The recent revelation by the Rev. David Weekley of the United Methodist Church in Southeast Portland that he is actually a transgender man is getting attention across the country.
In Kansas City, Mo., Donna Ross has closely followed the happenings.
Like Weekley, Ross came out in 2004, after living as Ron Ross, a native Portlander and formerly married father of two. He had worked for Portland Public Schools' KBPS radio, coached softball for years and made his name as a longtime color commentator for the Portland Winterhawks hockey team.
Ross told her story to the Portland Tribune in 2004, while going through the transitional transgender phase. In 2005, Ross underwent transgender surgery to complete the transformation from a man to a woman. Ross then moved to Kansas City, where she lives with spouse Christy.
Living in Kansas City, Ross has taken great interest in the Bible, and how it relates to transgender individuals. So, she commends Weekley for coming out. Ross, 55, shared thoughts on the Rev. Weekley and other topics with the Tribune:
Tribune: Your thoughts on the Rev. Weekley?
Ross: I certainly wish the reverend the best. I'm happy he can be authentic in his life. I know what it's like to hide. It's fabulous that his congregation is supporting him, that's what's most heartwarming to see. Denominationally within the Methodist Church, there might be some pushback, and that would be unfortunate. I've done a lot of study of transgender in the Bible, and I see the Bible as being very supportive of transgender people. At least from my vantage point, I don't see how other people would base their objections to having a transgender person in church, as a minister, elder or deacon.
Tribune: You're studying religion?
Ross: I'm in a Christian Church Disciples of Christ program, through the Missouri School of Religion. It leads to a certificate in pastoral ministry. It's a program largely designed to help staff or provide staffing options for small congregations that can't afford a full-time minister or cannot afford a fully ordained minister.
Tribune: You've become an activist of sorts for transgender people in Kansas City?
Ross: I don't necessarily label myself as an activist, I prefer to be called an advocate or educator. I don't get involved in politics as much, I enjoy the educational part of it. I've wanted to be involved in the community, but I never dreamed I'd be on the board of directors of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Project. I didn't envision I'd be involved in church, let alone pastoral studies. Through the representations I've been willing to give, I've gained a fair amount of respect in the Kansas City area. When things transgender happen, I'm usually called. I'm proud of that.
I've also worked with a group called the Kansas City Coalition for Welcoming Ministries with LGBT and other allies who are trying to foster better understanding of LGBT people in faith houses.
Tribune: Other things you've worked on?
Ross: I've formed a consultant company to help companies through transgender issues. If you have an employee on staff, it's becoming aware of certain human resource policies you have to create to cope with transgender employees, those transitioning or people like me who have transgendered and would be applying. (The company) was formed late last year, shortly after the city of Kansas City voted to include transgender identity to anti-discrimination laws. Technically, a transgender cannot be fired while transitioning or while working.
I'm continuing to serve on the LGBT board that helps victims with sexual assault, hate crimes and domestic abuse. And I've worked with a government group, doing a lot of transgender training and presentations … probably done well over 100 since I've been here, talking with community colleges, colleges, social service agencies - people who want to know who, what and why we are and how best to be with us.
Tribune: Wow, you've been busy.
Ross: I'm a whole lot more educated. I've even been teaching psychologists and lawyers and the Bible to ministers. I'm fortunate I have the time do these things. Both my parents passed away, and I've received a bit of inheritance. Financially, we're in a position where I don't have to work.
Tribune: Five years later, what are the advantages to being transgender?
Ross: Advantages have been marvelous. Certainly being who you are is a huge emotional boost. There's no longer the wonder or worry about being found out. I will not deny that certain doors have actually been opened to me because I am transgender. Sometimes, in some ways, depends on my mood, I feel like a token. But, it does give me opportunities to represent other transgender people. Some days I look at it as an opportunity.
Tribune: The negatives?
Ross: Maybe the only thing I can think of is the time it takes for me each day to get ready and go out the door. My joke is that gorgeous just doesn't happen. It is a process, it takes an hour to hour and a half, sometimes longer, just to go out the door and be me. With that, things I'd like to do would be difficult, like camping. It's just not very feasible.
Tribune: Have you been harassed?
Ross: No. That's been, I won't say it's a 'surprise' but … when I first came here, the basic discussion we had was I could hunker down for seven or eight years, until Christy retires, then we'd hustle back to Portland. But life here has gone amazingly well. No community backlash, not harassed on the street or in restaurants and grocery stores. Not to say it doesn't happen. But, in truth, my Portland bias about the Midwest has been pretty well exploded.
Fred Phelps (The nationally known 'God Hates Fags' protesting minister of the Westboro Baptist Church) lives an hour away from Kansas City (in Topeka), and I've seen his protests at local events. To people in Portland and the West Coast, that's the face of LGBT hatred. I've driven by his church. It's rather scary, but, in truth, life here has gone well.
Tribune: Have you watched any hockey?
Ross: No, Kansas City doesn't have a hockey team, but we are due for a Central Hockey League expansion team, called the Missouri Mavericks. There are youth programs here that are active, and I still watch it on TV and keep tabs on the Winterhawks. Attending a game is not possible here, and I don't know whether I'll go or not, I have so many other things going on.
Tribune: So, you might move back to Portland?
Ross: Staying here is not out of the realm of possibility. House prices are substantially lower, and we're thinking about getting six or eight acres of land and retiring here.