There’s an explosive, tender feeling queer folks experience when we sight a young queer in the wild. It happened to me a few years ago while watching a parade, when I caught sight of a teenager in a spangly uniform cut just for him, dancing in a sea of ponytailed drill team girls. He was beaming, nailing his moves and sporting a hint of blush and lip gloss.

With a flourish, he tossed his baton; it glimmered and fell back down to his outreached hands. I told the person I’d recently started dating about it. Elazar is transgender and understood why my heart swelled seeing this kid.

“You know,” he said, “everyone always makes queer people out to be weak, but really, it takes so much courage.”

I pictured this sweet teen in his spangly outfit, the only boy to show up for drill team tryouts in his hometown. I imagined him practicing baton tosses in his backyard, afraid a neighbor might see. I could see him being fitted for his sequined uniform by a skeptical drill team mom as he held his head high. How did he feel when the parade was over? Elazar was right. It took so much courage.

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As a pastor serving two congregations that are home to LGBTQ+ spiritual refugees here in Baltimore, I see this kind of courage every day. My congregants arrive at church, beaten and bruised by religious traditions that told them living into their full sense of self would place them outside of God’s love.

The damage is lasting. Our organist was thrown down a set of stairs as a teenager by his peers; he never fully healed from his injuries. Other congregants spent time homeless, rejected by their religious families. And yet every day they wake up and say, “Today I’m trying out for drill team.”

I see this courage particularly in my transgender and nonbinary congregants. Among them is Louise, who has been homeless much of her life and proudly wears her she/her pronoun pin despite ridicule and harassment. There is Anita, who came out later in life, sharing with her adult children that she was, in fact, a woman. There is also Morgan, who wears bowties and goes by they/them despite their parents’ inability to comprehend.

Living under the threat of violence is an everyday reality for many LGBTQ+ people. The further we fall outside the expectations our society holds for gendered behavior, the more intersections of marginalization we embody, the more exposed we are to hateful and dismissive language, gay bashings, or God forbid, mass killings such as the recent Club Q shooting.

We were devastated by what happened at Club Q, but we were not surprised. There were two heroes at Club Q: Richard Fierro, an Army veteran who “went into combat mode” and took down the shooter with their own gun, and a trans woman who stomped the shooter with her heels. My heart swells for these people I’ve never met — a veteran who attends drag shows, and a trans woman warrior who defended her chosen family. They both saved scores of lives.

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You can be a hero, just like them. As allies and advocates of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s simple to support gender diverse people. It starts with pronouns. Being courageous takes a toll on people who are gender diverse. The suicide rate of transgender people is shockingly high, as 41% of transgender people have attempted to take their lives at some point, compared to 4.6% of the general population.

There’s a solution that cuts this number by more than half: A Canadian study showed that a “gender-affirming environment” in which a person’s names and pronouns were consistently used reduced suicidal ideation by 66% and suicide attempts by 76%. A quarter of LGBTQ+ youth use pronouns other than he/his and she/her, the Trevor Project reports. “They” is here to stay, despite the discomfort even some liberal-minded people say they experience using it.

Approaching the singular “they” with quibbles about grammar or viewing it as a nonsensical demand misses an important truth: It is a simple request from a community so maligned that such a large proportion of them have been suicidal. “They” is not an inconvenience. It is a life-saving tool to protect the vulnerable. Shifting cultural gender norms writ large would have the most impact when it comes to sustaining the lives of transgender people.

But short of that, we can start with something more modest: ourselves. Another report from the Trevor Project shows that just one accepting adult in the life of a young person can reduce the risk of death by suicide by 40%. If you are a teacher, pastor, doctor, therapist, or hold authority, making the decision to create affirming environments for transgender people will actively support their mental health. All it takes is a little education.

If you find the second-person “they” perplexing, you’re not alone. I’ve watched my church members work to wrap their minds around the pronoun and all it signifies. I know it’s not easy. We might think, “It’s so awkward, and I’m sure this person won’t mind if I just use ‘she.’” The impact of misgendering, however, is significant. One common metaphor likens misgendering to a bee sting. One or two stings are unpleasant; multiple stings a day will make life unbearable.

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For cisgender people, it can be difficult to understand what being trans is all about. Imagine moving through each day with a sense that something about you is wrong. As a result, you wish you could shed your very body — just walk away from it. Medical professionals term this “dysphoria”; it’s a real and researched phenomenon that many transgender people experience. Gender diversity is not a phase. It’s not a trend young people have made popular, and it won’t fade away with time. Gender diverse people have been present through history.

As a pastor, I always reference the Ethiopian eunuch, a gender minority with a starring role in the book of Acts. Joan of Arc refused all feminine attire of the 15th century. Dr. Alan Hart, born in 1890 and assigned female at birth, pioneered the use of the X-ray. Frida Kahlo donned a three-piece suit in 1924, while Baltimore’s own Pauli Murray cropped her hair and sought out hormone treatments in the 1930s. In 2022, however, trans people face draconian legislation that seeks to cut off our access to appropriate medical care, force us into public restrooms that don’t align with our identity, and prohibit school officials and staff from acknowledging trans children’s identity.

It’s no wonder we’re not doing well. You have the chance, every day, to make our lives just a little bit easier. So, practice saying it with me: “What are your pronouns?” “Jonathan went to the store. They’ll be back soon.” It takes so much courage to let the end of the silver baton stick out of your backpack on the way to homeroom or let everyone see you marching alongside the girls on the drill team, sequined body suit and all. It takes so much to keep dancing, keep smiling, keep sharing your deepest, truest self with the world.

If names and pronouns can help a courageous someone through a hostile and dangerous world, let’s use them.

This article was updated to correct a grammatical error.

Emily M. D. Scott (she/her) is genderqueer. The author of “For All Who Hunger: Searching for Communion in a Shattered World,” she serves as the founder of Dreams and Visions and pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, two LGBTQ+ affirming churches in Baltimore.