Justin Tanis is a theologian and activist for LGBT rights. His work focuses on the intersections of sexuality, gender, theology, and the arts. Raised in the Presbyterian Church (USA), he spent his childhood in New England, Pennsylvania, and in the Netherlands, where his father completed his Th.D. and did sabbatical studies.
Interested in interdisciplinarity from an early age, he majored in International Relations at Mount Holyoke College with a focus on religion. He continued his education at Harvard Divinity School, earning a Master’s of Divinity in 1990. During seminary, he participated in actions with ACT-UP and Queer Nation; his Master’s thesis described contemporary religious responses to the AIDS epidemic. While in school, he interned at a state organization providing services to victims of crimes and later worked as the coordinator of a program for children who had experienced domestic violence.
Immediately after graduation, he began work first as the interim pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Boston, and then as the Pastor of Ke Anuenue O Ke Aloha (Rainbow of Love) MCC in Honolulu. While there, he also served as a spokesperson and media coordinator for the Hawai’i Equal Rights Marriage Project. Next, he moved to California to serve as the Associate Pastor of MCC San Francisco before taking a position as Director of Leadership Development for Metropolitan Community Churches. His job included coordinating educational programs and leadership training for current and future MCC leaders in 22 countries.
In 2002, Justin completed his Doctor of Ministry from San Francisco Theological Seminary. His dissertation was published in 2003 by Pilgrim Press as Transgendered: Ministry, Theology, and Communities of Faith and was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award that year and the first in a series published with the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Pacific School of Religion. The book examines Biblical and theological references to gender identity and makes the case for gender as a calling, much like a vocation. He also has chapters in the Queer Bible Commentary and Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible.
Justin has worked as an advocate for LGBT rights in national non-profit organizations. He was the Community Education and Outreach Manager at the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) in Washington, DC. While there, he co-authored a number of works with Lisa Mottet, then of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, including Opening the Door to Transgender Inclusion: Nine Keys to Make Your Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Organization Fully Transgender-Inclusive. He is also the co-author, with Mottet, Jaime Grant, Mara Keisling, Jody L. Herman, and Jack Harrison, of Injustice at Every Turn: The Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, the largest study conducted to date about discrimination based on gender identity. In addition, while at NCTE he worked on policy initiatives and legislation focusing on hate crimes and employment rights. He went on to work as the Director of Communication for Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, based in San Francisco, which advocates for equal employment rights for LGBT people.
An artist and photographer, he has had a lifelong passion for the arts. Justin’s scholarly interests include the theology expressed by LGBT visual artists, which is the focus of his PhD studies at the Graduate Theological Union. In 2012, he presented a paper at the American Academy of Religion on “David Wojnarowicz: Outsider Theologian,” on the late gay artist’s spiritual themes. He is now an Adjunct Faculty member at Pacific School of Religion, teaching courses on sexuality and spirituality, and is also on the faculty of the GTU’s Center for Art, Religion, and Education (CARE). He is a member of the Unitarian Universalist church.
(This biographical statement provided by Justin Tanis.)
Biography Date: June 26, 2013
MCC | Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, CA) | Author/editor | Clergy Activist | Theology | Transgender activism