BobbieJean Baker was born on March 20, 1964 in Memphis, Tennessee. She was raised in a Baptist environment, but faced many challenges in her early years. She moved to San Francisco in 1992 where she indulged in a fast-paced, self-destructive lifestyle. As she later stated in an interview: “I got tested for HIV because I was running the streets of the Tenderloin. I was doing sex work, smoking crack and on speed, and was a fugitive from justice—a whole lot of things were going on. I was extradited back to Tennessee to serve a four-year prison sentence. When I got out I went back to San Francisco.”
The 3-1/2 day bus ride back to San Francisco marked a turning point for Baker. Newly released from incarceration and one year sober, she asked herself: "What are you going to do when you get to San Francisco? Are you going to get back to what BobbieJean knows, or are you going to do something different?"
BobbieJean became a client at the Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center in 2001. A supervisor told her, "You have something you need to give to your community" and offered her a stipended position to lead transgender groups. That job was a pivotal point that helped BobbieJean reimagine her life. She recalled thinking: "If you can work, you can stay clean and sober. If you can work, you cannot get into all that madness and go back to jail—but you have got to connect."
Baker did connect with the City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco where she became an usher. A friend invited her to a rehearsal of a transgender gospel choir that was organizing there. She became one of the founding members and a lead singer of the Transcendence Gospel Choir. As City of Refuge pastor Yvette Flunder recalled: "BobbieJean was a Memphis-born blues singer for real.” One of Baker's favorite songs was "God Kept Me, So I Wouldn't Let Go" which connected with her life story—being on drugs and in prison and then turning her life around.
BobbieJean became a minister in training and an adjutant to Bishop Yvette Flunder. She enrolled in seminary at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. She served as the West Coast Regional TransSaints Minister of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries and was lay minister at Transcending Transgender Ministries. As Flunder recounted: "she believed her ministry was to help transgender people reconcile their spirituality but also to help provide practical assistance, such as food, housing, and self-care.”
BobbieJean was also a sought-after speaker and workshop leader. She worked for several Bay Area non-profits as a peer advocate, case manager, supportive housing manager with certification as an HIV Risk Assessment Counselor and Domestic Violence Specialist.
On December 31, 2013 Rev. Baker helped lead the New Year’s Eve Watch Night Service at the City of Refuge Oakland along with Bishop Yvette Flunder. After the service Baker went to the home of deacon Bobby Wiseman to share a traditional meal of corn bread and black-eyed peas. Wiseman was driving her home around 2:30 a.m. when his vehicle was sideswiped by another car on the expressway. His car fishtailed and rolled over. Wiseman was badly injured but managed to crawl away. BobbieJean died at the scene.
A tribute by Marvin K. White on the Pacific School of Religion web site stated: Bobbie Jean’s hugs and affirmations were legendary. She was quick to love. She was a tough and tender leader whose praise and singing voice transported you to the American South. She was bold in confessing her Christianity, and driven to use her life as model for everyone who thought that their past would prevent them from “the promise” of a brighter future.
(Information for this profile was taken from: an interview “BobbieJean Baker Talks about Transgender Health,” undated, at www.apiwellness.org; a post by Monica Roberts on the Transgriot blog, January 1, 2014; an obituary by Seth Hemmelgarn published in the Bay Area Reporter on January 9, 2014; and “Remembering CMS Student Bobbie Jean Baker” by Marvin K. White, February 5, 2015, at www.psr.edu.)
Biography Date: March, 2014
Flunder, Yvette | African American | AIDS | Ordination/clergy | Transgender activism | California