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Union Gospel Mission Ejects Transgender Woman for Wearing Dress

Speaking of good Christian behavior, the Union Gospel Mission of Sioux Falls works hard serving the poor in our eastern Queen City. The shelter describes its mission with this poem by longtime supporter Tony Javurek:

Union Gospel Mission is a Haven of Trust
Needful and shielding when life seems unjust.
Its workings inspired by God’s Holy Word
Obeying when cries for assistance are heard
No one’s denied its offering hand…
[Tony Javurek, 1985, posted on]

Well, no one except folks management thinks shouldn’t be wearing dresses:

Isabella Red Cloud, FB profile photo, posted 2017.04.25.
Isabella Red Cloud, FB profile photo, posted 2017.04.25.

A transgender woman asked to leave the Union Gospel Mission said she’d hoped to find more acceptance.

Isabella Red Cloud went to the Mission on Saturday for breakfast, but was told she needed to change out of her dress and into male clothing before being served.

“I was told I could come back when I was dressed appropriately,” Red Cloud said.

Red Cloud went live on Facebook after being asked to leave. She said she was depressed about the situation until the following day, when she saw a steady stream of support from her Facebook friends.

At the urging of her friends, she returned to the mission with them and broadcast live once again, as the same unidentified employee escorted her out.

“If you are dressed in women’s clothing, you cannot. You need to leave,” the man said [John Hult, “Transgender Woman Asked to Leave Mission,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.04.24].

Union Gospel Mission exec Fran Stenberg justifies rejecting Red Cloud by rejecting Red Cloud’s identity:

“I don’t know a thing about a woman being turned away,” director Fran Stenberg told LGBTQ Nation in a phone interview. “It was a man that was turned away,” he said, and confirmed he understood what the term “transgender” means when informed Red Cloud identifies as a transgender woman [Dawn Ennis, “Transgender Woman Denied Food at Shelter Because She Was Wearing a Dress,” LGBTQ Nation, 2017.04.24].

Stenberg says Red Cloud’s presence in a dress at the Mission creates division:

“It’s not about transgender, it’s about what’s in the heart and soul of a man. God created you as a man,” Stenberg said.

Stenberg said that visitors to the kitchen who rebel against the expectations – including sobriety and a peaceful demeanor – “create division,” which means they’re asked to leave.

“We’re more concerned with how you’re being than how you look,” Stenberg said, noting that the Mission had crossed paths with Red Cloud before [Hult, 2017.04.24].

Ah—so transgender status is equivalent to being drunk or starting fights.

“We need to, first of all, make sure that it is a safe place because we have women and children here. Sometimes certain situations bring about animosity and so we have to eliminate that and sometimes that causes us to have to make the decision to deny a service, “says Executive Director of Union Gospel Mission Fran Stenberg [Rebecca David, “Transgender Woman Speaks Out After Being Denied Service at Union Gospel Mission,” KDLT, 2017.04.24].

Does this mean that when gubernatorial candidate Marty Jackley gets done putting Ehab Jaber through the wringer of overhyped, under-evidenced terrorism charges, if Jaber is down on his luck and goes to the Mission for a meal, the Mission will turn him away because he’s Muslim and his faith “brings about animosity” from others? Who really creates division, the person who does not conform to majority expectations, or the majority who respond with disruptive animosity toward the non-conformist?

Michael Stone of Patheos calls the Union Gospel Mission’s refusal to serve Red Cloud “yet another example of the mean-spirited bigotry many transgender individuals face from conservative Christians.” Patheos “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta says this discrimination doesn’t break the law, but it does contravene the narrative of Christian love (oh! a theme for the day!):

This isn’t about illegal discrimination. The people who run Christian shelters have every right to be bigots, and South Dakota has no law preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But the Christians don’t deserve a reputation for being kindhearted and magnanimous when their generosity only extends so far. If they can kick you out for wearing a dress, then let’s not pretend they actually care about helping the “least of these.” Their love is very, very conditional [Hemant Mehta, “Christian Shelter Director Ejects Transgender Woman for Wearing Dress: ‘God Created You as a Man’,” Patheos, 2017.04.25].

Union Gospel Mission has a right to control entrance to its property. It has a duty to maintain a safe environment for all whom it serves. But the Mission also professes a duty to serve all who cry for assistance. The Mission serves and was even founded by people who have done much worse than wear a dress. Ennis notes that the Union Gospel Mission was founded by Thomas F. Morse, who served time for shooting a man in Sisseton. Red Cloud just got out of prison for stealing a car. Red Cloud’s crime doesn’t disqualify her from assistance; neither should wearing a dress.


  1. Jenny 2017-04-26 09:20

    Transgender people are beautiful souls and should be accepted. This isn’t what Christianity has come to, is it? I

  2. Jenny 2017-04-26 09:27

    Would this Stenberg be the same kind of Christian that calls himself ‘pro-life’?

  3. Porter Lansing 2017-04-26 09:49

    Change is hard. Fran Stenberg could use a bunch of prayers for guidance.

  4. Julie 2017-04-26 12:01

    There is ALOT more to this story….DON’T BE SCAMMED!!! This is ploy this person is using “gender choice” to gain attention and now money.

  5. Kathy 2017-04-26 20:01

    This man was ignorant
    My. Best and kindest friend
    Of 35 yeats was a transgender
    We shopped together
    Wore different color wigs
    What a fun person
    Yes we had some encounters
    With casino security and bathroom
    But it always went well in the end
    My friend died from cancer 2 yrs sgo

  6. Roger Cornelius 2017-04-26 21:30

    South Dakota businesses and organizations should be required to put up NOT ALLOWED signs for people and groups they wish to discriminate against.

  7. Dawn Ennis 2017-04-26 22:01

    Julie, I’m the journalist who broke this story. I’ve independently confirmed all the details and spoken to both the woman, Mr. Stenberg and local advocates. Yes, Ms. Red Cloud has a GoFund me account. She’s also transient and jobless. For you to suggest that she is scamming people without any evidence to support your transphobic and outrageous accusation is called libel. So watch your words, or produce your evidence. PS Being trans is not a “choice,” except in the choice we make to either live in the closet or live authentically, or in far too many cases, end our lives. You could use some prayer, I think. So I’ll be praying for you. Love, Dawn

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-04-26 22:22

    Dang—if I’m weighing a journalist doing real journalism vs. an unsubstantiated claim supported by little more than three exclamation points, I’m obliged to take the journalist’s side. Like Ennis, I’m always open to more evidence.

  9. Julie 2017-04-26 22:47

    Dawn, I appreciate your comments….however the issue I have is you didn’t not go any farther than listening to one side.
    What is “Isabellas” legal name? She mentioned she was removed from there years ago. …what for???
    She also contradicted her story in another news article interview stating she did not need food or help, she was just giving a friend a ride the re-sign if she isn’t in need (obviously has enough money for a smart phone with Internet service) why does she need a GSM account?
    Most business have standards and rules for whatever they deem necessary. It’s their business, their property, their choice. I don’t see where you talked to them to offer the other side?
    I’m simply baffled at the lack of due diligence and lack of journalist ethics these days

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