Thursday, March 19, 2015

In the News: West Hawaii Today

Vision event to benefit Kona’s homeless

The Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity is partnering with Project Vision Hawaii, the Kailua-Kona Lions Club and pastor Megan Rohrer from the Welcome Ministry in San Francisco to put on the Kona Vision Event to benefit homeless people and other low-income people with their vision needs. The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Old Kona Airport Park Makaeo Events Pavilion.

Dr. Susan Senft and Jenn Brown, staff at Island Eye Care Inc., will administer free eye exams. Free glasses will be ordered for attendees and later distributed by the church’s HERO Ministry. The Hawaii Island HIV/AIDS Foundation will offer HIV/HCV screenings. Lisa Lea, a SNAP outreach specialist for Hope Services, will assist people with SNAP applications. Representatives from the West Hawaii Community Health Center will provide information about services offered at the center and information about signing up for health insurance. Sarah Huddy from the Kona Commons SuperCuts will offer free haircuts. A free meal, blood pressure, and blood sugar screenings will also be offered during the event.

For more information, contact the church office at 329-5733 or visit

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Ethical Case for Autism

As the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church, I know the difficulty that comes from judgment, fear and bad science.  Having spent the past thirteen years primarily working with the homeless and hungry in San Francisco, there have been moments when my family has raised eyebrows and perhaps wished my life was safer or easier to explain their Midwestern neighbors and friends. 

As I slogged through the hard won battle with the Lutheran church to recognize LGBTQ pastors fully, there was something comforting about knowing there was a large community walking with me, supporting me and praying for me.  Yet, as I listen to GOP Presidential hopefuls, conscientious objectors to vaccinations and chirpy talk shows blithely validate parental desires to prevent, repair or erase autism; I wonder where my community is.

Diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, with what used to be called Aspergers, my autism is one of the best things about me. While Aspergers is considered mild on the autistic spectrum, I believe my autism makes me more ethical and better at my job. 

The ability to hyperfocus makes me extremely good at research and sticking with a task until it is complete.  In 2014 this gift helped me publish 3 books, create an award winning illustrated documentary and create a succulent labyrinth garden at the church.  

My literal thinking and joy of following ethical rules means problems society has unnecessarily complicated seem simple to me.  I believe the solution to homelessness is housing and to hunger is food.  These naïve assumptions compelled me to do my part and in 2014, I helped get nearly 1,000 homeless individuals eye exams and prescription eye glasses and received an honorable mention as an Unsung Hero of Compassion by His Holiness the Dali Lama.

There are countless examples of people who excel at their jobs, because of autism.  Having a brain that sees the world differently, may annoy and scare parents, but it helps our world become more innovative.  Parents may wish their autistic kids were more social, but in a work situation these same behaviors might help a brilliant worker stay focused when office mates are gossiping and wasting  hours on social networking sites.

If you’re still not on board with my ethical argument for autism, consider these two examples.  First, consider the ethical impact of exposing children to the world’s most infectious, preventable disease.  Now consider the ethical impact of an autistic child.   Jenny McCarthy, the notorious parent of an autistic child, during her Dirty, Sexy, Funny show on Sirius XM, reported that her autistic son called the police on her when she was illegally texting and driving.  McCarthy was unremorseful and shared that instead of ending the dangerous habit of texting while driving; she instead threw her son’s phone out the car window.    

Rule following, when the rules are deemed ethical, is one of the “symptoms” of autism.  Sounds horrible, right? 

It took decades to discredit reparative therapies that sought to erase or retrain sexual and gender identities.  Similar therapies for autistic children mask or hide characteristics of autism without the consent of the children living with autism.  While it may be important for the parents of autistic children to force their children to be more sociable and to learn eye contact, we should also be able ethically talk about the harm this can kind of therapy can cause.

For example, some individuals with autism experience touch as painful.  The therapeutic method sometimes used to eradicate this “symptom” from children is to hold them tight and not let go.  The idea is that the child can learn to endure the pain.  This method is repeated until the child stops exhibiting a negative response to being held. 

We’ve decided it’s abusive to inflict physical pain on adults to get them to stop having a gay identity, why is it ok to inflict pain on children to prevent their autistic identity?

Some may argue that my space on the mild end of the autistic spectrum clouds my judgment on this issue.  They may be right.  But until autistic children are given the ability to advocate for their own needs and wishes, it may require high functioning autistic adults “coming out” to raise awareness on this issue.

