I must admit: to be called to pastor in the African American Baptist community wasn’t an easy task. With the African American Baptist church being so far behind in their theology about women and women’s calling by God, I was almost discouraged from pursuing my God-given destiny in life. However, I refused to allow others to deny and deter what God had destined to be my future.
That’s why I attended United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, where I earned a Master of Divinity degree. After completing my seminary training I applied for many churches across the country and found that I received a lot letters with scriptures alluding to the fact that the pastor must be a man. Oh, what would God think about our churches today?
As a result of all the rejection letters and still having a call to lead God’s people, I opened a Baptist church and pastored that church for seven years. During my sixth year, I believed that soon my time at that church would come to a close and I again applied for other Baptist churches for the position of pastor. I had now completed my Doctor of Ministry degree and had more experience and knew that the call to pastor was still upon my life. I had a love and heart for God’s people and thus could not give up on the power of God to move God’s people, in spite of their sexism challenges. So I was blessed as a result of my persistence and belief in God to be called by an African American Baptist church in Detroit, Michigan to be their pastor. It was a great day!
God had done exactly what he said he would do. It was pastor and people together moving to change a community and to pour out all that God would give. During this time as senior pastor, I learned even more about people and how to meet people where they are on their journey as they crossed my path. I learned not to ever judge people, to love people and allow them to “be.” It was, what I believe, what drew many people to me as a pastor and caused them to follow my ministry, along with the great charismatic preaching and stirring prayers. As I encouraged others to be themselves, I evolved and needed to be myself also. I had many conversations with God and many sleepless nights wrestling with my own theology around being authentic. I was on such a fast track to the top in ministry until I wasn’t sure what to do. I was favored to preach in many churches across the city. I had preached on national stages. I had prayed on ecumenical stages alongside Archbishops in the Catholic denomination and presiding prelates of the Apostolic denomination.
Soon, I became the founder and presiding bishop of Pmeuma Christian Fellowship. I was asked to sit on a few other College of Bishops by some of the members of my own College of Bishops. I wrote two books and had sermons featured in other journals and books. My co-laborers in ministry referred to me as a “rising star” and celebrated me for being a young preacher who had a wonderful future ahead of them.
In my authenticity I met the woman I am married to today, Bishop Emeritus Williams, who is my best friend, who is my greatest love, and who has pushed and stretched me with my theology in so many ways. I am so glad and thankful that God brought her into my life. When I married her, I was still in the midst of an inner struggle about sharing with my church that I had met and married the woman who made me one of the happiest people on earth! I had shared my marriage with my children and some family members, but the church was my greatest challenge, because even though I had helped them progress on some things, they had not moved forward on their belief of the right for same-sex couples to marry. So when I shared with my deacons about my marriage and they asked me to share it with the church, I knew that for some it would be ok, but for others it would not. I knew they would come from an old legalistic point of view and feel that I should not be a pastor.
I eventually resigned from my position as pastor of that church and went into a space of hurt, pain, disgust, disappointment, and questioning what God was doing with me. If God had not removed the call on my life to pastor, which I did ask about several times after this experience, then why was I being ousted from being a pastor and being a bishop? Because the pastors that I had under me in Pneuma Christian Fellowship that I was working with were all heterosexual and as soon as it was revealed that I was a lesbian bishop, they no longer wanted to be under my leadership either. So what was God doing?
God had totally allowed everything that had happened in my ministry, the great things that had come my way, all of that to be dismantled, simply because I chose to live my life authentically and as an openly lesbian pastor and bishop. But thanks be to God, that God always has another plan. I knew that God did not remove the call from my life, I knew the Holy Spirit was still speaking to me and saying that my purpose and destiny was to still pastor God’s people and oversee God’s leaders as a Bishop. So with that knowing, I was determined to rise like a Phoenix and do what I do best – preach, pray, pastor, and oversee. And with that vision, with my wife’s support and encouragement, I found a space and place for my new church.
In opening the doors to the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral (ELC), the spirit of God called on me as bishop to empower the people in the LGBTQ community who are still believers in spite of what the religious attics have told them. The spirit of God said that as a bishop I am to liberate the people from all of the untruths and misinformation that has been taught and preached to them on their Christian journey. The spirit of God said that I am still a bishop. I was consecrated a bishop, I was laid hands on by senior bishops with power and authority to make another bishop, and was elevated to that episcopal level in the church, and I should never allow anyone to treat me any differently due to my sexuality or orientation, so my church is rightfully a Cathedral – the house of the bishop. So that is why my church, Empowerment Liberation Cathedral (ELC) has the name it does today and has the power and presence it does today.
