‘They were God’s child’
Redeemer University student remembered as a humble advocate with deep faith.
“Bekett was such an incredible human,” Kristel Forcier tells me. She’s sharing her memories of Bekett Noble, the 34-year-old Redeemer University student who died by suicide November 23, 2022. At the memorial, Redeemer President Dr. David Zietsma described Bekett as “kind, likeable, funny and direct. This is a tragic loss for our community.”
Bekett Noble was a transgender student who used the pronouns they/them and who advocated for the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ+ students within the Ancaster, Ont. Redeemer community. Multiple memorials took place to remember Noble, including a service in Redeemer’s chapel, a Celebration of Life for friends at Boston Pizza and a vigil held at Hamilton’s city hall, which more than 350 people attended.
“In the first month after Bekett’s passing, there was a lot of ‘firing’ back and forth from people who are associated with Redeemer, via social media,” a Redeemer student said last month. “The arguments seem to have died down, but there is definitely still hurt out there.”
From 2021 until their death, Noble worked 10 hours a week in Redeemer’s bookstore. “They were so good at making a space that was comfortable,” Forcier, the bookstore’s manager, says. Noble explained to her the importance of using someone’s preferred pronouns, for example. “It’s such an easy thing to do,” Forcier says, that “allows people to feel safe and understood, just in that simple acknowledgement of who they are.”
Noble loved country music, Forcier recalls, and then laughs when she remembers how Noble would play it in the bookstore from Forcier’s Spotify account. “They were like, ‘See? Now you’re never going to forget me because there’s country in your algorithm and you can’t get rid of it.’ As a human being, they were just fun to be around.” She also learned a lot from them: “They knew their limits and taught me a lot about boundaries. . . which I still think about.”
When I asked Forcier what drew Noble to Redeemer, she said, “They wanted a Christian education. . . They loved the Lord, and they truly believed that Jesus was their Lord and Saviour, and that they were chosen by God, and they were God’s child, and they wanted to learn from a Christian perspective.”
Relationship is possible
“The number one thing that I learned from Bekett,” President Zietsma said, “is that relationship is possible across differences. Meaningful, respectful and gracious relationships. People that disagree on how they identify and how they express their identity can work together to solve challenges and move forward. I have hope about that, thanks to Bekett.”
Searching for support
Dr. Marie Good, assistant psychology professor at Redeemer, taught statistics to Noble, and describes them as engaged, hard-working, warm and caring. “They shared with me a paper they had written for another class about some of the mental health challenges LGBTQ Christians face, and their interest in advocating within Christian spaces for this group that has been historically marginalized in the church.”
As part of their advocacy, Noble co-founded and led a community of Redeemer students called Genesis. It was formed in February 2021 to support LGBTQ+ students at Redeemer University. But because Genesis has not been sanctioned by Redeemer’s Student Senate, it doesn’t receive funding or permission to advertise. “Bekett approached me and asked if I would be willing to support the club, which I was,” Good says, “so I saw the process of how the group tried to become an official club but were never able to, and how disheartening that was.”
In the fall of 2021, Noble posted a picture on Instagram of themselves wearing a Redeemer facemask in front of a door with a sign reading “universal washroom.” They included the caption: “One small step for transkind . . . This washroom has officially been gender neutralized!” In the comments, they’ve written, “Only took me a year and a half but worth it!”
Forcier remembers that day: “They were so happy. . . I remember them standing in my doorway with this huge smile on their face, saying, ‘We have a bathroom! We have a bathroom!’”
Good was impressed with Noble’s courage and willingness to have conversations with faculty who disagreed with them. “I got the sense that they were able to have interactions in their classes where they deeply disagreed with some students and professors, but still maintained a good relationship. I think that my colleagues appreciated that. That’s what we strive for in Christian education, that unity in Christ that holds us together; I think that’s what Bekett was aiming for in their conversations. I don’t think it was always easy for them. . . that had a toll on them.”
Waiting for change to come
Before they died, Noble wrote an email to several staff and board members at Redeemer, scheduled to be delivered the day after their death. “I have been trying for years to gently and carefully work with Redeemer,” they wrote, “to look at the detrimental effects of the way LGBTQ+ students are treated and how to effect positive change.” But, they conclude, “over the years, it became clear that while some people were willing to listen, and I believe, even had the intention of making things better, there was always something else that took priority.”
As an example of “how people making decisions just don’t seem to take us [LGBTQ+] students into account,” Noble specifically mentioned the unexplained end of the Sexuality and Gender Awareness (SAGA) program. In the summer of 2022, Redeemer moved away from Shalem Mental Health Network as a provider of mental health care. Associated with Shalem’s counselling services was SAGA, which was listed on posters throughout the university as a support for LGBTQ+ students and allies, along with a compilation of mental health supports and resources. In making this change, “nobody took into account the hard-fought relationships that had already been forged with Shalem therapists,” Noble’s email said, and “the fact that many people can’t just switch to another therapist since the efficacy of therapy often depends on the relationship itself.”
Regarding their move away from Shalem, Redeemer’s communication department explains that they had previously relied on two external providers – Shalem and Christian Counselling Centre (CCC) – for their counselling services. “As a step toward a further investment in mental health support that would see a more stable, affordable, in-house presence, Redeemer moved from partnering with two organizations to a single provider for students. Both existing providers submitted proposals on how they might support this effort. For students, the proposed model that met these goals best was CCC.” Redeemer did not address why the SAGA program was discontinued.
While people who identify as being religious are less likely to contemplate or attempt suicide, young adults who are religious and gay, lesbian or questioning their sexual orientation are 38 percent more likely to have had suicidal thoughts. There is not sufficient research on religious trans adults and mental health, but one in three trans youth attempt suicide.
Listening to LGBTQ voices
Two weeks after Noble’s death, Redeemer University released the beginning summation of a Mental Health Support Action Plan, which includes an investment of one million dollars over the next five years. Their Respectful Campus Initiative contains efforts towards “listening and learning directly from students, including students from marginalized and underrepresented groups,” and “plans for training and orientation for both students and employees concerning respectful engagement across differences.” The statement did not mention LGBTQ+ mental health; however, a Mental Health Task Force announced on December 13 describes a Student Advisory group which includes representation from “underrepresented groups on campus such as LGBTQ+, BIPOC and international students.”
“We indeed have felt grief and pain,” the Genesis group posted online after Noble’s death, “yet want to move forward in a spirit of hope. Genesis members have been invited into conversations about next steps with Redeemer. . . Genesis’ vision, as led by Bekett, was and is to work with the university to make Redeemer a caring and compassionate Christian community. Genesis’ purpose is not to tear down Redeemer but to make it a more welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ students. We would like to lean into discomfort in order to become a more loving and diverse community of Christians, attempting to always reflect the love, compassion and grace of Christ in all of our interactions within our community and beyond.”
That matches what Forcier remembers of Noble’s advocacy style: “they had such grace, and they had such humility.”
Many factors can reduce the risk of suicide among trans people, including supportive relationships with friends and family, gender-affirming healthcare, and others’ acceptance of the person’s names and pronouns.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call Talk Suicide Canada at 1-833-456-4566 (24/7), text 45645 (4 p.m.-midnight EST) or visit suicide.ca. Help is out there. You are not alone.