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Guest Opinion: SF needs to increase spending on LGBTQ public health, homelessness

by Megan Rohrer

Bishop Megan Rohrer looks up in the sanctuary of Grace Cathedral shortly before they were formally installed on September 11. Photo: Gooch
Bishop Megan Rohrer looks up in the sanctuary of Grace Cathedral shortly before they were formally installed on September 11. Photo: Gooch  

As the first trans bishop in a mainline Christian church since the council of Nicaea (325 CE), I am proud to be one of many trans individuals living faithfully in this world. I hope and pray that my service as bishop will serve as a strong counternarrative to those who have limited their imagination of transness to things they deem unfaithful.

Across the country trans awareness is rising and some trans individuals thrive at work, home, and in their communities. As a white bishop, I experience the world with more privilege than my Black trans children. Even still, I have encountered discrimination and fear.

We live in a time when hate is expressed publicly while the nation holds our breath wondering if there will be legal consequences. Sometimes consequences come. Far too often they do not. Transphobia is growing legislatively and anti-trans laws continue to propagate across the country, making it hard to know when I am safe and when I am not.

As a bishop, I travel a lot to provide guidance and support to the 180 congregations under my care. Each time I travel, I research my ability to access restrooms and health care. When I travel with my children, I bring a binder with letters of support in case, due to my transness or theirs, a stranger decides to report our family to child protective services.

The discrimination and laws that occasionally affect my travel, continually affect LGBTQ individuals and communities living in unsafe families, communities and cities around the globe. Dreaming of a safer life, countless individuals travel to San Francisco and find the cost of living beyond their means. If there is transphobia and homophobia in other parts of the world, there will be LGBTQ homelessness in San Francisco.

In September, I met a gay couple who had an adorable little dog they treated like their child. Their landlord had kicked them out of their housing without notice because they were gay. They tearfully talked about why they did not want to report the incident, because they were unsure if it would be safe to live with a landlord who hated their family. I told them about Jazzie's Place, a homeless shelter dedicated to the care of LGBTQ individuals and suggested they might feel safer there. They told me that Jazzie's place had been closed due to the pandemic and no one knew when it would reopen. So, as they looked for a new place one slept in his wheelchair with the dog. The other slept on the sidewalk next to his husband.

Why is the city's only LGBTQ shelter for adults still closed? When will it reopen? What LGBTQ-specific resources has the city provided in its absence?

Jazzie's Place was a good first step, but it only cares for a small number of LGBTQ individuals. The city has known about these issues for decades, yet spending on public health and homelessness does not prioritize the Black and LGBTQ individuals who experience homelessness at a disproportionate rate.

For those living in unsafe places around the globe, or in families that disrespect and abuse them, winter storms are more than a change in the weather. As countless individuals dream of finding safety in San Francisco, I hope political and civic leaders are dreaming of new and innovative ways to welcome and care for them.

If, like me, you have privilege to spare, please contact your local, state, and federal representatives. Tell them:

Now is the time to live into our commitment to be a global model for the treatment of LGBTQ individuals of all socio-economic statuses. Now is the time to reopen and expand Jazzie's Place. Now is the time to demand that spending on public health and homelessness match the percentage of people who identify as LGBTQ.

If you do not have privilege to spare and you are having a hard time spiritually, emotionally, or economically during these fragile times: Make the safest choices you can, so that you can live to see tomorrow. Your value is so much more than the rhetoric of those who seek political gain by demeaning you. Many of your housed LGBTQ neighbors have risen from the lowest sidewalks. In addition to praying for you, I am working to help you get the support you deserve.

Bishop Megan Rohrer was installed earlier this year as the first openly transgender bishop in a mainline Christian denomination and leads the Sierra Pacific Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They oversee 180 congregations in Northern California and Nevada.

Editor's note: The Bay Area Reporter published an article in May on Jazzie's Place, noting that city officials were uncertain when it would reopen. The shelter for LGBTQ adults opened in 2015, and at a Board of Supervisors hearing in October, the city's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing stated the facility would reopen sometime in 2022.

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