On May 1, 2016, we will be celebrating two years of ministry in the LGBTQ community. We have been so blessed to arrive at this point on our journey. While on this journey we affiliated our church with MCC and AWAB. I am so thankful to have a loving wife who understood me and understands God’s call upon my life and doesn’t mind sharing me with the people of God. Surely she is God’s gift to me and a gift to the church. I am so glad to have the opportunity to continue to walk in my divine purpose and pastor the people of God who are members of ELC. And in the near future I will have the wonderful opportunity to oversee spiritual leaders that have reached out to me, to serve as their bishop and many more. God is faithful. I know that God’s cause in the LGBTQ community found me. My venue was changed, but my calling was not.
My denomination has changed but my passion for preaching has not. My openness about who I am has changed, but my anointing has not. My church name has changed, but my power to pray and get an answer has not. Surely I am walking in my destiny and doing what God created me to do. I thank God each day for the opportunity to serve and be a leader in this great community.
As I reflect upon the resurrection of Christ, we must always know that sometimes walking in your purpose will cause non-believers to kill you, but God will always raise you up. God has caused me to rise, just as Jesus did, from the grave that the people tried to hold me in. God has caused me to rise, just as Jesus did, from the placed called hell, that the unsupportive heterosexual pastors tried to keep me in. God has caused me to rise, just like Jesus did, from having my voice muted to a place of being a voice for the voiceless, a catalyst for liberation and an advocate for equality for all. As we embrace the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, let us reflect upon our own lives, deaths, and resurrections, and rise—just as Jesus did.
Bishop Allyson Nelson Abrams, Pastor & Founder of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, & Presiding Prelate of Pneuma Christian Fellowship. A religious stole was donated in honor of Bishop Abrams to the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Shower of Stoles, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary of telling the stories of LGBTQ people of faith. To learn more about the Shower of Stoles project and to see how you can bring part of the collection to your community, please visit: http://www.welcomingresources.org/sosp.htm. To experience the Online Exhibit, please visit: http://www.lgbtran.org/exhibits/stoles/
Today, as we celebrate Good Friday, I will be wearing my new cassock as I preach at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Boulder, Colorado. Thirteen years ago I would have laughed if anyone told me I would ever write that sentence and actually meant it. The Holy Spirit has a really quirky sense of humor.
In April of 2003, I was early in my gender transition when I walked into the sanctuary of St. Paul Lutheran Church. I was terrified that the people would just point and laugh at the man in a dress—but they didn’t. They asked me if I wanted coffee and invited me back. The people of St. Paul gave me a place to celebrate my faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. The first visit to St. Paul Lutheran Church would be the beginning of a new incredible journey of faith.
In my teens and early twenties, I was a devout Catholic. When I was 18, I began a conversation with one of the priests about Holy Orders, but my mother and grandmother insisted I not pursue that life, so I went to University of Colorado Boulder for my undergraduate degree. By the time I graduated from college, I turned away from the church. I rebelled against the patriarchy and hierarchy of the church, but I still believed in God. I was not sure what God was up to—so I decided God could do what God did without me for I thought God had abandoned me. I prayed and prayed for God to fix me. I had these feelings of not fitting in. I didn’t feel like a man, instead I felt like I was a woman and dressed as a woman as well. I begged God to rid me of those feelings, but to no avail. So if God hated me that much, I had no use for God.
I spent most of the 1980s wandering around Boulder as a lost child. I drank copious amounts of alcohol. By the end of the decade, I found myself praying to the “porcelain god” in detox. I couldn’t figure out what had gone so terribly wrong. I sobered up and threw away all my women’s clothes. Within four years, I had a job in retail management and married a beautiful woman. In 1996, I became a law enforcement officer for I was sure wearing a uniform and carrying a gun would make me a man. Unfortunately, the façade took a toll on my emotional well-being. I started drinking again.
After eight years of marriage, my wife decided she no longer wanted to be shackled to an angry and intoxicated man. I blamed her for all my despair, so I quickly agreed to the divorce. But it wasn’t long before I realized I walked away from a beautiful wife, a house, and a new car. Why in the world was I miserable enough to walk away from that life? At the same time, I wondered if I should point the gun under my chin or next to my temple, but I knew I couldn’t take my own life. I turned back to Jesus. I didn’t whimper a plea for help, I demanded help. I told God I came back into the fold, so to speak, God better step up and help. Within a few weeks, I was in therapy. Somehow I got the guts to tell my therapist I felt I was a woman. She suggested a support group and I went. I found people who had the same feelings I had. I told one of my new friends about my deal with God and I was searching for a new spiritual community. She told me about this open and welcoming community, I went to a service, and I was hooked.
