Praise Be! This Evangelical Luther Pastor Is Making History As A Trans Latina

Growing up transgender, Nicole Garcia used to pray for God to “fix” her. Like many Latinas, she was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, and back in the 1960s, she was expected to fulfill a strict stereotype as the eldest son in the family. She attended multiple church services every weekend and played guitar with the choir, but as she got older, this religious pressure started to weigh on her. So, in her early 20s, she left the church altogether—only to return nearly forty years later as history’s first openly transgender Latina Lutheran pastor.

After leaving the church as a young adult, Garcia embraced an unknown sense of rebellion, ultimately falling into a lifestyle of nearly constant partying. Drinking seemed to justify her desire to “dress up” and date men, but when several years had passed, she found herself in a down-and-out position, with a low-paying job and poor health from her abuse of alcohol.

“I realized something had gone terribly wrong,” she told NBC News. “I decided it was time to change my life.”

Credit: Moose Gazette

At this time, Garcia had been living with her cousin, but she decided that she was ready to find her own apartment. After securing a new home in the nearby town of Longmont, Garcia met her future wife at a karaoke night, and they were married a year later, in 1994. Together, they moved to downtown Denver, where Garcia began her career as a corrections officer. Things were starting to come together, but despite how much better her new life seemed, Garcia still felt an overwhelming sense of unease, a sense of exhaustion at still having to pretend.

She still wanted to wear women’s clothes, and she still felt at odds with her body. After 8 years of this underlying personal tension—amplified by a stressful job and excessive drinking—Garcia’s marriage started to falter. She and her wife separated in 2002, and even though the previous years had proven to be difficult, she couldn’t help but wonder why she had thrown everything away.

“I had my come-to-Jesus moment,” she said. “It wasn’t one of those, ‘Oh please, oh please, help me’ . . .  It was more, ‘Alright you son of a b—h, if I’m going to come back, you better step it up this time.’”

Shortly after this “come-to-Jesus moment,” Garcia started attending free therapy sessions specifically for corrections officers. The therapy proved to be an opportunity for her to share the secret she had been hiding her whole life, the secret that had caused her so much discomfort and turmoil. After revealing to her therapist that she loved to wear women’s clothing—that she had felt compelled to do so for her entire life—she had another revelation.

“I told her . . . that for my entire life, as long as I can remember, I have always loved wearing women’s clothing,” Garcia said. “I realized in that moment that I’ve always been Nicole; I’ve always been a woman.”

From then on, Garcia knew that the next step was to transition. Her therapist encouraged her to visit the Gender Identity Center of Colorado for more information about how to move forward. There, she met another transitioning law enforcement officer who invited her attend a service at Denver’s Saint Paul Lutheran Church.

This service would also prove to have life-changing effects on Garcia’s future. A year after she started to transition, Garcia formally joined the Lutheran church, and over the course of the next five years, she became the transgender representative for the board of directors of Reconciling in Christ, an organization that advocates for religious acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

Although Garcia felt immediately welcome within the Lutheran denomination, her relationship with her mother experienced some strain—in the initial stages of her transition, Garcia had to present as male in her parents’ home, pulling her back into a ponytail and wearing her work uniform.

It took nearly a year for her mother to accept her as Nicole, but in the end, Garcia’s mother was elated that she had returned to the church. In 2013, Garcia took her religious practice to the next level: she enrolled in seminary, and after several years studying scripture, Garcia has now stepped into her role as pastor for the newly formed Westview Lutheran Church in Boulder. Garcia’s first-ever service was also the church’s inaugural service, a symbolic coincidence that suggests great promise and progress for LGBTQ leaders in the religious community.

Garcia said that she hopes her presence will inspire other LGBTQ and POC folks to embrace their own faith, though she also acknowledges that while it is important, her trans identity does not define her relationship with the church.

“Nobody can question my faith, my devotion to Christ, my devotion to the church. That’s why I’m the pastor here,” Garcia said. “Being trans is secondary.”

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