Sarah Jean Flynn was assigned male gender at birth as James D. Flynn in 1938 in Chicago, Illinois. She was nine years old when the family relocated to a small college town in the panhandle of Texas. At thirteen years of age, she began to have gender identity problems. The gender problems persisted through adolescence and into her college years. She studied anthropology and history at the University of Texas receiving her B.A. degree in 1961. In the same year she married as a male, hoping thereby to escape from the gender identity conflict. She moved to New Jersey to study at Drew Theological School while serving as a student pastor at distant rural parishes. The gender identity conflict eventually forced her to seek professional help, which temporarily lessened the severity of the symptoms.
She received her M.Div. degree in June, 1968, and was ordained a Deacon in the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Two years later she was ordained a Presbyter and assigned to serve an inner city church in The Bronx. While there she helped to form the Ecumenical Parish of the Northeast Bronx which established collaboration between various member churches for outreach, social services and mutual support. She established a New York City day care center in the Church which served working parents and created jobs for persons living in this area.
In 1972 she moved with her family to Hartford, Connecticut, to serve another inner city parish destined to be merged with another nearby United Methodist Church. While there, she invited the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) serving LGBT persons to use the church’s facilities. MCC continued to use the facilities after the merger was consummated and Rev. Flynn was appointed to a new post.
The gender issue became less and less manageable during these years. The marriage ended in 1975 and from that point onward Sarah began to reach out for help and therapy related to this problem. While assigned to an inner city church in Albany, New York, she completed the preparatory period for gender reassignment and made a full transition as of August of 1978. In response, her bishop, the Rev. Ralph Ward, arranged for a leave of absence and re-issued her ordination papers with the cooperation of the ordaining bishop who had since retired. Later she was granted an appointment as an extension minister beyond the local church.
For a period of about a year Sarah was a Hartford city welfare recipient as she looked for work in the economically depressed Hartford area. It was a difficult task given that the prior work history had been ministerial service and as a male. Eventually she found employment with the State of Connecticut, first as a clerical employee and later as a college registrar. She continued in that field for 23 years retiring in June, 2003. In the intervening years she was a weekend supply pastor serving under a district superintendent who was fully aware of her past. She became the pastor of a small parish outside of Hartford, Connecticut, and served there for nine years on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ basis.
In the 1990’s Sarah became involved with the LGBT civil rights movement. She also joined Dignity Hartford and in time was asked to serve as one of its volunteer chaplains. In 1995 she ended her pastoral service to the United Methodist Church and became a member of an Independent Catholic Church and was received as a priest in that communion. With other members of Dignity Hartford she continued to work for LGBT civil rights serving as a district coordinator for an advocacy organization, and served on a steering committee for Love Makes A Family, the leading advocacy organization for same sex marriage in Connecticut.
In 2003 she and her partner moved to Burlington, Vermont. Her involvement after relocating was to participate in the formation and lobbying efforts of Vermont TransAction which successfully achieved the goal of passing a gender identity law protecting transgender and gender variant people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. Her second activist effort was to participate in Vermont Freedom to Marry which also succeeded in passage of the Same Sex Marriage legislation in the Spring of 2009. Over the years Sarah has spoken at innumerable college classes and events relating her journey. She facilitates a trans support group, helped to organize an Integrity Chapter, served as a voluntary chaplain for a local hospital, served as the Ecumenical Officer of the American Catholic Church of New England and continues as a quiet advocate for legislative reform relating to the lives of transgendered Vermonters. She has written extensive essays on religion and civil rights and some poetry which has been published. She is a member of the Order of Saint Luke.
Sarah and Joanna Cole, her partner of eight years, were the first same-sex couple to be legally married in the Episcopal Cathedral of Saint Paul in Burlington, Vermont, on All Saints Day, November 1, 2009.
(This biographical statement provided by Sarah Flynn.)
Biography Date: December, 2009
Methodist (UMC, United Methodist Church) | Clergy Activist | Marriage Equality | Ordination/clergy | Transgender activism