As I prepared my Good Friday sermon, I had been reading and re-reading the 18th and 19th chapters of the Gospel of John and I realize my suffering doesn’t compare to the agony my Lord, Jesus Christ, endured, but I am comforted by the fact that Jesus can understand what is like to live on the margins of society and what it is like to be persecuted for being different. Jesus persevered and transcended the oppression. I know my Lord, Jesus Christ has been with me and guided me for it is a mystery how I was given the courage and strength to begin a journey toward ordination. Yes, early in my transition I found a new home in my Lutheran faith, but I had no idea I would ever become a seminary student and be allowed to wear a cassock.
As Christians–particularly LGBTQ Christians–all across the world prepare to celebrate Easter, I reflect on the Gospel of John and my eyes fill with tears when I read the stories of so many of my transgender siblings. So many suffer and die because they are not accepted as beautiful children of God. My heart aches for the pain so many have to endure for we have the ability to end suffering through love. Jesus died on the cross to end our pain. When Jesus walked out of the tomb, he showed us the power of love. Jesus died to destroy death and he gave us the power to show us how much he loves each and every one of us and we, in turn, must love and help each other.
Garcia created and donated a religious stole to the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Shower of Stoles, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary of telling the stories of LGBTQ people of faith. To learn more about the Shower of Stoles project and to see how you can bring part of the collection to your community, please visit http://www.welcomingresources.org/sosp.htm. To experience the Online Exhibit, please visit: http://www.lgbtran.org/exhibits/stoles/
Yesterday, the National LGBTQ Task Force joined thousands of reproductive justice advocates and allies, calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the latest attempt to control our health and sexuality. The case before the Court, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, challenges a Texas law that will close all but 10 abortion clinics in the entire state. This law and similar targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAPs) functionally ban the constitutional right to abortion by imposing expensive and medically unnecessary restrictions so burdensome they shut down safe and legal reproductive healthcare centers.
At the rally, doctors, immigrant rights’ advocates, college students, mothers, faith leaders, queer activists, and many others spoke about the positive impact that safe, compassionate, and legal abortion has had in their lives and warned that TRAPs do not end abortion, they end safe abortion. Some of the older activists, who have struggled to protect reproductive rights for decades, stressed that we cannot go back to the horrors of dangerous, back-alley abortions.
LGBTQ people especially cannot afford to ignore attempts to turn back the clock on reproductive rights. We already struggle to access vital health services and need access to a full range of health services, including abortion, to be our whole selves. Those who seek to restrict reproductive decisions are often the same people who fight against LGBTQ equality, which makes the fight for reproductive health, rights, and justice ever more important.
Opponents of equality continue to do everything they can to undermine our sexual health and freedom. Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear another set of oral arguments in the Zubik v. Burwell case, which asks the Court to preserve birth control coverage in the Affordable Care Act. Join us on March 23 as we call on the Court to once again stand on the side of reproductive justice and protect our fundamental right to sexual health and freedom and the right to decide whether or when to become a parent.
by Zsea Beaumonis, National LGBTQ Task Force, Reproductive Justice Fellow
On January 22, we commemorate the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right to abortion. Yet the promise of Roe v. Wade remains out of reach for millions of people, including LGBTQ people. From the reactionary wave of so-called “religious freedom” laws, to government defunding, to violent attacks on healthcare centers, opponents of equality continue do everything they can to undermine sexual health and freedom.
Many of us — cisgender women, transgender men, two spirit, intersex, and gender-non-conforming individuals, among others — can get pregnant, and rely on a full range of reproductive health options, including abortion care. LGBTQ people already struggle to access vital health services: We are under-insured compared with other demographics, we experience certain health challenges at higher rates, and we are outright denied care because of who we are. We can’t afford to ignore attempts to undo Roe and turn back the clock on reproductive rights.
The movements for LGBTQ equality and reproductive rights are inseparable: we are all working for the right to choose who and how we love and how we use our bodies—without government abuse and intrusion. Those who oppose comprehensive and affordable reproductive healthcare are often the same forces that want to control what we, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, intersex, and queer people, do with our bodies and our access to healthcare.
