Thursday, November 19, 2015

In the News: San Francisco Magazine

 an excerpt from San Francisco Magazine's December Women in Power Issue  - See more at:

One soundbyte from any presidential debate makes it clear: The country is divided as never before. From abortion to immigration to racial injustice, the clashes are fierce and the stakes are high. And if we are a society at war with itself, those pictured here are the battle-hardened commanders on the front lines. “There’s a historic consciousness in the Bay Area of the fights that have happened here,” says Celeste Faison, cofounder of the BlackOut Collective, an Oakland-based black activist group.

Within the past five years, the Bay Area has become ground zero not only for pervasive local issues like discrimination in tech and housing abuses but also for national causes like Black Lives Matter, transgender rights, and reproductive justice. Though these movements encompass all genders, an outsize number of those leading the charge are women. They organize grassroots and big-picture efforts, from advocating for groundbreaking legislation to teaching underprivileged kids to code.

Throughout the ranks, there’s the sense of a common goal. “Activists today are attracted to an intersectional framework,” says Samara Azam-Yu, co–executive director of the reproductive justice organization Access. “We’re not just about abortion or housing or immigration anymore. We’re interested in every issue and how they overlap.” The movements’ leaders include doctors, lawyers, doulas, engineers, pastors, and a self-professed “diva and screaming queen.” They’ve found strength in diversity, says Theresa Sparks, executive director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission: “These people represent every element of our culture in San Francisco.” Whether taking to the streets or to social media, they’re shaping the future of our society.

One soundbyte from any presidential debate makes it clear: The country is divided as never before. From abortion to immigration to racial injustice, the clashes are fierce and the stakes are high. And if we are a society at war with itself, those pictured here are the battle-hardened commanders on the front lines. “There’s a historic consciousness in the Bay Area of the fights that have happened here,” says Celeste Faison, cofounder of the BlackOut Collective, an Oakland-based black activist group.
Within the past five years, the Bay Area has become ground zero not only for pervasive local issues like discrimination in tech and housing abuses but also for national causes like Black Lives Matter, transgender rights, and reproductive justice. Though these movements encompass all genders, an outsize number of those leading the charge are women. They organize grassroots and big-picture efforts, from advocating for groundbreaking legislation to teaching underprivileged kids to code.
Throughout the ranks, there’s the sense of a common goal. “Activists today are attracted to an intersectional framework,” says Samara Azam-Yu, co–executive director of the reproductive justice organization Access. “We’re not just about abortion or housing or immigration anymore. We’re interested in every issue and how they overlap.” The movements’ leaders include doctors, lawyers, doulas, engineers, pastors, and a self-professed “diva and screaming queen.” They’ve found strength in diversity, says Theresa Sparks, executive director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission: “These people represent every element of our culture in San Francisco.” Whether taking to the streets or to social media, they’re shaping the future of our society.
- See more at:
THE CAUSE: TRANSGENDER RIGHTS  “Fifteen years ago, a trans person couldn’t walk around the city without being the object of ridicule, discrimination, or violence. That’s different now. This year alone, San Francisco is contributing over $1.5 million to transgender programs. We’re doing more than any other city in the country.” —Theresa Sparks

Theresa Sparks, executive director, San Francisco Human Rights Commission
Before leading the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, Theresa Sparks served as CEO of Good Vibrations and then as a commissioner on the San Francisco Police Commission. "One common thread over the last 20 years is that I have the privilege of serving the good people of San Francisco,” says Sparks. “These positions have allowed me to give back to this great city a small amount of all it has given me." 
Janetta Johnson, executive director at the Transgender, Gender-Variant, and Intersex Justice Project
The TGI Justice Project serves low-income transgender women of color who are in prison, formerly incarcerated, or targeted by the police. Recently, Johnson survived three years in federal prison, and has dedicated herself to limiting the recidivism rate in the transgender community by developing new interventions and strategies.
Clair Farley, associate director of economic development at the San Francisco LGBT Center
At San Francisco's LGBT Center, Clair Farley helped build the nation’s first ever LGBT-specific economic development department from the ground up. The center has a small-business program for those interested in entrepreneurship, as well as employment services to connect LGBT individuals to employers in the Bay Area. “We try to look at our work holistically, with an emphasis on social and economic justice,” says Farley.
Rev. Megan Rohrer, pastor at Grace Lutheran Church
The first openly transgender Lutheran pastor ordained in the United States, Reverend Rohrer currently serves as executive director of Welcome, a nonprofit that has worked with San Francisco homeless since 1996. Many of those Welcome serves identify as LGBT, and Rohrer says the organization is teaming up with Project Homeless Connect to study the needs of LGBTQ people who are homeless. Through Welcome and ministerial work, Rohrer says she works “to use the power I have to advance the rights and basic survival needs of my kin in the LGBT community who continue to struggle to find affordable housing, sobriety support, educational opportunities, and jobs.”

