For Deacon Ray Dever and his family, supporting a transgender family member is deeply consonant with their Catholic faith. When Ray and Laurie Dever’s eldest child, Lexi, came out as transgender, the couple turned to their faith to make sense of their daughter’s experience.
Now, the Dever family is sharing their story in The Catholic Messenger, newspaper for the Diocese of Davenport. The article’s publication is a sign of increasing openness to Catholic conversations about gender identity and how to welcome trans people in the church.
Entitled “A deacon family’s journey with transgenderism,” the article seeks to “put a human face” on conversations about gender identity.
Deacon Ray first told the story of his Catholic family’s transgender journey in an original blog post for Bondings 2.0 for Holy Family Sunday in 2014. Since then, in addition to several more Bondings 2.0 blog posts and articles in major Catholic magazines, he has conducted many workshops and programs to help Catholic institutions better understand transgender people.
In this most recent interview, Deacon Ray and Laurie Dever, who live in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, shared some of the challenges that their daughter experienced before she came out, including mental health struggles. When Lexi attended events like homecoming and prom at her all-boys Jesuit high school, they “often triggered depression incidents,” her father reflected. “With the benefit of hindsight, we can see why.” The experience of having to present as a gender she did not identify with caused Lexi to attempt suicide multiple times during her high school and college years.
After transitioning while a student at Georgetown University, she eventually began to speak about her experience of growing up as a trans Catholic. She published an article, entitled “The Georgetown that saved me,” in the student newspaper, describing what it is like to experience gender dysphoria and to struggle with one’s identity. She also shared the importance of having an affirming environment for LGBTQ students on Catholic campuses. “The queer community at Georgetown opened my eyes to a world where I could exist and not hate myself,” she wrote.
When Lexi disclosed her trans identity to her parents, it took them time and prayer to understand and accept their daughter’s identity. “I prayed for openness, to understand, to educate myself,” Ray recalled. He wondered what God was inviting them to learn as he ministered while parenting a trans child.
Laurie Dever also spoke honestly about what it was like for her when her child came out:
“It was kind of difficult for me at first, for both of us. We wanted to ask the questions, ‘why and how do we reconcile this with our Catholic faith.’”
The Devers have since become outspoken advocates for better understanding of trans issues among Catholics. As Ray said, it is “a life or death issue” for young people to have safe spaces to come out. “They know they need to come out to live authentically but they are afraid that if they do they will lose their families, their friends, all that they have known,” Ray explained.
As Ray and Laurie, came to better understand Lexi’s identity, they “gain[ed] the blessings of a daughter.”
The Devers state that Lexi’s coming out has increased their faith. In coming to better understand the experiences of trans people, who often face violence and discrimination because of their identities, they have more deeply come to know Jesus’ message of loving those who experience marginalization.
“Sometimes our eyes are closed to the people on the margins,” Ray said. “Going through this experience has helped us open our eyes more—to people on the edges of society in one way or another. It has grown our faith in a good way.”
The Dever family’s story models inclusion and shows the importance of treating young trans people’s lives as sacred. It is a gift and an invitation for the church to learn from stories like this one how to more fully live out Jesus’ call to love and welcome every person.
—Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, January 14, 2022