Susan Russell was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She is a lifelong Episcopalian and attended church regularly as a child and teenager. She recalls church being important to her parents; her mother a Lutheran and her father, an Episcopalian, felt that it was more about faith rather than church. Once leaving for college, Susan stopped attending regular services, not as a form of rebellion but more due to the life of a busy college student.
Susan majored in history at University of California Santa Barbara. She later sat for the LSAT to attend law school but ended up taking a year off. At 22, she married her husband, who was a savings and loan executive and they were married for 18 years. After starting a family, Susan became a stay-at-home mom. It was during this time that Susan started going back to church.
The Episcopal Church permitted ordination of women beginning in 1976. Susan would attend seminary at Claremont School of Theology in 1993 and be ordained by 1996. Susan recalls there being few models for women in the church, let alone lesbian women. Not long after ordination, Susan began to realize her sexuality and felt that sexuality and faith were intrinsically linked. Susan remembers a moment, where she had a voice speak to her that said “This is how I made you; now go be the priest I called you to be.” Susan was a deacon at the time of her coming out. Susan thinks back and says that she came out in a platform of privilege; she was living in California and her bishop was supportive. Susan and her husband attended family counseling to work together and to
reconfigure their family on the other side of the marriage.
Susan is now the Senior Associate for Communications at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California. She is an advocate for LGBTQ and women’s issues. Susan is the former president of Integrity USA, a nationwide group of LGBTQ Episcopalians and continues to be active in the group. She was a founding member of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Faith & Religion Council and previously served on the National Clergy Advisory Board for Planned Parenthood. She currently co-chairs the Episcopal Church’s Task Force for Communion Across Difference and works to expand awareness to LGBTQ causes. And it was through church that Susan met her wife Lori. Lori works in the mental health field as a social worker. Together, they have four children: two boys and two girls, and Susan and Lori celebrated five years of marriage in June!
When asked about the challenges that are faced by the LGBTQ community, Susan pointed to the shifting landscape that calls us to continue to grow in our understanding of the complexity of human sexuality in general and of gender-fluidity in particular. She states that we need to continue the hard work of advocating for legislative change while we also work to change hearts and minds by telling our stories and building relationships across difference. We recognizes that we have not yet reached the audacious goal of a nation where liberty and justice for all includes all LGBTQ people, but believes as we journey toward that goal we need to celebrate the victories along the way.
(This biographical statement written by Lynsey Allie from an interview with Susan Russell.)
Biography Date: July 2019
Activist (church change) | Episcopal Church | California | Integrity | Los Angeles | Human Rights Campaign | Clergy Activist