JoAnne Keatley, director of the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at UCSF
“I look for what’s fresh and current in the field of trans healthcare,” says JoAnne Keatley, director of the UCSF Center of Excellence for Transgender Health (CoD). She has developed numerous healthcare and service programs for the transgender community in San Francisco, as well as several federally funded research and HIV-prevention projects. During Keatley's tenure, the CoD has begun to explore access to gender-affirming healthcare on a national level.
Nikki Calma, program supervisor for Trans Thrive
Trans Thrive is a drop-in center by and for the transgender community in San Francisco. The center, a program of the Asian & Pacific Wellness Center, offers everything from HIV prevention to counseling and health services. “We use a holistic approach,” says Calma, aka Tita Aida. “We want to address the issues that people here immediately need: housing, employment, healthcare, social support, and HIV testing.”
Felicia Flames, transgender pioneer and activist
Better known as Felicia Flames, activist and icon Felicia Elizondo has been fighting for transgender rights for well over 50 years. “I’m a Mexican spitfire, a screaming queen, and a diva,” says Flames, a 29-year surveyor of AIDS and a Vietnam veteran. Flames, 69, participated in the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots of 1966, a turning point in the LGBT movement and one of the first recorded riots over violence against the transgender community. “The people who started the cafeteria riots and Stonewall were transgender people of color,” says Flames. “We need to remember who sacrificed their lives. We went through a lot to get where we are now.” 
- See more at:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

In the News: SFist

State Senator Mark Leno honors composer Kathleen McGuire, one of the composers of Street Requiem, and singer Frederica con Stade, one of the performers, prior to the SF premiere of the work. Photo credit: SFist
Street Requiem: Despite being nominally retired, Alameda resident and famed diva Frederica von Stade, aka Flicka, still shares her big talent and bigger heart for worthy causes. Last week, she brought her voice to a choir of singers recruited from the homeless ranks of San Francisco for the West Coast premiere of Street Requiem, an oratorio celebrating people who lived and died on the streets. The evening supported Singers of the Street, an organization funded in 2010 by Kathleen McGuire, who with her fellow Australian Andy Payne and Jonathon Welch, also composed the music for the requiem. Singers of the Street is a choir for homeless people, who get a sense of purpose and achievement from participating in the choir, a community to be part of, and provide a positive and human experience of homelessness to audiences. They accept donations.

We thought we should check in our cynicism at the door for a concert where the betterment of humankind is achieved by singing together. Heart-warming stories don't necessarily make great art. This was reinforced by a little welcome pitch from Rev. Megan Rohrer, whose congregation hosts the rehearsals and who asked for our leniency for the singers, and extolled their "courage to sing the wrong note." And it turns out that these guys are pretty darn good and would match any amateur choir in the city. No need for indulgence on the audience's part.

The concert was set in two halves, the first devoted to covers by Singers of the Street, and the second to the Street Requiem, with Flicka and a bunch of experienced singers. The acronym for the organization is SOS, and the first song was appropriately the Beatles' "Help"; it was followed by calls for solidarity and songs of positive affirmation, and they all took a pretty emotional color from the context. The performers of SOS literally sang their hearts out: you could hardly imagine performers giving more into a performance.

As for the Street Requiem, it is composed of ten sections, each with a different color, re-interpreting the typical Requiem format with Kyrie, Gloria, Dies Irae, Agnus Dei, etc, but updated with current texts in different languages. The opener gets Middle Eastern scales, an Irish folk song is appropriated for the ninth movement, percussive South African beats in the eighth. It is meant to be inclusive of all cultures. Some movements are of more indeterminate origins, but were always rooted in tonal harmonies. Flicka gets the most beautiful melody in the Pie Jesu. The orchestration sometimes feels a bit studious, it could be a bit more free and unpredictable; but there is a lot of generosity in the writing of the score and the energy of the Gloria is contagious. The Street Requiem has been performed in Australia, Dallas, and will be sung in Seattle, and we hope the composers keep staging it and tweaking it, it is a piece of great emotional power. And a testament that you can better the lives of people through singing.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

In the News: Lutheran Magazine

Extending an receiving welcome

Megan Rohrer’s path to ministry could be likened to that of Jonah. Time and again Rohrer heard God’s call to become a pastor in the urgings of professors, pastors and friends. Yet saying “yes” meant facing challenges that the lifelong Lutheran wasn’t ready to meet upon graduation from Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D., in 2001.

Instead, Rohrer became a counselor at the Children’s Home Society in Sioux Falls. There the call came in the whisper of a 6-year-old boy who had tried to commit suicide for the 12th time. He confided to Rohrer: “I heard in church that if you’re bad, you’ll go to hell. I know that I’m a naughty boy. I want to kill myself first before I go to hell.”

The encounter pushed Rohrer in 2001 to enroll as a master’s student of theology at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, Calif. “I realized I was going to have all these experiences happen to me,” Rohrer said. “I wanted to make sure no kid ever heard anything like that from a pulpit again.”
In the year that followed, Rohrer became executive director of Welcome, an organization of San Francisco congregations responding to homelessness in their community. In that job, God called again: the homeless people kept calling the graduate student “pastor.”

“I tried to correct them and afterward they’d just shake their heads and say, ‘Whatever, pastor,’” Rohrer said. “Then I decided that they have called me and I should finally give up running away from the whale. So I changed my study to the master of divinity.”

