Interview: GLAAD talks to Nicole Garcia, a transgender Latina and future Lutheran minister

In an effort to continually raise awareness and celebrate transgender people, GLAAD has conducted interviews with transgender individuals of faith as part of an ongoing series. This series aims to highlight the reality that transgender people exist across many religions and faiths.

Born and educated in Boulder Colorado, Nicole Garcia is a transgender Latina. She began her gender transition in 2003 while employed as a law enforcement officer for the state of Colorado. Ten years later, she resigned from her position as a state parole officer to complete her education in counseling. On May 17, 2014, she was awarded a Master of Arts in Counseling from the University of Colorado Denver and opened her own private counseling practice.

She is enrolled in a hybrid online/campus Master of Divinity program through Luther Seminary in St. Paul MN, allowing her to pursue her calling to ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She is also currently a chaplain intern at St. Anthony North Health Campus in Westminster, Colorado, in a Clinical Pastoral Education program as a part of her seminary studies. Nicole spoke with GLAAD about finding acceptance at her church, being called to ordained ministry, and much more.

GLAAD: What is your relationship to your faith?

Nicole Garcia: My faith is at the core of who I am as a human being and faith guides every aspect of my life. I was raised a Roman Catholic, but in 2003 I discovered the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). For me, I found a theology which allowed me to celebrate my faith and devotion to Jesus Christ. In 2013, I discerned a call to ordained ministry in the ELCA. I am elated the ELCA recognizes my deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ. I am currently a seminary student in a distributed learning program in addition to being a psychotherapist and social activist.

GLAAD: How has your faith impacted your coming out process/transition?

Garcia: I transitioned from 2003 to 2006. Faith was an integral part of my transition. I first walked into St. Paul Lutheran Church in downtown Denver in April of 2003. I was embraced as a child of God and I was able to transition while enveloped in the love of the congregation. I was given many opportunities to be a full participant in every facet of congregational life and I blossomed into a strong, confident, transgender Latina.

GLAAD: What do you want to tell to people of faith who do not understand what it means to be transgender, or still hold onto misinformation and stereotypes?

Garcia: I identify as a transgender Latina, but gender is only one part of who I am as a human being. The Lord bestowed upon me many different gifts and talents. My gender identity plays a role in who I am, but so does my identity as a Latina, as a psychotherapist, as a seminary student, as a chaplain intern, and so on. I want people to know I am an authentic person with real hopes and dreams.

GLAAD: What led you to become a faith leader, and how has it been thus far?

Garcia: I was given the opportunity to speak and teach about what it means to me to be a transgender Latina of faith. Over several years, my talks centered more and more on my deep faith in Jesus Christ. People began to look to me for guidance and I can only credit the Holy Spirit for guiding me when I spoke. I found a place where I felt comfortable and inspired—the pulpit. In 2013, I decided it was time to begin the journey toward ordination.

GLAAD: What stories or lessons from you faith do you find inspiring as a transgender person?

Garcia: The verses from Acts 8: 26-39, Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, form the foundation of who I am as a transgender Latina. Philip had no reason to travel down the road and should not have entered into the chariot of the Eunuch, but he was guided by the Spirit. Philip and the Eunuch engaged in a Bible study and at the end of the chapter, the Eunuch was baptized. That says to me, a transgender woman of color, I can be baptized!

GLAAD: How accepting has your faith community been during your transition? Do you think they can be even more accepting?

Garcia: I have found congregations within the ELCA who love and accept me as a child of God. I believe we do have more work to do to help more congregations live out the call to love their neighbors.

GLAAD: If you could go back and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?

Garcia: Be true to yourself and do not try live up to the expectations of others.

For more from Nicole Garcia, visit her website here.