San Francisco

San Francisco Police Department Hires Its First-Ever LGBTQ Chaplain

Megan Rohrer is used to firsts. In 2006, Rohrer became the first transgender Lutheran pastor ordained in the U.S. So becoming the San Francisco Police Department’s first-ever LGBTQ chaplain was just something else to cross off the list.

On Tuesday afternoon, the police department swore-in Rohrer as a chaplain, cracking yet another ceiling for the veteran San Francisco minister -- who prefers to be referred to by the pronoun “they.”

“As a transgender pastor I know how lonely and hard it can be to be a professional,” Rohrer said last week in the pastor's parish Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, “in a community that might not always expect to see transgender individuals, or lesbian, bisexual or gay individuals in that role.”

Rohrer was approached to become a chaplain by Tenderloin Station Captain Teresa Ewins who thought Rohrer a good fit for a department with growing LGBT ranks. Rohrer had spoken to a roomful of Ewin's cadets and had easily connected with the group.

“Our numbers are larger because we’re a very diverse department,” Ewins said, “and so it’s very important we have that representative as well when we go through different decisions in life.”

Ewins becomes one of seven current chaplains in the department. Police chaplains generally visit the scenes of shootings and other tragedies. They mainly serve as an ear for police ranks who need counseling or someone to talk to. Ewins said Rohrer’s easy-going style will make it more comfortable for officers to seek out help.

“It really has to be somebody that people can sit down,” Ewins said, “whether you’ve met them before or not and just kind of feel that release.”

Rohrer has kept a steady presence in the community of the city’s downtrodden for more than a decade. Rohrer spent 13 years feeding the homeless in the Tenderloin, as well as developing community gardens and and taking part in nighttime homeless outreach with the Night Ministers.

“It was a great joy of my life being able to feed people, Rohrer said, “to support people who are literally the most vulnerable in our community taught me a lot.”

Rohrer recalled an evening sleeping on the street with the homeless outside The Old First Church, when officers pulled up and ordered them to leave. Rohrer was able to reason with them and struck up ongoing relationship with them.

“The more SFPD officers feel like they are supported and are not anxious when they’re out doing the vital work that they do,” Rohrer said, “the more they can pass that on to the community.”

Rohrer comes into the department about to install its new police chief — and still weathering fallout from a series of officer-involved shootings that have shaken the department’s relationship with some of the community. When asked about it, Rohrer reaffirmed the job of chaplain is to give the officers emotional support.

“Everyone deserves a pastor,” Rohrer said. “But I’m not a judge and I’m not a reporter and I’m not a Board of Supervisor member who has to write the policy and figure those things out.”

Ewins said though Rohrer is transgender, she expects the chaplain will become a valuable resource for everyone on the force.

“Doesn’t matter who they are — gay, straight, transgender,” Ewins said. “If that person can connect with somebody then that’s the perfect fit.”

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