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.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

In the News: NBC

Transgender Community Wants Proper Identification After Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire

The father of one victim says all communities must become more accepting so "everyone can enjoy a great party or concert in a space that is not a death trap"

Cash Askew, Em Bohkla and Feral Pines
The Oakland warehouse artists' enclave was supposed to be a safe place, emotionally and spiritually, for the artists and free spirits who chose lives off the beaten track. An electronic music party had also attracted many in the transgender community, who had come together on Friday night, as they did regularly, to dance with friends and blow off steam.
But physically, the enclave wasn't safe at all on Friday. A fire ripped through the illegally converted warehouse at 1305 East 31st Avenue in the city's Fruitvale neighborhood, killing at least 36 people.
It's the deadliest blaze in Oakland history, and it counts at least three transgender women among the victims: Cash Askew, 22, of Oakland; Feral Pines, 29, of Berkeley and Em Bohlka, 33, of Oakland.  
The father of one is lamenting how few spaces trans people have to gather safely.
"My heart goes out to the entire trans community who feel as if they must gather in unsafe buildings to experience their community and celebrate their identity," said Jack Bohlka in an Instagram post remembering his daughter, Em. 

Friends and family prefer their new names be used to identify them, instead of the ones they were born with, following commonly accepted tradition in the trans community. And that means authorities are now also dealing with an unorthodox situation; one they said they're willing to comply with, albeit with a few mistakes.

What's in a Name?When Feral Pines was identified as a victim in the fire, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office on Monday first gave her name as Justin Fritz, her birth name. That was corrected later and the sheriff tweeted an apology.
In an interview on Tuesday, Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. J.D. Nelson said the coroner's office is now identifying the victims to the public by the names their families — not their friends — ask for, and will note the legal name, if different, on the official death certificate, which is the law. Alameda County sheriff's Tya Modete added that department was working with an LGBT advocate to report the proper gender identification.
A name means a lot in the trans community, a fact that was known by most, if not all, of the creative, musical and artistic party goers at the warehouse on Friday night.
"It's called 'dead naming,'" Carol Dauley, an audio engineer and past president of Transgender SF said in an interview with NBC Bay Area on Tuesday. "That means their old name no longer exists. It's disrespectful, and in the eyes of the trans community, there is never a good reason to use the old name."
Scout Wolfcave, executive director at the Trans Assistance Project in Portland and a friend to one of the victims, said using the right names and pronouns is especially important for trans people when they die.
"Many in the transgender community don't want to be referred to by the names they were given at birth, because when they transition from one gender to another, they want to make a clean break from the past," Wolfcave wrote on Facebook.
Pastor Megan Rohrer, of Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco, said she appreciated that first responders were taking great pain to get pronouns correct.
"I just want to lift up how great I think that is, that they're taking the time to do their best, even though it's really hard," they said. (Rohrer uses they/their as gender pronouns.)
Rohrer also noted that the LGBT community at large has a long history of holding celebrations in unsafe places on the margins of the community, going back to the days of vice squads patrolling San Francisco.
"The trans community and the LGBT community, when they don't feel safe in other parts of community, often find safety amongst artists," Rohrer said.
And yet the warehouse was beautiful, according to Rohrer, and it seemed to them that it was a great place to have a party: "That's kind of the transgender experience. There's so much beauty and there's so much risk, all the time.

