Lee Frances Heller: God’s Gift to the Transgender

A Christian may be defined as a follower of Jesus Christ, a person who loves God and all of God’s children. A person who’s heart is a conduit for God’s unconditional love. A person who has a special, loving relationship with God that leads them to act like Jesus did. Many of us claim to be Christians because we are members of a church but our actions often don’t reflect that definition of a Christian. Lee Frances Heller lived her life as a Christian. Her ministry to the transgender community was a testimony to her belief in and commitment to the principles that Jesus demonstrated.

Leo F. Heller, Jr. was born on April 5, 1919 in Youngstown, Ohio in humble circumstances. He led a singularly undistinguished life finally becoming a resident at the Good Shepherd Mission in Patterson, New Jersey. It was there that Leo committed himself to God and changed his life’s direction. He later became chaplain of the mission and served as resident director for 20 years. He retired in 1985 and moved to Jackson, Mississippi to be close to family members. By this time Leo had managed to reconcile his Christian faith with his lifelong realization that he was transgender. Leo could now live as Lee Frances.

“God can give us an acceptance of ourselves and help us to stop fighting the losing battle against our crossdressing. In my ignorance, I fought it until I reached the age of 67 … I finally accepted myself for what God made me … a born-again Christian crossdresser. I came to realize I was created this way – accepted it in full faith and have taken my shield and warded off my critics for God to deal with, and He has spared me a lot of discordant situations with those who refuse to understand me. Those dearly beloved ones are His problems. He has given us our shield of faith along with the whole armor of God. If you have never bowed your knee to Christ and thanked Him for His sacrifice for our sins and asked Him into your life, you have no idea what is missing. By all means, do it.”

As wonderful as it was to finally find rest in the Lord, that wasn’t enough. Lee undertook a personal crusade to share this reconciliation with other cross-dressers and transsexual persons through countless letters and articles. She started an ambitious project publishing the Grace and Lace Letter (G&LL) in 1990 to share the message of God’s love for all of us.

“Our purpose is to encourage and support you as the CD/TG/TS God made you. To tell and demonstrate the fact of the love God has for us. He has not set us aside. To tell you that you can be a full participant in God’s salvation wrought by Jesus Christ’s atonement and join in the fullness of joy in the new life imparted to us by His resurrection. Our thrust is to lift up the discouraged and troubled Christians among us who, unnecessarily, allow themselves to continue in the guilt they feel because our lives have been condemned by a well meaning but unenlightened church, pastor or layman. To lift them up by the power of God’s word … To rejoice with those who have found freedom in Christ, freedom from the repressive bonds of the evil one who tells us God can never love us or care for us unless we get ‘delivered’ from our gender problems. In our community this is the BIG LIE and God has given (us) the blessed vocation of conveying His true love of us.”

“We have been told by ninety percent of the visible church … that we are wrong and have no right to worship God until we clean up our act. (God) made us the way we are … and now the church is at work on us, destroying a segment of His creation. If we conform, we are afforded the privilege of sitting in a pew and worshiping. (T)he church in this world is not the final authority in the question of gender people. We pose a problem to them, but not to God. Their treatment of us is a problem for God. God loves us and Jesus Christ died for us also, and those who have taken Him as their Savior are His children. He loves you just as you are NOW!”

Lee had little money but still gave away her letter. She suffered from many health problems but somehow managed to keep working for the benefit of transgender people everywhere. Finally in 1997 when the effort became too much for her, she stopped publishing G&LL. Still she couldn’t rest for long because she wanted to continue sharing God’s love with her transgender brothers and sisters. So later that same year she launched a smaller publication called the Christian Love Letter. The core messages of God’s love and acceptance remained.

“I used to pray, ‘Oh God, deliver me from this horrible crossdressing thing.’ I prayed that for all the usual reasons: family, job, church, etc. It was the grand prayer of the grand hypocrite. My ‘inner me’ didn’t think it was horrible. I thought it was great and really didn’t want to be delivered, but I was kissin’ butt with God. I thought He’d be delighted to hear I wanted deliverance and that I thought it was horrible! That prayer was a lie in the face of God.”

