While the stigma against the LGBTQ+ community seems increasingly rooted in the country’s religious culture, there are congregations where there is room for everyone.
However, if your vocation is to serve the Lord, the obstacles may be harder to overcome.
Such was the case for Nicole Garcia, who for many years had to struggle between her faith and her identity until she realized that both could live together and serve in peace.
Garcia grew up as “a good Catholic boy” on a farm in Colorado where she prayed the rosary in Spanish with her grandmother, and where the role of the “eldest son” in a Latino, Catholic, and Roman family would be transformed into a heavy personal cross.
“I had never felt comfortable in my own skin. I had always been chastised for doing the wrong thing,” Garcia said in an interview with NBC News. “Everything just felt wrong. I did everything my male cousins would do, but it was just awkward and it didn’t come naturally.”
Knowing that something simply didn’t fit, and after praying every day that God “could take those uncomfortable feelings away,” Garcia left the church in 1982 at just over 20 years of age.
Frustration and depression led her to use toxic substances and eventually to night circles where she could dress as a woman and go out with men.At some point, she realized that that wasn’t the way either. “I decided it was time to change my life,” she said.
Thus began a process of personal reunion, cleanliness, and order. She even met a woman and tried to follow the patterns pre-established by society, marrying in a Catholic church in 1994.
But that strange sensation wreaked havoc again, reopening the door to alcohol and sadness, decanting in a divorce eight years later.
It was then that those first prayers were heard and Jesus seems to have answered: Garcia had the opportunity to attend therapy for the first time and say her deepest secret aloud.
“I realized in that moment that I’ve always been Nicole; I’ve always been a woman,” she said. “I knew at that point I had to transition. I could finally put a name on what I was going through.”
After a visit to the Gender Identity Center of Colorado, her process of personal reunion began, and her path finally opened towards the Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Denver.
“I was sure I would walk in and they’d say, ‘Look at that man in a dress,’ but they didn’t,” Garcia recalled. “They were lovely; they embraced me. I just felt at home.”
Now not only did she have the conviction and body that best suited her identity, but she had a community that embraced her and supported her in it. In 2003, Garcia became a Lutheran and became an activist for the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in the church. From there to the seminary school there was only a small leap of faith.
Last November, Garcia was finally ordained in front of 200 people who attended the celebration of her strength, faith, and work for the church and her community.
According to a Washington Post report in 2015, the Episcopal Church was one of the first religious organizations to pass resolutions to protect its lay and ordained employees “from discrimination on the basis of gender identity,” but it remains a difficult reality for members of other faiths.
Louis Mitchell, co-chair of the board of the Trans People of Color Coalition and a United Church of Christ minister in Springfield, said that over the past few years there has been an increase in the number of trans people enrolled in seminaries. “Historically people of blended genders have been designated as shamans and healers,” Mitchell said to the WaPo. “In a holistic context, these holy hybrids are designed to be in the center and on the margins in ways that allow the church to be centered while reaching out to the most misunderstood.”