Trans activist and Pacific School of Religion (PSR) student Ryan Cassata in conversation with alumnx Loey Powell
June 22, 2022 | Berkeley, CA
To celebrate Pride, award-winning musician, trans activist and current MDiv student Ryan Cassata and PSR alumnx Loey Powell (MDiv ‘77), one of the first out lesbians ordained in a mainline denomination, shared their experiences as LGBTQ+ pioneers, why they were drawn to seminary and how PSR helped them build community that fueled their activism.
PSR president David Vásquez Levy began the conversation by asking about Ryan and Loey’s struggles with coming out, living authentically and finding their place in faith communities. Though Loey was ordained by the UCC in 1978 she had to wait through seven years of rejection based on her sexual orientation before getting a call to ministry. Ryan, who came out as trans at 12 in the early 2000s shared the threats and abuse he received after appearing on Larry King Live as an out activist at 15.
Despite their battles, both panelists voiced faith in creating understanding through personal connection and education. Loey cited the church as an ideal place of healing because it was one of the few institutions that could bring people together intergenerationally. “A church community that’s trying to be true to our calling, to be followers of Jesus is a place where we can embrace differences and try to understand differences as well.”
When asked what brought him to seminary Ryan spoke of his desire to educate himself so that when he spoke to anti-LGBTQ+ protesters who quoted the Bible he would be able to respond from an informed place of faith. As an activist and mentor, he also wanted to help his own community of queer youth understand their relationship with God.
Both emphasized the impact of the PSR community on their personal and professional lives. Loey described fully understanding her sexuality only after coming to the PSR campus where there were two out lesbians in her class. She said it was especially validating to be offered married student housing with her partner despite gay marriage being illegal at the time.
“The community aspect has been very important and empowering for me” Ryan added, “Since I’ve been at PSR this has been the first time where I feel I have a community of activists around me that get it.” PSR was also a place where he could, “just show up as Ryan and it’s not like ‘Oh here’s the trans guy Ryan.’”
Hope, the panel agreed, came from the next generation. “They’re brave and they’re fearless and unapologetic.” Ryan said.