Thursday, February 16, 2017

In the News: BAR

Concert planned for Ghost Ship victims

Reverend Megan Rohrer
Photo: Courtesy Facebook

For survivors and loved ones, the emotional wounds inflicted by the December 2 fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland still run deep, according to the Reverend Megan Rohrer, a trans person who leads Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco's Sunset neighborhood.

The fire broke out at 11:20 p.m. on a Friday night as people were enjoying an evening of music and dancing. At least three of the 36 people who died identified as trans, including Cash Askew, a popular musician and DJ.

Next Thursday, February 23, Rohrer, other faith leaders, healers, as well as artists and musicians will participate in "Elegy for Ghost Ship: An Evening of Music in Remembrance" at Grace Cathedral atop San Francisco's Nob Hill.

Rohrer organized the evening with Gabriel Connor, 22, who attends Grace Lutheran. Connor, who preferred not to say how he identifies, said he was a close friend of Askew's.

Connor approached Rohrer with the idea for the elegy and the two worked together on organizing the event.

"When a tragedy happens in our community we need a lot of opportunities to mourn," Rohrer told the Bay Area Reporter. "When the original tragedy happens the first thing we do is mourn the victims and care for the survivors. Then we attend to the people who may have had similar tragedies in their lives and who might be affected by seeing this in the news media."
Rohrer also noted that first responders and parents who imagine losing children in such a tragedy might also be in need of guidance and healing.

Connor said that he doesn't want people to think that those at Ghost Ship were there because of marginalization by society.

"Many people were there not out of being relegated but out of being empowered," he said. "Out of their relegation they found empowerment at Ghost Ship."

Connor also does not want the victims to be forgotten.

"They deserve a bit of recompense from the communities they inhabit," he said.
Rohrer said the evening would be one of musical remembrance.

"There will also be poetic spoken word and faith offerings, as well as light projection with some instrumental sounds," Rohrer explained.

Rohrer, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, said that pews would be removed from the sanctuary so that people could move about freely to partake of the various performances that will take place simultaneously.
"This is a true warehouse experience but in a cathedral," they said. "The acoustics at Grace Cathedral are very bouncy so people can choose their own adventure."

Participants scheduled to appear include SOS Singers of the Street, a chorus of homeless people that Rohrer leads; throat singer Enrique Ugalde; and opera diva Marissa Lenhardt Patton. Students from the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts are also expected to participate.

Ambient sounds will be provided by Katabatik-Jay Fields, while Terry Estioko will offer video projections. The Very Reverend Dr. Malcolm Clemens Young of Grace Cathedral will also be present.
"Ghost Ship," a new poem written by singer-songwriter Judy Collins and posted on her Facebook page December 18, will be read as part of the elegy.

"Given the political climate we live in every opportunity to use art and to find hope and counter divisiveness is an opportunity to embody the world we all deserve," Rohrer said, referring to the Trump administration. "Art is healing. People of all economic statures deserve a safe space to make and enjoy art. These spaces should be open to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities."
The concert is part of the cathedral's "Spacious Grace," an annual free-form arts festival.

"Elegy for Ghost Ship" will take place February 23 from 8 to 10 p.m. at Grace Cathedral, 1100 California Street. No admission will be charged, but donations will be accepted. Proceeds to benefit the Trans Assistance Project in Oakland.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Little Ones

Laurel and I are excited to let you know that we will are in the foster adopt process for two children (siblings) aged 3 and 4.  We will be meeting them on Friday and starting the process of inviting them to join us at our house in San Francisco.

While they are in foster care, we ask that individuals refrain from taking photos of the children or sharing their names online.  For their privacy, Laurel and I will not be able to answer questions about their medical, legal or family histories.  Helping us honor their confidentiality is an important part of the foster/adopt process, so we thank you in advance for your help.