Now more than ever, it is important that we build strong, inclusive coalitions to win progressive change. Join us during Roe anniversary week by following the hashtag #ReclaimRoe, telling your friends and family about why everyone should support reproductive rights, and if you’re at Creating Change, attending one of the reproductive justice sessions—because the fight for reproductive health, rights, and justice are an LGBTQ issue.
by Zsea Beaumonis, National LGBTQ Task Force Reproductive Justice Fellow
In 2013, Latinos accounted for almost one quarter of all estimated new diagnoses of HIV infection in the United States despite representing about 17% of the total US population. Recent reports by the CDC show the overall rates for HIV infections among Latinos have decreased, but not for all Latinos. The number of HIV diagnoses among gay Latino and black youth in the United States has shot up by 87 % since 2005, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention report, “HIV Prevention in the United States: New Opportunities, New Expectations.” The report found that the steepest increases in HIV diagnoses were in Latino and black youth between the ages of 13 and 24. Men who have sex with men accounted for 67 percent of HIV diagnoses in 2014. For Latino men in this group, the diagnoses rose almost 25 percent.
What is the cause for this alarming rate of HIV infections among LGBTQ Latin@s and what can we do about this increase? Are LGBTQ Latin@s involved in grassroots leadership to address HIV in the United States? Are transgender, youth, and immigrant issues addressed when solutions are discussed? These questions and more are the reason organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) are convening a series of opportunities to discuss the Latino community and HIV at the Creating Change Conference. The conference will gather over 5,000 LGBTQ grassroots and grasstop leaders from across the country for a week of sessions dedicated to advancing full freedom, justice, and equality for LGBTQ people.
At the Creating Change Conference, LULAC is partnering with leaders in the HIV field to highlight concerns about HIV for Latinos who are part of the LGBTQ community. We will mobilize key thought leaders to discuss the challenges related culturally competent care, the Affordable Care Act, and barriers to access. The various sessions at Creating Change will discuss opportunities that exist such as PrEP, treatment as prevention, anti-stigma efforts, and grassroots engagement of the LGBTQ Latin@ community. The sessions will provide opportunities to meet the challenges we face as LGBTQ Latin@s and work together to take action.
LULAC is planning the 4th annual Unión = Fuerza Latino Institute at Creating Change on January 21st. An Institute plenary session will feature David Ernesto Munar, President and CEO of Howard Brown Health, who will address the key need for mobilizing LGBTQ Latinos to address the HIV epidemic and a Latino Institute workshop led by LULAC partner, Oscar Raúl López of Valley AIDS Council will Address Homophobia on the United States / Mexico Border to Impact HIV Amongst Young men who have sex with men (MSM).
LULAC, in partnership with the the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC), TransLatin@ Coalition, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, and Hetrick Martin Institute (HMI) is hosting the LGBTQ Latin@ HIV Caucus at Creating Change.
LULAC invites grassroots and grasstops LGBTQ Latin@s working on HIV issues or those interested in working on HIV issues to join us on January 22, 2016 from 6:30 – 7:30PM CT at the Hilton Chicago. Please R.S.V.P. by clicking here.
The evening will create a space for participants to discuss their own work on HIV prevention, treatment, and the specific barriers or challenges faced by LGBTQ Latin@ access to prevention and treatment care. The gathering is aimed at identifying potential opportunities for collaboration, building upon synergies to increasing the number of LGBTQ Latinos working in the HIV field, and encouraging Latino-led LGBTQ organizations to take advantage of HIV funding. The caucus will connect attendees with best practices to advance culturally competent tools to reduce new HIV infections and ensure that HIV positive LGBTQ Latinos receive treatment.
Facilitators of the LGBTQ Latin@ HIV Caucus will include Jesus Barrios, Sexual & Behavioral Health Coordinator at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Brooklyn, New York; Alex Garner, Program Coordinator National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC), Arianna Lint, TransLatin@ Coalition, East Co-Chair; David M. Pérez, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Lillian Rivera, Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI). We invite Latinos attending Creating Change to join us for this important caucus dedicated to discussing HIV and LGBTQ Latino issues. R.S.V.P. today!
In 2015, LULAC launched a new initiative as part of its Latinos Living Healthy initiative, which features a 5-year plan for addressing HIV with a vital focus on LGBTQ Latinos. We utilize our national reach through social media platforms, over 1,000 grassroots LULAC councils, and other collaborative partnerships in order to support the CDC’s new program, Partnering and Communicating Together to Act Against AIDS (PACT), to disseminate HIV-prevention education and communication within Latino communities. The campaign helps advance the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which aims to reduce the rate of new infections, reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, and educate Americans about the threat of HIV and methods for prevention of infection. Please go to www.cdc.gov/doingit or www.LULAC.org/salud to access the CDC’s new “Doing It” public awareness campaign materials.
