Transgender clergy now serve openly in several mainline and progressive Christian denominations. Churches that espouse traditional Christian theology have not allowed transgender persons to be clergy as they do not accept transgender identity as a Biblical expression of personhood. Several of the transgender clergy below caused disorder in their churches and denominations when they insisted on recognition. Several of them have left diminished or destroyed churches in their paths. Below are brief biographies of the openly transgender clergy serving in the United States today.
The Episcopal Church (approved transgender ordination at its 2012 General Convention)
The Reverend Carolyn Woodall is a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, California. Formerly the Deputy Public Defender in Sonora, Woodall now has a small criminal defense practice in addition to serving as deacon for St. James Episcopal Church. Woodall serves as the Chair of the Stakeholders’ Council of Integrity USA, “the leading grassroots voice for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Episcopal Church.”
The Reverend Vicki Gray is a deacon at Christ the Lord Episcopal Church in Pinole, California in the Episcopal Diocese of California. A Vietnam War combat veteran and retired Foreign Service Officer, Gray also serves on the Executive Council and Commission on Ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of California. Gray assists with Open Cathedral, an open-air weekly worship service takes place in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco that ministers to the poor and homeless.
The Reverend Dr. Cameron Partridge is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, functioning as the Episcopal Chaplain at Boston University and a lecturer and counselor at Harvard Divinity School. Partridge was the first transgender priest to preach at the Episcopal Church’s National Cathedral in Washington D.C., speaking during “Pride Month” 2014.
The Reverend Carla Robinson is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. Robinson is the Director of Children and Youth Ministries at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Seattle. Before transitioning, Robinson was an ordained minister in the conservative Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Previously, Robinson was the priest of All Saints Episcopal Church in Seattle, this church has seemingly ceased to exist as they no longer have a website and are no longer listed in the diocesan directory. Robinson then became a non-stipended priest at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle before moving on to the Church of the Ascension.
The Reverend Gwen Fry is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. In 2014 Fry shocked his parish, Grace Episcopal Church, by identifying as a transgender person and was removed from his position by the Bishop of Arkansas, Larry Benfield. Fry is a Diocesan Coordinator for the aforementioned Integrity USA and is a member of TransEpiscopal, representing the group at the 2015 Episcopal General Convention in Salt Lake City. Fry was a panelist at a Wild Goose Festival 2015 session entitled “LGBTQ Lives: Hurt & Healing.”
The Reverend Christopher Fike is the Priest in Charge at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, Wilmington in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts . Before transitioning, Fike was the Episcopal Chaplain at Tufts University, the Priest in Charge at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Boston, and the Interim Episcopal Chaplain at Boston University. The film To Cold Out There Without You details Fike’s experience.
The United Methodist Church (the denomination’s Book of Discipline does not address the issue of transgender clergy)
The Reverend Drew Phoenix, formerly pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church – a “primarily LGBT congregation” in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, now serves as the Executive Director of Indentity, whose mission is to advance Alaska’s LGBT community through advocacy, education and connectivity. Phoenix’ transition, while an ordained and active pastor, caused controversy at the 2007 Baltimore-Washington annual conference and at the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.
The Reverend David Weekley is the pastor of St. Nicholas United Methodist Church in Hull, Massachusetts. Weekley transitioned from female to male in 1975, seven years before becoming an ordained UMC minister; he did not reveal this transition until 2009 while pastor at historic Epworth United Methodist Church in Portland. While that church, begun as a mission in 1890, had 220 members in 2011, it has now shrunk to 30 members according to the UMC website. One hopes that St. Nicholas will not suffer the same fate.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) implicitly recognized transgender persons in 2009 in their social statement on human sexuality.
The Reverend Asher O’Callaghan became the first regularly ordained transgender minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America on July 2, 2015. O’Callaghan was called to serve at Zion Lutheran Church in Idaho Springs, Colorado in the Rocky Mountain Synod. He was ordained at the House for All Sinners and Saints and ELCA church where celebrity pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber ministers.
The Reverend Megan Rohrer is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in the San Francisco Conference of the ELCA. Rohrer is also the Executive Director of Welcome, “a communal response to poverty.” Rohrer also serves as Associate Pastor at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church and is overseen by both Lutheran and Episcopal bishops. Rohrer’s passions include creating services from popular music including a “Beatles Mass,” a “Bob Dylan Folk Mass,” and a “Lady Gaga Mass.” Because the ELCA did not ordain transgender persons before 2009, Rohrer was ordained by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, an ordination mill for LGBTQ persons denied ordination by the ECLA. Their ordinations have now been recognized by the ELCA.
The Reverend Jay Wilson was also ordained by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries at First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco, an ELCA congregation. He was ordained to the aforementioned Welcome ministry and also led First United’s Children’s Ministry. According to his Linkedin profile he was only at the church for a year and a half before becoming a Data Management Specialist at MinnesotaHelp.Info and then an Access Consultant at the University of Minnesota’s Disability Resource Center.