After letting the congregation know about their pending arrival on Sunday, we have already begun to receive some hand-me-down toys and clothing.  While unexpected, we are very grateful for these gifts and since we do not yet know the children who will be joining us.  Understanding that these gifts are a beautiful part of the support system that we have as community members and as a part of our loving congregation, we have decided to put a donation bin in the fellowship hall for foster children.

Once we meet our children and find out their sizes and tastes, some of the items may be used for them.  Items that are of unneeded sizes or tastes will be passed along to other foster children in need of clothes, toys and care.  We  are proud that our good news will also bring much needed support to the needs of foster children in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Again, no gifts are expected.  We're simply providing the lists for those parents out there who can imagine the countless things we may need when a 3 and 4 year old arrive at our house.  We  trust your wisdom and are happy to help you clean out your house!

Those who don't have hand-me-downs who want to give gifts to our new arrivals can find items on this Amazon list (which will be updated as we learn more about the kiddos) or help us obtain family memberships to some of the places we imagine taking the little ones to:

Items may be delivered or sent to the church: Pastor Megan, Grace Lutheran, 3201 Ulloa St, San Francisco, CA 94116.

Most of all, we hope that you will keep us in your prayers as our family grows.  And if you find yourself in the pews at Grace Lutheran that you will be patient when some new little ones begin joining us for worship.

Thank you again for all your love and support!

Pastor Megan

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

In the News: SF News

SAN FRANCISCO—The Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer was sworn in as the San Francisco Police Department’s first transgender chaplain on Tuesday,  January 17.

Rohrer, 36, is the pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church and serves as executive director of Welcome – an organization that aims to thwart poverty in San Francisco. Rohrer arned a Master of Divinity degree from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, and is also a candidate for the Doctorate of Ministry degree.

Pastor Megan is an author, artist, activist and educator who speaks and preaches nationally on issues of homelessness, sexuality and gender. Rohrer provides support to San Francisco’s LGBT homeless community, creates programs to collect groceries for the city’s HIV+ population, nationally advocates for homeless LGBT youth and has been instrumental in encouraging faith communities’ acceptance of LGBT individuals.

Rohrer spoke with the San Francisco News regarding why she took on the role of chaplain for the SFPD.

“I was asked to serve by LGBT members of the SFPD. They wanted the clergy support to more fully match the diversity of the offers serving. I also have a family member who is a first responder and have seen first hand the toll the job takes and how hard it is to get self care. I learned that more officers in the US die from taking their own lives, than from all the other causes of officer deaths combined.

As I put on the uniform to be sworn in the most common thing officers told me, after saying thank you, was to be careful. By putting on this uniform you need to always be aware of your safety. The fear that officers live with, of the constant threat of attack is palpable. I also experience the palpable desire to address public concerns and decrease community tensions.

I am grateful that I get to be a SFPD chaplain. These days it is a much harder to be a policy maker, judge or advocate.

While I may be there on difficult days, in follow-up to a shooting, death or other critical incident, I also get to be there when officers collect coats for the homeless and new cadets graduate.

My vision, in partnership with the SFPD, is to enable faith leaders across San Francisco to support victims of crimes, first responders in community policing efforts, disaster preparedness response and death notifications,” said Rohrer.

Rohrer has extensive experience promoting LGBTQ inclusivity amongst the Christian community, as well as several published books which do the same, including: “Faith Families,” “Mr. Grumpy Christian,” “Transgender Children Of God” and “Is it a Boy or a Girl or Both?” – all which were named in Q Spirit’s top 35 LGBTQ Christian Books of 2016.

“As a pastor who is transgender, I know the weight of carrying confidential information and supporting the public. My neutral support of the SFPD as a chaplain provides one person in an officers life they can talk to without fear. Pastor’s have the legally protected ability to have conversations that cannot be subpoenaed and are truly neutral. I say this, not because officers need judicial protection, but to show the toll that always being scrutinized can take on the humans who serve as officers,” Rohrer said to the San Francisco News.

