Proud By Kevin Hofmann, Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion When I turned down the long school hallway where the meeting was, I could hear the students before I knew which class they were in. Ahead of me, halfway down the 100-yard hall on the right, was an open classroom door. I could hear music and laughter and activity. The meeting was taking place after school, after most of the students went home to homework, video games, family and social media. We had this wing of the high school to ourselves. As I stepped closer, I could make out conversations that were playful, awkward at times, but familiar. Before I walked through the door I could tell this group was comfortable. The desks that were once in nice, ordered rows were pushed to the outside of the room and a large open circle was created in the center of the room. In the circle stood 10-15 students dancing and swirling and spinning and existing and exhaling. They were dancing as if no one was watching because I think that is how they felt. In this small classroom, there were no judgmental eyes, no skeptical side glances, no one waiting to pounce. This room and this ground was sacred, and safe and calm. In this class room, once a week, every Monday, Ms. Mackenzie held space for the LGBTQIA+ group and within seconds of arriving, I knew this meeting was more than a meeting. Over the next 60 minutes the value of this space became more and more valuable. I listened to the students share how important this space was for them. I sat next to Blue, a transgender female student who presented as a natural leader. Blue was her new name and it fit her. She was vibrant. The colors in the shirt she designed came with decibels. The blue highlights in her hair made her memorable – unique but not obnoxious. She shared with me how she hated Mondays in the past. Typically, she said, the anxiety would begin every Sunday morning and the dread of having to return to school in less than 24 hours grew like a flesh-eating virus. Each hour would consume more and more of her. Then Ms. Mackenzie started the group and designated each Monday as their meeting day. Now Blue looked forward to Monday because after school for one hour she could just exist. She didn’t have to worry about the student in the next seat making fun of her or calling her by her deadname (“deadname” is the name that a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning). For 60 minutes she could talk and be heard. Mondays gave her the fuel she needed to get through Tuesday through Friday. Kids are still very mean. Dad laid in his casket about 30 feet from me. I stood there in my black suit wondering how this suit shrunk so much since the last funeral. My heart didn’t want to accept the reality that I had gained weight. I reached into my inside suit jacket pocket and pulled out the program from Todd’s funeral. That was the last time I wore the suit. I went to grade school with Todd in Detroit. He was the crazy kid with the wild hair and a good heart. I crossed the parlor to throw away Todd’s program. I felt guilty about throwing it away. I felt like I owed it to Todd to keep the program. I refolded it and put it back in my suit. I looked up to see a young man with a determined walk headed towards me. “Are you Pastor Hofmann’s son?” “Yes!” I said proudly. “Can I talk to you?” he said from behind his long beard and tan work overalls with a white badge that read “AL.” “Sure,” I said. I was anxious to hear what he had to say. For the next 10 minutes, Al told me what a positive force my father was on his life. It was great to hear about the impact my father made on this young man. Then Al leaned forward and whispered, “I knew your dad before my transition.” He told me he was born female, but it just never seemed to fit. He struggled with finding his true self and once he did, he was concerned how the church he grew up in would see him. He worried if he would be asked to leave. Al shared that he set up a meeting with my Dad. They met at my dad’s office and he explained to my father that he made the decision to transition to a man. At this point, Al got teary eyed. He said he wasn’t sure how my Dad, who represented the church, would respond. Al said, without blinking, my Dad replied, “I was wondering when YOU were going to come to that decision.” It was the response Al didn’t expect but it was the response Al needed. We all deserve a safe place. We all deserve to be seen. We all deserve to be heard.