Tuesday, January 24, 2017

In the News: SF News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 20, 2017

In the News: Hoodline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

In the News: Bay Area Reporter

Rohrer becomes SFPD's first trans chaplain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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