Alex Patchin McNeill has had a somewhat circuitous path to career and faith.
Although a lifelong Presbyterian who initially found acceptance and encouragement upon coming out, there was a longstanding question about whether the 31-year-old Asheville, N.C., native would ever be allowed to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination.
McNeill graduated from Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., then came to Washington in July 2008. He did non-profit development work for a few years and for the last year has been director of More Light Presbyterians, an LGBT advocacy group. He’s still working toward ordination, has a few more classes to take and hopes to complete the process within the next couple of years.
He says the church’s decision last month to allow same-sex marriage was “an answer to prayer for a lot of people.”
But even with that landmark vote and its 2011 policy change to ordain LGBT clergy, McNeil says, “there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
“There are still a small percentage of churches in our denomination that are openly welcoming,” he says. “What More Light is working on is … helping individual churches strengthen their welcome and have it move beyond just being a statement, but also a path of engagement that they can really understand the nuances of what it means to be LGBT and how that impacts their congregational life.”
McNeill and his wife, Nicole, live in Hyattsville, Md. He enjoys riding his Vespa, playing guitar and spending time with the couple’s three dogs in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I first came out as a lesbian 14 years ago, when I was 17. I began coming out as a transgender man four years ago. When I first came out, the hardest place to come out was in my denomination because I knew then that I was called to be a minister but at the time the Presbyterian Church didn’t ordain openly LGBT people. Fortunately, individuals and ministers within my church were so supportive it helped me be brave enough to come out and live as a witness to the fact that you can be called to ministry and be LGBT.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
One of my heroes is Rev. Janie Spahr who courageously lived out her calling to minister to LGBT people in the Presbyterian Church, USA. She was one of the people who helped pave the path for openly LGBT people to serve in my denomination. Two weeks after I came out to my parents, I had the chance to meet her at an event where she spoke. She was one of the first people who helped me (and my parents) see that it was possible to be both queer and a minister.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
I love the 9:30 club because it’s small enough to feel close to whoever is performing, but brings amazing artists who could rock a large arena.
Describe your dream wedding.
I’m lucky enough to have had my dream wedding already! It was a small ceremony held at the Outer Banks with our family and friends holding 40 flags with “Yay!” printed on them.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Is there such a thing? Every social justice issue impacts LGBT people.
What historical outcome would you change?
I would change any time Christian denominations or other faiths decided to rule that LGBT people were incompatible with their teachings. Fortunately many faiths have moved beyond this ruling, but it hasn’t changed the pain of rejection many LGBT people have felt from their religious traditions.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Let’s go with the most memorable pop culture moment of the past year: When Laverne Cox schooled Katie Couric on appropriate questions to ask a transgender person.
On what do you insist?
Strong coffee and bold patterns.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“Out of office: OK friends! Car and puppies are packed. Out of office is ON. Time for a week at the beach!!!”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Finding the Courage to Take the Scenic Route”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Destroy the evidence! Just kidding. I follow the Gospel of Lady Gaga on this one “Baby you were born that way.” I wish science could find a way to change the world such that everyone could live as the fabulous creatures they are created to be.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
We are all connected to each other and something greater than ourselves.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
We have to move beyond the idea that there is just one LGBT movement. There are multiple LGBT movements advancing rights and changing our culture of welcome for LGBT folks.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
1. Guaranteed world peace — no one is hungry, war doesn’t exist, people are loved for who they are. 2. I’m being chased by zombies.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
The most insidious LGBT stereotype is that we can be neatly divided into the categories of “l,” “b,” “g,” and a “t” and that everyone fits within those boxes. Our gender and sexual identities are so much more complex and beautiful than one label can describe.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“But I’m a Cheerleader”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Not sure about the most overrated social custom, but I will say the most underrated social custom is smiling at strangers.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Any prize that would let me travel around the world for a year.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
I wish I would have known that the most direct path to a goal isn’t necessarily the most rewarding or life giving. I thought I had my route all figured out when I was 18. I would have told myself earlier on that the scenic route is where all your life lessons are.
Why Washington? I love Washington because most everyone here is living life passionately. Whether their thing is politics, art, social justice or creating the perfect cupcake, folks here are following their dreams and inspiring those around them to find their calling too.