Saturday, April 15, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 46: Leo Bancroft

Words from Leo's Good Friday reflection, here
I have reached the final day of my Lenten Challenge--woo hoo! As I was pondering which marginalized voice I should focus on today, I knew I wanted it to be someone I know. And then it occurred to me: of course, my friend Leo!

I've known Leo for several years, back to when he went by the name of Laura. We met through an interchurch Bible study called "Bras, Bibles, and Brew." Laura was one of many in the group who'd attended seminary, which resulted in me feeling less than Biblically literate at times! Immediately, I found Laura to be a fascinating, funny, and bright person, and we became Facebook friends.

Image may contain: 1 person, bird, outdoor and natureLaura got involved with the Cascade AIDS project and became a hugely successful and creative fundraiser and activist. I remember her kissing a chicken while wearing a fun maroon dress and boots, because she'd met her fundraising goals. (I found the photo on Facebook--it's on the right!). And she began a blog called "Just one of the boys...kinda," sharing her perspectives on LGBTQIA issues and the church, along with other spiritual reflections. I followed her blog regularly and occasionally we would cross paths in our Lutheran world.

Then in September 2013, Leo revealed in his blog that he identified as transgender:
At the end of March, I had the startling, frightening, and liberating realization that I just might be transgender.  That was the beginning of a journey of questioning that has brought me to this place now – where I want to share more publicly about who I am.
I now identify as transgender: more male than female, one of the guys, in my men’s clothes and men’s haircut. Over the years, there were several clues I gave myself before my moment of realization, even the title of this blog.
Please feel free to ask me any question that you like. I can’t speak for the whole transgender community, just as I can’t speak for all Lutherans or all Oregonians. I’m on a journey where I am still figuring out who I am, so there is a lot I am learning too. But I don’t want to do so in private any more.
Leo with his mom
Ever since that first reveal blog post, Leo has chronicled his spiritual and mental journey of becoming, regularly speaking and writing about his transgender experience in churches, synod gatherings, and conferences. In his followup post, he shared:
Life is not about knowing all the answers, or about finding out the end of the movie before it begins. I want to view life as an adventure! Thankfully this is not something we have to do alone. Many of you have expressed your willingness to come along on this adventure with me, even when it is mysterious or scary, and I do not take that for granted. I hope I am willing to go beside you in your adventure too.
And because this is a devotional blog at heart, I want to add that God is also always with us in this. No matter how dark or confusing life may seem, you are never alone. Sometimes that's hard to remember - I had it tattooed on my arm so I wouldn't forget. I am working on being ok with not knowing how things will turn out; I am working on trusting that God is always with me on this journey. No matter how dark or confusing life may seem, you are never alone. Sometimes that's hard to remember - I had it tattooed on my arm so I wouldn't forget. I am working on being ok with not knowing how things will turn out; I am working on trusting that God is always with me on this journey, no matter what. 
In 2014, Leo was elected to the Board of Directors for the Cascade AIDS Project, and he had an official naming service at the baptismal font and finally felt claimed as part of God's family. His chosen name, Leo Channing, means lion, fierce wolf, and church leader.

In 2015 Leo took on a new role with Reconciling Works, working to make churches more friendly and welcoming to the LGBTQIA community, gave his first radio interview, and began writing a regular monthly column about his transgender journey for PQ Monthly. His articles are deeply intimate and open, as he's taken a huge risk to be transparent in an effort to help others going through a similar well as to educate the rest of us about what it's like.
Leo visiting our church

Leo's come to preach at our church many times, like in early 2015 (read his homily here). He also spoke at our panel on the transgender experience with Jayce M., the student who filed a complaint against George Fox University for housing discrimination. Leo is a born storyteller and gifted preacher and bridge builder. I've learned so much about the transgender experience through his open heart and willingness to share his story.

In 2016 the Lutheran church in Oregon hired Leo to be an advocate for the LGBTQIA community, to listen to people’s stories and hear their experiences. And he has started a church in his living room, The Flame, which meets Sunday evenings at 6 p.m. He's on his way to becoming a pastor again, several years after being in seminary. (And he's still continuing his day job in IT support.)

I imagine that Leo is constantly traversing his two communities: one of faith and the LGBTQIA community, including many who mistrust or have been gravely hurt by the church. Leo bridges these two skillfully, facilitating communities of faith to walk in the AIDS Walk or Pride parades, and constantly sharing his own story of faith and becoming. I know his journey has not been easy, and he has not always been accepted and loved as he should be.

Oh yeah. And he's taken up trapeze! Look at those muscles!
Leo describes himself on his blog as a goofball who loves trapeze, a bisexual trans guy (just one part of his identity). And he is visible for those who can't be.

I can't think of a better person to profile on this final day of my Lenten journey, a hero advocating for true authenticity and a fuller understanding of transgender people for all, a role model, and someone who walks his talk and roars his roar for others who can't do so.

Leo, thank you for sharing your story and inspiring us all.

Read all my Lenten challenge posts here. I hope you've enjoyed this journey. I certainly have!

Happy Easter Eve!


  1. Thank you for featuring Leo, a true inspiration. And this has been an inspirational series of posts, which has made my own Lenten journey more meaningful.

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