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The Human Element: Raquel Willis on finding empowerment in her gender identity Raquel Willis ~ Atlanta, Georgia
A Father’s Faith Provides Guidance for Loving and Supporting His Transgender Son October 4, 2016

Quinn works in the DeKalb County school system and has been attending the Decatur First United Methodist Church for more than 30 years. He teaches adult Sunday school, and he volunteers at the Arrendale Women’s Prison and on the Appalachia Service Project as part of the church’s mission outreach.

Quinn strives to live his life by Methodist doctrine, which teaches that one’s relationship with God, community, and the world is founded on four pillars: scripture, reason, experience, and tradition.

He calls it a process for understanding and building relationships.

image-1“It’s not telling you what God’s word is. You have to work at it,” he said. “It’s a constant ongoing process, which is what relationships and community are all about.”

Quinn has also always been drawn to Methodism as a faith tradition because of its long history and commitment to social justice.

Growing up, Quinn felt like he was living at the fault line of two very different worlds.

“Racism and sexism and misogyny were a daily occurrence in my life,” he said.

He was coming of age in the 1960s and ‘70s. He lived through the Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which desegregated schools, and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act of 1964 and ’65, which extended federal non-discrimination protections and the right to vote to African Americans.

He had black friends and influential teachers who got him involved in the movements for civil rights and women’s rights.

“I would hear these derogatory comments from my family members about black people. And I would say, ‘What? That’s not my experience.‘”

For Quinn, the biggest turning point in terms of his social perspective came in 1968 when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated; Bobby Kennedy was assassinated; and the Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns of the war, launched in Vietnam.

“People were dying needlessly,” he said. “And that kind of brought it all together for me. I became very active in the anti-war movement and in the civil rights movement in Atlanta in the early ‘70s.”

“I never had second thoughts, doubts, questions—other than trying to understand what he was going through. I loved him unconditionally, and everything else was detail.”

img_4448Flash forward to present day. Quinn is married with four adult children: Three daughters and the youngest, his transgender son Wallace.

For Quinn and his family, coming to terms with his son’s gender identity was a process—much like his faith journey and his commitment to social justice.

But Quinn said that he and his wife always knew that Wallace was different.

“We’ve got tons of pictures of him when he was four and five years old,” Quinn said. “On Halloween he would always dress up as a boy. And when he went to school, at recess he preferred playing with the boys over hanging out with the girls. He never had an interest in dolls. Even though his mother and I dressed him up every day with a big bow in his hair, he always preferred pants and male clothing. He wanted to dress up as a soldier, and he wanted to wear blue jeans. So we knew he did not identify as a female from the very beginning.”

img_4444 img_4446 00000001


Quinn said his faith practice taught him that, regardless of his son’s gender identity, he would love Wallace unconditionally.

“I brought to my relationship a love for my children as paramount. To me nothing would undermine my unconditional love for my children, and I learned about unconditional love through my faith journey and through my studying scripture and being active in the Methodist Church,” Quinn said. “I never had second thoughts, doubts, questions—other than trying to understand what he was going through. It never crossed my mind because I loved him unconditionally, and everything else was detail.”

Wallace fully transitioned his senior year at Wesleyan College, an all-women’s college in Macon, GA. And he was well-accepted among his peers.

For Quinn, what mattered most was that Wallace felt supported. In speaking at his son’s baccalaureate, Quinn said, “Wesleyan College performed its role as a college, and that was to give our child the opportunity to grow and to be who he really is.”


Wallace has also been embraced by the faith community at Decatur First United Methodist Church.

Quinn says LGBT inclusion and acceptance is just the Methodist thing to do.

“We get back to scripture, and Christ is quoted as saying that he came to fulfill all the laws of the prophets, the 613 do’s and don’ts in the Hebrew bible, our Old Testament—and they can all be summed up in one rule or law: To love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Quinn has watched first-hand as America has made incredible strides in civil rights, women’s rights, and now LGBT rights. But he knows there’s still a long way to go to ensure that all people—including transgender people—feel safe and equally protected from discrimination and harm. And until Georgia lawmakers take concrete steps to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, LGBT Georgians will continue to live under threats of unfair treatment, harassment, and abuse.

For now, as a parent of a transgender child and someone who works in public schools, Quinn has a message for transgender youth who are struggling with their gender identity: Find community.

“There are lots of people who support you, care for you, and are there to help you regardless of your personal circumstances. The networks are there, the community is there. Don’t think you’re alone.”

“Transgender children are 18 times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers—their non-transgender peers. To me someone that attempts suicide has to have a tremendous pain that they’re trying to get rid of.

“So what I would say to transgender children and teenagers is that community is very important. There are lots of people who support you, care for you, and are there to help you regardless of your personal circumstances—if you’ve been rejected by family and friends, even if you’ve been rejected by your church.

“The networks are there, the community is there. Don’t think you’re alone.”

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We were so grateful to be able to profile Rachel last year. Her story is inspiring and it's sad to see her treated unfairly. Thank you Rachel for standing up for yourself!

About 3 months ago

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