scorecardThe first transgender bishop in a major Christian church wants to inspire hope and expand people's minds about trans people
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The first transgender bishop in a major Christian church wants to inspire hope and expand people's minds about trans people

Kelsey Vlamis   

The first transgender bishop in a major Christian church wants to inspire hope and expand people's minds about trans people
LifeInternational5 min read
  • Megan Rohrer became the first openly trans bishop of a major Christian faith in the US on Saturday.
  • Rohrer told Insider in June they hope their story expands people's minds about what trans people are like.
  • They also said they hope to show trans people that they can live a full, happy, and successful life.

Bishop Megan Rohrer made history on Saturday by becoming the first openly transgender person to serve as bishop in a major Christian denomination in the US.

Rohrer, who uses the pronoun "they," was installed as bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America during a ceremony held at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

In a statement to Insider, Rohrer said "I am humbled by the outpouring of love and support I have received" from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and "our ecumenical partners."

"The installation was a celebration of the diverse Lutherans in California and Nevada," they said, adding that as bishop they "hope to continue to work for racial, economic and climate justice locally and globally."

With about 3.3 million members, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is one of the largest Christian denominations in the US. Rohrer, who formerly served as a pastor at San Francisco's Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, will oversee about 200 congregations in California and Nevada during a six-year term.

Rohrer isn't a stranger to breaking boundaries. They were also the first openly transgender person to be ordained in the Lutheran church. Still, they told Insider they were a bit shocked when they were elected bishop.

"I too wasn't sure that the church was ready for a moment like this and it turns out they are," they said in a June interview, shortly after being elected.

Christian religions are often thought to be at odds with trans people. A 2017 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed Americans' views toward transgender people divided sharply along religious lines. About 63% of Christians said gender was determined by sex at birth, while 62% of secular people said a person's gender can be different from the sex assigned at birth.

But Rohrer said they hope their story challenges notions about some Christian communities, serves as a positive model for transgender youth, and helps people "expand their creativity about what trans people are like."

Leaning into their identity strengthened their faith

Rohrer, who grew up in South Dakota, said they have experienced religious abuse firsthand. In an interview with Cosmopolitan, they said in college drunk men would pursue them with the intention of making them "not gay anymore." Others would cite bible verses that purportedly said it would be better for Rohrer to die than tell people that being gay was okay.

But rather than isolate them from their faith, the abuse inspired Rohrer to study religion. They said they always believed God loved them, so they wanted to understand why others did not believe that and became motivated to become a better communicator to help change people's minds.

"I was curious about, 'How can I be better about articulating my faith, or articulating how I encounter God, so that other people can see what I see?'" Rohrer said.

Despite resistance from some, Rohrer said there were always people along the way who accepted and looked out for them. They said the negative stories tend to get more attention, but that there have been plenty of Christians in their life who "put their jobs on the line or put their hearts on the line and who tried to remove hurdles for my journey to become a pastor."

This position 'helps people imagine a new job that might be possible for trans people'

Rohrer acknowledged that many trans people haven't had positive experiences with churches. They said they get messages from trans people around the world sharing personal struggles with their identity and their faith.

They also said there are still many systemic struggles facing the trans community. But it's important to them that their story is seen as a positive shift, not only in the church, but for transgender people in society generally.

"I know that this job is historic and helps people imagine a new job that might be possible for trans people," Rohrer said. "Just as trans people had to show that they could be good teachers and good police officers and in the military. This is kind of just one more profession that people could see themselves being a part of."

Rohrer, who is married and has two children and three cats, hopes their life in general, not just their job, can serve as a positive example as well.

"So much of the news cycle of what trans people's lives are like is about violence and danger and struggle and will your family love you," they said. "Like questioning whether or not trans people can have healthy, productive, stress-free lives."

Indeed, there is no shortage of examples of trans people experiencing discrimination or abuse, and an Insider database published earlier this year showed 2020 was the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the US. But Rohrer said trans people also need positive representation to show young people who are questioning their gender identity that they can live a full, happy life.

"As long as the story is only told based on the hurdles that have been difficult in the lives of trans people, then the more trans people are going to wonder, 'Well, what if I'm not strong enough to make it over all of those hurdles? Should I be alive today?'" they said.

Views on trans people could be changing in some Christian communities

Though polls show Christians generally are less accepting of transgender people, views vary by denomination. A 2017 Pew survey found 84% of white evangelicals believed gender is determined by sex at birth, while only 55% of white mainline Protestants believed that.

Rohrer said the Lutheran church, a mainline Protestant tradition, is more accepting of trans people, but that they believe other denominations will follow. Though news of their election to bishop was surprising to some, they said they know of at least 50 transgender people currently serving as Lutheran pastors.

"I think there are a lot more of us than people know about. The job is about caring for other people," they said. "We're not drawing attention to ourselves, we're drawing attention to Jesus."

They hope their story will show religious trans people that they don't have to choose between their identity and their faith, and that there are Christian communities out there that will accept and affirm them.

"I'm just excited for more trans and nonbinary folk to know that there's a full diversity of ways that you can express yourself, that you can have a family, and maybe even have faith."

Are you a person of faith who is also part of the LGBTQ community? If you'd like to share your story, we want to hear from you. Contact this reporter at