Minimally, we miss the point when we limit our conversations about the measles outbreak to the question of whether or not parents can choose to vaccinate their kids.  We must ethically question the motivations those of the parents, who go to dangerous lengths to try to eradicate autism from their children's lives.  Like so many other kinds of diversity that teach us about what it means to be human, we should instead ask how we can learn from people living on the autistic spectrum.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Trip to Romance Faith - Latest Living Lutheran Post

Today, as I stood in the Jordan River (see photo), I remembered both Jesus' and my own baptism. This trip is a part of an expedition I'm on to discover the wonders of God.

To date, I've seen six new wonders, two natural wonders, visited the most sacred places of Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity, got as close as non-Muslims can get to Mecca, dipped myself in four sacred waters, listened to the Dalai Lama and visited 10 countries. In the next week I'll visit two more wonders, have an audience with the pope and learn about early Christians in Egypt and Turkey. -

Read the rest at: the ELCA's Living Lutheran

Sunday, September 14, 2014

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In the News: KALW

 Listen to the Broadcast

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church sits on a quiet residential corner in the outer Sunset district of San Francisco. Upstairs in a meeting room, a small group is gathered around rectangular folding tables to sing Grace before they eat. The sound of a sweetly harmonized “Amen” floats up to the rafters of the high-ceilinged room.

Church members gather every week for a potluck dinner with their pastor-- to share food, fellowship, and spiritual conversation. The group has an easy familiarity with each other; most of the congregants are older folks who have lived in the neighborhood a long time, and have been going to this church for decades. As they eat dinner, Pastor Megan Rohrer plays a contemporary pop song as a launch pad for discussion.

Some heads nod to the beat, but it’s clear that this kind of music isn’t the normal fare for this group. The room is filled with graying heads. Then, there’s the 34-years-young pastor, who stands out for another reason, too.

“You can kind of tell from 20 feet away that I’m genderqueer, trans, or a big diesel dyke—which isn’t how I identify, but it’s how I look from the outside,” says Pastor Megan Rohrer.

Rohrer was called to lead Grace Lutheran in February 2014, becoming the first openly transgender head or solo pastor of a Lutheran Church.  But Rohrer’s path to ministry was not an easy one.

“I grew up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which is the midwest and cultural heartland of Lutherans,” says Rohrer. “The motto [there] is like: Be in the paper when you’re born and when you die and don’t get credit for anything in between. Because your job is to just, like, fit in.”

But they actually found it hard to fit in in South Dakota. A word about pronouns here: Rohrer prefers the gender-neutral pronoun “they.” At this point in their life, they say they feel comfortable with both male and female aspects of their identity, and English doesn’t have a pronoun that captures that.
“It’s kind of a fascinating place to exist in the world—that people can’t really pin you down,” says Rohrer.

Rohrer grew up religious. They say that as a child, people recognized their gift for helping others, so ministry seemed like a good calling. But when they came out as a lesbian while attending a Lutheran college, religion was no longer welcoming. 

“The people who were in my religion classes with me would sing hymns when I walked by, to try to get rid of my gay demons. And I would just sing harmony. I didn’t know what to do,” Rohrer says.
After college, Rohrer came to identify as transgender, and eventually found their way to a progressive Lutheran seminary in Berkeley. They were ordained in 2006, working extensively with homeless people and associate pastoring at several churches in San Francisco before being called to lead Grace Lutheran Church.

Rohrer says they know a lot of people have felt let down by traditional churches, places that may have been un-welcoming, fundamentalist, or judgmental.

“Identifying as trans makes people hear my sermons differently and hear what I’m saying differently,” says Rohrer. “We do something called ‘Bible Study That Doesn’t Suck’ online. It’s completely normal bible study. It just has a title that says that it doesn’t suck, which gives people the opportunity to give it a second chance -- because they think Jerry Falwell or Fred Phelps is what every Christian believes, and you should write off all Christians.”

Finding Grace
After going years without a permanent pastor, Grace Lutheran’s aging congregation was dwindling. The church council at Grace was tasked with finding a new pastor to help the congregation survive and thrive into the future.

Sally Ann Ryan is president of the council and says Rohrer was their top choice.

“She is so alive. So with today, but also with the past, with the Bible,” says Ryan. “She preaches everything from the Bible and that, but it’s in today’s language, more than most people do. She appeals to all ages, I’ve found.”