Here are brief portraits of the three women who died in the fire.
Feral Pines: 'Shined in the Sun'Wolfcave was roommates with Pines, who moved to the Bay Area from Indiana and was originally from Connecticut. She graduated from Staples High School in 2005 and attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where she studied offset lithography, her father said. She had always loved music.
"I had just texted her on Friday, telling her about something I was doing with my daughter that she and I use to do together and I know that she saw it, so that makes me feel better," Pines' sister, Amanda Parry, told News 12 in Connecticut. And in an email, friend Sarah Patterson said that Pines was a "syth genius with impeccable musical taste," who was also an "anti-facist" who was seen taking down swastikas inside the Ghost Ship.
On Facebook, Wolfcave reminisced about being really close with Pines — they loved and hated most of the same things.
"We also all had eerily similar senses of humor and were constantly joking about death, burners, body horror, poop, tiny glasses, gogurt," Wolfcave wrote. "Conversely, there were a few things that Feral and I would always argue about, like ... whether one would rather go to Burning Man or the Gathering of the Juggalos."
Pines moved to California recently and just "blossomed," Wolfcave wrote.
"She went from the comically sad basement dwelling synth collector," Wolfcave wrote, "to a person that shined in the sun, and moved up and down the 1, and took in the fresh air and saw all these fresh possibilities open up before her."
Cash Askew: 'Brilliant, Talented, Unique' StudentAskew, a graduate of Urban High School in San Francisco, was active in the Bay Area music and art scene and was part of a band called Them Are Us Too. "Them" is a preferred pronoun for many in the transgender community instead of "him" or "her."
The band's debut album on Dais Records, Remain, was released in 2015.
"Cash Askew was an absolutely loved and treasured member of the Dais Records family," the label and band's management team said in a statement.
"We were in awe of her talent, her gentle kindness, and her creative momentum," it continued. "Her passing is an excruciating loss that we may never fully process or recover from."
Askew also was a 2008 graduate of the Children's Day School in San Francisco. "She was a brilliant, talented, unique, nonconformist student," Head of School Molly Huffman wrote in a letter, noting that Askew transitioned to female after middle school.
CDS teacher Terry Askhinos wrote a letter to the school remembering Askew as "a gentle, free spirited 13-year-old who always found ways to be an individual, whether it was in her class work, her fiction writing, her fashion, her art, or her political convictions. Cash was always one step ahead of the rest of us and I often held her up as an example to the class of how to make learning a work of art."
Em Bohlka: Beginning her TransitionHer father, Jack Bohlka of Claremont, Calif. took to Instagram to document his child's life.
"Many of you will remember her as Matt. But recently she was transitioning to become a beautiful, happy woman. She took the name Em. I just wish with all my heart that she had more time to live her life as she truly wanted. My heart goes out to the entire trans community who feel as if they must gather in unsafe buildings to experience their community and celebrate their identity. Our communities must become more open and accepting of all people, all identities, so that everyone can enjoy a great party or concert in a space that is not a death trap."
He also told NBC Bay Area in a statement he will be establishing a fund at his local LGBT center in memory of Em, so that more transgender people will be able to become who they truly are, and so that there will be more safe spaces available.”
Donations to the Oakland warehouse fire victims can be made at
NBC's Asher Klein contributed to this report. 

In the News: KGO-TV

Watch the video here

The Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire has been described as heartbreaking for the LGBT community. There are at least three transgender people who are been confirmed dead.

Reverend Megan Rohrer is a pastor who is supporting families and friends of some of the transgender people who died in that fire.

So far three have been confirmed, 22-year-old Cash Askew, a musician with the dream pop band "them are us too" and Feral Pines, 29, whose brother told the Los Angeles Times she followed her path and was true to herself. The third transgender person identified was Em Bohlka whose partner, Natalie Jahanbani talked to ABC7 News on the phone.

"The world has a way of being unkind to those who we consider to be the norm and I just don't want one more trans person to die without getting a voice and getting to know who they are," said Rev. Megan Rohrer, transgender pastor.

Click here to donate to the Alameda County Disaster Relief Fund.

I spoke to one parents of a LGBT child who knew one of the victims whose name has been released and she was devastated not only mourning the loss of friends and a beautiful musician but it could have been her child.

Last night, Rev. Rohrer led a vigil in San Francisco requested by the LGBT community. Immediately following the fire, she was called in by the city of Oakland to assist those in the transgender community.

"I want people to know that they can get support whether it's today or in four months when it feels safe enough and all of the cameras have turned off and they feel then can get help in the community," said Rohrer.

In the News: Hoodline

Castro Vigil Honors Trans Victims Of Ghost Ship Fire In Oakland

About 75 people gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro on Monday night to pay their respects to the lives lost at the Ghost Ship Collective in Oakland this past weekend. So far 36 people are confirmed dead in the blaze.

The vigil was organized by Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer of Grace Lutheran Church in the Sunset District. Rev. Rohrer is the first openly transgender pastor to be installed at a Lutheran congregation.
"There's a need to create a safe space to mourn and to honor the transgender lives who were lost in the fire," Pastor Rohrer said as the vigil got underway. "LGBT people have always been welcomed in artistic communities. Cash Askew, a famous transgender musician who perished at Ghost Ship might have been a big draw to the trans community."
Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer adressing mourners at last night's vigil.
Vigil attendees lit candles and wrote personal messages, which were hung on the railing above the plaza.
Pastor Rohrer, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, said that they had already spent some time counseling the families, friends and loved ones of those who died at Ghost Ship.

