ELM Blog: Dance On, Beloveds by Rev Kelsey Brown


O’Shea Sibley loved to dance. It came out of his pores. Just even looking at the pictures and videos that have been shared since his life was cut short you can see it. He was made to move. He was created to share his gift – and boy did he share it. 

O’Shea was freedom, when the world had placed shackles on his feet. He was joy, in the face of horror and despair. He was love, and for him and his beloved community, Vogue was so much more than a Madonna song, or a jaded fad. For O’Shea and their siblings it was life. Renaissance and Beyonce’s nod to the Ballroom community made them (and me) feel seen and valued. It gave life. Heck… it still does because If I know anything about the vogue category… it doesn’t stop. If I know anything about the ballroom community – it doesn’t stop, no matter the forces of oppression that try to snatch away its crowns and dull its shine 

Ball culture and the houses which call its halls home are not just a commodity. They’re not some ancient relic from the 1980’s and 90’s, not a pastime, not wiped out by the AIDS epidemic only to be revived for tv profit. For the community, those houses and the families found within their doors are a beacon, a bright light in a mineshaft.  For our Black and Brown siblings in particular, they are a refuge, a welcome shelter from the storm.

When a hate crime is committed, especially towards a member of our own LGBTQ2SIA+ community it can be easy to hide away in fear. To be shamed and scared back into the closet… or into the shadows. That’s what they want – those who would try to hurt us.. those who sometimes succeed.

O’Shea never lived life in the shadows – even up until the moment he was taken from this world he was cutting up, he was oozing joy… he was caring for his community, he was putting his body, elegant lines, whirling motion, and all on the line. He stood up for his chosen family and was struck down for it. 

Today and every day forward we honor his life and the lives of all those Black and Brown bodies who didn’t make the headlines. We march for him, we cry out for him, and we DANCE FOR HIM.

O’Shea Sibley’s life mattered. It was complex and joyful. It was camp and extra.
it was worth all this life had to offer and we will not rest, we recommit ourselves to the work of making sure this doesn’t happen again. And we will push back against those who attempt to use his death as an excuse for Islamophobic hate. 

We gathered at that same Mobil station where on July 29th our sibling was struck down – a ball hosted by BlackTransLiberationKitchen– where we danced and shouted and gave thanks to God that O’Shea was with us and for us – and that we were with him. 

Each dip will be a blessing, each pose and chant a hallelujah, each fan clack an Amen. 

Rev. Kelsey Brown (she/her) describes herself as sometimes funny, frequently anxious, and completely committed to the liberation of all marginalized persons. Hailing from Suffolk County, Long Island, New York – she comes equipped with the accent & attitude to back it up. In her free time Pastor Kelsey can be found at the beach with a book of spoken word poetry, breaking it down on the dance floor, and exploring with Christian ritual creation. She believes with her full heart that God’s delight in diversity is call for us all to embrace the fullness of humanity.

ELM Statement regarding denial of Megan Rohrer’s on-leave from call status

Dear ELM constituents and supporters,

You have likely heard about Interim Bishop Claire Burkat’s (she/her) announcement last week that she has decided to deny former Bishop Dr. Megan Rohrer’s (he/they) request for On Leave From Call status, effectively removing Dr. Rohrer from the roster of Ministers of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. This announcement has evoked a wide variety of responses from LGBTQIA2S+ church members and leaders across the ELCA and beyond, many of whom have contacted ELM to ask questions and express their feelings and thoughts. 

First, we’d like to provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. Many are asking if the racist actions that led ELM to suspend Dr. Rohrer’s membership in Proclaim were included in Bishop Burkat’s decision. To our knowledge, they were not. Representatives from ELM were interviewed by the Listening Panel that conducted the first investigation into Dr. Rohrer’s racist actions against Rev. Nelson Rabell-González and Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina (formerly Misión Latina Luterana). However, we were not interviewed for subsequent investigations. In addition, ELM is an independent non-profit organization that serves queer rostered leaders and candidates in the ELCA and ELCIC. As such, Dr. Rohrer’s actions in this organization are not within the purview of the synod or the Churchwide organization. However, it is understandable that the similar timelines of ELM’s announcement of Dr. Rohrer’s suspension of membership in Proclaim – or persistent and unrepentant racism towards fellow Proclaim members, board members, and ELM staff in December 2021 – and the public outcry regarding Dr. Rohrer’s racist actions toward Rev. Dr. Rabell-González and Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina in December 2021, could lead outside observers to assume the events were connected. They were not, except in the sense that racism is an evil that infiltrates every aspect of our lives and that when racists are permitted to mistreat people of color in one organization, they become increasingly likely to do so in others.