You may have noticed that Ryan is using the pronoun “she” to talk about Rohrer. Most people that I spoke to at Grace refer to their pastor as “she.” Though Rohrer prefers to use the pronoun “they” when possible, it’s not really an issue at church.

“I really am much more interested in being someone’s pastor at the end of the conversation than having them get my gender right,” Rohrer explains. “My job as a pastor is to care more about what’s going in the person I’m talking to than about what’s going on in my own life. And you can imagine that throughout the lifespan of doing ministry with people, that if your only concern was to think about what offended you, you would be a really crappy pastor.”

Rohrer’s gender identity, or the fact that their partner is a woman, was a non-issue for council president Ryan when it came to choosing a new pastor.

“What she does in her private life is up to her,” says Ryan. “What she does in her church life is what’s important.”

Pam Ryan, council president Sally Ann Ryan’s daughter, grew up at Grace. She’s in her 30s now and has a teenage son. He doesn’t come to church these days, because there are no other people his age. But she says Rohrer’s fresh perspective may just bring her son back into the fold.

At a free healthcare event the church held around Easter, the teen chatted with the pastor about safe sex, and then got to help burn palms for next year’s ashes.

“So he got to talk about condoms and lighting a fire with our new pastor,” says Pam Ryan. “So he left here like, ‘Cool, she’s cool!’”

Rohrer says that more than being a trans person, the radical thing about their presence is the age difference.

“You could multiply my age times two and I would still be one of the younger people in this congregation,” says Rohrer. “So I think it’s radical for them to have a 34-year-old who’s hanging out at their congregation and bringing life to them.”

But Rohrer says being publicly known as a church leader from a marginalized group comes with its own pressures.

“Most people don’t know other trans pastors. When you’re of a very small group there’s this sense that if you screw up, it means everybody who’s like you is not okay. Or if you screw up they’re going to pass rules saying transgender people can’t be pastors because that person screwed up,” says Rohrer. “And so there’s something really beautiful about people accepting you for the fullness of who you are so that you don’t have to be a superhero all the time. You can be Clark Kent … I get to be just a normal person who screws up the bulletin every once in a while, you know?”

Despite the occasional typo in the weekly church bulletin, Rohrer and Grace seem to be getting along just fine. Since the new pastor arrived, the congregation has grown in membership by 34 percent. Rohrer says that number is “a fancy way of saying that the congregation of sixteen grew by six people. But it sounds fancier in the percentage.”

Rohrer recently underwent a trans-related surgery.
“I let them know that I would be having surgery, that I wouldn’t be sharing with them the nature of my surgery, and that if they guessed, that was fine, but they shouldn’t tell me they figured it out,” says Rohrer. “But it’s pretty obvious: I went from like a triple D to an A, essentially.”

Rohrer says the congregation’s support during the healing process was both touching and surprising like a 98-year-old woman in the congregation who said, “Now that you’ve had this surgery, what are your pronoun choices, and are you going to be changing your name?”

Rohrer says they’re convinced that they’ve found the perfect pastoral fit at Grace Lutheran:
“People who truly embody the word Grace. Never in a million years, in a million years, did I think that I would be a part of a church that could welcome me and allow me to be a pastor fully identifying as how I am.”

So Pastor Megan Rohrer has found a spiritual home. And the Grace congregation has found just the right shepherd to lead them on their journey.

You might say it's a match made in heaven.

Friday, August 1, 2014

In the News: South Florida Gay News

The Gender Neutral Pronoun Dilemma

He or she? How about “they”?

Some transgender folks are forgoing the traditional pronouns of “he” and “she” and instead asking to be referred to as “they” creating a grammatical nightmare for English teachers.
As any grammarian will tell you the pronoun “they” is used to refer to two or more people, but more importantly, to some trans folks, it’s gender neutral — whereas he and she are singular, but gender specific.

And that creates a grammatical dilemma.

Unlike some languages English does not have gender-neutral singular pronouns so for people like Jack Qu’emi, Brent Stanfield, and Megan Rohrer they say the language doesn’t accurately represent who they are so they’ve decided to rewrite the rules and use “they” in the singular.

“I get a lot of people saying that’s not grammatically correct,” said Jack Qu’emi, a 23-year-old student at University of Central Florida. “Usually, my first response is: Ok, my gender identity is more important than your grammar preferences, and, on top of that, singular ‘they’ has been used for hundreds of years by people like Shakespeare.”

Fred Fejes, a journalism professor at Florida Atlantic University, said the word became popular in the 70s as part of a feminist movement against a male-dominated language.

Since then, it has come to be a representation of people who don’t fit as part of either gender.
“I’m female-assigned at birth, and I’m feminine presenting, and a lot of people assume I use ‘she,’ but I think that ‘they’ is a lot more inclusive,” said 26-year-old Ray. “I identify a lot more as a feminine person than as a woman. I started using gender-neutral pronouns impulsively, and it felt really good, and I’ve been using them ever since.”

Qu’emi said the word shouldn’t be an issue because it’s also used colloquially today.

Those who use the pronoun have come up with different ways to explain it.

Taylor Collins, a 19-year-old University of Southern California student, uses the example of talking about a person of an unknown gender in a mascot outfit at a basketball game. While 21-year-old Brent Stanfield uses heritage, and famous public figures, to explain the decision to go gender-neutral.
“I think it can be helpful to talk about more famous people and instances of gender bending, like using Lady Gaga to help people understand that sometimes you can mix genders or be something out of male or female,” Stanfield said. “I think for me as a Native American, I can also sort of talk about different Native American cultures. Some of them would have more than two gender roles.”
Every day those who use “they” face challenges because of the lack of representation and general awareness of the existence of people who don’t identity as either “male” or “female.”

“One of the hardest parts are identification issues,” Qu’emi said. “You’ll be addressed based on your legal name, like on the phone they don’t care what you look like because they can’t see you. They go by what is a feminine or masculine voice.”

Qu’emi also has trouble when going to restaurants, doctors, clinics or the DMV and faces a lot of microagressions.

A microaggression is an interaction between those of different races, cultures, genders or sexual orientations, which can be interpreted as small acts of mostly non-physical aggression. The term was coined in 1970 by Chester Pierce, a noted psychiatry professor.

“Misgendering me is a microaggression, like casually being cissexist or casually not including agender individuals, casually saying, ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’” Qu’emi said. “Cissexism” is where non-trans (cisgender) people consider themselves superior to trans people. “I guess I don’t have to listen because you’re not addressing me. It usually comes exclusively from people, from individuals, and 98 percent of the time it’s done without people knowing they’re doing it.”

People like Stanfield don’t feel comfortable using “they” outside of a safe setting.

“My pronoun preference and gender identity aren’t considered to be a serious option,” Stanfield said. “Like something only someone in a liberal arts college would come up with.”

“They” still remains the only comfortable option for those who choose to identify with it.
“I’m gender fluid,” Collins said. “People can call me ‘she’ or ‘he’ and that’s fine, but I think ‘they’ is a good default for me. Most of the time I feel kind of gender neutral, and if people don’t know how I’m feeling that day, then ‘they’ is the best pronoun to go with.”

“They” offers people a chance to define themselves how they choose.

“I’m just in a place where I want to feel safe and loved and have a gender that just doesn’t feel that it’s giving anyone false information, because I really like my body, and my way in the world is in a transition place,” said Megan Rohrer, a 33-year-old transgender pastor. “’They’ accomplishes that in a way that ‘he’ or ‘she’, which tend to tip towards one side of the binary, don’t.”

Those interviewed agreed that education and public attention can bring more acceptance.

“As long as it’s controversial and media is talking about it, the more people are going to learn,” Rohrer said. “If there’s not a way to educate a lot of people across different cultures, there’s not a way for me to find true acceptance. As long as there’s controversy, people become more comfortable just through talking about it. If their first reaction was ‘I’m upset,’ their third reaction would be, ‘Oh, I heard that,’ and their third reaction would be more tolerant and accepting.”

As Stanfield puts it: “Even if it wasn’t grammatically correct, why does it matter?”

Thursday, July 24, 2014

In the News: Bay Area Reporter

Castro Lions' bountiful gifts


Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

Representatives from 20 LGBT, HIV/AIDS, and other nonprofits joined members of the Castro Lions Club for its annual dinner and grant distribution Thursday, July 17 at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church. Castro Lions distributed $126,000 to the nonprofits, including $45,000 for the Lions Eye Foundation; $15,000 for the National AIDS Memorial Grove; $4,000 to the AIDS and Breast Cancer Emergency Funds; and $45,000 as part of a matching grant to the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. Several other organizations also received checks, such as Openhouse, Tenderloin Tessie, and La Casa De Las Madres ($500 each), Positive Resource Center ($2,500), and the Pacific Center in Berkeley ($1,000). Lions spokesman Gary Nathan said the club was happy to be able to help so many organizations.