What held Rohrer back? Rohrer is transgender, an umbrella term for a diverse group of people who understand their gender to be outside the traditional definitions of male and female.
Nevertheless, Rohrer finished seminary, saying, “I had wondered if the Lutheran church would be able to have me in it, but I never wondered if I was a Lutheran. I’ve always had this deep sense in my gut that God was with me.”

Welcoming the outsiders
Rohrer, however, could not be rostered in the ELCA, which prior to 2009 expected pastors to “abstain from homosexual sexual relationships” (Vision and Expections). On Nov. 18, 2006, Rohrer was ordained and rostered by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, an organization that works for the full participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (GLBTQ) people in the Lutheran church. Next came a call from St. Francis, Santa Maria y Martha (St. Mary and Martha), Christ and Ebenezer Lutheran churches to work with Welcome.

That ordination and call was not sanctioned by the ELCA. That changed when the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted for “a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to be ordained and rostered.” And on July 25, 2010, Rohrer was received onto the ELCA roster.

Rohrer is believed to be one of the first openly transgender pastors on the ELCA roster. This July, Asher O’Callaghan, a transgender person, was ordained at House for All Sinners and All Saints in Denver.
Rohrer now serves Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco and continues as executive director of Welcome.

The pastor remains committed to serving and speaking out on behalf of individuals who are homeless. “The Bible says a lot that we should listen for God’s voice,” Rohrer said. “Spending time with the homeless was a place where I could listen to God’s voice in the world and be paying attention to potential prophets.”

Part of this commitment to the homeless comes from knowing what it feels like to be on the fringe and unsure if the church will welcome you, Rohrer said.

Grace under fire
Members of Grace have been welcoming to their pastor, but the call has not been without challenges.
Last year a Presbyterian congregation that rented space at Grace took offense to Rohrer’s hiring in February 2014 and to the congregation’s welcome of LGBTQ people, said Grace council president Sally Ann Ryan. At one point the rainbow window clings Grace posted to express welcome were removed, she said.

As tensions rose, Grace’s members concluded “they didn’t want anyone to come to any service in their building where people didn’t feel welcome,” Rohrer said. “A congregation of almost all straight people said that welcome is the most important thing here.”

The Presbyterian pastor did not agree. After a 20-year relationship, the congregations parted ways in December.

The loss of rental income left a gaping hole in Grace’s strapped budget. With Rohrer’s leadership, parishioners organized “Grace Under Fire,” a benefit dinner to recognize congregations and individuals that welcomed LGBTQ people even when it meant facing great odds. The event raised more than $12,000 for Grace’s operating expenses.

Under Rohrer’s leadership, the congregation is trying new ideas for outreach and evangelism, from a Beatles worship service to the imposition of ashes in the subway station. Evangelism also expands beyond the congregation’s walls through a weekly online Bible study focusing on issues of justice in the lectionary readings. ELCA pastors Amanda Zentz-Alo and Dawn Roginski collaborate on the project, which reaches between 2,500 and 3,000 people.

“It has been so healing to be part of a congregation that loves you so much,” said Rohrer, reflecting on Grace. The pastor feels astonished by and grateful for the new ways church and society are welcoming LGBTQ individuals, but also thinks there is more work to be done.

“For a long time we didn’t talk about alcoholism or abuse or cancer. I feel like [being transgender] is like anything difficult that you go through. I hope the way that I serve as a pastor is that it never serves as a barrier or declaration,” Rohrer said. “Any time we can have pastorsthat embody the diversity of our full creation, our church is better for it.”

Q&A: Being transgender
Earlier this year, Caitlyn Jenner’s headline-making interview with Barbara Walters and Vanity Fair spread brought transgender issues into the public eye. In this interview, Megan Rohrer, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, San Francisco, offers insight about transgender issues.

The Lutheran: What does it mean to be transgender?
Rohrer: Transgender is an umbrella term that includes a very diverse group of people who understand their gender to be outside of the traditional definitions of male and female. That is as broad as someone who is female and doesn’t want to wear a bra, all the way to someone who has had hormonal changes from male to female.

How many people are transgender?
While there is no accurate count, some say there are 700,000 trans individuals in the U.S. This number is likely low due to fear of violence, lack of family support or health care, and the desire of many trans people to keep their medical choices private. The best practice is to allow trans people the choice to self-identify.

How do I refer to someone who is transgender?
In church, I hope we see everyone simply as a child of God. In conversation, it is best to use the name and the gender or non-gender pronouns (they/their) they prefer.

What about people who say being transgender is a sin?
Thankfully, as Lutherans we believe God’s grace is more important news than who and how we are sinning. God’s baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch [is a] biblical reminder that God’s love stretches to include all of us.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

In the News: SF Bay Times

Opera Superstar Frederica Von Stade to Sing Street Requiem in Support of Homeless Choir 

reposted from:

operaladyFamed mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade will join with a mass chorus of singers and chamber orchestra in two California premiere performances of Street Requiem by Australian composers Dr. Kathleen McGuire, Andy Payne, and Dr. Jonathon Welch AM. Other vocal soloists include Blake Quin, Ilyas Iliya and Mark Jackson.

