The Reverend Debra Hopkins was born June 14, 1956 in New York City as Charles Hopkins. She felt left out her entire childhood which led her to becoming very angry and violent. She struggled with her inner self for most of her life. She wasn’t raised religious and didn’t find Christianity until she joined her choral group Voices of the Spirit. While singing with this choir, Hopkins found her love for music and got to know God and the Bible. This inspired her to begin her ministry in the late 1970s and get her Masters of Theology in 1981 from New York Theological Seminary. She worked as a youth choir leader and assistant pastor until she got the opportunity to pastor her first church in 1991. She was at Appalachee Missionary Baptist Church for six years and is proud to have created a new sanctuary and expanded the congregation from 80 members to over 200 during her tenure.
Although she was happy with her work at her church, something was missing. The Internet allowed her to learn more about what being transgender is and to learn more about her gender identity. With the help of an understanding wife, a supportive church, and the inspiration of heroes such as Dr. Renee Richards and Christine Jorgensen, Reverend Hopkins began her transition in 1995. In 1996, she felt called to leave her first church and continue her ministry in Huntsville, Alabama. There she was the pastor at New LIfe Christian Fellowship for 11 years where she focused specifically on helping homeless women and children.
In 2007, Reverend Hopkins' life was turned upside down. On her way home from a late night at the office she was surrounded by eight police cars and was arrested for a crime she didn’t commit. She was accused for robbing a bank, assault with a deadly weapon, and fleeing the scene. While in police custody, she had her first panic attack in the back of the police cruiser, was molested by the strip search examiner, and was put into jail with men who beat and raped her repeatedly. The attorney judge and police misgendered her and kept called her by her dead name while denying the negligence and brutality that she suffered. Eventually all charges were dropped against her. She moved to Charlotte, North Carolina where she was promised aid from a family member but when she arrived she ended up alone and homeless. She developed a strain of diabetic retinopathy that made her lose her sense of sight for six months. She was denied food stamps, disability, and social security multiple times. Depressed and alone, Reverend Hopkins attempted suicide three times between 2011 and 2012. In 2013' she was instituted by the police and put into a transitional home that gave her the support she needed to help her put her life back on track.
Reverend Debra now advocates for trans homeless people by running an emergency shelter called There is Still Hope for transgender adults and victims of domestic violence. This local shelter is currently providing extended stay to 21 people during the coronavirus pandemic. Today, she advocates for the fight against systemic oppression based on race and gender in local government and her religious circles. In 2017 she started an online ministry called Essentials for Life Ministry that champions people having a relationship with God no matter their gender or race. She has also written a memoir called Not Until You Have Walked in My Shoes and her story has been featured in a documentary called Proper Pronouns and believes she is a Voice for Change!
Although Reverend Hopkins' work consumes most of her time, she manages to find time writing short stories and read scripture while basking in the pleasure of traveling to the mountains to enjoy the beauty of God’s masterpiece “Nature.” With a huge smile on her face, as she puts it “Going to my heaven here on earth - the beach”, every opportunity she gets.
She believes in encouraging people to speak their mind and live authentically in order to combat a system designed to keep certain people out. She has three children and eight grandchildren that she couldn't be prouder of.
Be a real,
Voice for Change!
(This biographical statement written by October Kamara and edited by Rev. Debra Hopkins.)
Biography Date: July 2020
Baptist | African American | Clergy Activist | Transgender activism | North Carolina | Author/editor | Online activist