Father of Transgender Teen Celebrates Historic Victory

This past summer Nicole and I spent a beautiful evening on a wedding cruise around Casco Bay in Portland, Maine. We watched history being made as our new friend Derry's transgender daughter and her partner celebrated their marriage. Derry is a well-respected senior attorney, a Mainer with a big heart. When he heard our story, he reached out and invited us -- as strangers -- to his daughters wedding. On a beautiful summer day, we both watched two generations of transgender women be open and proud of whom they are. His daughter, also named Nicole, danced with my daughter Nicole and I leaned over and said to Derry, "I do not know what I am going to do if we lose."

As we passed the historic Fort Levitt on Cushing Island, Derry said, "Wayne, look around you, you have already won. You and your courageous child have won in more ways than you might ever know. You are helping so many people have hope and heal." I said, "You are right, but it does not help stop the pain or worrying that still keeps me awake every night."

Just a few weeks ago, I received a note from Derry; he knew I was still worrying about our case. He advised me that when the State Supreme Court makes its decision to not speak too soon, to let my pen rest for a few days. Having a few days to reflect has been helpful. I am still worried about how this painful journey will impact my children as they grow. But I am very happy that they have learned such a valuable life lesson and I am full of joy that other children will not to do the same.

I keep thinking about all of the people that have helped make this tremendous decision possible. I wonder what advice I might give if asked. I am not a legal expert and I am not particularly politically wise. I can only speak from the heart and describe what I have observed. Our success took a great deal of family love, sacrifice and courage and the support of friends and strangers. We worked with people that never stopped striving for change. Their perseverance, legal guidance, strong advocacy and ability to help strangers in need were beyond my level of comprehension.

The LGBTQ community came to our aid in so many ways. It is also important to acknowledge that my family's more conservative friends and my colleagues have never wavered in providing open and steadfast support. All I have been able to think about since the decision is how to say thank you and share what we have learned.

Transgender children across the nation have taught me that real change requires more than courage. It also requires action. Without action their courage often goes unnoticed. Their displays of "Innocent Courage" seldom are seen beyond our inner circles. If we let you in, you would see young children demonstrating amazing courage everyday, it is not sensational, but it is courage just the same. They wear the clothes that they love, knowing it will spark negative reactions. At a young age they try to tell their fathers, families and friends, "This is who I am." Our babies hide their fears just below the surface. When they reach the safety of home they fall apart and cry in our arms. We tell them everything is going to be OK. Knowing that we have few tools to stop their pain. We tell them things will get better and hide our tears, saving them for later as we breakdown in private when they go off to play.

Transgender children deal with the unimaginable at such a young age. Many understand what bullying, harassment, and discrimination are before they can tie their shoes. As they wait for the school bus on their first day of school, they are already well aware of the dangers. Their innocence lives have been scarred, but they push back their fears, hoping that things might be different today. They hope that the excitement and their dreams about school will become true.

Their parents live in a different world. As we watch our babies climb the bus steps, we worry that first day of school might not be a scrapbook memory. Every parent worries about their child's first day of school. But they do not expect them to have to endure the unthinkable. Our kids are heroes because they get on that bus everyday knowing they are going to have a bad day. Heroes that have courage that is not being recognized or rewarded.

No matter how much courage a child has they cannot survive alone. Parents, siblings and extended family members must develop "Family Courage" that only requires love and the strength to do the right things to support their child. It requires growth that can be scary, uncertain and that is often not recognized by family, friends and society.

Families, schools, churches and communities across the nation rally around children in need every day. Our children are no different. It is critical for everyone to open their minds to new things so we can rally around our babies, to help build the same teams of specialists, teachers and community leaders that every family deserves.

"Community Courage" is harder to describe. Our children cannot grow properly without community support. Community courage is more rare. Communities that have schools, churches, youth programs, clinics and neighbors that all support transgender children are far a few. The communities that we live and work in must provide positive experiences for all children. No child must be denied access to the tools and character building qualities that we all work so hard to develop and maintain. There have been so many people in our community that have shown Nicole that she is loved and supported. Their courage should not go unrecognized.

Our state seal has a farmer resting on his scythe, and a sailor leaning on an anchor. Above the shield is the motto "Dirigo" (I lead). To lead requires vision and the courage to implement your vision. Our state leaders have demonstrated this in a life-changing way. The evening that I learned we had won our court case I went to bed feeling very proud. Our state leaders sent a powerful message that equality cannot to be denied. "State and National Courage" are powerful tools.

It has been a tremendous year for the LGBTQ community and we owe a great deal to nations' leaders. I hope that our leaders in Washington will continue to support all children as they try to grow and prosper. This support comes from places. Firsthand I have told our story to the coaches, teachers, neighbors, advocates, law enforcement, the military staff I work with during emergencies and my somewhat conservative friends and colleagues. They all taught me how important it is to tell our stories. Telling them our story revealed that our children are all the same and that we all want the same things, to be loved, accepted and to prosper.

My family has experienced a number of sad days because of unfounded fears, some revealing that no matter how hard we worked we could not protect our children. We never gave up because love offers unyielding strength. We never gave up because our friends, community, state and our nation continued to listen. In the end our children learned that the systems in place to protect them can work and that their young voices were heard.

Years from now when worrying about LGBTQ rights are no longer an issue, I hope to take another boat ride around Casco Bay with my grandchildren. As we cruise by Fort Levett and watch the sun fade from the horizon, I will place these beautiful little babies in my lap and tell them this story. As I pass on to them the pride that I have in my heart today for their parents, our state and our nation, I am hopeful that they will not see the few proud tears that will surely be rolling down my cheek. I hope that sharing our family's story will teach them what we have learned to be true. That love, knowledge and action will make the world a better place for everyone.