This week, it was also announced that Street Requiem has been selected as a semi-finalist in the professional choral composition division of The American Prize national non-profit competitions in the performing arts. (For more information, see

McGuire, who is well known to Bay Area audiences having led the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and others from 2000 to 2013, will return from Melbourne, Australia, to conduct Street Requiem on Saturday, August 29, at 7:00pm at Old First Presbyterian Church at 1751 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, and on Sunday, August 30, at 2:00pm at the Congregational Church of San Mateo, 225 Tilton
Avenue in San Mateo.

The concert is a benefit for Singers of the Street (SOS), which McGuire founded in 2010. Now led by Ashley Moore and a project of Welcome, SOS is a choir of San Franciscans who have experienced, or are at risk of, homelessness. Its mission is to raise their voices for justice, healing and joy. SOS will open the concert and will also sing with the mass choir in Street Requiem.

opera2Street Requiem provides a musical opportunity for us to mourn not only the homeless who have passed away, but also our own frustration that there are still so many homeless individuals living in streets and shelters,” said the Rev. Megan Rohrer, Executive Director of Welcome. “Beyond a one of a kind concert experience, audience members can also celebrate that the price of admission enables homeless individuals to heal and express themselves for years to come.”

Composed in 2014, Street Requiem has already received international acclaim. Music critic Wayne Lee Gay (Dallas Magazine) said: “A remarkable, unique and beautiful work…an unfailingly engaging cantata. The religious texts were constantly questioned, but with an effect that produces transformation rather than blasphemy. The audience is never let off the hook: in the final movement, the chorus intones, as if to remind those who observe suffering are as much in need of divine intervention and guidance as those who suffer directly: ‘Given them peace. Give us peace.’”

Street Requiem is a 40-minute multi-movement cantata scored for choirs, soloists, and chamber orchestras. It aims to bring a sense of peace, remembrance, and hope to communities struggling with homelessness, poverty, war, hate-crime and street violence. The work is neither secular nor religious, but is intended to be spiritual and includes English and African lyrics, as well as traditional Latin texts. While at times deeply moving, the work is optimistic and uplifting, and employs Gospel, Celtic, neo-Romantic, neo-Baroque, and contemporary compositional styles and instrumentation to reflect the multicultural and multi-faith traditions of modern city living.
McGuire said, “Street Requiem provides an opportunity to mourn those we’ve lost—often ‘nameless’ on our streets—and to protest the tragic injustices we witness every day. These are global issues, but we can each make a difference, one by one. Ms. von Stade’s generous participation is a testament to the importance of this project and the wider cause.”

Ms. von Stade will be joined on stage by a mass choir including singers from The Choral Project (San Jose), the Chancel Choir of the Congregational Church of San Mateo, singers from CREDO (Dallas, Texas, who performed the U.S. premiere in January), and Singers of the Street (San Francisco). Accompaniment will be provided by members of the Community Women’s Orchestra, and Carl Pantle will play piano.

Rehearsals led by Stephanie Lynne Smith, Grace Renaud, Daniel Hughes, Dana Sadava, Dr. Jonathan Palant and Carl Pantle are currently underway in San Francisco and San Mateo; singers wishing to participate should visit:

Tickets for Street Requiem range from $15–$50 and are available online at or by calling (415) 731-1305. All proceeds benefit Singers of the Street.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

In the News: Christian Post

Who Are America's Transgender Clergy?

By Matthew Maule , CP Op-Ed Contributor
July 28, 2015|8:18 am
  • gay pride parade
    (Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)
    A participant holds a rainbow colored placard during Delhi queer pride parade, an event promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, in New Delhi, India, November 30, 2014. Hundreds of participants on Sunday took part in a parade demanding freedom and safety of their community, according to a media release.

Transgender clergy now serve openly in several mainline and progressive Christian denominations. Churches that espouse traditional Christian theology have not allowed transgender persons to be clergy as they do not accept transgender identity as a Biblical expression of personhood. Several of the transgender clergy below caused disorder in their churches and denominations when they insisted on recognition. Several of them have left diminished or destroyed churches in their paths. Below are brief biographies of the openly transgender clergy serving in the United States today.

The Episcopal Church (approved transgender ordination at its 2012 General Convention)
The Reverend Carolyn Woodall is a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, California. Formerly the Deputy Public Defender in Sonora, Woodall now has a small criminal defense practice in addition to serving as deacon for St. James Episcopal Church. Woodall serves as the Chair of the Stakeholders' Council of Integrity USA, "the leading grassroots voice for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Episcopal Church."

The Reverend Vicki Gray is a deacon at Christ the Lord Episcopal Church in Pinole, California in the Episcopal Diocese of California. A Vietnam War combat veteran and retired Foreign Service Officer, Gray also serves on the Executive Council and Commission on Ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of California. Gray assists with Open Cathedral, an open-air weekly worship service takes place in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco that ministers to the poor and homeless.

The Reverend Dr. Cameron Partridge is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts where he functions as the Episcopal Chaplain at Boston University and a lecturer and counselor at Harvard Divinity School. Partridge was the first transgender priest to preach at the Episcopal Church's National Cathedral in Washington D.C. where he spoke during "Pride Month" 2014.

