Transgender religious leader talks about transition

Rev. Donnie Anderson (WJAR)

The Rev. Donnie Anderson said she feels the happiest and freest she's been. The 70-year-old ordained Baptist minister made the transition to becoming a woman over the summer.

“I never doubted God's love for me,” Anderson said Monday.

Anderson made the transition during a three-month sabbatical from her work as the executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches.

“I've known my whole life that something was different about me, known it since I was a child,” she said.

Anderson said she learned from a young age to bury those feelings inside of her. She grew up in a religious household in the late 50s. At the time, she didn't know what it meant to be transgender, but knew she identified more with women.

“I really only became crystal clear about four years ago when I looked in the mirror,” Anderson said. “And said it out loud -- you are a woman -- you just have to admit that. And I'll be honest with you, at that point, I intended to take that my grave.”

She shared the news with her wife and children last summer. While they were surprised, she said they were also incredibly supportive. Her wife of 24 years has remained by her side.

“I mean, all of a sudden literally everything changes. And yet my family have said, ‘Let's try to figure out how to do this together,’” Anderson said.

For more than a decade, Anderson has been known as the face of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, which is a Christian-based interfaith organization that advocates for peace and social justice.

She said the organization embraced her transition and granted her the sabbatical.

“Within Christianity, I think that we have -- understandably -- super imposed a binary understanding of gender upon the scriptures,” Anderson said.

Anderson finds peace looking out at Narragansett Bay from her North Kingstown home. She hopes her story helps others better understand what it means to be a transgender person of faith.

“I never once felt like I was somehow violating something that God wanted,” she said.

While her journey has been a serious one, Anderson hasn’t lost her sense of humor.

“The hair has been all summer -- trying to get it to look halfway decent. I knew that women had it harder than men. I mean I knew that, right? I had no clue. I had no clue,” she said.

Anderson is taking hormones and hasn't ruled out surgery down the road, but said she's happy with herself.

“I am who I am and this is the way God made me. And I can celebrate that,” Anderson said.

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