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Since 2011, Meggan Sommerville has been suing her employer Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. – fighting for her right to use the restroom that matches her gender identity. Her employer of 16 years says they’ll only acknowledge that right once she submits proof of gender confirmation surgery – despite the fact Meggan is legally recognized as female on her identity documents and her employer’s health plan. In light of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, Meggan’s case has caused some news outlets to investigate how religious beliefs could be used to deny transgender people access to the same employment opportunities as their non-transgender coworkers.

When she’s not working her day job as Frame Shop Manager at Hobby Lobby, Meggan blogs at Trans Girl At The Cross in the greater Chicago area. As a woman of faith, Meggan seeks to promote understanding within the Christian community through her writing, and her life. Meggan’s journey towards the legal recognition of her gender identity is a testament to her own resilience. In a phone interview, Meggan reflected,

“I had no one to lean on when I went through transition. I did this by the seat of my pants. I didn’t have a big sister to go to and say, ‘What do I need to do about my driver’s license, what do I need to do about my social security card.’”

When Meggan went to amend the name and gender marker on her driver’s license to reflect her true identity, she found herself faced with added expenses because of the administrative burdens she encountered.

“I went to the DMV to change my gender marker and they told me I needed a letter from my doctor, and at that point I was like, ‘I just changed my name, now I have to spend more money to get a new license with a new gender marker on it!’”

In 2013, Transgender Law Center celebrated the passage of AB 1121, which increased transgender individuals’ access to name and gender changes in California, by removing burdensome administrative barriers like costly publishing requirements. As we’ve done for over a decade, we’ve been assisting folks with the new process of amending their name and gender on identity documents in California, as well as navigating changes to other identity documents for transgender people all over the country. Many folks who live in states that still require surgery to amend identity documents face similar circumstances to Meggan when she was starting out.

She observed, “How humiliating when, as in my case, you present as female, and you have a female name on the card, and then a male gender marker. That doesn’t work, that’s setting up someone to be humiliated. I was embarrassed enough going out with friends to bars prior to getting my name change, showing up presenting as female, and having the guys checking I.D.s at the door look at me strange.”

Meggan successfully updated her Illinois driver’s license and Social Security records to reflect her female identity. And when it came time for her to amend her California birth certificate, Transgender Law Center has been providing assistance to make sure her birth certificate accurately reflects her authentic identity. This process was made less burdensome for transgender Californians in 2011 with the passage of the Vital Statistics Modernization Act (AB 433), co-sponsored by Transgender Law Center and Equality California, which removed the requirement of gender confirmation surgery for amending gender markers, and also by the passage of AB 1121 in 2013, which provides a simpler mechanism for amending the gender marker on a California birth certificate without the need for a hearing before a California Superior Court.

Meggan is no stranger to “surgery requirements” designed to block transgender people’s access to living as their authentic selves. In addition to Hobby Lobby’s use of a surgery requirement to block Meggan’s access to gender-appropriate restrooms, Meggan also lives in Illinois, a state that still requires gender confirmation surgery and the “completion of gender reassignment” in order for transgender individuals to amend the gender markers on their birth certificates.

For Meggan, the use of such surgery requirements are “antiquated”:

“Gender confirmation surgery is not always sought after by the trans individual, they may be very comfortable with a certain point in their transition. And for some, it’s just not feasible whether it’s due to pre-existing medical conditions, or finances. When you’re looking at surgery that costs between $20,000-$30,000, and it’s not covered by your insurance, how realistic is it to be able to obtain it?”

And it’s not just government agencies and employers that have been fighting Meggan’s gender identity. As a woman of faith, Meggan has struggled with the lack of acceptance she has faced when seeking fellowship in various Christian communities.

“I lost a lot of friends at the beginning of my transition, in the last four years I’m on my third church, and I just recently lost the church I grew up in. But I won’t justify my transition anymore within the church. Humans are going to interpret scripture the way they want, and I lean on my relationship with God. In some churches, it’s difficult to understand. But I have to say, ‘You know what, you don’t know what God’s will is for my life, just like I don’t know what God’s will is for your life, so don’t judge.’”

As the mother of two, living 45 miles west of Chicago, Meggan stays connected to the Chicago transgender community through her writing. Meggan is currently blogging for ChicagoNow, where she talks about the intersections of her Christian faith, transgender identity, and motherhood. Two years ago, ChicagoNow’s Community Manager Jimmy Greenfield reached out to Meggan:

“He told me that being Christian and being transgender aren’t two things that are generally said in a positive way in the same sentence. And I said, ‘No, it’s not.’ At the time, I couldn’t find anyone who was Christian and transgender that was writing. There are a few people now, but there just wasn’t a voice. And even now two years later, I’m still the only transgender person blogging at ChicagoNow out of about 450 bloggers. I’ve met some really great people that I’ve learned from, in fact one of my best friends is another blogger there, and it’s been, for the most part, a very warm, encouraging environment.”