Nicole Garcia is an ordination candidate in the ELCA’s Rocky Mountain Synod, and serves as a seminarian at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Boulder Colorado. Garcia is now vice chair of the board of directors of ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation. Huffington Post reports “Garcia still wonders if a congregation will accept her as a minister just as she is. ‘How can I feel comfortable as a Latina with dark skin in a denomination where inevitably at least 90 percent of the congregants in any ELCA church will be white?’”
The United Church of Christ (UCC)
The Reverend Lawrence T. Richardson is the founding pastor of Shift UCC an “out of the box ministry for out of the box people” in St. Paul, Minnesota. Richardson is also the founder and CEO of Stand-To-Urinate, a transgender supplies company (no website could be found). Additionally, Richardson is a social media strategist for The Center for Progressive Renewal, a writer for The Salt Collective, and a “digital evangelist” for Extravagance United Church of Christ, “an online faith community.”
The Reverend Malcolm Himschoot serves as the Minister for Ministerial Transitions at the UCC headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. His previous stints include three months as Interim Pastor at Community UCC in Boulder, CO, fives months as adjunct professor at The Iliff School of Theology, fourteen months as pastor of Parker UCC in Parker, CO, four months as Interim Sabbatical Minister at Arvada UCC in Arvada, CO. Himschoot has also worked on the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns, serving as Interim Open and Affirming Program Coordinator and as the Open and Affirming director for the Rocky Mountain Conference of the UCC.
The Reverend Rebecca Steen is the pastor of First Congregational Chuch UCC in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Steen had been a longtime minister in the United Methodist Church’s Baltimore-Washington Conference prior to transitioning in 2000. Because the UMC had no policy on transgender clergy, Steen was reappointed after a medical leave of absence, causing significant controversy in the conference. Charges were filed against Steen by members of the conference, and Steen resigned ministerial credentials in the UMC. Steen then transitioned into the more accepting United Church of Christ.
The Reverend Pat Conover is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. Conover served with the Justice and Witness Ministries of the UCC. Conover also worked as Information Officer of Church and Society and as Policy Advocate for the Poverty Affairs Office. Conover is a member of Religious Committee International Foundation for Gender Education, the oldest international committee addressing concerns of transgender education.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
The Reverend Dr. Erin K. Swenson, is a parish associate at Ormewood Park Presbyterian Church in Atlanta and pastoral psychotherapist at Morningside Presbyterian Church. Swenson serves the board of More Light Presbyterians an organization devoted to the full participation of LGBT people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Transitioning in 1996, Swenson was “first known mainstream Protestant minister to make an open gender transition while remaining in ordained office.”
The Reverend Dr. Julie Nemecek is an elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MI chairing the Discipleship Ministry Team. Nemecek was ordained a Baptist minster and served in several churches before transitioning. After transitioning, Nemecek was terminated from Spring Arbor University, a Free Methodist affiliated school, and filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They eventually agreed on a settlement. Nemecek has served on the national boards of Soulforce and PFLAG and currently serves on the advisory board of Trans Youth Family Allies (TYFA) and is an honorary board member of Inclusive Justice Michigan.
The American Baptist Convention
The Reverend Allyson Robinson served as transitions pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., an American Baptist Convention church. After a career as an Army officer (and a graduate of West Point), Robinson pursued the ministry and was ordained while still identifying as a man. Robinson served at Azorean Baptist Church in Portugal and as pastor of Meadow Oaks Baptist Church in Temple, Texas. After transitioning, Robinson resigned the pastorate of Meadow Oaks and began working as a LGBT activist for the Human Rights Campaign. In 2012 Robinson served as Executive Director of OutServe-SLDN whose mission is to “to empower, support, and defend our military’s LGBT community while working to build a culture of inclusion in the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs.” Robinson now works at Warrior Poet Strategies, whose mission is to “to help leaders and the organizations they lead discover, refine, communicate, and live into their values.”
The Metropolitan Community Church
The Reverend Sky Anderson served as pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of San Jose; this church has now closed its doors. Anderson was ordained by the MCC at its General Conference in 1979 after having openly transitioned.
The Reverend Aaron L. Miller serves as the pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford, CT. Miller had previously served as the Associate Minister for Pastoral Care at Metropolitan Community Church in New Haven, CT. Miller serves on the MCC Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council “Trans/Gender Nonconforming People.” Miller is also chaplain at Yale New Haven Hospital, serves on the Board of Directors for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice CT, is a member of the Connecticut Clergy for Full Equality (an interfaith collaboration of progressive faith leaders throughout the state).
The Reverend Justin Tanis is the Managing Director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion. Tanis has served as the interim pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Boston, pastor of Ke Anuenue O Ke Aloha (Rainbow of Love) MCC in Honolulu, and associate pastor of MCC San Francisco. Tanis then served as Director of Leadership Development for Metropolitan Community Churches. Tanis has a long history of LGBT activism including working with ACT-UP and Queer Nation, serving as spokesperson and media coordinator for the Hawai’i Equal Rights Marriage Project, serving as the Community Education and Outreach Manager at the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), and serving the Director of Communication for Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.