“Everything in the Bible applies to crossdressers, transgender people, and transsexuals. If you accept Christ’s atonement on the cross for your sins, then you ‘stand in’ with God the same as Billy Graham does. You, me, Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell may not agree on a lot of things, but we love and are loved by God equally.”

“I take great solace today in knowing God knew from the beginning I would be a transgender person. This is the way He made me. To try to understand is far greater than our human understanding can conceive. The course of our lives was laid out by Him. God has given us a beauty of soul that only each individual person possesses. We are gentle, loving people. We are genuinely caring people. Our basic nature is inoffensive. He made us according to His plan and only His plan in us and for us can satisfy Him. Everyone, including the mighty bastions of the Church, has tried to remake us and it can’t be done. THEY are the ones mad at us. Not God. Stop pronouncing judgment on ourselves. ACCEPT the fact you are made as God made you. Too many are trying to live without Him because they believe the lie of Satan that they are not acceptable to God because of being CD/TG/TS.”

She continued to publish until her death on May 19, 2000. Her last article, Over-religious Pain-in-the-Neck Christianity was the Easter edition and reminded us again of God’s message to the transgender.

“People with too much religion in them – including preachers – are souls polluted by rules, regulations, and religious experiences, which they interpret as norms for everyone. They think they know how every Christian ought to live and what every minister should and shouldn’t do. They want to regulate how people ought to think. Be assured that God loves you and wants to bless your life and bring some joy into it. Never mind what some Christian person has done to you or spoken negatively to you. Your spiritual life is not in that person’s hand. God created you and knows you and will put His life into your soul. May the abundance of His blessings be yours as you learn of Him. My love to you.”

At her memorial service, the Rev. Susan Bock described Lee’s tireless efforts to share God’s love.

“Lee Frances taught us … to be ourselves. To take up the very life and destiny, and use the particular gifts God has given us. To live from the inside out, taking our cues from the Holy Spirit of God … she taught us to reach out in love to all those on the margins, suffering in any way, and to bring them close in to the heart of God. Lee Frances proclaimed that compassion is the highest order of human relationships, and God’s deepest desire for them. Not judgment. Not fear. But compassion.”

Lee’s life long interpretation of God’s message to us is exemplified in her Christmas, 1995 letter which began by quoting Prayers from the Both of Me by Jan Goddard.

“It’s strange, Lord, but I never thought that I should finish up being thankful for what I am. I am thankful Lord because I realize that rather than not being able to serve You because of what I am; Because of what I am I can serve you in a unique way!”

Lee translated that beautiful prayer into a message of personal encouragement for each of us to use the unique gifts that God has given to us.

“What a comforting thought and fact. BECAUSE of what I am, I can serve the Lord in a unique way. The Holy Spirit is not disqualifying you from Christian ministry, but you are. The Holy Spirit has not shut the church door to you because of what you are. You have disqualified yourself and slammed the church door on yourself. There are no gender police stationed at the church door to run you off. Mere man has scared you away with his condemnation. How much negative activity goes on in our minds that fosters utter condemnation of ourselves. Give yourself a Christmas gift that God will bless and use. Accept yourself exactly as God has made you and then let Him use you in the unique way He has made you. God designed you to live in your situation to give you an opportunity to be His witness EXACTLY where you are … take Jesus Christ into your heart and life, realizing you are like all humanity: born in sin and in need of a Savior. We are no different, in that sense, than anyone else. We have the same spiritual need all humans have. Give yourself the Christmas gift of Christ in you and the hope of Glory.”

Lee didn’t become the CEO of a major corporation. She didn’t leave behind a resume of worldly accomplishments that would make people envious. She didn’t amass a huge financial estate. All she did was to leave a long, wide trail of love and encouragement to those in need. She used her unique gifts from God to serve His people as a good and faithful servant. If anyone rates a “Well done!” from God, Lee does. For a true Christian, what higher goal can be achieved than to use well their unique gifts from God?

All quotes are from By the Grace of God; Lee Frances Heller and Friends; Edited by Julie Ann Johnson and are used with the permission of Ms. Johnson.