Another common question is whether or not Dr. Rohrer is pursuing legal action against ELM. To our knowledge, he is not. Should this change, you will be notified. It is our understanding that Dr. Rohrer is pursuing legal action against the ELCA and the Sierra Pacific Synod for discriminatory practices. 

The third question we have encountered frequently this past week is if we regret our decision to suspend Dr. Rohrer’s membership in Proclaim in light of Bishop Burkat’s recent decision, and in light of the significant decrease in financial support that followed our decision. We do not. But we do regret not taking action sooner. Dr. Rohrer engaged in severe and persistent racism within ELM that was allowed to continue unchecked for years. When leadership finally began to take the reports from BIPOC members seriously, we tried to “fix” the problem by repeatedly engaging in unfruitful conversations with Dr. Rohrer and expecting that the behavior would magically change. When, in 2021, we finally listened to the alarm bells being raised by people of color and invited Dr. Rohrer into an intentional process of reconciliation, it was too little, too late. Dr. Rohrer declined our request and we made the difficult, but necessary decision to suspend them from their role in Proclaim and ELM, preventing them fromcontinuing to put BIPOC queer people at risk. If we had acted earlier, perhaps Dr. Rohrer would not have been able to go on to cause harm to BIPOC people (some of them also LGBTQIA2+) in his bishopric. This is something we continue to repent. We likewise repent not sharing our decision with the trans people in our constituency in a way that truly acknowledged how their own traumas around exclusion and expulsion from church spaces might be activated anew.

Lastly, many folks are asking how we feel about the announcement regarding the denial of Dr. Rohrer’s request for On Leave From Call status. That is a question that is harder to answer. There are people in and connected to our organization who are people of color, some of whom were directly harmed by Dr. Rohrer’s racism. There are transgender people in and connected to our organization, some of whom were removed from calls or churches because of their trans identity. There are QTBIPOC people in our organization who carry all of these painful experiences and more. There are QTBIPOC youth who have been watching a racist bishop being allowed to threaten and deride multiple BIPOC people and communities, while also watching that same bishop being threatened and derided because of their transness. It is for them that we continue endeavoring to do the crucial work of dismantling kyriarchy. This is a challenging goal indeed, but one for which we are uniquely suited. Queer Christians, especially queer Lutherans, and most especially QTBIPOC Lutherans, know how to hold multiple truths in tension. The first openly trans bishop in the ELCA has effectively been defrocked. That is something to mourn. And for the first time, an ELCA bishop faced real consequences for racist behavior and is not being permitted to continue to engage in that behavior in our denomination. That is something to celebrate. We can do both, and we know that God envelops us in loving care as we do so.

As for ELM’s plans for moving forward from this announcement, our goals are simple. We seek to listen closely and carefully to all people affected, especially QTBIPOC people, both simply to hear and honor their experiences and to better take action in the future. And we seek to pray for one another as we all navigate these complicated feelings, many of us doing so as our own traumas are being reactivated. This is incredibly difficult work, but we rejoice that we are not doing it alone. If you are in need of prayer, assistance in processing these events, or simply a listening ear, we are here. Please reach out to our Proclaim chaplains via the Proclaim Facebook group, or the ELM board at board@elm.org

As you go forward in this work, please know that we are praying for each of you in the name of the One who turns our mourning into dancing, who looses our sackcloth and clothes us with gladness, who promises eternal accompaniment.

God loves you and so do we,
ELM Board of Directors

ELM Blog: Remembering Marsha P. Johnson

ELM Blog: Remembering Marsha P. Johnson

As far as Queer saints go, Ms. Johnson is at the top of the list. She is joy, and light, and a constant companion in the search for God at work in this world. She worked tirelessly throughout her life to create a welcoming, loving community for LGBTQIA+ young folks through the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) which she started with Sylvia Rivera. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are often remembered as the first to throw a brick at the Stonewall Uprising which started in Greenwich Village in 1969. While they were not always welcome at Pride celebrations by cisgender members of the LGBTQIA+ community, they paved their way into the space through love and determination.
One of our favorite things about Marsha is the often-overlooked role she held as a spiritual leader in the community. This article touches on a bit on Marsha’s relationship with spirituality, and her life as a Saint of Welcome.
Here are a couple of our favorite videos of Marsha. Particularly on the day of her death (which, whatever way it went down, was likely terrifying), it is important for queer folks, esp. BIPOC queer folks, to see her happy.
Here she is singing Climb Every Mountain. Performed by the Hot Peaches at the Harvest Moon Cabaret at the Theater for the New City, NYC, 1990. Sung by Marsha P. Johnson with Ron Jones, Teri Paris, Jimmy Camicia, Tony Fish Nunziata, Michael Lynch, Mark Hannay. Steve Kauffman on the piano.
Here is an interview of Marsha talking about the importance of community care, and the importance of reaching a hand out to help each other in the LGBTQIA+ community.
This post was crafted by Board Members Jessica Davis (They/Them) and Mycah McNett (She/Her)

Important Update From ELM Regarding Staff

Dear Community,

The ELM Board comes to you with hard news today. We regret to inform our community that due to our current financial situation, we have had to take immediate measures to ensure the continuation of our organization. 

