they will know of a queer transgender Latina who discerned a call to ministry. I earned a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary and was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament on November 23, 2019. Today I serve as Faith Work Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force.[4] My organization is a racial justice organization that advances full freedom, justice, and equality for LGBTQ people. I work at the Task Force so everyone can be free to be their entire selves in every aspect of their lives.


[12] The ELCA provides me a home where I can rejoice in my love for Jesus Christ and I am a pastor in the ELCA, but my relationship with the ELCA is tenuous, at best. The reader might ask, “Why?”


[13] The ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August 2009 adopted the Human Sexuality Social Statement. The statement for which I passionately spoke only mentions “gender identity” in endnote 34. The body of the document does not mention gender identity; the document mentions this only in an endnote as part of the definition of sexual orientation. Church leaders told me that I must accept what the people could tolerate at that time. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but what choice did I have? Finally, in 2015 a social message called Gender-Based Violence mentioned gender identity in the text.[5] On page nine of this social message it is written,


The U.S. social system also functions in ways that devalue people according to age, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status and ethnicity.


I had waited five long years for the ELCA to move gender identity from an endnote and write those words in the body of a message. I take solace from the statement found on page 13,


Historically, gender-based violence has not been recognized for what it is. This church has an opportunity to step forward to honestly recognize and name gender-based violence under such guises as “submission,” or prostitution, or derogatory talk about people who are gender non-conforming. This church will be committed to careful work to identify sources in both church and society that foster, encourage, or tacitly support gender-based violence and to root out these sources by, for example, naming them in sermons or discussing them in educational settings.


The 2015 social message encourages the church to identify sources of gender-based violence and root out these sources by naming them in sermons and educational settings. This requires pastors to preach on gender-based violence; this requires congregations to offer educational series on gender-based violence; this requires us all to consider what work remains.


[14] On August 9, 2019, at the fifteenth ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the social statement, Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action, was adopted.[6] It had taken a decade for my intersectional identity to be moved from endnote 34 to the body of a social statement. I refer to page 26 of this document,


For a woman of color, sexism in the workplace is compounded by the discriminatory effects of racism. If someone is also transgender, data show staggering levels of discrimination and violence. Intersectionality helps to explain why some women and girls benefit more than others within a society that operates with intersectional patterns of dominance and submission…Therefore, references to women and girls in this document mean all people who identify as women and girls. A word such as women often fails to convey its full meaning because our minds tend to default either to our own experiences and identities or to what the culture validates as a normative, “desired,” or dominant meaning. In the United States, the word women have been typically associated with being white, young, and heterosexual unless qualified with other adjectives. The life stories, challenges, hopes, and gifts of women of color, lesbian and other queer women, transgender women, women with disabilities, and immigrant women, for example, have been often ignored and sometimes maligned. By using women and girls to refer to us in all our diversity, this church seeks to shift our thinking from limitation or discrimination to inclusiveness.


[15] My identity as a queer transgender Latina was acknowledged by the ELCA in 2019, a full decade after I came out publicly at a Churchwide Assembly. I also note that the ELCA recognizes that people hold multiple identities by describing intersectionality. Each human being lives at the intersection of identities, for each of us holds a sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, race, mental and emotional capabilities, and more. Many with multiple identities outside the dominant culture and experience the discrimination and violence described in this social statement. My identities as a queer transgender Latina make me unique in a predominately straight, cisgender, white ELCA.


[16] Many times in the last 19 years, I seriously considered leaving the ELCA due to the words and actions of others within the denomination. The overt homophobic and transphobic comments uttered during the 2009 Churchwide Assembly are no longer prevalent, but the sentiment remains in many congregations. The recent events in the Sierra Pacific Synod brought to the surface the systemic racism within this predominately white denomination. I remain in the ELCA to give hope to those who are transgender and nonbinary that there is a place to celebrate their faith in Jesus Christ. I stay to advocate for those of us who identify as people of color. It means so much to the communities to which I belong to see a queer transgender Latina wearing a clerical collar and a stole.


[17] I live my life to demonstrate my love for the Lord, my God, with all my heart, soul, and mind. I recite every day a verse that inspires me, Micah 6:8,


He has told you, O mortal, what is good,

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice and to love kindness

and to walk humbly with your God?


[18] My position as Faith Work Director enables me to work full-time at the intersection of social justice and faith. As a queer transgender Latina, I bring a propensity to advocate for queer trans youth. As a mental health counselor who worked with hundreds of transgender and nonbinary people over the years, I have anecdotal evidence about the issues associated with coming out and living as a person who defies the gender binary. With all the barriers placed in front of people who simply need to live as their authentic selves, I have spent countless hours with clients addressing their depression, anxiety, trauma, and even suicidal ideation.


[19] We need support from family, friends, workplaces, and places of worship. One question people often ask is: “How can I support a loved one or a person in my life who is LGBTIQ?” One useful resource is a booklet published by the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry called Faith Communities and the Well-Being of LGBTQ Youth.[7] This booklet, online and downloadable, uses surveys from the Centers for Disease Control and lists 38 resources for further reading on how to support LGBTQ youth.