Friday, January 20, 2017

In the News: Hoodline

SF Transgender Advocates Talk Trump Presidency, Bathroom Bills, & The Challenges Ahead

Theresa Sparks (left) with former UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon. | Photo: Facebook
Donald Trump, who was sworn in as the nation's 45th president this morning, has said that he is an "ally" of the LGBT community. Yet the new President has assembled a virulently anti-LGBT cabinet, including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who have both been supported organizations that advocate for gay conversion therapy, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, who believes that being gay is "a choice."

As more and more conservative states threaten to pass "bathroom bill" laws that would force transgender people to use the public restroom that corresponds with the physical gender of their births, the Bay Area's transgender community is gearing up to fight back.

"Trump himself does not seem to harbor particular rancor for trans folks," said Eden Wills, treasurer for the annual SF Trans March. "But just about everyone he has chosen to do the actual running of the federal government is openly anti-LGBT, and some are very out and proud supporters of trans hate."
While marriage equality is now supported by a majority of Americans, the country remains evenly split on "bathroom bills." And transgender people, particularly those of color, have long suffered disproportionate rates of violence. LGBTQ Nation called 2016 the deadliest year on record for transgender Americans.

"Right now, everybody is in limbo," said Theresa Sparks, Mayor Lee's senior adviser on transgender initiatives. "We're uncertain, but preparing for the worst. Everyone is concerned about medical care and bathroom bills. I think we're in for a very rocky ride."

Sparks said San Francisco has incomparable support for its transgender community, and is providing assistance to other cities regarding their own transgender citizens.

But she noted that it was important to get both tech companies and more traditional businesses on board to continue to support the fight. "We need to support our local representatives," she said. "Stay involved. Stay vigilant. Politicians respond to their constituents."

Mia Satya, an advocate for transgender youth, agrees that trans people and their allies must hold government accountable. "Transgender Americans like myself are deeply concerned Trump will roll back protections in the workplace, in schools, and even encourage discrimination at shops and restaurants through 'religious liberty' bills like Vice President Pence created while Governor of Indiana," she told Hoodline.
Transgender youth advocate Mia Satya. | Photo: Facebook
Satya also mentioned her concerns about the bathroom bills and for the safety of transgender kids in schools.

"The greater concern is that when people like Betsy DeVos say federal equal rights protections, including rights for disabled students should be left to 'local control,'" she said. "This translates to 'localities should be able to pick and choose who to discriminate against.' The same rationale used to support slavery and racial segregation is now being applied to discriminate against gender nonconforming, LGBT, and disabled people."

"Equal rights aren’t up for debate," said Satya. "They are part of what makes our country great."
Pastor Megan Rohrer at a 'Singers of the Street' performance| Photo: Singers of the Street/Facebook
Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer, the trans pastor of Grace Lutheran Evangelical Church, is the first transgender pastor to be installed at a Lutheran congregation. Rohrer, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, expressed concern about a rise in anti-trans violence and the possibility of a rollback in equality laws.
"While courts have long ruled that Title 9 protections cover transgender individuals, newer health care victories and employment protections could be rolled back," Rohrer said. "Minimally, the large number of court vacancies and the Supreme Court appointment will have large implications for how transgender individuals will be treated by future courts."

Rohrer noted that the American Civil Liberties Union has been a strong supporter of the trans community. "The ACLU has vowed to fight for trans rights and recently secured a victory when they pushed President Obama to commute Chelsea Manning's sentence," they said.

Legal resistance is coming from local organizations, too. The Oakland-based Transgender Law Center (TLC) has already drawn up a 2017 Plan of Resistance to protect and expand its legal support for transgender people, particularly immigrants.

“Many transgender women come to the U.S. desperately seeking safety from persecution, and instead find more violence and abuse in detention centers, followed by deportation back to the life-threatening conditions they fled,” said Flor Bermudez, director of the TLC's Detention Project, which fights for transgender people in prisons and jails, state hospitals, and immigration detention.

