Transgender minister dismissed from position at Mississauga church after coming out

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WATCH ABOVE: More than a month after coming out as a transgender woman, a Mississauga pastor’s contract has been terminated after a vote by the church’s congregation. As Albert Delitala reports, despite the setback she is hopeful her story inspires others – Jul 22, 2020

More than a month after coming out as a transgender woman during a sermon, Junia Joplin has been dismissed from her position at a Mississauga church in a close vote by the congregation.

“This has been an emotional week. There has been a variety of emotions. I’m sad. I don’t feel great putting an end to that chapter of my life, especially under these conditions,” Joplin, an ordained minister, told Global News in an interview Wednesday evening.

“Whatever comes next, I’ll be stepping into it as my full and authentic self from day one, which is kind of neat.”

Joplin was the lead pastor at Lorne Park Baptist Church since 2014. When she began the position, she said, questions about her identity didn’t immediately start coming into focus.

That changed about two years ago.

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“There had been this persistent sense for a lot of my life, but I wasn’t in a place where I could connect the dots necessarily. I knew something, but I didn’t know what I knew,” Joplin explained, adding she “leaned into” questions of transitioning about six to twelve months ago.

Read more: France elects its first transgender mayor: ‘They voted for my program’

“COVID-19 and working from home and mostly just not being around folks that knew me gave me some space to more or less socially transition back in March.”

On June 14, Joplin came out to her congregation — marking the beginning of a weeks-long dialogue surrounding her future with the church.

“The leadership of the congregation, I think, worked very hard in quite a stressful situation to create a space and a dialogue journey we could kind of talk to one another over the course of five weeks,” she said.

However, members of the congregation voted 52 per cent in favour of ending Joplin’s contract after that period of dialogue — a message to the community that she called “complicated.”

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“The decision is what it is. I came out and now a month later I don’t have a job, so the short story is not great. But I think the congregation tried. They didn’t fire me on June 15. They didn’t do something that was reactive or angry right off the bat,” Joplin said.

“The results are disappointing for me, but history is not really on our side yet on issues like these. Forty-eight per cent of the Baptist congregation voted to keep their transgender minister and I think that’s kind of remarkable, and gosh, if it had been three per cent higher that would have been more remarkable.”

She noted there are many clergy members of different denominations that are transgender, but there aren’t too many cases where individuals can come out and maintain their roles.

“It’s getting harder for that to happen,” Joplin said, adding she has looked for inspiration from other “brave, amazing” women who are working in churches.

Read more: Western University survey finds gaps in health care system for trans, non-binary Canadians

Meanwhile, Joplin, who is looking for new opportunities as a pastor, said she hopes her story can provide comfort to others.

“We have this enormous history that is often not known,” she said.

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“I hope this visibility helps some folks who are not trans — people of faith, people that are not of faith, anybody — see that we’re not a population to be afraid of or to hate on. But also to those who maybe have a difficult relationship with faith, that there are folks like them in the community and we’re not going anywhere. There will be more of us tomorrow.”

Lorne Park Baptist Church issued a statement Wednesday night and confirmed the termination vote of Joplin’s contract.

“The church has journeyed for the past month through a process of attempting to discern God’s will resulting from [Junia]’s announcement,” the statement said, calling the vote “the first stage” of a process.
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“After a month of prayerful discernment and discussions between [Junia] and the congregation, it was determined, for theological reasons, that it is not in God’s will that [Junia] remain as our pastor. We wish [Junia] God’s grace and peace as she departs from us.”

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