San Francisco achieves another first in LGBTQ + history with transgender bishop

For almost all transgender or gender nonconforming people, correcting a well-meaning person when they inadvertently use the wrong pronoun can be very difficult. Bring it in and you risk derailing a pleasant conversation. Let go and you’ll probably think about it all afternoon.

But when you are the very first high-ranking trans cleric in a large Christian denomination, tasked with caring for people whose familiarity with trans issues might drop anywhere, it is much more difficult.

For Reverend Dr Megan Rohrer, who was installed on Sunday, September 12, as Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), and who uses the pronouns them / them, the progress meant a sort of learning what not to hear.

“No matter how people talk to me, as long as it was nice it was okay,” they say. “Anytime I was correcting pronouns when I tried to talk pastorally to people, I would turn the topic to them, and then they feel like they have to apologize publicly – which draws even more attention to that.”


Tact is one thing, but feeling the need to apologize for clearly speaking one’s pronouns is a form of internalized transphobia, argues the bishop. And they feel compelled to show how to right this wrong.

“I have a trans child, for whom, if ‘they’ isn’t used, will be in tears for days,” Rohrer says. “It gave me permission to be really public about it, ‘No, you’re going to use’ they ‘, because if you mess with me, I’m going to have grace on it. “Letting people know my pronouns and my name is awesome.

“Not on all stationery,” they add, “but enough that people can find it on Google.”

Reverend Megan Rohrer at a ceremony at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Photograph by Gareth Gooch

In terms of identity and crossing barriers, it’s almost always difficult to navigate the scrutiny that comes with being the first to do anything. And this is not Rohrer’s first time. In 2017, they became the first transgender chaplain in the San Francisco Police Department, at a time when relations between the LGBTQ + community and the cops had strained over scandals involving officers sending homophobic texts and taking of growing awareness of racist police violence. Rohrer thought their (voluntary) position was well suited to create a more constructive atmosphere.

“I really assert the idea of ​​being in the strategic place to criticize all the systems of power, the ones that make the biggest decisions,” they say. “What I have learned from attending many different listening sessions, there is a wide variety of LGBTQ + people in the Bay Area, and I have seen this diversity of thinking about what people want in when it comes to policing, what people thought security was, what people thought was crime. ”

At the request of homeless LGBTQ + youth, Rohrer helped organize a potluck with LGBTQ + agents – some of whom had experienced homelessness themselves and who attended without uniforms. Rohrer expected “a cranky conversation,” but the police listened for three hours, and in the end some of the kids asked for information on how to become cops.

Summarizing this detente between the representatives of two groups which are often at odds, Rohrer declares: “The progress of the world depends on the fact that each new generation believes that it is so right that it makes the world move forward.

Such tensions are not as heightened as they were a year ago. But Rohrer’s installation as bishop comes as large swathes of Sierra Pacific Synod territory are on critical alert for destructive forest fires, which are generating their own spiritual crises. Rohrer sees conflagrations as a source of trauma requiring specialist pastoral care, especially for first responders.

“Every time a bell rings and they have to put on their uniform, they get that rush of adrenaline or cortisone to the brain, which happens when you give birth,” they say over coffee to Judahlicious in the Outer Sunset, three days before their official installation at Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill. “The normal person has 11 critical trauma incidents in their life. For first responders, it’s over 300.

Reverend Megan Rohrer at a ceremony at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Reverend Megan Rohrer at a ceremony at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Photography Gareth Gooch

Firefighters are much more likely than the general population to develop cancer, Rohrer says, and that’s before considering carcinogens workers may inhale while on the job. This was on the bishop’s mind a lot as they embarked on a listening tour of fire-ravaged northern California to visit the 188 Evangelical Lutheran congregations across the vast land. – all from the Oregon border to Visalia, and east to Elko, Nevada – that their synod covers. Creating a Lutheran chaplaincy corps to help with spiritual disaster relief is one of their priorities as bishop, alongside the homeless and LGBTQ + youth.

The tour, with 5,000 miles covered so far, has taken them to the more conservative quadrants of the state where one would expect a cooler reaction to a transgender progressive from San Francisco, but Rohrer has stated that they had not found this to be the case.

“My staff work very hard to make sure that when I visit places they have a non-sexist sign on the bathroom and that people use ‘they’ and ‘them’ [pronouns], says Rohrer. “I’m like ‘Don’t make people do this!’ But they’re like, ‘We don’t want you to die a death from a thousand clippings. We want you to not flinch when people are talking, so that you can be prepared for the tough things. We want you to be good at it.

Rohrer was elected to their post, not appointed, so the welcome reception makes sense to some extent. And as a denomination, ELCA has officially committed to studying gender violence and its impacts since 2018. But the surge of heat was always a surprise.

“In almost every congregation we go to, someone says, ‘I’m here because I love my grandson and I want my grandson to know that, so I’m going to love you a lot now!’ Says Rohrer. “And that’s the best. It’s what keeps people alive.

After growing up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, they moved to Berkeley, and their understanding of their own gender identity went hand in hand with developing their call for service, Rohrer says. While the Northern Plains States are also not known for their commitment to leftist values, Rohrer’s upcoming return is the result of an official invitation.

“It turns out South Dakota is the sister synod of the Sierra Pacific Synod, so my first trip as bishop will be to spend a week there,” they say. “They make me a distinguished alum. I will be spending a week at my alma mater, Augustana, taking religion classes and helping with worship.

Reverend Megan Rohrer at a ceremony in San Francisco.

Reverend Megan Rohrer at a ceremony in San Francisco.

Photograph by Gareth Gooch

The connotations of the word “evangelical” notwithstanding, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is among the most progressive and ecumenical dominant Protestant churches in the country, far more so than other Lutheran affiliations. Theologically, ELCA is also in full communion with the Episcopal Church, hence the ceremony at Grace Cathedral in the presence of many supporters and other members of the clergy.

Calling this fellowship “unity but not uniformity,” Reverend Elizabeth Eaton – herself the first female presiding bishop of all of ELCA – noted that Rohrer’s installation as bishop is one of the seven over the next month, which represents a new phase for the church in its call to help the most marginalized and disadvantaged.

“I have known them for many years,” said Marc Andrus, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California, on Saturday, adding that he had always been “impressed by their commitment to justice on the ground. They radiate joy and welcome.

To this end, Rohrer’s theology seems almost disarmingly simple, with relatively few mile-steps.

“For me, the list comes down to Jesus’ list: love your neighbor, love yourself, love God and take care of your community. This does not mean that I have never had moments of doubt or existential crises, ”they say. “When I go to church, it is to remind me that God has appointed and claimed me, not to chastise me for what I did not accomplish that week. … We are all imperfect humans who mess up every now and then, but at our best times our Lutheran faith community is like cheerleaders: live your fabulousness to the fullest.

Wise words, but hard won. Rohrer admits to struggling with internalized transphobia when deliberating on what to wear to work. Would their hairstyle and non-standard uniform interfere or distract from their ability to do pastoral work outside of LGBTQ + populations? (At Judahlicious, they sport a black velvet jacket and a large cross with an amethyst set in the center, as Welsh tradition has it that amethyst brings careful judgment.)

“Whether I come with sneakers and a t-shirt that says ‘Bishop’ or the more formal French version of bishop’s clothes, people are more interested in me being there with them and being authentic.” , they said. to say.

Peter-Astrid Kane (they / them) is the communications manager for San Francisco Pride and a former editor-in-chief of SF Weekly.




Source link

Comments are closed.