The Reverend Carla Robinson is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. Robinson is the Director of Children and Youth Ministries at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Seattle. Before transitioning, Robinson was an ordained minister in the conservative Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Previously, Robinson was the priest of All Saints Episcopal Church in Seattle, this church has seemingly ceased to exist as they no longer have a website and are no longer listed in the diocesan directory. Robinson then became a non-stipended priest at St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle before moving on to the Church of the Ascension.

The Reverend Gwen Fry is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. In 2014 Fry shocked his parish, Grace Episcopal Church, by identifying as a transgender person and was removed from his position by the Bishop of Arkansas, Larry Benfield. Fry is a Diocesan Coordinator for the aforementioned Integrity USA and is a member of TransEpiscopal, representing the group at the 2015 Episcopal General Convention in Salt Lake City. Fry was a panelist at a Wild Goose Festival 2015 session entitled "LGBTQ Lives: Hurt & Healing."

The Reverend Christopher Fike is the Priest in Charge at St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church, Wilmington in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts . Before transitioning, Fike was the Episcopal Chaplain at Tufts University, the Priest in Charge at St. Paul's Cathedral in Boston, and the Interim Episcopal Chaplain at Boston University. The film To Cold Out There Without You details Fike's experience.

The United Methodist Church (the denomination's Book of Discipline does not address the issue of transgender clergy)
The Reverend Drew Phoenix, formerly pastor of St. John's United Methodist Church – a "primarily LGBT congregation" in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, now serves as the Executive Directorof Indentity, whose mission is to advance Alaska's LGBT community through advocacy, education and connectivity. Phoenix' transition, while an ordained and active pastor, caused controversy at the 2007 Baltimore-Washington annual conference and at the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.

The Reverend David Weekley is the pastor of St. Nicholas United Methodist Church in Hull, Massachusetts. Weekley transitioned from female to male in 1975, seven years before becoming an ordained UMC minister; he did not reveal this transition until 2009 while pastor at historic Epworth United Methodist Church in Portland. While that church, begun as a mission in 1890, had 220 members in 2011, it has now shrunk to 30 members according to the UMC website. One hopes that St. Nicholas will not suffer the same fate.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) implicitly recognized transgender persons in 2009 in their social statement on human sexuality.
The Reverend Asher O'Callaghan became the first regularly ordained transgender minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America on July 2, 2015. O'Callaghan was called to serve at Zion Lutheran Church in Idaho Springs, Colorado in the Rocky Mountain Synod. He was ordained at the House for All Sinners and Saints and ELCA church where celebrity pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber ministers.

The Reverend Megan Rohrer is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in the San Francisco Conference of the ELCA. Rohrer is also the Executive Director of Welcome, "a communal response to poverty." Rohrer also [served] as Associate Pastor at St. Aidan's Episcopal Church and is overseen by both Lutheran and Episcopal bishops. Rohrer's passions include creating services from popular music including a "Beatles Mass," a "Bob Dylan Folk Mass," and a "Lady Gaga Mass." Because the ELCA did not ordain transgender persons before 2009, Rohrer was ordained by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, an ordination mill for LGBTQ persons denied ordination by the ECLA. Their ordinations have now been recognized by the ELCA.

The Reverend Jay Wilson was also ordained by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries at First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco, an ELCA congregation. He was ordained to the aforementioned Welcome ministry and also led First United's Children's Ministry. According to his Linkedin profile he was only at the church for a year and a half before becoming a Data Management Specialist at MinnesotaHelp.Info and then an Access Consultant at the University of Minnesota's Disability Resource Center.

Nicole Garcia is an ordination candidate in the ELCA's Rocky Mountain Synod, and serves as a seminarian at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Boulder Colorado. Garcia is now vice chair of the board of directors of ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation. Huffington Post reports "Garcia still wonders if a congregation will accept her as a minister just as she is. 'How can I feel comfortable as a Latina with dark skin in a denomination where inevitably at least 90 percent of the congregants in any ELCA church will be white?'"

The United Church of Christ (UCC)
The Reverend Lawrence T. Richardson is the founding pastor of Shift UCC an "out of the box ministry for out of the box people" in St. Paul, Minnesota. Richardson is also the founder and CEO of Stand-To-Urinate, a transgender supplies company (no website could be found). Additionally, Richardson is a social media strategist for The Center for Progressive Renewal, a writer for The Salt Collective, and a "digital evangelist" for Extravagance United Church of Christ, "an online faith community."
The Reverend Malcolm Himschoot serves as the Minister for Ministerial Transitions at the UCC headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. His previous stints include three months as Interim Pastor at Community UCC in Boulder, CO, fives months as adjunct professor at The Iliff School of Theology, fourteen months as pastor of Parker UCC in Parker, CO, four months as Interim Sabbatical Minister at Arvada UCC in Arvada, CO. Himschoot has also worked on the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns, serving as Interim Open and Affirming Program Coordinator and as the Open and Affirming director for the Rocky Mountain Conference of the UCC.

The Reverend Rebecca Steen is the pastor of First Congregational Chu
ch UCC in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Steen had been a longtime minister in the United Methodist Church's Baltimore-Washington Conference prior to transitioning in 2000. Because the UMC had no policy on transgender clergy, Steen was reappointed after a medical leave of absence, causing significant controversy in the conference. Charges were filed against Steen by members of the conference, and Steen resigned ministerial credentials in the UMC. Steen then transitioned into the more accepting United Church of Christ.

