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It was early last month when more than 300 people came out to protest a workshop for girls at Metro Church in Riverview. Many said that the church-offered service was merely conversion therapy in disguise. One of the speakers that night was 17-year-old Seth Tooley of Brownstown.
Tooley, who is a young trans man, had attended the church a handful of years ago with his mother. He enjoyed Fuel, a ‘life group’ for middle school students that was offered by the church.
At school, however, Tooley was experiencing some bullying for being trans by other kids in his class. So his mother, Kim, took him to the pastor of the church, Jeremy Schossau, to counsel her son. But before the counseling sessions had ended, things took a distinctively downward turn.
“On our last session the pastor asked if it was OK if my mom left the room,” Tooley recalled. “I was totally OK with it. He was my pastor and I trusted him. When it was just me and him and an elder of the church and his wife, they started praying real loud, laying hands on me. They said I had the demon of homosexuality in me. I was screaming and crying for my mom because I was terrified.”
Despite the trauma of the session, Tooley and his mom did not immediately leave the church.
“Seth lived to go to this youth group,” said Kim Tooley. “He had absolutely no socialization other than this Monday night youth group.”
But soon, Kim Tooley said, she was told Seth could no longer attend unless he presented as female.
“I begged and pleaded with the pastor to let him stay,” she said. “I just couldn’t understand what the big deal was, because no one knew he was transgender.”
But when Tooley refused to comply with the church’s wishes, Tooley and his mom said they were forcibly removed from the church.
“They had security come get us out of praise and worship,” he said.
These events never really left Tooley’s mind. He moved on and found a new church home, Metropolitan Community Church – Detroit, which was at the time located in Ferndale. There he got to know other trans persons, such as Deacons Ethan Best and Michelle Fox-Phillips.
“He was very shy at the beginning,” said Best. “He was super, super shy. His mom did most of the speaking.”
Over time, Tooley came out of this shell. Eventually, even more than that, thanks to his mom, his church and a supportive high school — Southgate Anderson — Tooley became confident. So, when he saw on Facebook that a protest was being organized against what LGBTQ activists were calling conversion therapy at his old church, Tooley knew he had to become involved. He went to the protest and he spoke out.
“I told the people my story about what happened to me, and how damaging it was and how bad it is for a child to go through it,” Tooley said.
For his courage, MCC-Detroit named Sunday, March 4, Seth Tooley Day.
“Seth is a fine young man who has just blossomed into an activist, said Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow, MCC-D’s senior pastor and teacher.
“He’s almost like an accidental activist,” Stringfellow said. “But when he recognized how he was treated, and how other young people were being treated as objects rather than people he decided to speak up.”
Best is very pleased with the Seth he sees in church these days.
“Hearing what he shared this time in his voice, not his mom’s, really just spoke volumes about who he is and who he’s growing up to be and the power he has within himself,” Best said. “Seeing how he feels so strong and grounded because of the love and care and support of his mother is great.”
Today, Seth is excelling at school and he’s had a girlfriend for almost over a year.
“My message to be, is just, to know that God loves you no matter if you’re, gay, trans or a purple unicorn,” said Tooley. “God loves you no matter what.
“I’m in psychology because I love learning about the human brain,” Tooley continued. “I love helping my friends who are LGBTQ or questioning. They come to me with questions and they know they will have acceptance from me. So I definitely plan to keep helping people.”
For his mother, watching her son bloom has been a blessing.
“Seth is the strongest and bravest person I know,” said Kim Tooley. “He has been through a lot and still has the grace to be a good person in spite of people who have shown him hate. Seth is always honest and does what he says and says what he means. He truly wants the world to be a better place. He feels it’s his mission, his calling even by God, and I think that’s honorable. He has a true desire that people know God’s love in spite of what these other churches say.”