Almost a decade and a half ago, I was sent by my grandmother to Teen Challenge. Teen Challenge is a program primarily for alcoholics and drug addicts, but homosexuality is seen as a similar life controlling issue. This was before I realized that I was transgender, and at the time identified as a lesbian. I have tried every which way to start this op-ed, and it seems every direction I go, there is a better way to start. But really, there is no "good" way to begin this...

I was 24 years old when I arrived at Teen Challenge. It sat on many acres of land, was 15 miles down a gravel road, and housed 24 women. This particular program no longer exists, it is now a teen boys' program.

In the Fall of 2001, two ladies from my church drove me from St. Louis to Branson West. We drove five hours, and stayed in a hotel room for a night. They were sending me to this program because of homosexuality, but a woman (who was married and had two kids) slept in a bed with me, and spooned me the entire night. How is that for irony?

That morning, I met my “older sister,” Katrina, who was responsible for checking my suitcases, my jacket, and my body for contraband. Another female feeling me up and down...

I spent eight months in the year-long program. During that time, I was taken to many churches to meet with “ex gay” pastors. It wasn't enough that they were praying for me, but they were also speaking in tongues over me, holding me to the ground, holding my head on each side covering my ears. They were (in their words) exorcising the homosexual demon. Several times I could hear them say they could see the dark spirits leaving my body, and that after this prayer, I was going to be freed from the bondage of homosexuality.

At eight months, I was kicked out because I was caught behind the shed with my hand in the pants of another TCO resident. I had been behind that shed with a few other women before, but this is the first time I had been caught. That was the only time I did not completely hate Teen Challenge. It was not necessarily the act that was so much fun, but the fact that I was there to be cured of my "homosexual lifestyle" and they stuck me with 23 woman who were all at some given time, sexually frustrated.

I cannot go into every grotesque detail that took place during my time there, it would take forever. The reason for writing now is because of North Carolina's House Bill 2  and because I know first-hand how these bigoted, extreme Christians operate.

When I returned home, one of the first people I contacted was Kris Kleindienst. I knew that no matter what these people had done to me, Kris would be able to help me get my head sorted. I remember being on the phone with her, and crying: “What if I am going to hell because I am gay?” She told me that whether there was a creator, a God, or whatever - that I belonged in this world, that I was beautiful, and that I wasn't going to hell. She breathed life back into my very soul.

I was broken down on every level. I left that place barely even knowing my name, but I did know word-for-word every verse that mentioned or possibly alluded to homosexuality being a sin.

I was brainwashed. The eight months consisted of: 13 hours a day reading the Bible, two hours a day praying in groups, and an hour with a counselor. Every morning we had morning devotion and every evening we had evening devotion in our respective bedrooms. Twice a week we had in house church service, two more times a week we went to an outside church for Bible study, and on Sunday morning we were part of the choir.

So here's my point. These religious fanatics who are pushing the anti-trans agenda - they are relentless, and will stop at nothing. When I was caught behind that shed, I was yelled at by the president for five hours in his office. I was then further humiliated in front of every other resident and staff at Teen Challenge for another two hours. I walked for about six hours that day and hitchhiked to get to the bus station. Hours.

This is not just about the bathroom. This is a fight that we as a community cannot give up on. This is more important than marriage equality. Had I not had someone like Kris to help me sort through what Teen Challenge did to me, I am sure that I would have become a statistic and would not be here to type out my experience.

Not everyone has a support system, not everyone has someone to speak life back into them. Our brothers and sisters are being killed in epidemic proportions. Our children are killing themselves because they are being bullied by clergy, family, teachers, and other students.

Right now an atmosphere is being created where it is acceptable to post pictures on social media with automatic assault weapons to protect children from transgender people. This fight... we cannot give up on.

Some of us - we may lose our freedom, we may even lose our lives, but who is protecting our children? Pastors are standing at their pulpits and preaching hate against us. They are saying we are damned and are going to hell. They are telling our children that they are an abomination. They are trying to get us to create our own demise - so that we will no longer exist.

We have to fight - and this is not just a fight for equality. Society is being told by vocal politicians and government officials that it is okay to harass us, to discriminate against us, and even in some situations, to kill us. We cannot stand idle and let this continue. We must fight back.

The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of #Boom Media.



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