Giving has significantly reduced from 2021 to 2023. ELM also saw a significant decline in donations after ELM’s call to anti-racist commitments following the actions of former Bishop Megan Rohrer towards Proclaim members, including board members and staff. The Board also takes accountability that donor connectivity with ELM decreased in the vacancy of an Executive Director since December 2021.

The measures we are taking to ensure the continuation of ELM include suspending the positions of Operations Coordinator and the Associate Director of Development & Communications at this time. The Board is in the process of issuing separation agreements with ELM staff members Sharei Green (she/her) and Deacon Lewis Eggleston (he/him), whose staff roles will end this month. 

We understand these measures have taken place at an unfortunate time while we honor Juneteenth and Pride Month. We regret the timing of this action, but found it necessary as the fiscal caretakers of the organization. 

We are grateful for the ministry of Sharei and Lewis and we lift up the years of service and the impact that each had on ELM. While Sharei and Lewis are no longer staff members at ELM, Sharei and Lewis will remain members of the Proclaim community.
You might wonder how we plan to fill those gaps in the meantime. The ELM board will continue to work tirelessly in support of ELM’s ministry and programs. The ELM board will continue to support the work of ELM’s Program Director, Olivia LaFlamme-Washington (they/them) and all LGTQ2IAS+ Lutheran ministry leaders and queer Lutheran movements. 

In the short-term, members of the Board of Directors are taking on all essential tasks in communications, development, and operations. The Board of Directors will be outlining additional volunteer roles to support the ongoing work of ELM and seeking faithful partners in those roles. 

ELM, in its predecessor organizations, began as a completely volunteer-led movement, and then operated for several years with a smaller staff. We have a rich history of faithful volunteers contributing to this critical ministry.  The visioning work that began with the conversations with Rozella and Chris through the LOVE report, and will continue with the Proclaim gathering, is just the beginning of what we trust will renew ELM through this season of ministry.

Financial support will be critical to sustaining and strengthening ELM for the future. The Board of Directors is reaching out to current and historic donors but also seeks to mobilize new donors and resources with interest in this powerful mission and work. We seek partnership in increasing financial investment in ELM’s ministry through all avenues. Please reach out to the ELM Board with any ideas on people and places to seek financial support.

Any specific questions at this time can be directed to board@elm.org.
Clyde Walter and Mycah McNett, ELM Board Co-Chairs,
in cooperation with the entire ELM Board of Directors

LOVE Report from RHW Consulting

Results of the LOVE Report from
Rozella Haydee White

ELM friends,

In Summer / Fall 2022, ELM contracted with Rozella Haydee White, The #LoveBigCoach, to conduct a survey and analysis to better understand ELM’s current state as an organization and also discern what ELM’s next chapter in ministry might hold. The survey process included 1-1 conversations with staff and Board members, group listening sessions with diverse stakeholder groups, and a broad-reaching survey sent to all ELM constituents. Over 120 people participated in this process. 

This winter Rozella delivered the following report and this spring Rozella met to review the report with the Board.

Highlights from the report include:

  • A key theme emerged throughout the surveying: there is significant grief that is present throughout the organization at-large. This grief is due to multiple factors outlined in the report.
  • There are differing thoughts about the vision, mission, and values of ELM. 
  • Many respondents had positive things to say about Olivia’s leadership as the Program Director. There is also confusion about the programs that ELM officially provides. Proclaim seems to be the only program that has an infrastructure and some clarity about purpose.  
  • There is confusion about what the work of the Board is and what is the responsibility of the staff. 
  • Many respondents believe that ELM’s commitment to anti-racism is critically important, however, there was not consensus in what this means for the organization writ large. 
  • Constituents at all levels are seeking stronger communication and connectivity.

From this research, numerous opportunities are named, numerous vulnerabilities are named, and Rozella offers considerations for ELM looking forward.

We hope you will take time to read the report and join us in continuing conversation and discernment about ELM’s future in ministry.

Mycah McNett and Clyde Walter
ELM Board Co-Chairs

LOVE Report – ELM