David M. Pérez is the Director of Development for League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and a founding co-chair of the Unión = Fuerza Latino Institute at Creating Change, now in its 4th year. You may contact David at dperez@LULAC.org or @DMP7 on Twitter.
by. David M. Pérez , Director of Development, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
Making its conference debut at Creating Change 2016, “The Legacy Wall” is a traveling tradeshow-sized iteration of Chicago’s award-winning “Legacy Walk” outdoor LGBT History Museum which spans one-half mile of Boystown on Chicago’s north side. “The Wall” features the stories of LGBT people from all walks of life throughout history who have contributed in over 20 distinct fields. The content is international and multicultural, and has been substantially vetted and sourced.
This wonderfully positive and inspiring exhibit tells the stories behind such figures as social justice pioneer Jane Addams, civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin, British mathematician Alan Turing, U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, astronaut Sally Ride, iconic artist Michelangelo, and Fr. Mychal Judge – the “Saint of 9/11.” In all 125 individual biographical elements on the Legacy Wall are digitally linked to the organization’s cloud-based NFC (Near Field Communication) portal which brings multimedia and education tools directly to the user’s smartphone. The NFC portal ties the Legacy Wall and the Legacy Walk to the Legacy Project Education Initiative – a robust collection of lesson plans, study guides, and resources that make accessing detailed information about the people it profiles easy.
In cooperation with its partners at Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, the Legacy Project works to share the contributions of historically significant LGBT role models with youth, whose social isolation and cultural marginalization have left them vulnerable to bullying and loss of self-esteem. Raising awareness of the roles LGBT people have played in shared human history has been proven to lessen the incidence of all forms of bullying in our schools by encouraging a culture of mutual respect and tolerance.
The Legacy Wall is 24’ long x 8’ tall x 6’ deep; it had its public premiere in Illinois’s capitol city of Springfield during October 2015 (LGBT History Month). Creating Change 2016 is one of the stops on its 15-month tour of this state before going national in 2017. The goal of the Legacy Wall is to take the powerful lessons of our history into remote communities to raise cultural awareness, to promote a feeling of safety and belonging in the classroom, and to give our young people hope by improving their outlook on life. The installation is endorsed by the Illinois Department of Human Rights, the Illinois State Library, the Illinois Department of Tourism, and Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.
The Legacy Project is a Chicago-based 501(c)3 non-profit committed to researching and celebrating the
contributions Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people have made to world history and culture. We encourage you to check out THE LEGACY WALL at Creating Change 2016 from Thursday to Saturday January 21-23 in the Grand Ballroom Exhibit Space.
To learn more about the Legacy Wall you can click HERE.
by Victor Salvo, Founder and Executive Director, The Legacy Project
A report released in 2013 by the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA Law, found that an estimated 1.4 million – or 4.3 percent of Latino adults in the Unites States, consider themselves to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. As this number continues to increase year after year, it is no surprise that the largest LGBTQ conference, Creating Change, has a daylong institute dedicated to these Latin@ communities within the social justice movement.
The Creating Change Conference is sponsored and organized by the National LGBTQ Task Force. This year marks the 28th gathering of the uniquely programmed national conference featuring a pre-eminent political focus, leadership advancement, and skills-building. In 2013, Unión=Fuerza was launched, the first Latin@ Institute at Creating Change. The Institute is a diverse convening of LGBTQ Latin@s and allies from across the country who foster supportive relationships and build capacity to advance LGBTQ Latin@ activism.
While we saw many advances to the equality landscape in 2015, a lot of work is still needed to achieve fully lived equality, especially for people of color. Increased community education about the importance of access to quality healthcare, affordable housing, immigration reform, employment discrimination, education inequalities, family acceptance, and violence is needed. Now in its fourth year, Unión=Fuerza is stronger than ever and provides a safe space for organizers, activists, students, politicians, and non-profit employees. Through Unión=Fuerza, participants from across the country have an opportunity to share knowledge, exchange resources, and build organizational capacity.
Equality Texas is proud to be a community partner of the Latino Institute Unión=Fuerza and looks forward to doing our part with its organizers and community partners to ensure we strengthen and unify LGBTQ Latino communities.
The 28th annual convening of the Creating Change Conference will take place January 20-24, 2016 at the Hilton Chicago.
Reposted with permission from Robert Salcido, Regional Field Coordinator, EQTX. The original post can be found here: http://www.equalitytexas.org/strengthening-lgbtq-latino-communities/