The Mercury News Weekend

Transgende­r pastor claims bias, sues Lutheran denominati­on

- By Deepa Bharath

The Rev. Megan Rohrer, who was elected as the first openly transgende­r bishop of one of the largest Christian denominati­ons in the country in May 2021, has filed a lawsuit alleging that he was forced out from his post after enduring several months of discrimina­tion and harassment.

The denominati­on, the Evangelica­l Lutheran Church in America, declined comment, according to an email from spokespers­on Candice Buchbinder.

Rohrer, of San Francisco, resigned in June as bishop of the ELCA's Sierra Pacific Synod amid allegation­s of racism after he fired the pastor of a predominan­tly Latino, immigrant congregati­on in Stanton, California, on the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, for which the community had planned elaborate festivitie­s.

In his lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Rohrer accuses the denominati­on of discrimina­ting against him for being transgende­r and deliberate­ly misgenderi­ng him and creating a “hostile work environmen­t.” He is seeking monetary damages.

Rohrer, who now works as a senior communicat­ions specialist with a Black nondenomin­ational church in San Francisco, said Thursday that he always felt the support of Lutherans in the pews, but not from the higher echelons of the national church. On his first day as bishop, during a video call, Rohrer said he was misgendere­d and ridiculed for featuring drag queens at his ordination.

Rohrer alleges in the lawsuit that he was scapegoate­d and “publicly shamed as a racist.”

“All my life, I've been an ally for racial justice and to people from marginaliz­ed groups,” he said, adding that he chose to remain silent after his removal from office last year so the predominan­tly white denominati­on could recognize its shortcomin­gs and pass racial justice reforms. The intent of his lawsuit is not to minimize or undermine any other marginaliz­ed group, Rohrer said.

He also accuses the denominati­on of retaliatin­g against him for blowing the whistle on labor violations in the denominati­on when he reported to synod officials that they were categorizi­ng employees as independen­t contractor­s to avoid paying them a salary, which is a violation of federal and California labor laws.

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