Seeing white male privilege as a transgender woman

Paula Stone Wiliams was the CEO of a large religious nonprofit. She hosted a national television show. She preached in megachurches.

“I was a successful, well-educated, white American … male,” she said at the opening of a TEDX Mile High talk she gave that has now been viewed more than 2 million times.

Williams, who was born in 1951, knew she was transgender since the age of 3 or 4. After she came out as transgender in 2012, she lost all her jobs.

Since then the Lyons resident has been speaking across the country and internationally, almost exclusively on the topic of gender equity. She talks about being mistreated by men on airplanes since she transitioned, about being subjected to “mansplaining,” but also about the support she has felt from those willing to honor and empower women.

She was one of the founders of a new church in Longmont called Lefthand Church, which began worship services in 2018. The congregation of 120 members — and growing — is focused on lessening suffering in Boulder County, particularly by ensuring equity around gender and sexual orientation.

“We want to be the best church for the county, not just in the county,” she said.

Jen Jepson, a church founder along with Aaron Bailey, had reached out to Williams after the 2014 shooting of a black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. The shooting began awakening her to her privilege and to white supremacy, she said. It was a tipping point. Ten years earlier, her youngest brother had come out as gay, and she realized she didn’t have a framework from her evangelical upbringing to process that. She became disillusioned with the megachurch she was attending in Longmont.

“I realized we weren’t talking about anything regarding power differentials, women and leadership,” Jepson said. “It was eye opening. Really, we were navel gazing and looking at our own sinfulness. On a larger systems level, I didn’t see the church doing that work. I realized I maybe needed to start something.

”Williams closed her TED talk with a call to action for men:

“What can you do?” she asked. “You can believe us when we tell you we might have equality, but we do not have equity. It is not a level playing field. It never has been. You can be a part of the solution by elevating us to equal footing. You uniquely have that power.”

Paula Stone Williams’ advice for white men:

Make sure women are in the meeting.

Don’t interrupt women.

Give women credit for their work.

Hire mothers and be aware of your implicit bias against them.

Be aware of implicit racial bias. Studies show that people with stereotypically black or Hispanic names on their resumes are significantly less likely to get a call back from a potential employer, even when their qualifications are the same as those with white, non-Hispanic names.
by Chris Barge