Leo F. Heller, Jr. was born on April 5, 1919, in Youngstown, Ohio, in humble circumstances. He led a singularly undistinguished life finally becoming a resident at the Good Shepherd Mission in Paterson, New Jersey. It was there that Leo committed himself to God and changed his life’s direction. He later became chaplain of the mission and served as resident director for 20 years. He retired in 1985 and moved to Jackson, Mississippi, to be close to family members. By this time Leo had managed to reconcile his Christian faith with his lifelong realization that he was transgender. Leo could now live as Lee Frances.
"God can give us an acceptance of ourselves and help us to stop fighting the losing battle against our cross-dressing. In my ignorance, I fought it…until I reached the age of 67…. I finally accepted myself for what God made me….a born-again Christian crossdresser.…I came to realize I was created this way – accepted it in full faith and have taken my shield and warded off my critics for God to deal with, and He has spared me a lot of discordant situations with those who refuse to understand me. Those dearly beloved ones are His problems. He has given us our shield of faith…along with the whole armor of God. If you have never bowed your knee to Christ and thanked Him for His sacrifice for our sins and asked Him into your life, you have no idea what is missing. By all means, do it."
As wonderful as it was to finally find rest in the Lord, that wasn’t enough. Lee undertook a personal crusade to share this reconciliation with other crossdressers and transsexual persons through countless letters and articles. She started an ambitious project publishing the Grace and Lace Letter (G&LL) in 1990 to share the message of God’s love for all of us.
Lee had little money but still gave away her letter. She suffered from many health problems but somehow managed to keep working for the benefit of transgender people everywhere. Finally, in 1997, when the effort became too much for her, she stopped publishing G&LL. Still she couldn’t rest for long because she wanted to continue sharing God’s love with her transgender brothers and sisters. So later that same year she launched a smaller publication called the Christian Love Letter. The core messages of God’s love and acceptance remained.
"I used to pray, ‘Oh God, deliver me from this horrible cross-dressing thing.’ I prayed that for all the usual reasons: family, job, church, etc. It was the grand prayer of the grand hypocrite. My ‘inner me’ didn’t think it was horrible. I thought it was great and really didn’t want to be delivered, but I was kissin’ butt with God. I thought He’d be delighted to hear I wanted deliverance and that I thought it was horrible!….That prayer was a lie in the face of God."
She continued to publish until her death on May 19, 2000. Her last article, "Over-religious Pain-in-the-Neck Christianity" was the Easter edition and reminded us again of God’s message to the transgender persons.
"People with too much religion in them – including preachers – are souls polluted by rules, regulations, and religious experiences, which they interpret as norms for everyone. They think they know how every Christian ought to live and what every minister should and shouldn’t do. They want to regulate how people ought to think….Be assured that God loves you and wants to bless your life and bring some joy into it. Never mind what some Christian person has done to you or spoken negatively to you. Your spiritual life is not in that person’s hand. God created you and knows you and will put His life into your soul….May the abundance of His blessings be yours as you learn of Him. My love to you."
At her memorial service, the Rev. Susan Bock described Lee’s tireless efforts to share God’s love.
"Lee Frances taught us…to be ourselves. To take up the very life and destiny, and use the particular gifts God has given us. To live from the inside out, taking our cues from the Holy Spirit of God….she taught us to reach out in love to all those on the margins, suffering in any way, and to bring them close in to the heart of God….Lee Frances…proclaimed that compassion is the highest order of human relationships, and God’s deepest desire for them. Not judgment. Not fear. But compassion."
(This biographical statement was edited from a longer statement written by Rachel Miller. Use the web link above to read the full, original statement. Photo above from book, By the Grace of God .)
Biography Date: December, 2004
Evangelical | Author/editor | Transgender activism