“Our immigration system should respect the humanity of all people and the realities of the world we live in. But until that happens, we will do everything in our power to protect our communities and mobilize against politicians’ hateful and inhumane policies.”

The TLC also plans to expand is volunteer helpline, and is offering a new state-by-state resource, the Trans Legal Clinic Calendar, that will collaborate with community groups and cooperating attorneys across the country to host legal clinics and legal education about transgender issues on an ongoing basis.
Guests at the Transgender Law Center's 14th anniversary celebration. | Photo: Transgender Law Center/Facebook
Rohrer acknowledged that transgender individuals in San Francisco and the Bay Area will be better off than their counterparts in other areas, but they urge trans people to do their homework when traveling.
"Travel will likely continue to be an issue for trans individuals," they said. "Not only do trans individuals have difficult experiences with TSA, but we we also have to research the discrimination, bathroom and other laws of the cities we may travel to."  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

In the News: Bay Area Reporter

Rohrer becomes SFPD's first trans chaplain

Acting San Francisco Police Chief Toney Chaplin swears in Megan Rohrer as the SFPD's first transgender chaplain as retired trans San Francisco police Lieutenant Stephan Thorne looks on. Photo: Rick Gerharter
The Reverend Dr. Megan Rohrer, the first out trans person to be ordained as a Lutheran minister, is now the first transgender chaplain at the San Francisco Police Department.

Rohrer, who leads Grace Lutheran Church in the Sunset district, was sworn in by acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin during a ceremony held at SFPD's Third Street headquarters Tuesday, January 17.
The SFPD position is voluntary.

Rohrer, 36, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, will continue at Grace Lutheran and will also continue their work with San Francisco Night Ministry, a network of clergy who go out into the streets to counsel and pray with the homeless.

Around two-dozen people attended the ceremony, including several leaders of the city's transgender community. These included former SFPD Lieutenant Stephan Thorne, the first officer in the department's history to transition while on duty. Thorne, who retired in 2014, transitioned in 1994, 10 years after joining the department.

"I'm excited to be here," Thorne told the Bay Area Reporter. "This is a wonderful thing. It's a wonderful continuation of my legacy. Now trans members of the community have another resource to serve their emotional and spiritual needs."

Theresa Sparks, Mayor Ed Lee's senior adviser for transgender initiatives, was also in attendance.
"This is historical," Sparks told the B.A.R. "Not only for the department but for the community."
Thorne opened the swearing-in ceremony as he spoke from the podium.

"It's my honor and privilege to be here in 2017 to be part of a legacy of tolerance and inclusion at SFPD," he said. "We developed the first law enforcement transgender training program – it's since been used by police in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C."

Rohrer then stepped up and spoke before Chaplin swore them in.

"My greatest hope as a chaplain is to listen to what is needed," Rohrer said. "My body is a body that represents the full diversity of San Francisco and the San Francisco Police Department."

Rohrer acknowledged that in the past they had been subjected to hate crimes and domestic violence, which they did not report.

"I'll be popping up on people's best days and worst days," Rohrer said. "My hope is to listen and to show up – to show up for you is a great honor,"

Rohrer added that they also hoped to inspire other LGBT folks to report crimes when they occur.
Chaplin then stepped up to the podium and performed the swearing-in amidst applause from attendees.
After the ceremony cake was served. "I feel honored," Rohrer told the B.A.R. as they posed for photos. "There's a lot more work to do and a lot more praying to do."

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Best Sellers and 2016 Books Lists

Four of my children's books were named in Q Spirit's top 35 LGBTQ Christian Books of 2016.  And two were named best sellers.  See all the books here:

4. “Faithful Families”  by Megan Rohrer and Pamela Ryan
This children’s book reminds kids that God loves them, no matter what their family looks like — even if they have two mommies or two daddies. It was inspired by the many families and children at the child care center of San Francisco’s Grace Lutheran Church, where the author is pastor. Rohrer co-wrote it with Pamela Ryan, director of the center for more than 30 years. It is illustrated by Ihnatovich Maryia and aimed at children up to 8 years old. Rohrer is the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church. Published by Wilgefortis Press. For more info and a sample page, see First-ever LGBT religious children’s books published.