"My heart was stirred by the time I spent with the victim's families," Pastor Rohrer said. "Today we mourn all the victims. We hold in strength all who were lost. We need safe spaces for trans individuals so we can go to the bathroom without fear. So we don't have to fear a change in politicians. Live for those whose lives were cut short—be the light in the deep darkness."

Tracy Garza, a disabled transgender woman, was the next to speak. "This is this the saddest time I can remember here," she said. "I'm seeing some unprecedented things happen across the country—the man coming into the White House has never been a public servant. Most of us are trying to remain optimistic, our community has always been resilient. I am so grateful to those who came for a few minutes to remember the victims of the Oakland fire."

Garza also reiterated the need for safe transgender spaces.
Personal messages hung along the plaza's railing.
Rohrer then introduced Rev. Cameron Partridge and Rev. Ian Stanford. Both are Episcopalian priests as well as transgender men.

"I'm here to honor the creation of safe spaces," Rev. Partridge said. "What can we all do to create safe spaces? Ghost Ship was a place where people were going not only to be creative, but to be safe."
Rev. Stanford led the crowd in prayer. "O Gracious One. We who call you by many names or by none at all. We ask that you stand with us. We ask that you comfort and console us. Bind our voices as one as we come together. In all our diversity we come to you. 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 fought tears as she spoke. "I want us to remember that we came here for a reason," she said. "Why were our artists, our dancers, our trans folk in a shoddy warehouse? We will have our answers and we will change things for the better."
The Sister then invited everyone to turn to the person nearest them and say, "I am with you." Some people wept as they did so.
Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer and Sister Merry Peter | PHOTO COURTESY OF MONSERRATH ARREOLA
Both Rev. Rohrer and Sister Merry said they hoped this would be the final time the community would have to meet amid tragedy.

"While I mourn the victims there has to be action around affordable housing," said Jordan Gwendolyn Davis, a 31-year-old transgender woman, after the vigil. "A lot of the people who lived in the Ghost Ship were priced out of housing. We need affordable housing and work spaces that are up to code."

Rev. Rohrer suggested that people set up buddy systems so that loved ones can stay informed during emergencies. "Ensure that at least one safe person has a copy of your legal name and your emergency contacts," they said. "So that if God forbid a tragedy happens, they can be identified and mourned with full dignity."

The pastor also said that they were happy that authorities were taking the time to learn the preferred names and genders of the dead before releasing those names to the public.

In the News: San Francisco Chronicle

Vigil in SF mourns transgender victims of Oakland fire Michael Bodley
Updated 10:03 am, Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Photos: Paul Kuroda, Special To The Chronicle

A candlelight vigil was held Monday night in San Francisco for several transgender victims of the Oakland warehouse fire.

Several dozen people gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza at Market and Castro streets to mourn their transgender friends and relatives, most of whose deaths have not yet been confirmed.

Thirty-six bodies have been found in the converted warehouse on 31st Avenue and International Boulevard, where dozens of partyers were trapped when a fire broke out Friday night during an electronic music performance by Golden Donna 100% Silk.

The mourners Monday prayed next to dozens of candles laid out on an ornate tapestry surrounded by homemade signs with names of victims or people still missing. A rainbow-colored ribbon was draped over a railing behind the candles.

“The fire was horrendous,” said the Rev. Cameron Partridge, 43, a priest at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, “and we’re realizing increasingly that there were a number of trans folks there that were part of our community.”

Nobody knows exactly how many of their brethren were killed, said the Rev. Megan Rohrer, a transgender Lutheran pastor in San Francisco, because most people in the community use different names from what’s on their birth certificates, which investigators use to identify victims.
“It’s not known if we will be able to identify all of the individuals,” Rohrer said, adding that “your tears will be my tears.”

Tracy Garza, a board member at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, said the people living in the warehouse community known as the Ghost Ship were there mostly because they had no other affordable place to go where transgender people can live and thrive.

In the News: NBC Bay Area

Vigils in Oakland, SF Honor Victims of Warehouse Fire

Hundreds of people holding lights honored those who died in the Oakland warehouse fire during a vigil Monday night in Oakland's Lake Merritt. Kim Yonenaka reports. (Published Monday, Dec. 5, 2016)
Hundreds of people holding lights honored those who died in the Oakland warehouse fire during a vigil Monday night in Oakland's Lake Merritt.