The Reverend Pat Conover is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. Conover served with the Justice and Witness Ministries of the UCC. Conover also worked as Information Officer of Church and Society and as Policy Advocate for the Poverty Affairs Office. Conover is a member of Religious Committee International Foundation for Gender Education, the oldest international committee addressing concerns of transgender education.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
The Reverend Dr. Erin K. Swenson, is a parish associate at Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church in Atlanta and pastoral psychotherapist at Morningside Presbyterian Church. Swenson serves the board of More Light Presbyterians an organization devoted to the full participation of LGBT people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Transitioning in 1996, Swenson was "first known mainstream Protestant minister to make an open gender transition while remaining in ordained office."
The Reverend Dr. Julie Nemecek is an elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MI chairing the Discipleship Ministry Team. Nemecek was ordained a Baptist minster and served in several churches before transitioning. After transitioning, Nemecek was terminated from Spring Arbor University, a Free Methodist affiliated school, and filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They eventually agreed on a settlement. Nemecek has served on the national boards of Soulforce and PFLAG and currently serves on the advisory board of Trans Youth Family Allies (TYFA) and is an honorary board member of Inclusive Justice Michigan.

The American Baptist Convention
The Reverend Allyson Robinson served as transitions pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., an American Baptist Convention church. After a career as an Army officer (and a graduate of West Point), Robinson pursued the ministry and was ordained while still identifying as a man. Robinson served at Azorean Baptist Church in Portugal and as pastor of Meadow Oaks Baptist Church in Temple, Texas. After transitioning, Robinson resigned the pastorate of Meadow Oaks and began working as a LGBT activist for the Human Rights Campaign. In 2012 Robinson served as Executive Director of OutServe-SLDN whose mission is to "to empower, support, and defend our military's LGBT community while working to build a culture of inclusion in the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs." Robinson now works at Warrior Poet Strategies, whose mission is to "to help leaders and the organizations they lead discover, refine, communicate, and live into their values."

The Metropolitan Community Church
The Reverend Sky Anderson served as pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of San Jose; this church has now closed its doors. Anderson was ordained by the MCC at its General Conference in 1979 after having openly transitioned.
The Reverend Aaron L. Miller serves as the pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford, CT. Miller had previously served as the Associate Minister for Pastoral Care at Metropolitan Community Church in New Haven, CT. Miller serves on the MCC Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council "Trans/Gender Nonconforming People." Miller is alsochaplain at Yale New Haven Hospital, serves on the Board of Directors for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice CT, is a member of the Connecticut Clergy for Full Equality (an interfaith collaboration of progressive faith leaders throughout the state).

The Reverend Justin Tanis is the Managing Director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion. Tanis has served as the interim pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Boston, pastor of Ke Anuenue O Ke Aloha (Rainbow of Love) MCC in Honolulu, and associate pastor of MCC San Francisco. Tanis then served as Director of Leadership Development for Metropolitan Community Churches. Tanis has a long history of LGBT activism including working with ACT-UP and Queer Nation, serving as spokesperson and media coordinator for the Hawai'i Equal Rights Marriage Project, serving as the Community Education and Outreach Manager at the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), and serving the Director of Communication for Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

In the News: One Iowa

Meagan Taylor

This was not the vacation Meagan Taylor, an African American trans woman, bargained for when she and a friend came to Des Moines in mid-July.

An employee at the West Des Moines Drury Inn, the hotel where they were staying, called local police to report that they suspected that “two males dressed as females” were engaged in prostitution. When police arrived, they found no such activity. However, they did find an unmarked prescription bottle and discovered that Taylor had an outstanding warrant from Illinois for unpaid fines. Taylor was arrested and brought to the Polk County Jail where she was placed in a high tier of protective custody at her request.

I was called to the jail to meet with Sheriff Bill McCarthy and other jail officials. The Sheriff and his staff were genuinely concerned about Ms. Taylor and how to appropriately and respectfully deal with a prisoner who was transgender and who would be spending some time at the facility. There were lots of questions and lots of conversation. As social media misspoke of isolation cells and mistreatment, Taylor was actually housed in a medical holding unit with a window. The cell had a hospital bed, not a cot. She had the opportunity to exercise and take showers. Her privileges included telephone access, video visitation, her own television, commissary, and immediate access to medical personnel.

When I met with Taylor, she said that she had been treated well. In fact, when I visited her cell, she was on a video conference call with the Pastor Megan Rohrer, a Lutheran minister who is executive director of WELCOME, a communal response to poverty in San Francisco, CA. Rohrer, the first openly trans pastor ordained in the Lutheran church, raised the funds to pay Taylor’s bonds and fees in both Iowa and Illinois.
On July 23, Taylor was released from the Polk County Jail and returned to her home in Lahokia, Illinois.
We have a great deal to learn from Taylor’s experience here in Iowa. At great fault is, of course, the Drury Inn in West Des Moines. They saw a woman of color, a trans woman with brown skin, and their first assumption was that something was wrong, namely ‘prostitution’. If you are outraged by their behavior, you may want to let them know. You should let them know. One Iowa will offer an LGBTQ Cultural Competency training to the hotel. It is something they need.