Mr. Grumpy Christian” by Megan Rohrer.
“Mr. Grumpy Christian” is a kids’ book for LGBTQ families, but adults love it too. The rhyming book affirms:
When a grumpy Christian ruins your day,
“Remember God’s love is here to stay.”
It was written for LGBTQ families to read if they hear Christians telling them that God cannot love them. In the true spirit of Christ, the book goes on to add, “But remember that God’s love extends to grumpy Christians too.” Rohrer wrote the book after meeting a 7-year old-boy who tried to kill himself because a pastor threatened him with hell. It is written for children ages 5 to 10. The author is pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco and the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church. Published by Wilgefortis Press. For more info and a sample page, see First-ever LGBT religious children’s books published.

Transgender Children of God” by Megan Rohrer.
Even a child can understand transgender identity with this heartwarming book aimed at kids ages 2 to 8. “Transgender children of God play with both dolls and trucks. No matter what you play with, God will love you,” it begins. The books goes on to proclaim God’s love regardless of what you wear, how you look or how you mix male and female. It also affirms transgender parents, although it can be read by any progressive family of faith. The author is pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco and the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church. Published by Wilgefortis/Lulu Press. Available in both paperback and e-book versions. For more info and a sample page, see First-ever LGBT religious children’s books published.

Is It a Boy, a Girl, or Both?” by Megan Rohrer.
Animals have amazing gender diversity created by God and revealed in this new children’s book. It opens with the line, “How do I know who is a boy and who is a girl? God created diverse people and animals.” The rest is a fun safari through the different gender expressions in creation, including pictures of birds, bunnies, koalas, penguins, sea horses, hyenas, chimps, deer, banana slugs, fish and of course people. It ends with an affirmation: “God will love you no matter what. And so will I.” Geared for kids age 8 and up, it is one of the most popular books in the Good News Childrens’ Books series. The author is pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco and the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church. Published by Wilgefortis Press. For more info and a sample page, see First-ever LGBT religious children’s books publishedMore info

Friday, December 9, 2016

In the News: Bay Area Reporter

Bay Area grieves Ghost Ship fire victims


Hundreds of people gathered at Oakland's Lake Merritt Monday for a candlelight vigil to mourn the 36 lives lost in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire. Photo: Michael Nugent

Many in the Bay Area are grieving the loss of 36 people, including three who identified as transgender individuals, who died in a fire at an Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship. The space, which had reportedly housed several artists, was the site of an electronic music concert Friday night, December 2, when a three-alarm blaze erupted at 11:32.

Officials are investigating what led to the fire at the Fruitvale district warehouse, which had been the subject of complaints as recently as November.
Cash Askew
One of the victims, Cash Askew, 22, of Oakland, was part of the band Them Are Us Too. Askew recently told journalist Beth Winegarner, "As a young teenager, I was definitely attracted to goth and new wave in part because of the androgyny, and that aesthetic gave me a way to explore my gender expression before I could even come to terms with being transgender."

Recalling Em Bohlka also known as Em B, 33, of Oakland, the East Bay Times reported that Jack Bohlka, Em Bohlka's father, "said on Facebook that his daughter was transitioning from a man to 'becoming a beautiful, happy woman.
Em Bohlka
'She at last was living as she was meant to live. I only wish she had more time to fully enjoy her life,'" he said.

Scout Wolfcave, a friend of fire victim Feral Pines, 29, of Berkeley, told the Times, "For many of her trans community, Feral was a guide and sister in a world of small joys and terrible precarity for trans women. Feral was truly committed to empowering those that the world deems powerless."
Feral Pines 
Gehno Aviance, 43, a gay San Francisco man who often works as a DJ, knew many of the people who died in the fire.

