Megan Dowdell was born May 12, 1984 in Beverly, Massachusetts. She is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California San Francisco’s School of Nursing and regular adjunct faculty at Starr King School for the Ministry. She is a candidate member of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association.
Megan was raised in an agnostic household by parents who had formerly practice in the Roman Catholic and Congregational traditions of Christianity. She grew up in an household impacted by domestic violence, and saw the interchurch choir that was held at her elementary school as an opportunity to get time out of the abusive environment of her home. This choir performed at many different churches on Sunday mornings and planted a desire in Megan to more deeply understand the people she was singing to.
At age eleven she joined a religious education program run by First Parish Church, Unitarian Universalist. She went on to help form the youth group at this congregation and from then on identified with the UU tradition and community.
While in high school she began to become politicized around race and queer identities while also becoming more educated about public health and HIV. Her brother who was HIV+ and a hemophiliac was one of her motivations to start doing HIV prevention work in 1998. From there she began to draw intersections between race, sexuality, gender, HIV and public health. She helped create and run an HIV prevention program in Boston, Massachusetts from 2003-2004.
Megan continued her education at Simmons College earning a B.A in sociology and health. During this time she became more deeply invested in the UU young adult movement nationally and was elected the first Youth Trustee-At-Large of the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees in 2003. During her time in this position working as a member of the UU board of trustees she first felt a growing call to work in ministry.
Megan started attending Pacific School of Religion (PSR) in 2006 to study health disparities from a theological and Christian ethics perspective. It became clear however that it was time to leave the M. Div. program after a semester. She officially left the program, but continued to take courses that were the equivalency of an M. Div. degree through various schools in the Graduate Theological Union (GTU). Megan graduated with an M.A degree in Ethics and Social Theory and a Certificate in Women’s Studies from the GTU in 2009, affiliated with Starr King School for the Ministry.
Megan feels a call to a teaching ministry, and loves community-engaged research. In 2009 she began teaching a course at Starr King called Dynamic Youth Ministry and has taught it nearly annually since. She has also taught other various courses in ethics and social theory, including; Resilience and Resistance, Bioethics, and Sexual Ethics. She also served as a teaching assistant for PSR's Christian Ethics courses.
Beyond teaching, Megan’s organizing work in Unitarian Universalism has focused on the intersections of multiple forms of oppression. She highlights that much of her collaborative research and leadership has been in bringing a queer lens to anti-racism work in the UU community.
As a member of the UUA Commission on Appraisal, an independent think tank studying issues of importance to Unitarian Universalists, she co-authored the book, Who’s in Charge Here?: the Complex Relationship between Ministry and Authority in 2013. Through the process of writing that book, she was asked to conduct group interviews with UU transgender and genderqueer religious professionals as an ally, in order to help describe barriers specific to gender variant leaders of UU congregations.
Megan reflects that at different points she has experienced a disconnect between the mainstream LGBT religious movement and the queer and transgender youth she has worked with throughout her life. She has a vision and hope that the religious LGBT movements will prioritize conversations and action on the dramatic rise of youth violence/suicide, racism and classism within the LGBTQ movement, as well as the prevention and treatment of HIV and STIs. She is excited for the intersectional work being done in many different religious and spiritual communities, and how it will shift, broaden, and strengthen global movements for justice and equality.
(This biographical statement written by Sonny Duncan from an interview with Megan Dowdell.)
Biography Date: January, 2014
Unitarian Universalist | Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, CA) | Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, CA) | Queer/non-conforming