Meggan blogs as a way to talk about her experiences, and to connect with folks who are experiencing rejection and other obstacles on account of their gender identity.

“I typically don’t write on a lot of the news stories, but I relate what life is like for a typical transgender woman, with two kids, trying to get through life. I’ve gotten letters from transgender women from all over the world, saying ‘Thank you,’ and ‘How can I approach my church,’ because they’ve been in the midst of transition and they’re being ostracized, or even kicked out of the church, for being transgender. It’s definitely something that needs to be said, and God is giving me the opportunity to do it.”

What does Meggan say to transgender folks struggling within their faith communities?

“If they’re in a safe space, and they have a faith, whatever it is, just know: You are personally right with God. It doesn’t matter what everyone else says, you are in a relationship with God, and he will reveal his will for you. And also: Have courage. There are times when God calls us to be that light in a church or community that may have never experienced us. It’s difficult, it’s hard, nobody ever said it’s easy, it’s certainly not easy for me. Have faith in yourself that you’re living a life authentic to what God wants for you. And if you’re doing that and being that light, then others will see.”

Meggan’s writing also helps to connect her with folks in the faith community who are seeking understanding, including folks in her own church:

“There are many that struggle with it, but there are also those that know my story, that read my blog, that are either 100% supportive of me, or at least they are trying to understand, and that’s a huge step within the church.”

Meggan has been passionate about writing from a young age since taking creative writing and short story classes in high school. And as soon as she got her first driver’s license, Meggan got in her car to do some self-discovery research in the local library.

“As soon as I could drive I was in the library, up in the dusty old sections of the library, reading case studies, trying to understand who I was.”

Meggan’s blogging has exposed her to opportunities to celebrate another integral part of her identity: Motherhood. This year, Meggan was the first openly transgender woman to participate in the national series of original live readings, Listen To Your Mother. And in 2014, the series also featured three mothers who spoke about their transgender children, including Debi Jackson with whom Meggan has developed a friendship.

 

Watch Meggan Sommerville reading ‘Waiting for My Kids to Wish Me a Happy Mother’s Day’

 

Watch Debi Jackson’s reading of “That’s Good Enough”

 

“To be a part of such a historic year was huge, and to be part of that family, to be accepted, and to encounter that open-mindedness was really heart-warming. It’s not just a milestone, it’s a monument for me; not only being validated as a writer, which is huge for any writer, but also knowing that I have a voice for the TG community.”

As a mother, Meggan is passionate about gender-affirming environments for youth, something Transgender Law Center has actively supported with the recent passage of California’s School Success and Opportunity Act (AB 1266), a bill we co-sponsored that provides guidance for schools to make sure that all students, including transgender students, have the opportunity to succeed.

 “Something I wish that I had had when I was a kid was a safe school environment to grow up in. Kids have to be able to be themselves. Kids that are allowed to be themselves within their school environment and around their friends do so much better in school, they have less emotional problems, less disciplinary problems, better grades, and they’re just happier kids. When you deny them that, what are you telling the rest of the world? You can’t be who you are, all these other kids: they can be. But you have to be what we tell you to be. That’s not right, and it kills me to think about what these kids are going through. And I’ve been through it! Being able to be themselves at a young age is going to save these kids from so much emotional trauma later on. And kids at that age? They don’t care! I’ve seen it with my son and daughter, sure you’re going to have the bully, but mostly it’s: ‘Oh, you want to play with me? Let’s go play!’ To deny kids a safe environment to learn doesn’t compute for me.”

In addition to safe and affirming learning environments, transgender youth also need role models to look up to, and strong alliances of support. Megan emphasizes:

“We need visibility. We need to show our respective communities, whether it’s in Oakland, Kansas City, or Aurora, Illinois: This is who we are. We’re these normal men and women who just want to live our lives, and have full rights with everybody else. And that goes for allies as well. I had to tell one of my friends in the faith community that I appreciated his support, but supporting me behind closed doors while quiet disdain permeates our community means nothing. Supporting me when others are turning their backs is where we need support. We need people standing up outside of the transgender community and saying: God called us to love and not judge. Transgender people are real human beings with real needs, to whom we as a faith community have to reach out. People like myself and others also need to be able to stand up and say, ‘This is who I am, and I’m not going to take inequality any longer.’”