In a Facebook exchange with the Bay Area Reporter , Aviance said, "I am utterly devastated but know that it is my higher mission to work through these feelings and live a life that honors theirs. This means: making more art, helping create non-corporate safe-spaces for artists and art-lovers to commune, loving myself, and helping other heal, to name a few."

Aviance recalled three friends in particular.

Amanda Allen Kershaw, a photographer, "was an incredible human" and "an inspiration to many," he said. She'd spent this last Thanksgiving at the home of Aviance and his husband.

Another friend was Johnny Igaz, a musician, DJ, producer, and historian who went by the name Nackt and was "a loud voice for trans and queer rights," Aviance said.

Igaz was "one of those who knew the roots of the modern sounds we hear today," he said. The last gig Igaz played before the fire was Aviance's Say YES! Party, he said.

Chelsea Faith, 33, who was also known as Cherushii, also DJ'd the Say YES! Party. Faith produced and performed her own music and had a weekly show at Underground SF called "Run the Length of Your Wildness."

Aviance said she was an "incredible soul and artist. ... Her music was some of the best" he'd heard.
Trans people and many others attended a vigil Monday night, December 5, in San Francisco's Castro district.

The Reverend Megan Rohrer, who identifies as transgender, said, "There is a need to create a safe space to mourn and to honor the transgender people who died in the fire."

Ian Stanford, an Episcopal priest, said, "As a trans man I want to call out that trans lives matter. Artists matter. Musicians matter. Children matter. The disabled matter. Mommas matter. All humans matter."
Sister Merry Peter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence choked back tears as she recalled other times of grief: The mass shooting earlier this year at the gay Pulse nightclub in Florida; the November victory of President-elect Donald Trump, who's loaded his administration with people who are anti-LGBT; and the 1978 assassination of gay civil rights leader Harvey Milk.

"I just want to be standing with you tonight," Merry Peter said. "We were just here in June for Orlando. We were here night after night after the election. We were here to remember Harvey with candles and prayers. And now tonight – my heart is breaking that we have to do it again."

Another vigil Monday night was held at Oakland's Lake Merritt.

Micah Estrella said, "I lost my brother Chris in the fire. Knowing he is still with me spiritually is the one thing that has gotten me through it."

Jessica Jarvis, of Richmond, California, said, "This has shaken the entire global rave scene. Tragedy brings people together, at this gathering people are reaching out and hugging strangers."

Officials respond
The Alameda County District Attorney's office has launched a criminal investigation into the fire, which destroyed the warehouse space at 1315 31st Avenue.

"We are committed to bringing every resource to bear to determine what happened here and how such a tragic event could have occurred," Oakland officials said in a news release. "Our priority is to bring closure to this tragedy for the victims' families."

Personnel from the Oakland Fire Department; Oakland Police Department; U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Alameda County Sheriff's Office; and other agencies have been working at the scene of the fire since the weekend.

Many have raised questions about the safety of the building, which was leased by Derick Ion Almena and reportedly was crammed with pianos, rugs, artwork, and other objects, and had a problematic electrical system, no sprinklers, and limited exits. According to media reports, many artists had lived there over the years even though it wasn't zoned for that use. It doesn't appear city agencies had done much to address the hazards.

"The last permitted use of the building was as a warehouse," officials said. On November 13, the city "received complaints of blight and unpermitted interior construction at the building."

On November 17, officials said, "a city building inspector visited the property and verified the blight complaint, but could not gain access to the building to confirm the other complaint regarding unpermitted construction. This is an ongoing investigation."

Darin Ranelletti, interim director of Oakland's planning and building department, didn't respond to an interview request.

Aviance, the DJ who lost friends in the fire, said, "I have many negative feelings come up when I think of how all these deaths could have been prevented, but I will allow the experts to decide and our justice system to make a ruling."

David-Elijah Nahmod and Michael Nugent contributed to this report.