The West Des Moines police did find that Taylor had an outstanding warrant and for that she was arrested. The drug charge and the other charges were absurd.

The Polk County Jail, in our opinion and according to Taylor, treated her with respect. They kept her safe. They reached out to the media to tell her story. They reached out to me at One Iowa, the state’s leading LGBT organization, because they wanted to do the right thing.

A lot of people came together to support Meagan Taylor: local trans activists, LGBTQ folks, clergy, law enforcement, bloggers, journalists and donors. Taylor went home because of the compassion of these people and their willingness to do something. Taylor went home because a smart and caring Lutheran pastor in San Francisco rustled up the funds to free her. Taylor went home. That is what matters.

— Donna Red Wing

Thursday, July 23, 2015

In the News: The Advocate

Meagan Taylor
Meagan Taylor

Freed From Iowa Jail, Black Trans Woman Meagan Taylor Speaks

The black trans woman tells The Advocate about facing transphobia daily, her battle ahead, and the unusual part a county jail played in working toward justice.



Meagan Taylor, the 22-year-old black trans woman arrested and jailed last Monday after allegedly being profiled as a sex worker by Drury Inn staff as well as local police in West Des Moines, Iowa, paid her bail and fees Tuesday, and was released from Polk County Jail in Des Moines Wednesday.

What's more, the $20,000 warrant that had been issued in her name — which sought to ensure that she appeared at an upcoming Illinois court date to address a fine she missed paying for a five-year-old credit card fraud conviction — has been vacated, reports the Transgender Law Center. That Oakland, Calif.–based organization will represent Taylor moving forward, as she considers litigation stemming from her nearly two-week incarceration on unfounded charges of prostitution in Iowa.

As of Wednesday morning, Taylor was set to be extradited from Iowa to Illinois to address that 2010 conviction, for which Taylor served her full sentence at the age of 17. The charge, separate from the allegations that led to her arrest in Iowa, originally carried a $500 fee, which had since grown to $1,713 in the intervening years. When Iowa police ran Taylor's information in Des Moines, they became aware of the outstanding warrant in Illinois.

Des Moines activists Mira Bellweather, Tony Tyler, and Kaija Carter expressed concern to The Advocate that if Taylor had been extradited, she could have been held with male prisoners on the transit vehicle and in jails along the way, opening her up to possible physical and sexual assault. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Chase Strangio adds that that St. Clair County Jail in Illinois — where Taylor could have been detained over the weekend while awaiting her scheduled August 10 court appearance — has a history of institutional violence towards trans women.

In Des Moines, Taylor was held on a $2,276 bail, which she was able to pay — in addition to the $1,713 fee from the former charge — Tuesday with funds raised online by San Francisco-based trans pastor Megan Rohrer. The receipt confirming payment of the fee connected to the 2010 fraud charge was faxed Tuesday to Taylor's probation officer in Illinois by the Transgender Law Center, Taylor tells The Advocate.

Now that those outstanding fees have been paid, all legal matters relating to Taylor's Illinois probation violation have been settled. She is due to appear in court back in Iowa August 26, when a judge will consider charges related to Taylor carrying her transition-related medication without a prescription, and "malicious prosecution" — a "serious misdemeanor" defined as "a person who causes or attempts to cause another to be indicted or prosectued for any public offense."

Taylor will get legal counsel through the Transgender Law Center, which indicated to The Advocate that it is still investigating whether it's possible to get the Iowa charges dropped, as Taylor maintains she has a prescription for the medication — she just wasn't traveling with it. It is unclear whether the "malicious prosecution" charge is related to the outstanding Illinois warrant, which police informed Taylor of during her arrest.

Taylor was released at 11:44 a.m. Central time Wednesday, Rohrer tells The Advocate. The pastor's fundraiser, hosted on the San Francisco-based Welcome Ministry's website, had raised more than $5,500 at press time. An expenditure breakdown included on that site indicates that $2,276 was used to pay Taylor's bond at the Polk County Jail — $2,100 of which will be returned after she appears in court or the charges are dropped — while $1,825 was wired to Taylor's family members who paid her fees in Illinois. The remainder of the funds raised will be used to fund safe housing and transit back to Illinois, if Taylor desires it, and to help her obtain updated identification, including a legal name change and state-issued ID with her preferred name and gender listed.

Now that Taylor is out of jail, one of her top priorities is updating her legal identification to avoid such situations again, even though they should not occur in the first place, she tells The Advocate.

Taylor tells The Advocate that she felt her July 13 arrest was unequivocally unjust. "I was accused of prostituting ... [when] I was just doing my normal [thing]," she recalls. "I wasn't even doing anything criminal. I was just sitting in my hotel room that I paid for, just like everyone else." Taylor says she was visiting Des Moines from Illinois, accompanied by another trans woman, when she was allegedly profiled by hotel staff, who called police to investigate "possible prostitution activity." Taylor had signed in with a name other than her own, which in itself is not a crime.