[20] Pages 8 and 9 of this booklet provides a dramatic display of the difference between rejection and support of LGBTIQ youth. Youth find rejection to be devastating and damaging. If an LGBTIQ youth experiences a high level of rejection by their family, a therapist, or member of the clergy, they become 8 ½ times more likely to attempt suicide and 6 ½ times more likely to experience symptoms related to depression. More hopefully, if family members are supportive and accepting, 92% of the LGBTIQ youth believe they can be a happy adult. One affirming adult in a child’s life can make all the difference, including a clergy member or teacher.


[21] I also recommend a website called the LGBTQ Family Acceptance Project.[8] This website supplies faith-based and evidence-based resources that are multi-cultural and available in multiple languages. I refer you to a statement on the home page of the LGBTQ Family Acceptance Project,


Research from the Family Acceptance Project® shows that families play a critical role in contributing to serious health risks & promoting well-being for LGBTQ young people. Learn about how family behaviors affect your LGBTQ child’s health risks and ways to reduce risk and increase support.


[22] Why is the information about LGBTIQ youth necessary? Because both the Pew Research Center[9] and the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law[10] released documentation in June 2022 about the increase of the percentage in LGBTIQ individuals under 30 who identify as transgender or nonbinary.


[23] On June 7, 2022, the Pew Research Center reported that about 5% of young adults in the U.S. identify as transgender or nonbinary. Overall, 1.6% of U.S adults are transgender or nonbinary, but of individuals 18-29, 5.1% do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. More than a quarter, or 27%, of U.S. adults now say they have a transgender friend, 13% say they have a transgender co-worker. Ten percent have a transgender family member. Personal connections improve people’s attitudes greatly.


[24] The Williams Institute provides similar percentages from research backing up their conclusions that the transgender and nonbinary community is growing or reporting more accurately who they are, particularly among youth.


[25] More individuals are coming out as transgender and nonbinary and more people know someone who is transgender. In every congregation the probability of a congregation member  identifying as transgender or nonbinary is increasing. Congregations need to consider how they can be ready, if they are willing, to accept and nurture transgender or nonbinary members. Welcoming congregations are essential.


[26] I shared my story because one of my life goals is to make the path much easier for those who follow me. I happily report that there are more transgender and nonbinary pastors in the ELCA than a decade ago. More transgender and nonbinary people belong to congregations. Sadly, however, transgender and nonbinary people often tell me they consider themselves outcasts from the communities of faith they embraced in their youth.


[27] I shared my story to give insight on the journey of one queer transgender Latina. I encourage others to increase their knowledge about the transgender and nonbinary community. One of the resources I highly recommend is a compilation of the narratives of transgender and nonbinary individuals called Trans Bodies, Trans Selves.[11] This hefty book defies reading in a single sitting. I suggest reading the first chapter as an introduction and then spending time in the glossary (pp. 669-680) to become familiar with the terms utilized by the LGBTIQ community? This book lends itself to jumping to read a chapter that interests the reader, for each offers vital information.


[28] Finally, I agreed to submit this essay with the hope of appealing to the humanity of JLE readers and their desire to do social justice. In 2022, 300+ anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced into many state houses throughout the United States.[12]The vast majority of these bills target transgender and nonbinary youth. I fear and anticipate a rise in suicide attempts among transgender and nonbinary youth. I implore all readers to educate themselves. I implore them to do more than send thoughts and prayers, for we need allies to help us both in our daily lives and at the ballot box. We all need to welcome those who do not look like us or have the same background as us into our congregations. We need to elect representatives who will pass laws to protect the entire LGBTIQ community. We need allyship in rejecting those who take aim for their own personal political purposes.


[29] Act because the love for the neighbor compels you. Martin Luther wrote that we must bear the burdens of those who are weaker so we may fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). Luther continued, “This is truly Christian life. Here faith is truly active through love (Gal. 5:6), that is it finds expression in works of the freest service, cheerfully and lovingly done, with which man willingly serve another without hope of reward; and for himself he is satisfied with the fullness and wealth of his faith.”[13]





[1] See:

[2] See:

[3]  The Gender Identity Center of Colorado has since closed, but transgender services in  Colorado can be obtained through

[4] See:

[5] See:

[6] See:

[7] See:

[8] See:

[9] See: About 5% of young adults in U.S. are transgender or nonbinary | Pew Research Center

[10] See:

[11] Laura Erikson-Schroth, ed., Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, 2nd Edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2022.

[12] See:

[13] See Luther’s comments about how caring for the weak is understood as Christian work in The Freedom of a Christian in Career of the Reformer: Vol. I, Luther’s Works 31 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1957), 365.

Rev. Nicole M. Garcia, M.A. LPC

Nicole Garcia

Rev. Nicole M. Garcia, M.A. LPC, (she/her) serves as the Faith Work Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force. Our Faith Work prioritizes lifting the voices of diverse faith leaders and people of faith from multiple religious and spiritual perspectives as well those with secular views who support LGBTQ equity and democracy. Nicole emphasizes the amplification of the voices of Black and Brown people and LGBTQ people, partnering with faith-based and nonprofit organizations that carry out faith-based work to achieve impact.