When Tiffany Holloway’s 16-year-old son told her that he would take his own life if he weren’t able to access gender-affirming care, she knew she had to act quickly.
Holloway was driving her son home from school in April when he brought up a bill that had been recently signed into law in Alabama criminalizing hormones, puberty blockers, and surgery for trans youth. Senate Bill 184, which took effect Monday, threatens medical providers who offer these treatments to trans minors with up to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine. Her son said that he didn’t want to live anymore if a similar law were to pass in their state of Oklahoma.
Having watched her son flourish after he began receiving testosterone therapy four years ago, Holloway said she felt helpless as he grappled with the news.
“When he first realized that he was transgender, we went through a period of depression,” she told VICE over the phone. “But once he started getting his HRT medication, he turned into a happy, positive child. He’s had no issues with depression for at least three years now and so to hear him say that was an awakening. I thought, ‘This is going to get kids killed.’”
Holloway was ready to pack up and move if staying in Oklahoma meant risking her child’s life, but she said she was haunted by the thought that many families of trans youth may not have the financial resources to make the same choice. “What about everybody else?” she wondered.
Instead of leaving, Holloway decided to stay in Oklahoma and build a safe space for trans youth like her son who may be struggling under the weight of anti-LGBTQ legislation. Last month, she started her own religion to uplift and trans kids: the Church of Prismatic Light. The upstart denomination, which is not based in Christianity, holds the right to transition and the right to gender-affirming care among its core beliefs.
The church quickly took off after Holloway, one of the most popular preppers on TikTok, broadcast the idea to her 360,000 followers in an April 18 video. (Referring to a social movement of people who advocate survivalism, she became a prepper after her family lived through Texas’ deadly winter storms in February 2021.) In her message, Holloway pitched the Church of Prismatic Light to her followers as another means of survival: “What if we started a religion for LGBTQ people that in its doctrine protected the rights of trans kids and the LGBTQ community?”
The response has been overwhelming, Holloway said. The Church of Prismatic Light’s own TikTok account already boasts 140,000 followers in less than a month. The church’s website crashed within 10 seconds after the announcement it was live went out on social media, due to the number of people trying to access the page.
“Every single person that I’ve told about this, whether online or in person, is an enthusiastic supporter,” Holloway said. “I opened up a conversation with the post office lady when I was opening up a P.O. Box, and she started crying because she has a sister who's transgender. Even though we’re in a red state, we have a vibrant LGBTQ community here.”
“He’s had no issues with depression for at least three years now and so to hear him say that was an awakening. I thought, ‘This is going to get kids killed,” Holloway said.
While Holloway and her son live in Oklahoma, the Church of Prismatic Light’s followers are spread across the country. The church solely operates online, primarily through social networks like TikTok, Reddit, Facebook, and Discord. Many of its leaders are fellow parents horrified at the unrelenting bombardment of bills targeting LGBTQ kids. According to NBC News, nearly 240 anti-LGBTQ laws have been proposed so far this year, and the vast majority limit the ability of trans kids to access medical care or play school sports.
Jeri Clark, a California mom and a co-founder of the church, said that it’s “amazing and terrifying” to be able to offer hope to kids that need support as lawmakers attempt to strip away their rights. Clark knows first-hand how important it is to feel that affirmation: She was an evangelical missionary for 18 years before leaving her faith when it didn’t have room for her children, three of whom identify as LGBTQ.
“It’s heartbreaking. We gave our whole lives,” she told VICE of the sacrifices she made to be a missionary. “I find myself getting emotional just talking about it. We don’t have the kinds of resources that someone my age would have because we gave everything, only to have people not be able to reciprocate the love that they said we should be giving.”
The Church of Prismatic Light doesn’t function like a traditional religious group. People from all faith backgrounds, including agnostics and atheists, are welcome. Sermons focus on topics like LGBTQ history or self-care and take place through weekly broadcasts on TikTok. There’s no chapel for worship and no deity, instead preaching self-love as a divine act. Among its seven commandments are tenets expressing the righteousness of embracing one’s uniqueness and the beauty of owning “your true self in the way that brings you the most joy.”
While some might question whether a church without a god or a central religious text qualifies as a religion, Holloway held firm in her belief that faith “can come in many forms.” She noted that both of these aspects are true of Buddhism, and philosophical traditions such as Confucianism and Taoism don’t feature a supreme being either.
“Our religion has faith in the inner self, in community, and in hope,” she said. “I think that kind of faith is just as valuable as any other religious faith.”
Ultimately, it will be up to the federal government to decide whether the Church of Prismatic Light qualifies as a religion and, thus, is eligible for the tax exemptions that come along with it. Holloway has already registered as a non-profit with the state of Oklahoma and is hopeful her application for religious status will be approved by the U.S. government. She said she was inspired by Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, who legally registered Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption as a church in 2015.
But while Oliver’s church was a ploy to critique televangelists who defraud followers with the support of government tax exemptions, the belief its members have in the Church of Prismatic Light is real. Heather Adams, who moderates the church’s Facebook page, said she didn’t realize how badly she needed a resource like this until she had it. Her daughter is still figuring out where she falls on the LGBTQ spectrum, and Adams said it’s been difficult to help her daughter navigate her identity when the community is under attack seemingly every day.
“Every day there’s something new and I cry,” she told VICE. “I talk to my daughter about these things. I tell her, ‘I don’t care who you love. I just want you to be happy and healthy.’ What they’re doing right now, in my opinion, is state-sanctioned genocide against our children.”
Katrina Wolff, lead community manager of the church’s Discord server, said that she had been most moved by seeing the connections its members had made on the platform, which includes channels devoted to different topics like parental support, non-monogamy, gaming, and. There’s even a channel for posting selfies. She said that each of these forums operates as a space for people to “talk about things that they’re struggling with and receive help or even just sympathy.”
“Our religion has faith in the inner self, in community, and in hope. I think that kind of faith is just as valuable as any other religious faith,” Holloway said.
“It allows people from not only all over the country, but all over the world to connect with each other and build friendships,” Wolff told VICE. “Everyone who joins our community quickly learns that whatever they are going through, they’re not alone. They have so many people willing to stand behind them and support them. That alone can offer so much to somebody who’s struggling.”
Despite the earnestness of its supporters, there is a bit of Oliver’s mischievous touch to the Church of Prismatic Light. In an April 20 TikTok video, Holloway said that being able to register as a church would mean that anti-LGBTQ laws would be “infringing on our religious freedom as Prismatists.” While she could have started a support group to affirm trans kids instead of creating a church, Holloway told VICE that having her own religion could, for one, allow her to make a case to the Supreme Court if it overturned marriage equality. (Many leading LGBTQ activists fear that could be the reality following the repeal of Roe v. Wade.)
Holloway stressed, however, that she isn’t an activist—just a loving, concerned mom. And to that effect, she said the Church of Prismatic Light has already accomplished one of her most important goals. Just a few days after the church took off on social media, her son told her that he no longer wanted to end his life if Oklahoma were to come after gender-affirming medical care.
When asked what changed for her son in such a short amount of time, Holloway said it was seeing how many people were willing to stand up for his rights. She said that her son told her that it finally feels as if they have a “fighting chance,” even in one of America’s most conservative states.
Holloway knows that being the face of a public entity like a church might put an additional target on their backs, but she said that she is “ready to do the big battle” for her son’s welfare, no matter what it takes. “You tell your child that you will never, ever give up or stop fighting,” she said. “That, as a parent, is your number-one responsibility to your child. It’s their safety.”
Follow Nico Lang on Twitter.