Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Work Featured by HRC

Profile in Ministry: Expanding the Definition of an LGBT Advocate

Photograph by Gabriela Hasbun.

Rev. Megan Rohrer was recently featured in the exhibit, Polk Street: Lives in Transition, that explores San Francisco’s Polk Gulch neighborhood from the 1960s to the present. Examining the historic changes that have occurred in this famous community, the exhibit asks tough questions about the ways gentrification challenges lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender hospitality. It asks us to think about what it means to welcome LGBT people? Does economic disparity narrow our sense of welcome? When we advocate for the LGBT community can our vision incorporate a spectrum that includes sex workers, homeless seniors and runaway youth? What are the intersections with our work for LGBT justice and the work of building and sustaining healthy communities where all can prosper?

One of the participants in this project, Rev. Megan Rohrer, challenges us to think about our communities in just such ways. Megan first came out as a lesbian (later she would identify as gender queer) at 18 in South Dakota and discovered at the same time that she wanted to be a pastor. While leaving the overt homophobia of South Dakota for seminary at the Pacific School of Religion and the progressive community of Berkeley, Calif., she still felt a sense of alienation—this time because of class--among the affluent neighborhoods in the Berkeley hills. She eventually found her way to what would become her true calling, ministering to the homeless through the Welcome Ministry program at Old First Presbyterian Church in San Francisco.

The people Megan ministers to range in age from teenagers to senior citizens and are largely sex workers, transgender people, gays and lesbians –many of them from small towns across the country--who came to San Francisco to escape persecution and judgment. Although they may not identify on paper as LGBT, Megan recognizes many commonalities. Like her, many came from across the country to San Francisco--the Mecca for LGBT folks--only to discover that hundreds of thousands of other people had made that same choice. As Megan describes:

They didn’t have any family connections to help them out, and everybody knows rent is so expensive in this town that, the only thing that was left for them was sex work. As the gay community--as the richer gay community--moved towards the Castro, the less wealthy gay community stayed here, and a lot of the sex workers who worked along Polk Street continued to stay here because they always would have people who would bring them food, here. . . . and they knew, as long as they stayed in this neighborhood, even if they weren’t pretty enough anymore to be sex workers, people would take care of them.

In the spirit of Jesus who also spent much of his time among sex workers, Megan’s ministry has sought to build community among the most marginalized and in the process to expand our vision of what community and LGBT advocacy can mean. As we work to build support in Congress for hate crimes legislation and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act during an economic crisis when job discrimination and violence is escalating, we are reminded that it is the most marginalized in our communities that suffer first and are hit the worst. Megan’s ministry models for us what it means to build truly inclusive community that can sustain all of us.

To follow Megan’s ministry, read her blog: Also, check out her contribution as a writer for HRC’s Out In Season, a seasonal preaching and devotional resources written from a transgender perspective.

To learn about the other stories from Polk Street, check out the exhibit Polk Street: Lives in Transition. If you live in the Bay area or are traveling to San Francisco any time before May 31, 2009 you can view the exhibit at the GLBT Historical Society, 657 Mission Street, #300. Visit their website to learn about more community events and future developments of this important project.


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