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Meet Rev. Bos, first out lesbian Evangelical Lutheran bishop

‘My spirituality and sexuality are intertwined’

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Rev. Brenda Bos was elected to serve a six-year term as bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. (Photo by Amber Marten Bergeson)

When the Rev. Brenda Bos was growing up as a good Christian girl in Chino in San Bernardino County, Calif., no one talked about being gay.

When after college Bos realized she is a lesbian, she was closeted about it with her family.  

“After I began to see that I was lesbian, I decided my first partner would be this woman,” Bos said in a telephone interview with the Blade. “But I figured I couldn’t talk to God about it.  It didn’t feel so much as a sin as that God wouldn’t want to hear about it.”

On June 5, Bos, 56, was elected to serve a six-year term as bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The ELCA is a mainstream, mainline, Protestant denomination.

Bos will take office as bishop on Sept. 1. Her installation will take place on Sept. 12. She will be the first openly lesbian bishop in the ELCA.

Some people know early on – as a college student or even as a teenager – that they want to go into the ministry.

This wasn’t so with Bos.

“My family were Dutch immigrants,” Bos said, “they bought a dairy farm.”

When she was a teen, Bos was a theater geek. She did a lot of community theater and thought about going into acting.

“But people told me that acting was too frivolous,” Bos said, “they thought I’d never be successful if I tried to have a career as an actor.”

So Bos pursued what she calls an “adjacent profession” – broadcasting. She received a bachelor’s degree in broadcasting from Pepperdine University in 1986.

Bos started out in broadcasting as an intern at MTM.  She was there after the glory days of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Rhoda.”  But the studio was still producing “Hill Street Blues” and other respected shows.

Bos went on to work for 18 years in production on some of the most beloved shows on TV, including “The George Lopez Show,” “Mad About You” and “The Golden Girls.”

Bos knows that Blanche, Rose, Sophia and Dorothy (and the actors who played them) on “The Golden Girls” are gods to many queer folk.

Bos was a writer’s assistant on the sixth season of the “The Golden Girls.” “Every actor was at the height of their power,” she said. “They knew who their characters were and how to emphasize the fabulous in each of them.”

The studio audience would go nuts, Bos said, “there was so much joy. It was magnificent to see what comedy could be at its height.”

While Bos engaged in her TV career, she was exploring her sexuality.

Her relationship with her first partner, a woman, lasted a year. “The pressure of being a closeted lesbian was too much,” Bos said.

She met a man and became attracted to him. “I thought I wasn’t gay,” Bos said.

Seven years later, the woman who’d been her first partner came back into her life. She and Bos were together for 12 years.

It was difficult for her family when Bos came out to them. “They worried that if they accepted me, God would judge them,” Bos said, “it took them a decade to accept that if God loves me, God loves them.”

Bos is grateful that her family did the hard work that needed to be done so that they could come to terms with her sexuality.

Though Bos was back with her first partner, she couldn’t imagine being a lesbian and being connected to the church. “I let church life lie,” she said.

But Bos had always enjoyed thinking about God. She liked to talk about God in a way that made God accessible. Bos thought she might have a gift for not being judgmental or dogmatic.

Bos volunteered at a church and the people there liked her. But it went badly when she came out to the pastor.

“They said ‘you’re gifted, but we can’t use you in leadership, there’s no place for you,’” Bos said. It was devastating to her.

Though the people at that church didn’t see that Bos had a gift for talking about God, others did.

One day, Brenda was at work on a TV show when a woman on the crew named Jenna collapsed and died. She’d been training for a marathon and had an unexpected heart defect.

Many people asked Bos — though she wasn’t a minister — to conduct the memorial service for Jenna.

Somehow, she knew she was the right person for that job at that moment. “I talked about how much God loved Jenna, and how she was in heaven,” Bos said, “people talked about their own faith as well as Jenna’s.”

People told Bos that she was in the wrong line of work and that she should be a pastor.

“I’m an atheist,” someone at the service said to Bos, “but this was such a sacred thing.”

Bos started to feel that being in TV production was too much of a rat race – that she wanted to try to enter the ministry.

In 2007, she was rejected by a seminary because she came out in her application.

After that rejection, “in a drunken stupor – my partner was out of town,” Bos said, “I Googled churches that were LGBTQ-welcoming.”

She saw that the ELCA was listed as a welcoming denomination.

Bos was accepted by the Claremont School of Theology in 2009. In that same year, the ELCA began ordaining openly LGBTQ pastors.

She earned a master’s of divinity degree from Claremont in 2011. In 2013, Bos received a Certificate of Advanced Theological Studies from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary.

While in seminary, Bos was a bridge pastor to a congregation at Faith Lutheran Church in Canoga Park, Calif., and a student pastor at a church in Danville, Calif. She was the first of eight vicars (interns) at St. Paul’s in Santa Monica, Calif.

From 2014-2019, Bos was pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in San Clemente, Calif. She was ordained in 2014 at her home congregation, St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, a LGBTQ welcoming church.

Since 2019, Bos has served as the assistant to the bishop for rostered leadership in the Southwest California Synod. In this position, she’s been providing support to clergy who are on leave, become disabled or in spiritual crisis.

Bos lives with her wife Janis, a licensed clinical social worker. They have an adult son and two dogs named Santos and Knight.

“My spirituality and sexuality are intertwined,” Bos said, “it’s what makes me the whole person that I am.”

She doesn’t believe that God has any gender. “I can understand how back in the day, we assigned God the pronoun ‘he’,” Bos said.

But, as our understanding of what it means to be non-binary grows, Bos said, our imagination about God expands. “It might make some uncomfortable,” she said, “but to me it makes sense to think of God as ‘they.’”

God has a sense of humor, Bos said. After all, “God’s best ideas are laughter, sex, and food,” she added.

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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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