Those in the crowd embraced each other or held up lights or flowers and said aloud the names of people they lost in the blaze, though some booed the city's mayor when she spoke.
Several people in the crowd had signs offering "free hugs."
Among the attendees were the parents of 35-year-old Travis Hough, who died in the fire. He was there to support one of the performers.
"He worked with troubled kids," Hough's dad said. "Everyone knew him as Mr. Travis. They all loved him."
Attendees were asked to bring flameless candles, glow sticks, flashlights or other lights. Whether they knew someone lost in this fire, or were just touched by the magnitude of this tragedy, the vigil drew a crowd of about 500 people.

"I'm only 15, and I don't know what they are going through," Taylor Nelson said. "I want to say they are in my prayers."

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf spoke at the event, where she was greeted with boos and calls to resign from saddended, angry atendants. Some people have criticized Schaaf, saying she emphasized the warehouse's code violations instead of the city's shortage of affordable housing in the hours following the deadly fire.

"As we move forward right now, our focus has to be on those who we know are lost and those we are going to learn have been lost," the mayor said.

In San Francisco, a tearful crowd remembered the transgender victims of the warehouse fire.
"Some of those members don't have a connection to family," one attendee said. "We are their family; it is our job to hold them up."

The transgender clergy said some members of the community lived in the warehouse. But many were there to see popular transgender performer Cash Askew, the 22-year-old who died in the fire.

Em Bohlka's father said his daughter was there to see the show. In a statement, he said his heart is broken, and it was wonderful to see her becoming who she was meant to be.

It's possible some victims' parents will never know their child died.

Pastor Megan Rohrer said in life many of the transgender victims struggled to feel safe and belong. She said in death, the coroner is respecting who they were.
"It's kind of beautiful," she said. "They are taking time to make sure they're using chosen names and preferred gender pronouns."

In the News: Bay City News

Mourners honor warehouse fire victims

Hundreds gathered Monday evening at Lake Merritt and in the Castro for candlelight vigils in honor of Oakland fire victims, and Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern said he’s hopeful no more dead bodies will be found at the site of the warehouse fire that has so far claimed 36 lives.

Saying he can’t be sure there are no additional casualities until authorities finish searching the site at 1305 31st Ave., Ahern said there are still “two areas of concern” that haven’t been searched yet because of safety issues.

But he said, “We don’t anticipate any huge numbers” in addition to the 36 people whose bodies have been recovered so far.

Ahern said 16 victims’ families have been notified of deaths and five more families were being notified this afternoon.

Three of the victims who died were from out of the country, one each from Finland, Korea and Guatemala, Ahern said.

The vigil at Harvey Milk Plaza, hosted by Rev. Megan Rohrer and other local transgendered religious leaders, highlighted the fact that many of the victims of Friday’s three-alarm fire and others affected by it were transgendered.

Rohrer, the first openly transgendered pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church, said she had been called Friday to help minister to the families and friends of victims. Authorities have found 36 bodies so far in the wreckage of the Fruitvale warehouse art space known as the “Ghost Ship,” which caught fire Friday around 11:30 p.m. during a party and electronic music show.
Rohrer said:
“I heard of the great need for there to be a space for the transgendered individuals who are mourning their friends, who might not have a safe space to mourn in. … Who might, in addition to their love of music and art, be in a warehouse because it was one of the spaces that they felt safe in.”
Rohrer noted that one of those confirmed dead in the fire, Cash Askew, was a popular transgendered musician. Askew performed with the group Them Are Us Too.

Rohrer noted that authorities were taking care, as they identified the dead, to confirm the preferred gender and names of transgendered individuals. In some cases, however, she said identification and notification of family had been slowed by difficulty in determining individual’s legal names.

The Alameda County coroner’s bureau has completed 22 autopsies of the 36 victims found so far and more autopsies will be done on Tuesday, Ahern said. Names of eight of the victims have been released and others will be released as their next of kin are notified.

The recovery efforts were halted early this morning because of structural integrity issues at the front of building, Oakland Deputy Fire Chief Darin White said.

He said crews have searched through about 75 percent of the building as of this afternoon and he expects the recovery efforts to resume tonight.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said a criminal investigation team is looking into the fire and is headed by a deputy district attorney with expertise in land and property use.

“It’s too early to speculate” on possible charges, O’Malley said, but she said possible charges could range from murder to involuntary manslaughter if the evidence warrants.
She said:
“We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls giving us information and we need to follow up on those leads.”
O’Malley said her investigators have begun interviewing people she described as “operators” of the “Ghost Ship” but she declined to say if that includes chief operator Derick Ion Almena.

