Nearly three years ago, Neca Allgood sat before senators and representatives serving in the legislature of Utah, beside her 19-year-old son Grayson. The two were sharing information about their lives and their story with lawmakers as part of a “Compassionate Conversations” series coordinated by Equality Utah, the statewide organization dedicated to working toward LGBT equality. Neca spoke specifically about the need for Utah to update its existing non-discrimination laws so that people are also protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“When we figured out that Grayson was transgender, I prayed so hard about what I should do to help,” she said. “The answer I got to those prayers was that I should help Grayson live as his authentic self.”
She went on to explain more about her son – how he excels at math, how he sings with an LDS choir, how he is an active member of his Mormon community. She discussed the years before he transitioned – the deep anxiety he felt and the challenges he faced focusing in school because he could not live as his authentic self.
“I sincerely feel that helping him become the person he has always known himself to be saved my son’s life. … I didn’t choose to have a transgender child. But I have chosen to love and support Grayson and help him be the best person he can be,” Neca said, getting choked up. “I am very proud to be his mom.” Watch the full video here:
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The following year, the Utah Legislature voted in favor of protecting LGBT people in the state’s non-discrimination law – and in the time since that important vote, which made Utah one of just 19 states with non-discrimination protections for transgender people, Neca has begun to see transgender people like her son discussed more widely on a national scale. As an active member of the Mormon Church – and a woman who served for years as a Republican delegate for Davis County and the state of Utah – she knows that her voice and story could help other conservative people of faith like her begin to better understand and support LGBT Americans and laws that protect them.
Neca Allgood, who has two other children and owns a small business with her husband, has been a Republican for nearly her entire life, identifying strongly with what she called “the party of fiscal conservatism.”
She had been a lifelong registered Republican until the spring of 2016, when she realized with regret that her party seemed to no longer support so many things she cared about.
“I have been more and more disturbed as I have watched as my party of fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets turn into a party of anti-Democratic practices, attempts to suppress voter turnout, efforts to discriminate against LGBT people, and on and on and on,” she said.
For years she worked to change the Republican party from within, steer it back to a party she viewed as fair, with an eye toward individual responsibility and small government. Eventually, she felt like the uphill battle wasn’t worth it. “Honestly, I don’t feel like I left my party – I feel like my party left me. My political views maybe have changed a bit, but not drastically. The Republican party has just gone way to the right from where it used to be.”
“It certainly is a challenge to be LGBT and Mormon, or to be a parent of an LGBT child and Mormon. But the way I look at it is that my faith has been a huge support for me as a parent of a transgender child.” – Neca Allgood
She is sad to see it go – and she would like to see it return. But until it does, she said, she has to vote in the best interest of her community and her family, including her son Grayson.
“As someone who is the parent of an LGBT child, how could I vote for someone who is determined to take away my child’s rights to be himself?” she asked.
When it comes to LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination laws, she explained that it shouldn’t be hard for conservatives to arrive at the idea that they are vital to strengthening economies and workplaces.
“True fiscal conservatives do honest cost/benefit analyses of government programs – so when you talk to people about a program, you have to talk realistically about what it will save and what it will cost so that people can be clear about the choices they are making,” she said. “As a government, we have to look at what we have and apply that to our priorities – and for me, supporting housing and employment non-discrimination costs next to nothing but is so impactful to so many people. You can definitely make a compelling conservative argument for that. “If you believe in people being able to work and provide for themselves, if you believe in hiring and firing someone based on how they actually do their job and not to things that are irrelevant, then supporting workplace protections just makes sense.”
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Neca has grappled in the past with other institutions that many think to be odds with support for LGBT equality – most prominently her membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“It certainly is a challenge to be LGBT and Mormon, or to be a parent of an LGBT child and Mormon,” she started. “But the way I look at it is that my faith has been a huge support for me as a parent of a transgender child. As I have prayed to know what to do to help my child, I have gotten answers to those prayers. For me, the experiences of helping Grayson have very much confirmed my faith – and God hears and answers my prayers and loves my child.”
She said she sees a difference between changing Church doctrine and supporting her son: “I don’t think changing Church doctrine is my job,” she said. “I think that’s God’s job. I think there are changes that He will make when we as a people are compassionate and ready for that change. I don’t expect people in my Church or the leaders in my Church to be perfect, because I believe there is only one person who has ever been perfect on this earth. For the rest of us, we do the best that we can, and we have faith that Christ’s atonement will cover that.”
At the same time, she is happy to help her fellow Church members along on their journey toward understanding and acceptance. She tries to help people understand the basics when it comes to her son. When the anti-LGBT House Bill 2 in North Carolina passed in 2016 and made national news, she tried to help people understand what was really at stake:
“Needing to go to the bathroom is one of the fundamental human needs,” she said. “And it frustrated me that lawmakers in North Carolina claimed to be passing that bill because it would make public restrooms safer. While I certainly agree that it’s important for the public to be safe when using public restrooms, there is no evidence that transgender people are a particular threat to anyone else’s public safety. We already have laws that protect people from being harassed in public restrooms – so we need to enforce those laws, not pass new laws that don’t actually solve the problem you’re trying to solve.”
Neca also knows that for many people, understanding of transgender young people is low. “Twenty years ago, there weren’t parents who supported transition for trans kids,” she said. “So these children were just suffering. Now, children know earlier how to interpret how they feel and have more trust in their parents to support them. That is unquestionably a good thing. We save our transgender children so much pain by supporting them.”
“I want for Grayson what I want for my other children – and what every parent wants for their children: To have the opportunity to work hard, support themselves, care for their loved ones, be a good and responsibility citizen. I don’t want any special privileges for my child – I want those privileges for every child.” – Neca Allgood
Now, as she watches Grayson grow up, Neca is hopeful that Americans in every state will continue to open their minds and hearts and come around to treating transgender people equally. “I want for Grayson what I want for my other children – and what every parent wants for their children: To have the opportunity to work hard, support themselves, care for their loved ones, be a good and responsibility citizen. I don’t want any special privileges for my child – I want those privileges for every child.”
Neca knows that part of that work begins with updating state and national laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination.
“The preamble to the Constitution talks about being able to form a more perfect union,” she said. “And our Founding Fathers knew that they were not creating a perfect union. They were creating a more perfect union than they had before. And they put mechanisms in the Constitution to allow people to continue that quest to make a more perfect union or government. We have made tremendous progress there. The civil rights movement, getting women the vote, all of those things are parts of the process to get a more perfect union, and I think advancing the cause of LGBT people is part of that great work, too. “We will get to the point where we can make our government more just and more equal in opportunity for all of our citizens. We will get there if we keep working.”