"It seemed like they were trying to find something to charge me with," she explained to the Register. "I lied about my name [but] I was not doing any illegal activity. The lady called police because I was transgender and was with a transgender friend."

When it was discovered that Taylor was not engaged in sex work, police arrested her for carrying spironolactone hydrochloride, a transition-related medication, without a prescription, and for "malicious prosecution."

Despite her harrowing ordeal, Taylor was hopeful and smiling when she spoke with The Advocate over the phone Tuesday from Polk County Jail. Before sharing an update on what she calls the "complicated" court processes, she took the time to express her gratitude to the Polk County Jail staff, who she says were integral to getting her story out to media.

The huge response from activists (including founding members of the #BlackLivesMatter movement) and social media helped fuel the surge of donations that ultimately paid for Taylor's bail, fees, and other necessities within days of her story breaking. It's an expense the salon employee and cosmetology student says she could not otherwise afford, and without which she could have remained stuck in the legal and carceral system for much longer.

While Taylor confirms that she was placed in segregated housing without a cellmate because the jail "definitely" didn't know where to house her as a trans woman, she says she appreciates that staff "accomodated me as much as possible" by allowing as many "resources" as she needed, including a telephone, TV, and hospital bed in a private medical room.

Taylor had initially told the Register that she did not like being isolated, and felt she should be jailed with the other women.

Speaking with The Advocate Tuesday, Taylor said she felt unable to openly discuss her treatment in Polk County, because she was sitting in a "public" jail area with a guard nearby. But she did clarify to the Register that she had opted for "protective custody," to keep her out of the general population. That "general population" likely included cells shared with men, where she would have faced a heightened risk of sexual and physical assault. Sheriff Bill McCarthy was apparently well-aware of that danger when deciding where to house her, according to his comments to local media.

Taylor did emphasize to The Advocate that when she first arrived at the jail July 13, several correctional officers were especially concerned about what they considered the injustice of her arrest, and they had researched how to help her. This, in part, led to McCarthy contacting the Register in hopes that its reporters would spread the word through news coverage. That outreach resulted in an editorial by Register columnist Rekha Basu, who offers commentary on "current events, community and culture with a focus on human rights and social justice," according to her bio at the paper's website.

The Advocate subsequently picked up Taylor's story, followed by several other national news sites, helping the story to gain widespread attention, even trending as a popular Facebook news topic Monday.

As word of Taylor's incarceration began spreading over social media this past weekend, local activists sprang into action, contacting Taylor in jail to make sure she was safe, and putting pressure on the Drury Inn to apologize and give staff sensitivity training for how to treat trans and gender-nonconforming guests.

Tyler and Carter organized a Monday protest outside the West Des Moines motel and delivered a letter of demands, including that location manager Kim Gettler attend a "restorative justice" roundtable to learn how to better interact with LGBT people and people of color.

Drury Inn officials have not responded to the letter or publicly commented on Taylor's case.

For her part, Taylor says she's most concerned that trans women of color across the country daily face discrimination like that she says she experienced from the Drury Inn staff and West Des Moines police officers. She explains to The Advocate that the activist response to her case has felt "very empowering," and that she hopes to speak out about racism and transphobia on radio and television news programs to raise even more awareness.

Taylor adds that it's clear her recent ordeal could have been avoided had hotel staff and police not assumed she was engaged in criminal activity simply because she was a trans woman of color. "For a second, I didn't even think this stuff was still going on, and I thought that we [as a society] was changing," she reflects. "To witness that [we haven't] was a really big eye-opener."

Though she says her everyday life is mostly "peaceful" now, Taylor does recall that when she first began her transition to living openly as a woman she faced prejudice regularly. And whenever she does face the occasional issue for being trans now, she says "it always comes from people that I have shown my ID to, who are supposed to be professional." She explains:
"You would think I would have more problems from people on the street, random boys or random people, and I don’t even have it from them. It’s coming from people who are supposed to be professional; it’s their job. Their workplace is supposed to be helpful to people, and they’re not. … A hotel is generally supposed to be the utmost, 1,000 percent hospitality. They’re supposed to make you feel at home. They’re supposed to do it at all costs. There’s no other job like [that]."
And, Taylor stresses, she's not the only one whose story needs airtime. She tells The Advocate she's witnessed the same treatment repeatedly towards other trans women of color around her, several of whom she proudly mentors. She recalls a particularly striking alleged incident at a Sheraton Hotel in Kansas City, Mo., in which a trans friend who was celebrating the Fourth of July with Taylor and a group of other trans women informed her, "The lady at the front desk kept calling us 'sir.'"

"I confronted [the receptionist] about it," Taylor says. "I said, 'Why would you call my girlfriends 'sir'? They don't look like 'sirs' at all." Taylor says the woman referred to her friend's ID, which was marked with a "male" birth name (which was actually a unisex name, Taylor notes) to justify the misgendering.
She warns other trans people to stay safe by being prepared to face transphobia when they travel, and be aware that despite recent gains in LGBT equality and visibility, prejudice persists.

And Taylor concludes with one last message she asks The Advocate to announce: a "big, public 'thank you'" to everyone who has supported her, from activists to Polk County Jail staff to the hundreds online who have donated and shared her story.

Images courtesy of Meagan Taylor.