O’Malley said a hotline where people can provide additional information is available at (877) 288-2882, while victims and their families can seek support at (510) 272-6180.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf declined to comment on whether local officials should have done more to investigate potential wrongdoing at the warehouse, saying, “In the days and weeks ahead we’ll have many conversations about what we’ve learned and how we move forward.” Schaaf said, “We have all hands on deck” and at this time the city’s priority is working with and comforting the families of the fire victims.
Schaaf said she’s limited in what she can say because a criminal investigation is now under way.
She said:
“We would not want to compromise the District Attorney’s ability to hold people responsible for this potential atrocity.”
According to court records, on Jan. 13, 2015, Almena, 46, was arrested on suspicion of felony possession of stolen property at the warehouse. According a probable cause statement, a woman said she flagged down a patrolling sheriff’s deputy and said Almena had stolen her trailer and she had tracked it to the 31st Avenue site.

The woman, who claimed Almena was her former tenant, performed a citizen’s arrest of Almena and Deputy Jeremy Lucha arrested him and booked him into the Glenn Dyer Jail in downtown Oakland.
Lucha said in his report that Almena confessed to having the trailer “for about a week.” District Attorney officials couldn’t be reached for comment on how Almena’s case was resolved.

In the News: CBS

Hundreds Gather At Vigils For Ghost Ship Fire Victims

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Across the Bay Area, friends and family gathered at candlelit vigils to mourn those who died in the Oakland warehouse fire.
Lights lifted to the sky Monday night around Oakland’s Lake Merritt as at least a thousand mourners gathered to pay tribute to those who died in the Ghost Ship fire.
For days, the local arts community in the East Bay has been in shock. Monday night, they were in mourning.

An artist who calls herself Mz. Butterfly told KPIX 5 the creative community in Oakland is close. She was grieving for sound engineer Barrett Clark, one of those still missing and unaccounted for in the wake of the fire.

“It’s affecting the community deeply,” said Mz. Butterfly. “Everyone in Oakland and beyond has been affected by this tragedy.”

She also knows Derrick Ion Almena, the controversial master tenant who has faced backlash for throwing the party in a warehouse that was not up to code.

Continuing Coverage: Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire

“All I can tell you is that he’s a very horrible person and he has a long history of harming people,” she said.
Monday night, amid the anger there was also love. One man held a sign that read “HUGS HERE.” Oakland resident Chris Edwards, who said he lost friends in the fire, handed out free candy.
“Lost a lot of friends and my friends lost friends,” said Edwards. “I’ve just come out to show love for the people who were lost.”

He, like many others at the vigil, was still reeling.
“It’s been intense. The loss of life has been devastating,” said Edwards. “And beyond that I worry about the artist community and if it’s gonna be destroyed.”

Edwards said he has already heard tales of city officials knocking on the doors of other artist’s compounds in search of violations.

His fear: that the ripple effects of this tragedy have just begun.

As many as 50 people gathered in San Francisco’s Castro District Monday evening for a candlelight vigil in honor of Oakland fire victims.

The vigil at Harvey Milk Plaza, hosted by Rev. Megan Rohrer and other local transgender religious leaders, highlighted the fact that many of the victims of Friday’s three-alarm fire and others affected by it were transgender persons.

Rohrer, the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church, said she had been called Friday to help minister to the families and friends of victims. Authorities have found 36 bodies so far in the wreckage of the Fruitvale warehouse art space known as the “Ghost Ship,” which caught fire Friday around 11:30 p.m. during a party and electronic music show.

“I heard of the great need for there to be a space for the transgendered individuals who are mourning their friends, who might not have a safe space to mourn in,” Rohrer said. “Who might, in addition to their love of music and art, be in a warehouse because it was one of the spaces that they felt safe in.”
Rohrer noted that one of those confirmed dead in the fire, Cash Askew, was a popular transgendered musician.

Askew performed with the group Them Are Us Too.

Rohrer noted that authorities were taking care, as they identified the dead, to confirm the preferred gender and names of transgender individuals.

In some cases, however, she said identification and notification of family had been slowed by difficulty in determining individual’s legal names.

TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

In the News: Bay Area Reporter

Trump election raises housing, homelessness concerns
Published 12/01/2016 

Federal funds for homelessness and housing programs could dry up under a Trump administration, leaving city officials scrambling to determine how the services can be maintained if President-elect Donald Trump follows through on promises he's made to deport undocumented immigrants and penalize sanctuary cities like San Francisco.

The city could lose as much as $1 billion per year in federal funding, leaving advocates concerned about where that shortfall would be made up and about how housing services would be provided to the homeless, seniors, immigrants, and others.

Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors have reaffirmed San Francisco's sanctuary city status, and Lee said at a unity rally after the election that San Francisco would remain a welcoming place for all, including LGBT people, people of color, and all religious faiths.

Earlier this month, Brian Cheu, director of community development for the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development, held a forum to assess the housing needs of the homeless, senior, and LGBTQ communities. Also mentioned was how programs could continue being funded should the city lose its federal funding during a Trump administration.

"Currently our department was asked to provide a summary of our current federal dollars and what it supports so that the mayor could better understand how a cut to our federal funding would affect our department," Cheu said at the November 17 meeting. "The mayor will look at available funding sources to see how the general fund and other sources would be used to maximize the availability of existing services and avoid losing valuable community resources."

Cheu also said that it was too early in the budgeting process for the city to finalize strategies should certain significant funding streams be eliminated.

Around 100 people attended the forum at the Castro Senior Center inside Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church at 110 Diamond Street. The meeting was divided into three groups. Elena Chavez Quezada, senior program officer for the Walter and Elise Hass Fund, led the homeless discussion. Clinton Loftman, who also works with the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development, facilitated the senior housing discussion. The HIV and housing discussion was led by Pastor Megan Rohrer of Grace Lutheran Church.

Andrea Aiello, executive director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District and Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee both participated in the homeless discussion. Aiello addressed the Castro Cares programs, which puts community monitors out onto the streets of the neighborhood to help lead them to the services they need.

"Homeless outreach is about getting to know people," she said. "How can that happen when monitors are out there for two hours every six months? While we've touched a lot of people there's a gap. Something is missing. We're not quite providing what the people need."

Avicolli Mecca said people need to fight evictions and see that more housing is built.

"We need to decriminalize homelessness – we need to involve homeless folks in the discussion. Why is there no shelter in the Castro? Our community has a homelessness crisis," he said.

One homeless man who declined to give his name spoke up during the discussion. "We need to lean on the tech companies," he said. "Make them come through with funding. It's disgusting that we have so much wealth – there should be no one on the streets."

He also mentioned mental health concerns, noting that in his experience psychiatrists were shying away from homeless services because they could charge higher fees to tech workers.

At the HIV table, people were expressing concern about the possibility of funding cuts. Several people mentioned that the housing policies that have been developed in Salt Lake City were a good model for San Francisco to follow. Salt Lake City – and the state of Utah – has decreased homelessness by 91 percent by increasing the services it offers and by sending more outreach workers into homeless communities.

Rohrer spoke to the Bay Area Reporter after the meeting.

"Before the meeting, I thought the most emergent issue would be a response to the projected loss of $2 million dollars in HIV/AIDS housing funds due to federal recalculations," Rohrer said. "After listening to the needs of advocates, service providers, and legal advisers supporting individuals with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco, I now understand that the potential loss of federal funding is across a wide range of important intersectional issues affecting vulnerable San Franciscans."

Rohrer, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said that they were pleased to learn about a new computer portal that will soon streamline the application process for low-income housing. The portal will also email individuals when housing that matches their criteria becomes available.

At all three discussions, the scarcity of available housing was an ongoing issue. Some noted that the cost of building affordable housing has limited the city's ability to match the needs of its low-income residents, while others argued that the city could build the housing regardless. A number of people expressed support for the city's new Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, which aims to streamline all services under one roof.

"While it's always good to have discussions on this topic, the simple fact is that the city has to provide housing to the homeless," Avicolli Mecca said. "Why is the city continuing to build luxury housing for the rich? We especially need housing for the homeless in the Castro. The LGBT community has high rates of homelessness and poverty – yet in the past six years no housing for the homeless has been built in the Castro area."

Aiello pointed out that a lot of the suggestions made at the meeting had been heard before.
"The city knows what needs to be done," she said. "It just needs the political will to do it. Optimism was expressed about the city's move to bring all services under the new Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. I share that optimism, but strong leadership and the political will will be needed."
Cheu said that he was pleased with the meeting. He called the evening "an honest, civic dialogue about important issues such as civic housing, housing for HIV-positive folks, and the homeless."

"As we were holding the meeting in the Castro, these three issues are of key importance both to the city at large and specifically to the Castro community," Cheu added. "There was a good mix of stakeholders represented, and that being said, there is always the need to have even more constituents present who are affected daily by these issues."

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

In the News: NationSwell

Rose Broome of HandUp

HandUp's innovative technology is revolutionizing how donors connect with those in need.

