Clergy Call 2009: Rev. Drew Phoenix
July 5, 2009
As part of our series from HRC’s Clergy Call for Justice and Equality, Rev. Drew Phoenix speaks as a transgender Methodist pastor about why ENDA and Hate Crimes protection is so critical. His biography and transcript follow.
Rev. Drew Phoenix Rev. Drew Phoenix is currently affiliated with St. John’s United Methodist Church in Anchorage Alaska, serving in the area of Environmental Health and Justice as Managing Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics. Phoenix has been an ordained minister in The United Methodist Church for the past twenty years and prior to coming to Alaska has served a variety of ethnically diverse, urban congregations in both Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland where he is known for building membership by inspiring congregations toward social justice. Phoenix came out publicly as a trans male to the clergy and laity of the Baltimore-Washington Conference in 2007 and despite several charges filed against him as a transgender minister, his position as an ordained elder was upheld and no anti-transgender legislation was added to United Methodist law.
My name is Rev. Drew Phoenix. I am an ordained minister in The United Methodist Church have served churches in Maryland for 20 years and now pastor in Alaska. In 2007 I became the first United Methodist minister to publicly transition from female to male and retain my ordination. But it came at a cost. What should have remained deeply intimate and personal became unnecessarily controversial and political. Defamatory statements were made against me, charges filed to discredit me, and several attempts made to end my employment with The United Methodist Church – all of this in spite of the fact that I am a highly qualified, effective minister in good standing in my denomination. I am not alone. Tens of thousands of transgender people across the country, each and every day, are subject to hate-motivated violence and job discrimination born of fear and ignorance. The unemployment rate for transgender Americans is disproportionately high (roughly 35%) and an even larger number are grossly unemployed. My experience has opened my eyes to the pastoral implications of similar situations when they occur in non-religious settings and today I speak to you as a pastor for those who cannot always speak for themselves. While the discrimination I experienced in the church gives me a keen understanding of the job discrimination transgender people face every day, it is important to note that the bills we're promoting exempt churches from their effects because we so respect the free exercise of religion. As a person of faith and an ordained minister, I call on Congress to enact legislation that brings an end to both the violence and the discrimination. As religious leaders and people of faith, we cannot sit by while our transgender sisters and brothers, made in the image of the Divine, continue to be oppressed. We have a moral responsibility to care for the most marginalized among us. Justice demands that we take action and put in place, safeguards against violence and workplace discrimination, for the most vulnerable.