SPRING ARBOR –
Julie Marie Nemecek always knew there was something different about her growing up. Something she could not quite put a finger on.
That was before Julie, though. That was when she was John.
“I remember when I was in fifth or sixth grade it was made clear to me I could not hang out with the girls during recess,” Nemecek told the Lansing Community College Gay Straight Alliance. “So I slipped into macho mode.”
That mode lasted for most of Julie’s 55 years, until 2003 when she was cruising the internet and discovered information about being transgender. “Oh my gosh, that’s me. That’s me,” she told the students she remembered thinking. When her wife, Joanne, of 35 years returned home from a trip, Julie told her.
“We spent five or six weeks reading and praying and crying,”Julie says.
Joanne, 55, didn’t know if she could stay in the marriage, especially when John wanted to transition further into living as a woman. She thought John’s lifestyle was sinful but eventually changed her mind after learning more about his condition.
“The person I love and care about the most is Julie. This is the right thing to do. I gave up the fight,” said Joanne, who sometimes catches herself referring to Julie as “he” or “him.” Julie says she’s attracted sexually to Joanne.
Julie was diagnosed as transgender in December of 2003 and immediately shared the diagnosis with her immediate supervisor at the conservative Christian university where she worked, Spring Arbor University. What followed after, she says, were a series of more and more repressive actions, including a slash in her salary of twenty percent, restrictions appearing on campus, and even directing her not to identify as an employee of Spring Arbor University.
When she was spotted at a local grocery store wearing a Spring Arbor University t-shirt, university officials took action and informed her that her contract would not be renewed.
“If we allow you to continue these appearances that manifest your current transgender circumstance, we open ourselves to questions of inconsistency in upholding our Christian beliefs,” Randy Rossman, the school’s Director of Human Resources, wrote Oct. 26, 2006.
Five days later, Julie filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against Spring Arbor University, which receives some public money to educate students. Soon thereafter, her world changed when the Jackson Citizen Patriot wrote about her plight.
Since then, the world has turned upside down, and Julie has become a cause celebre for her fight against the university. She says she has no regrets, and says she is at peace with her decision to go public.
“Joanne and I were talking one evening and we both realized we had this tremendous peace,” says Julie. She says her faith is what has provided that peace.
She was a Baptist minister, ministering to churches in Chicago and Grand Rapids before going to Spring Arbor sixteen years ago. Coming out as transgender caused her to lose her relationship with the Baptist church she and Joanne had attended regularly, and in which Julie had served filled-in minister duties for. They just weeks ago, joined a Presbyterian church in Jackson, as Julie and Joanne.
Julie says her three adult sons, ages 31, 28 and 25, have been very supportive. Her eldest son is a Baptist minister in northern Michigan, and he did a sermon about the situation, then invited his congregation to join him for a conversation on transgenderism. Julie says the congregation responded by meeting with her son and his wife for over two hours.
“They rallied around him, and supported him,” says Julie.
“My middle son gave me a hand written note thanking me,” she says. “That he now understood the person I was, and that was part of what helped him become the person he is.”
Julie says she has that note hung up by her desk. Beside a cartoon which reads “I got to be me, because everyone else is already taken.”
Julie says her parents and sister are also supportive. “My sister calls me the sister I never had,” Julie says with a laugh.
Her story has been subject to dozens of news reports and articles, and Gary Glenn president of the American Family Association of Michigan has stated support for Spring Arbor’s actions.
“We believe it’s their decision to make as a private Christian institution,” said Gary Glenn of AFA. “This is an adult role model for teenagers whose parents thought by sending them to a Christian school they were not likely to be exposed to such lifestyle choices and emotional problems.”
Julie’s response is simple. “The organization he represents is anti-homosexual which he seems to equate with TG/TS. Another sign of religious ignorance and unwillingness to learn,” Julie wrote in an email. “I am confident that if Jesus were at our mediation on Tuesday that he would be sitting on my side of the table and holding my hand.”