A woman who attended Baylor University’s seminary and pastored a Central Texas church as a man will return to Waco this fall to help host the first local observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Allyson Robinson, now associate director of diversity for the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign, said part of the reason she wants to launch the event here is to help others find the type of support she had during her gender transition.

People are often surprised to hear Robinson had a positive “coming out” experience in Central Texas.

By and large, the responses she got were caring, if not always completely supportive, she said.

Robinson said she fears other people grappling with gender identity issues might not seek out support locally for fear of how people may react.

She said she hopes the event will prompt a community discussion about the issue and alert people to available resources.

“I found a loving, affirming community in Waco,” said Robinson, 41. “I found people ready to stand by me and my family and support us, and people well-equipped to minister to us and help us along on our journey. . . . There are all kinds of people who take their faith seriously and are seeking ways to live authentically. I’m just Baptist enough to believe an event like this can help serve as a type of call for them to do that.”

The remembrance day, observed in hundreds of cities worldwide, memorializes transgendered people killed in hate crimes.

One out of every 1,000 homicides in the United States involves the hate-motivated killing of a transgendered person, Robinson said.

The local event will be hosted by Central Texas Metropolitan Community Church.

The Waco church is known for welcoming people who are gay, bisexual or transgendered, as well as for its ministries to people with HIV and AIDS.

The Rev. Charley Garrison, the church’s pastor, said it is in the process of establishing a ministry for transgendered people. He said he doesn’t know how big the population is locally. Some people who have attended the church have identified themselves that way, but not many, he said.

Still, Garrison said he is certain there are transgendered people seeking a safe faith haven. There are also likely some who have been victims of violence or intimidation, he said.

The Waco Police Department does not keep data on crimes perpetrated specifically against transgendered people. But spokesman Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said he is not aware of any hate crimes committed against transgendered people locally.

Garrison had planned to begin a community observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance next year, after the church had the ministry established. The church has had worship services focused around the day for several years but has never held a broader event, he said.

But when Robinson called a few months ago and proposed a community observance, Garrison kicked the plans into high gear.

He has since reached out to various community leaders to see if they would say a few words at the event. So far, he said, he has been pleasantly surprised by the response.

Confirmed speakers include Toni Herbert, Waco city councilwoman; Doug McDurham, executive director of Communities in Schools of the Heart of Texas; the Rev. Jimmie Johnson, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Waco; and a representative of the Waco Police Department.

‘A good starting point’

“I think it’s a good starting point where we can all agree that (hate) is not okay,” Garrison said.

McDurham said he won’t be surprised if the event has good turnout. Since his family moved here from Austin 11 years ago, he said he has found Waco more welcoming of people of all types than the city’s stereotypes might suggest.

“It’s just important for us to recognize the humanity of all people and I’m a strong believer in equality, in approaching life and other people in a non-judgmental way,” McDurham said. “I think this is an important event for expressing that.”

For Robinson, the event will no doubt be poignant, she said. She came to Central Texas in 2004, as Daniel Robinson, to attend Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Prior to that, Robinson graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; spent five years in the Army as a combat arms officer; and then made the transition to ministry by working as a pastor in the Portuguese Azores.

When Robinson got here, she found a job preaching at a Baptist church in Temple. Robinson’s intent was to work there while completing seminary and then continue ministry as a Christian man.

But Robinson’s first few semesters became a time of soul-searching, she said. She had grappled with gender identity issues her entire life, thinking her desire to live as a woman was ungodly, she said.

“I prayed for 25 years of my life, since I was old enough to know how to pray, that God would fix me,” Robinson said. “I did everything I thought God wanted me to do, that a good Christian man should do.”

Considering suicide

Things got to a point where Robinson contemplated suicide, she said. That got her into therapy, and she eventually — about halfway through the three-year program at Truett — told her loved ones about her desire to live as a woman.

Robinson’s wife stuck with her. The couple, who had been married for more than 10 years before Robinson told her wife that she wanted to live as a woman, continue to live together with their four children.

But Robinson still had to figure out what to do about work and studies. She decided she would not volunteer information about her transition until after graduation, because of Baylor’s policies regarding homosexuality and gender identity. But she was prepared to tell the truth if someone asked.

Robinson resigned her pulpit before her last semester at Truett.

But it wasn’t until after she received her diploma in December 2007 that she revealed her new path to the seminary’s faculty and church leaders.

“The reaction I got from the members of the faculty was almost universally positive,” Robinson said. “That’s not to say they necessarily said, ‘You’re doing the right thing,’ although some did. But they were messages of love and care and wishes and prayers for our future well-being.”

Reaction from church members was mixed, Robinson said. Younger members were more supportive than older ones, she said.

Robinson said she still had job offers from churches. But she decided to go into civil rights work, in large part because of an experience she had at Baylor.

In spring 2007, a gay rights group called Soulforce visited campus and five activists, along with one Baylor student, were arrested for criminal trespassing for writing chalk messages on sidewalks.

Robinson witnessed the arrests and felt God was speaking to her. The message was that he had sent someone to speak for her when she couldn’t and that she should one day do the same, she said.

Robinson began working for the Human Rights Campaign about six months after graduation. The organization bills itself as the nation’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.

“I see what I do today as an extension of ministry,” she said.

Robinson has stayed in contact with some of her Baylor professors and classmates. During her upcoming visit, Robinson said, she looks forward to bringing a message of peace to Waco.

“Someone may not agree with me theologically, philosophically,” Robinson said. “But I think, generally speaking, people are good people and despite our discrepancies, almost no one would say people like me deserve the violence that people like me face.”

The event will be at 3 p.m. Nov. 20 at Central Texas Metropolitan Community Church, 1601 Clay Ave. The church can be reached at 752-5331.