I'm transgender and Christian. Here's what I did when evangelicals tried to pray for me.

I was sipping coffee in front of a cafe in downtown Washington when three people walked up and asked, "Can we pray for you?"

I asked them why they wanted to pray for me. They said they felt called by God to walk around the streets of D.C. and let God's voice tell them who might be "broken."

Broken. As a Christian, I'm neither opposed to prayer nor to people praying specifically for me, at least not when it's done in good faith. But I'm also a transgender woman, and I sure as hell caught the gist of why these folks happened upon me to offer prayer.


My introduction to Christianity was in evangelical churches. For years, I navigated conservative religious spaces where I encountered bigotry toward LGBTQ people and women as often as I found warmhearted people eager to serve others. There was more than a little racism, too. I've heard the statement "I'll pray for you" said with love, and I've heard it said full of judgment and scorn. I know the difference, and the folks who confronted me outside the cafe were making their judgment clear.

I wanted them to feel what it's like to have someone approach in "love" but instead inflict judgment, pain, and discomfort.

I could have ignored them, but I've had it up to here with some evangelicals giving a bad name to their community by insisting on defining my humanity for me. They saw a transgender person and assumed I was broken because of my gender identity. It angered me that the whole of my being could be reduced to their flawed understanding of LGBTQ people, a view that could easily be revised if only they took the time to get to know me. So I would be damned if I was going to let them interrupt my Sunday afternoon coffee when I certainly wasn't bothering them.

So I asked their spokeswoman if she understood how it might look to be searching for "broken" people to pray for and to then pick out a random transgender person on the street. They looked more than taken aback.

Then, I asked them what the Book of Matthew says about prayer. Their eyes went wide. The guy on the right started nervously stammering. The other two were just as flummoxed by the idea that the "broken" transgender person was asking about a common verse on prayer in Matthew.

I reached for Matthew 18:20 because of its strong presence in the evangelical community and its common misapplication by members. In short, it reads, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them."

Those up on their biblical knowledge might wonder why I didn't turn to the scathing verses that call out hypocrites who are performative in their Christianity, telling them to pray in private rather than out on the streets so that they might be seen by others. It's a good one, but it's unsurprisingly ignored in evangelical circles. They know it's there, but it's inconvenient.

The verse I selected instead hits hard because it's so commonly heard before a group prayer in evangelical churches. There, it tends to be inaccurately interpreted as a numbers game. They think of it as a call to bring more people into the church. In reality, it's a verse on accountability before God and about how God may work that accountability through human beings.

There, on that day, I sought to bring accountability.

These aren't issues I take lightly, and their passive-aggressive condescension was anything but harmless. So this wasn't the time for me to be polite. Not in a moment when the Donald Trump-Mike Pence White House is attempting to ban transgender people from the military, and transgender students with stories of discrimination are turned away by the Department of Education. Not in a year when Trump and Pence are seeking to implement a new Health and Human Services Department regulation that would permit health care workers to deny potentially lifesaving treatment to LGBTQ people. Not when eight transgender people have been killed in the United States so far in 2018 and 28 in 2017 — the most ever annually.

Not now. I wasn't going to be silent.

Instead, I spoke. "You know how Matthew says that where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name, there He is with us?" They stared at me blankly. At last, one of them spoke up: "Yes, that's right."

"So, let's pray." I said to one of them, "You start us off." And she did, going through the motions quickly so the three of them could get as far as they could from this awkward situation.

Then I began to pray. "Lord Jesus, thank you for the benefit of these friends."

I began by being wholly honest with God about how I hoped She would bless my new friends, encouraging them to affirm and be inclusive of others. I was hopeful that their community would honor all as God made them and value the strength of diversity.

I mentioned the natural beauty of the LGBTQ community and thanked God again for making us as we are, throwing in a genuine wish that their trip back home would be a safe one. Then I wrapped the prayer up in the usual evangelical phraseology — "no weapons shall be formed against them," "put God on their hearts" — to let them know that I was just as familiar with their community’s vernacular as they were.

Then I finished, having returned their "let us pray for you" to them tenfold. Then they murmured their thank yous and scuttled the hell away.

I don't know whether my words made it through, but I hope those people now have a sense of what it feels like to have a stranger impose self-righteous venom on them.

I also hope that they'll realize how much actions such as these diminish the power of prayer and enable so much harm to LGBTQ people. A prayer that one might change their sexuality or gender identity is egregious encouragement to those who would discriminate against LGBTQ people in our laws and in our communities. My prayer's sharp edge was intended to make them aware of their own. These people did not want to know more about me. They wanted to talk at me and pray at me. And I'm confident that's not how Jesus would go about it.

There are many folks in the evangelical community who love and affirm their LGBTQ family, friends, and fellow human beings. It's unfortunate that others in the community still need to be told a simple truth: They are not doing the Lord's work by politicizing prayer at the expense of others or by dumping their misplaced condescension on strangers they believe to be broken. Prayer should be a loving act, not a weapon of marginalization.

This story originally appeared in full on The Lily, a subsidiary of The Washington Post. It is reprinted here with permission.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 06.28.21


After Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man, was pursued and shot by three white residents while jogging through a Georgia suburb, Ellen and Patrick Miller* of San Diego hung a Black Lives Matter flag in front of their house. It was a small gesture, but something tangible they could do.

Like many people, they wanted to both support the BLM movement and bring awareness about racism to members of their community. Despite residing in a part of the county notoriously rumored to be marred by white supremacists and their beliefs, their neighbors didn't say much about it—at first.

Recently, though, during a short window when both Ellen and Patrick were out of the house, someone sliced the flag in two and left the remains in their yard.

via Paula Fitzgibbons

They were upset, but not surprised.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."