The seed for HandUp, a crowdfunding site that solicits donations to help the homeless, was planted in early 2012 when Rose Broome passed a shivering woman huddling in the doorway of a real estate office in San Francisco. “On a cold night, I was walking down the street and saw a woman sleeping on the sidewalk,” recalls Broome. “She didn’t have a jacket, she didn’t have a sweater — just a thin blanket protecting her from the cold ground.” That night, Broome says, “I made a commitment to myself to do one thing to make a difference, and that one thing turned into HandUp.”
The platform for HandUp allows those battling homelessness to appeal directly to donors to fund their particular needs. Since 2013, more than 2,000 people have raised nearly $1.6 million. By sharing their stories on the site, those in need are able to fundraise for housing assistance — security deposits, moving costs, help paying back rent, and so on — as well as for food, education, medical care and technological access. “Having a phone, the Internet, the ability to text is extremely important for everyone, especially for the most vulnerable people,” says Broome, who, besides cofounding HandUp, acts as its CEO.
The need for funding is enormous. Nationwide, 3.5 million people struggle with homelessness every year, and 50 million people live below the poverty line. But there’s a misconception about what being homeless looks like, says Broome, pointing out that the image of a person sleeping on the street, wrestling with mental health issues or drug addictions (or both), tends to capture the public’s imagination. In reality, however, 30 percent of those who are homeless are part of families. As Broome puts it, “You could walk right past 80 percent of people experiencing homelessness and not know any different.”
HandUp works by partnering with organizations that serve homeless populations. These organizations help their clients sign up and create profiles on the site (to date, they’ve launched more than 5,800 campaigns in 29 cities). When donors give, the money goes to the organization, which will pay for the items requested. Donors get an email update when their money has been put to use. HandUp also helps homeless people create donation request cards, which they can hand out to people they meet on the street, and donors in San Francisco can buy HandUp gift cards in $25 increments and distribute them when they meet someone in need (the cards can be used for groceries, clothes and other goods at HandUp’s nonprofit partners).

Join the cause! Help those experiencing poverty or homelessness. Read their stories, then post a message or make a donation here.

Broome and her cofounder, Sammie Rayner, are passionate about using technology to solve problems and create change. “It’s surprising, but right now, only 8 percent of charitable giving happens online,” Broome says. And unfortunately, the nonprofit sector tends to lag far behind the private sector in adopting new technologies. “So often, nonprofits are the last to get some of the best technology to do their work,” adds Rayner.
For the nonprofits that work with HandUp, the platform allows them to fund needs that wouldn’t otherwise be met, filling in the gaps left by restrictive government and foundation grant funding. SF Cares, a collaborative project of several Lutheran churches working to serve low-income and homeless individuals in San Francisco, has used HandUp to raise $18,000 for the needy they work with, plus another $20,000 toward their general operating costs. “They’re funds our organization never would have gotten before,” says the Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer, the executive director of SF Cares and pastor at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church. And the people doing the giving through HandUp are new donors that SF Cares might not have reached on its own, she adds.
Rohrer says she loves the way HandUp lets people combatting homelessness “speak in their own voice.” And she likes that the site lets people decide for themselves what they need to improve their lives. “Plus,” she says, “any time that I don’t have to spend fundraising means I get to eat with the homeless, and I get to sing songs with them too.”
Creating human connections is as much a part of HandUp’s purpose as developing innovative technological solutions. “On HandUp, you can read the stories of thousands of people who need help with very specific goals,” Rayner says. “As soon as people read the human story and have that connection through our platform, it’s harder to have the same stereotypes, and it’s harder to judge.” When donors give on HandUp, they can also post words of encouragement. The people who receive money through the site often say those kind words mean more than the donation, adds Broome. “A lot of people who are homeless feel invisible,” she says. HandUp helps them feel seen.

Monday, October 10, 2016

In the News: San Francisco Chronicle

Transgender pastor preaches to the choir with love

October 9, 2016 Updated: October 9, 2016 12:00pm

Rev. Megan Rohrer leads the Singers of the Street, a drop in homeless choir that meets every Monday.
Media: Erin Brethauer 
The voices intertwine like vines, three strands of harmony wrapping around words that make you cry if you think too hard about them and the people standing there singing them. But you don’t see tears on the Rev. Megan Rohrer’s face as she conducts this weekly session of Singers of the Street.

What you see is what you get pretty much most of the time the pastor talks: a smile so bright it seems to match the glow of the stained glass windows of the church she’s in.

