My pronouns are she, her, hers, and sometimes they. I’ve been coming to South Valley for over nine years, and I guess you could say that I’m a convert, a transplant, and a recruit. The last time I told my South Valley Journey was over two years ago, in October 2017. This has been a tough week for me. In addition to the physical isolation we are experiencing during the outbreak of Covid-19, the earthquake and its 100-plus tremors, I also lost my step-son Josh on May 27. Josh was a strong, loving, and very passionate man. It has been my experience that with intense passion comes incredibly dark sensations. When the flames of passion do not burn openly as a beacon to the world, they can become a destructive ravaging fire that swallows us as the kindling which is our lives. We lost Josh to the dark. I just wish he could see the light that he was to others while he was still here and the man that he could one day yet be.
In 2008, while exploring my need to transition to escape my own darkness, I was encouraged by a Hindu friend to check out the Unitarian Universalist Church. I grew up Baptist, with both of my grandfathers being Baptist ministers. My father once told me that when reading scripture, I should interpret it in light of my own experience. My mother’s father and mother gave up their material possessions to lead churches and become community members in marginalized communities, serving churches where few pastors dared to go---the black and latino communities. My grandmother, having studied accounting, would help the poor with their tax returns, and helped at the senior citizen center long after her husband passed away. In the wake of the Southern Baptist movement, and its growing tendency to force its own interpretation on others in seemingly increasing disregard for independent research and observation of others, found in fields including archeology, sociology, and religious studies to the scientific method, cosmology, and psychology, I felt myself increasingly in dissonance with the church’s latest teachings. Meanwhile, I had taken a course on world religions while in the Navy, read through the gnostic gospels and new age teaching, and knew there was a lot out there--that my home faith was increasingly missing the point. I briefly tried Pentecostalism because of the emphasis on spirit, but found the worship of things like names didn’t appeal to me. I had previously experienced dreams while serving as a Sunday School teacher for young adults in the Baptist church in which I felt I was being told that the path to spirituality was by way of fellowship and community; so there had to be a way.
When my coworker had suggested that I look into Unitarian Universalism after a distinctly personal spiritual revelation, I read the seven principles of the faith on the internet, and found they resonated with my own core values. When I then visited Westside Unitarian Universalist Church in Fort Worth as my original gender, I felt welcomed, though cautiously so. I quietly asked the one person who welcomed me whether they accepted trans people, and was given a positive affirmation. Returning the following Sunday as Sophia, I felt completely and openly embraced, both literally and figuratively. Soon afterward, I was asked to read the chalice lighting words, and participated in a radical hospitality workshop. When I heard from my support group that my new church home was having auditions for the Vagina Monologues and looking for trans women to participate in a monologue about transgender lives, I saw my own story reflected in the piece and felt compelled to audition. I was cast for the first time professionally in my life, and started feeling as if my life genuinely had purpose.In fact, it was at a later audition in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah where I was destined to meet my next and current wife, who is also trans.
When I lost my job in 2009, I took a job in Louisville, Kentucky where I started attending First Unitarian. I was asked to be the greeting coordinator for the church, which was a huge step outside my comfort zone, as I haven’t been the best at remembering people’s names. But I organized the coffee and greeting schedule, and had many moving conversations at the door, where I got the chance to bond with a great number of great people. As part of that process, I learned that my spiritual path was making connections. I was also appointed to the Membership board at that time, and one Easter Sunday in 2010, while playing the Velveteen Rabbit, I asked for the blessing of the church while I transitioned.
In September of that year, I was offered a job at Overstock in Cottonwood Heights. When I told my friends that I was moving to the Salt Lake Area, they told me that it was awesome, because one of the ministers was the first ever transgender minister. So when I arrived, and moved to West Jordan (I now live in Midvale), I went to First Unitarian. It didn’t have the lay-led feel that I had grown used to, and I found out that the other church, South Valley, was the congregation with the trans minister, but he wasn’t there anymore.
The following Sunday I visited South Valley for the first time. I was immediately welcomed and introduced to the LGBT group, Interweave. I also heard that there was a protest in downtown Salt Lake City that night and I was invited. That was my first protest of many. In fact, the leader of that protest later came out as trans herself and has since transitioned. It wasn’t long before I was asked to be the Welcoming Chair, and took that role for a couple of years. My activism however led me into politics. I fought unfair insurance policy, petitioned an attorney general, and sought to sway legislators. I knew that the trans community needed a voice, and if no one else would stand up, I would. Being a voice can be hard, but it gives you a sense of purpose. Over the years that visibility has led me to serve on multiple boards and councils. I served my Community Council for over five years, chairing it last year. I became the chair of the Transgender Inclusion Project, and have been serving in the leadership of the Women’s State Legislative Council of Utah for a number of years. More recently I joined the board of the ACLU of Utah at the calling of the House Minority Leader, and stepped up to chair House District 44 for the Democratic Party. I also have been called back to serve on the Board of Trustees. As a deep believer in being called to serve, I look forward to being able to bring my experience to the board during these challenging times. On multiple occasions, I have been told by others that visibility while running and persistence to serve has inspired them to run and serve. That inspires me. There are some days where you feel like you are just one voice in a chorus, and others when it seems like you are a lone voice crying in the wilderness. But no matter my battles, I have always been able to come home to South Valley, where I find the support empowering.