In honor of LGBTQ History Month, Reconciling Ministries Network has interviewed a series of individuals who have been part of the Reconciling movement.

How long and in what ways have you been active in the movement for queer and/or trans justice?

I have been involved in queer/trans justice issues for 40 years. When I began my transition in 1974 I spoke at several medical conferences and participated in what was then called the gay rights movement.

Following my ordination in 1982 and prior to being “out” as transgender I was defined as an ally by colleagues who did not know my history. As a pastor I led Reconciling Ministry studies in all the congregations I served. I also participated in local LGBTQ community organizations wherever I lived and served.

After sharing my transgender history and story in 2009 I became more active and public in transgender education, advocacy, and support. I lobbied for transgender rights in Oregon, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C.  In Portland, Oregon I served on the board of the Northwest Gender Alliance, spoke at several educational and training events for school and state employees, and lobbied in Portland, Oregon for transgender health care. I was part of a panel that presented a program at OHSU (Oregon Health Sciences University) that eventually led to the formation of a transgender health clinic I also led Transgender Day of Remember services in Portland, and participated in observances in Washington.

I continue to speak at churches and other faith communities, on panels at colleges and community organizations (e.g. PFLAG, GSA events), as well as local radio and television programs as opportunities arise. I led and continue to lead workshops and programs focused on education and advocacy in both the Northwest and New England.

My recent Doctor of Ministry project and thesis focuses specifically on transgender spirituality and the invitation to faith communities to engage in practical ministry with transgender and gender-queer persons; specifically, in a retreat setting. I understand this as spiritual justice and view the retreats as both spiritual and educational. I hope to teach this model to provide a safe space specifically for transgender and gender-queer persons to explore their spirituality, and to build genuine community among transgender/gender-queer and cis-gendered people of faith. This work is the result of many years of conversation with other transgender and gender-queer persons about spirituality, their reception or rejection in communities of faith, and the experience of not only often being the only transgender or gender-queer person in their community, but the one given the implicit responsibility for educating the rest of the community about who they are.

What is one of the most important things you’ve learned over your years of advocating for social change?

Social change is agonizingly slow and convoluted. Patience, perseverance, and the ability to withstand betrayal and disappointment are critical. When people you think are allies disappoint you it is important to remember that people are imperfect, come with their own baggage, and make mistakes. Like social change, personal change can be very slow and involve resistance. I have learned that with patience and perseverance an adversary can grow to become an ally and even a friend.

What scripture, hymn, poem, song, or author has been a source of spiritual strength for you?

There are many in each category; more than I can share here. I will give a few examples from each category named. Scriptures: Psalm 139:1-18 is a favorite of many years; one I relied upon as a young adult and continue to draw upon today. “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” is one of my favorite passages from the gospel. It stands as a model and a promise for me of what the kin-dom is like.

Hymn: “We Are Called” by David Haas, and “Here I am, Lord” by Dan Shute

Author:  Patrick Cheng, Howard Thurman and the poet Mary Oliver all inspire and strengthen me. There are many others.

What words of encouragement would you offer to those just starting their work in social justice?

The way is long and requires much, but along the way are many beautiful people, places, and experiences. If possible, build community and stand in solidarity with persons from diverse generations and expressions of our common work.

Why does knowing our history in the church and/or the social justice movements matter?

Because we are: we exist. We are here and have always been part of the church, and part of society. Too much is lost in perspective, talent, creative expression, and just plain human life when we are forced to be silent and invisible. We are not the only ones held captive in such a scenario, everybody is. There is a saying: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” If some parts are missing or made invisible there can never be this kind of wholeness in our world.  

What has kept you involved in The UMC despite the challenges?

This is a complex question. To be honest I have explored other avenues, but I really believe God called me to this walk in The United Methodist Church. As long as my spiritual life confirms this belief, I remain within this denomination. It is still my spiritual home, and I am still an ordained elder who has served this denomination for thirty-four years.

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