Rohrer spends every Monday leading this little choir of mostly homeless people in song. And if there’s one thing that helps define Rohrer’s mission in life as one of the only transgender ministers in the nation, this may be it. In her — Rohrer, 36, prefers the pronoun “they,” but doesn’t quibble with occasional desires for conventional reference — role as pastor of the Grace Lutheran Church in the outer Sunset District of San Francisco, Rohrer is all about social justice and celebrating differences. About nurturing the goodness at the core of everyone’s soul. Corny stuff. But real.

“I’m going home, quiet-like, some still day, I’m going home,” Rohrer sings with the choir, left hand arcing up and down to conduct the musical flow. “It’s not far, just close by, through an open door...”
Most of the nine people in front of her don’t have the home they’re singing about. But for those moments they get to have with Rohrer every Monday, they’ll tell you they feel like they have something close to one — and it’s because of the radiant minister standing in front of them in a worn T-shirt and blue jeans.

“We love Megan,” says Kent Hollek, 62, who’d slept the night before on Van Ness Boulevard and carefully stashed his suitcase in a corner of the choir practice room. “She steers us. She guides us. I can’t think of anyone else like her.”
The choir gig actually comes with one of Rohrer’s other jobs in addition to her role at Grace Lutheran. She is executive director of the Welcome ministry, which works with the impoverished all over San Francisco and holds the Singers of the Street practices at First Congregational Church on Polk Street. Having other gigs is nothing new for Rohrer, who seems to be in perpetual motion writing children’s books, helping the homeless with everything from eyeglasses to music, leading garden projects for the community.

And this is all in addition to being a pastor who was born a girl in South Dakota, figured out early she was gender-neutral, and took charge of Grace Lutheran in 2014. That same year, she was honored by the Dalai Lama for her compassionate works.

“My motto is try everything,” Rohrer says. “If it doesn’t work, don’t mention you did that. If it does work, do it some more.” She says this with one of her trademark laughs. And she means it. In the most sincere way possible.

See a short film with Pastor Megan Rohrer and the homeless choir at The Regulars is a weekly photo and video column by Erin Brethauer that offers a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people in the Bay Area, caught in routine activities of modern urban life. If you know a regular, email

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

In the News: Beyond Chron

Celebrating Compton’s 50th: Vanguard Revisited, W/ Rev. Megan Rohrer

by on September 6, 2016

Reverend Megan Rohrer
Reverend Megan Rohrer
If you missed the prior events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the August 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria riots in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, don’t despair. On Thursday, September 8, the Tenderloin Museum hosts Reverend Megan Rohrer, who will honor the historic legacy of Vanguard, San Francisco’s first gay liberation group.

In 2011, Rohrer and historian Joey Plaster created a remarkable work of public history: Vanguard Revisited, which introduced the history of the 1960s radical queer-youth organization Vanguard to contemporary queer homeless youth, who created their own art and poetry zine in conversation with essays and themes from the original Vanguard newsletter. The new zine also featured archival materials, a historical narrative and writings from urban ministers and youth organizers.

The storytelling project Temporal Cities will attend the event to share and record LGBTQ stories. Listen to a piece of oral history in their rotary phone, or type your own memories on a real typewriter.
Temporal Cities is a public art project that examines the experience of living in the Tenderloin through the stories of its residents. For more information about the project, visit

For the 50th Anniversary Compton’s Commemoration, a second issue of the Vanguard Revisited zine will be released with new materials by the original authors and editors. For the Tenderloin Museum program, Rohrer will describe the initial process leading up to Vanguard Revisited and will discuss its legacy. Rohrer is the pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco and is a nationally recognized leader on issues of homelessness, gender, sexuality and faith.

The Compton’s riot is only a part of the Tenderloin’s GLBT legacy. The Tenderloin was the geographic center of the city’s emerging GLBT movement from the 1940’s through the 1960’s, a story on display at the Tenderloin Museum.

Temporal Cities will be stationed inside the Museum during the event, collecting stories related to the LGBTQ experience in the Tenderloin. Temporal Cities is a public art project that examines the experience of living in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, through the stories of its residents. The piece combines analog slide projection and interactive storytelling; a projected image mounted on the street attracts passersby to the installation, where they are encouraged to share a personal story that took place nearby. In collecting and archiving these stories, artists Lizzy Brooks and Radka Pulliam are building a nuanced map that explores the changing nature of the city and our collective ideas of permanence.
Here is the ticket information.
Randy Shaw details the Tenderloin’s GBLT history in The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco