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A church put women and LGBTQ people first. Attendance surged.

This church is redefining the relationship between the Black church and queer people.

A church put women and LGBTQ people first. Attendance surged.
Rev. Frazier works at FCBC and the HOPE Center. Photo by the author.

On a rainy day in Harlem, Rev. Kyndra Frazier, 36, works at her desk at in a quiet office. She’s visibly relaxed, self-aware, and youthful.

Yet her journey to becoming a leader of one of the largest, most historic African American churches in New York City and exuding such confidence wasn’t easy.        


Rev. Frazier was raised in North Carolina. Her family were leaders in the Church of God, so from a young age she found solace and enjoyment in her faith. But her teenage years were conflicted.  

Rev. Frazier is queer — a life the church was starkly against.  

She struggled to reconcile her sexuality and faith, fasting and praying, to no avail. Her parents found out about her queerness while listening in on a phone call between Frazier and her secret girlfriend.

“I recall being ashamed and embarrassed by what they’d heard, Rev. Frazier says. “They let me know that they couldn’t trust me anymore.”    

It took about eight years for her immediate family to accept her. It took even longer for Frazier to realize she could love who she chooses and be a faith-driven person.  

This duality drew Rev. Frazier to First Corinthian Baptist Church (FCBC) and its executive pastor, Rev. Michael A. Walrond, Jr.

Rev. Walrond enjoys preaching in jeans. Photo courtesy of FCBC.

Rev. Waldron, 46, leans into the common themes of Black church identity in his teachings: faith, community, and a dedication to justice.    

Unlike many Baptist clergy, though, Rev. Walrond has extended his message of tolerance and inclusion to a group typically excluded from ministry: the LGBTQ community.

“We as people of color have so many things that we battle with,” Rev. Frazier says. “For many of us, not only are we Black, ... we're also queer. Churches have to do the work that centers those folks and remind them that they’re valid and loved in such challenging times.”  

Rev. Waldron’s progressive nature breathes through every part of the church. Since joining as the executive pastor in 2004, he's surrounded himself with women leaders, a rarity in most churches. His preaching style is casual; he wears jeans — unusual against his suit-and-tie counterparts in Baptist churches around the nation. (He once told The New York Times, “I like being loose when I go out to preach.”)        

But his mannerisms and unique style of preaching connect congregants to the deeper acceptance of each churchgoer in the room. At FCBC, you’re at home, you’re welcome, and nothing — from clothing to sexual orientation — gets in the way of that.

All three of FCBC's Sunday morning services are typically filled to capacity. Photo courtesy of FCBC.

The inclusive efforts have been largely beneficial. FCBC's membership has grown from 350 to 10,000+ people.

Lines of people wrap around the street on Sunday mornings. During the service, gospel music echoes through the white ceilings lined with purple and gold. Churchgoers are each immersed in their own spiritual experiences inside this space that exudes warmth and solidarity.      

It was on a similar Sunday in 2016 that Rev. Frazier came out to the congregation, something nearly unheard of in most religious spaces. For the FCBC’s queer membership, it was especially incredible.

“To see her pronounce who she was openly gay in the pulpit was a huge thing for me to see,” said Olando Charles, a queer member of the church. “If she can make it, so can I.”          

Olando Charles is an active member of FCBC and the HOPE Center. Photo by the author.

Rev. Frazier's visibility in the pulpit likely couldn't have happened without Rev. Walrond constantly striving to bring people of all backgrounds to the church.

While Rev. Walrond's actions aren't surprising to many of his congregants, his outreach — and style of operating a church — are unusual in American church culture: Catholic churches have fired openly gay priests, several churches have removed queer musicians, priests have been fired for vocally supporting LGBTQ rights, and women overall still struggle to be viewed as viable leaders in churches all over the country.

The pastors of FCBC are needed now more than ever.

To reach the most marginalized in the FCBC and Harlem communities, Rev. Waldron opened the HOPE (Healing On Purpose and Evolving) Center to provide free mental health and therapy services.

The HOPE Center is just a few blocks away from FCBC. Photo by the author.

He tapped Rev. Frazier in 2016 to spearhead the organization. The two first met in 2012, and their professional admiration and relationship grew from there.

Before accepting the position, though, Rev. Frazier knew she needed to come out to Rev. Walrond. “He made it clear that it wasn’t an issue,” she says, explaining that Waldron embraced her and saw her sexuality as a gift instead of a problem. He believed she would be able to advocate for the Black, queer people of Harlem who felt unseen in their churches.    

Rev. Frazier continues, “For him to believe in me and trust me to have autonomy to create mental health space was huge and empowering.”  

The center works with those who have experienced or are experiencing religious trauma, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and/or chronic spiritual abuse.

“I remember going to the church and people telling me I didn’t belong,” Tanzania Stone, a queer FCBC member recalls. “It was heartbreaking. I loved God, but they made it out to seem like God didn’t love me because of who I love.”

Stone went through several periods of time when she wasn’t engaged with the church.

“To be a woman of color and to constantly know that you’re being oppressed in society, you want to find refuge in a church,” she explains. “And to go to this place that you’re being told is a refuge, but when they find out who you choose to love, you find out you’re an outcast or an abomination? That hurts.”

Tanzania Stone often participates in FCBC outreach. Photo by the author.

Stone eventually found her place in FCBC and HOPE. “To finally be in a place where I’m being told, no, you are a child of God, you’re worthy of God’s love, it was so liberating,” she told me.

Rev. Frazier says her own experiences with dissenting family members and frustrations in the church motivate her work.  

“My goal here is to create a space for people of color,” she explains. “The stigma has been so great for Black and Brown folks seeking mental health services; this space is truly designated for us.”  

And she says this is just the beginning. A ministry for LGBTQ people — just like there are for men, women, married couples in the faith — is an essential next step to affirming the group.  

Frazier hopes that FCBC will be an example for other churches across the nation because, historically, churches have failed to provide a safe space for queer communities.

Rev. Frazier knows role likely couldn’t have happened 60 years ago (much less 10), given the fraught history of queer people in Black history.

Bayard Rustin — one of the most brilliant and strategic minds of the civil rights movement — was virtually erased from history books about the era because he was gay. Though his influence was often kept behind closed doors, it’s documented that Rustin was one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most trusted confidants.

Even outside of the church, the work of queer Black leaders and thinkers such as Audre Lorde and James Baldwin were somewhat ignored and not brought to light in mainstream history until recent years due to pervasive, deep-rooted homophobia.                      

Churches like FCBC are working to change that.

With roughly 79% of Black Americans identifying as Christians — the largest group of Christians in the country — it’s a crucial time for religious organizations in Black communities to support their most vulnerable.      

“We take the teachings of Jesus seriously,” said Rev. Frazier. “Black churches have historically been involved in politically challenging times, and we must continue to do so. We can do that by clothing and feeding others and giving them the support they need to move forward.”

Charles and Rev. Frazier often work together at the church. Photo by the author.

As FCBC continues to grow and find ways to not only be more inclusive, but also more affirming, it’s clear that the pastors aren’t afraid to try ways to include people who’ve previously been left out of communities of faith.      

Rev. Frazier puts it this way: “Understand that working towards inclusion is a matter of who’s growing, not who’s right and who’s wrong. That’s how you move forward.”  

Rev. Frazier is currently fundraising for a documentary called A Love Supreme: Black, Queer and Christian in The South.” You can watch the trailer here and learn how to support the project here.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

via The BC Cancer Foundation

Testicular cancer typically affects men between the ages of 16 and 44 and is the most common solid tumor to occur in men of this age group. These tumors grow rapidly and can double in size in just 10 to 30 days.

The disease is potentially fatal if not discovered early and accounts for about 11%-13% of all cancer deaths of men between the ages of 15-35. An estimated 9,60 people were diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2020, resulting in around 440 deaths.

So it's incredibly important for people with testicles to check themselves regularly.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.