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In Beechmont, a pastor’s complaints led to a transgender market manager’s resignation

A stall flying the Progress Pride flag at Beechmont Open Air Market.
Divya Karthikeyan
A stall flying the LGBTQ+ Pride flag at Beechmont Open Air Market.

Nedra McNeil managed the Beechmont Open Air Market for years. After a local pastor’s comments on their appearance, weeks of heated debate and meetings revolved around the future of the market and McNeil’s place in it.

From May to September, the parking lot of the Beechmont Baptist Church comes alive on Saturday mornings. It’s the home of the Beechmont Open Air Market.

The market’s manager, Nedra McNeil, moved into their two-bedroom home in Beechmont in 2019. They wanted to dive into local politics, and being an active member of their neighborhood felt like a good start. “I was interested in what was happening in my community, and at that point volunteered and thought it would be something exciting for me to do,” they said.

McNeil is transgender. They managed vendors at the market starting in 2020, and earned a reputation of being a personable and caring leader with a strong work ethic.

But this July, they resigned from their position as market manager and board member for the Beechmont Neighborhood Association.

“I’m someone who is documentedly gender transgressive in a position of some sense of authority, and those people are harder to erase,” they said.

A person wearing a purple t-shirt, short overalls and stockings smiles at the camera. They are standing on an urban street.
Divya Karthikeyan
Nedra McNeil is the former market manager of the Beechmont Open Air Market.

The trouble started over a month ago. McNeil learned that the pastor of the church next to the market made two phone calls to the neighborhood association’s president.

Pastor Paul Mathenia said he rarely visited the market, and didn’t know McNeil was the manager. But in June, he complained that their wearing short overalls and fishnet stockings one day offended him.

Mathenia said he wanted to have McNeil “tone it down.”

“If you’re going to dress that way, please don’t be in an authoritative position. We’re giving you the privilege of using our property, show respect where you are,” he said.

Though the church owns the parking lot and lets the market operate there for free, it doesn’t run the market or have authority to make market rules. That lies with the state’s Department of Agriculture.

Most Southern Baptist churches — like Beechmont’s — don’t affirm the existence of LGBTQ+ people, including those who are transgender.

Mathenia also misgendered McNeil in multiple interviews with LPM News. McNeil uses they/she pronouns.

Mathenia said his complaint was about McNeil’s lifestyle and clothing. He also takes issue with McNeil's identity as a transgender person.

“We believe that the lifestyle is contrary to the biblical teaching of sexuality that has been clear in humanity and has not been debated before. If everybody decides they’re going to be something different, the world will not exist for very long,” he said.

Three people sit in front of a black and white sign reading "Everyone is welcome at Beechmont Baptist Church" at the Beechmont Open Air Market. They are in an open-sided tent.
Divya Karthikeyan
The Beechmont Open Air Market operates on Saturdays during the summer in the parking lot at Beechmont Baptist Church.

When word got around of the pastor’s complaints, Beechmont residents engaged in a series of heated neighborhood public meetings about whether to relocate the market.

Some residents, including McNeil, wanted to find an alternate location for the market. They also wanted the neighborhood association to condemn the pastor’s comments as transphobic and discriminatory.

“There was a lot of energy to say, ‘We have a chance to do what’s right here, we have the chance to carve a path.’ And there was such discord with the board,” Donald Taylor, a massage therapist who is a gay man and also a vendor at the market.

But some produce farmers and neighborhood association board members preferred the church’s space, and didn’t see a reason to move. They characterized it as tiff limited to McNeil’s clothing and nothing more.Angie Reed, a longtime vendor and farmer of By His Grace farms, said McNeil was beloved, but moving would hurt business and disrespect the church.

“They don’t believe in the transgenders, because that’s their belief. So it’s just respect of their property,” she said.

The president of the Beechmont Neighborhood Association, Don Pitts, said he supports McNeil but he had to balance the interests of vendors and board members.

Pitts and other board members, with McNeil’s support, appointed an acting manager in June because McNeil was no longer comfortable going to the market after the pastor’s comments.

McNeil did not attend the next public meeting of the association on June 21. Local vendors presented a letter in support of moving the location, but residents and vendors sensed board members were hesitant to relocate, one attendee said.

The issue came to a head on July 5. McNeil said they were invited by Pitts to a private meeting of board members at one member’s house. McNeil did not attend because they believed it violated the neighborhood association’s rules of keeping all meetings public. They said that moved them to resign.

According to Pitts, it was an unofficial meeting “to help us arrive at a consensus on a difficult issue.” He said the meeting did not violate bylaws.

Board members settled on not to move the market this year. But they could relocate for the next market season.

“Sometimes there are competing rights, our stance of saying we’re going to stay there, because that’s where our contracts are. We'll move next year in support of diversity. We’re doing the best we can in a really hard cultural question that the whole culture is struggling with,” Pitts said.

Disappointed by the board’s decision, Donald Taylor and other queer vendors at the market decided to break away from the Beechmont Open Air Market and now hold a pop-up market on Saturdays at Stillpoint Wellness Center, Taylor’s massage therapy business. “I cannot be more committed to comfort than I am committed to right. I am not comfortable going to a new location that is unknown, but I’m more uncomfortable sitting in a place of wrong than I am sitting in a place of unknown,” he said.

A man with dark hair in a short-sleeved button down shirt leans, smiling, against a mantle.
Divya Karthikeyan
Donald Taylor was disappointed by the board's handling of the situation, and now runs a pop-up store at his massage therapy business Stillpoint Wellness Center.

Bernadette Barton teaches gender studies and sociology at Morehead State University. She views these kinds of events as a result of national anti-trans rhetoric.

“This is a good example of minority stress and discrimination. There's the impact of experiencing it for Nedra [McNeil], and then there's the impact when others in the neighborhood watch it happen, and some think it's okay,” Barton said.

Barton said transphobia isn’t always defined by direct attacks towards transgender people: There are families that are openly transphobic, and families who are on the fence about whom to support. She said the latter is more vulnerable to being easily swayed by messaging from institutions like governments and even churches.

She said this is a chance to engage in critical thinking about gender in homes and communities.

“People are really bad at talking about gender. It’s a good point of entry to talk about class privilege. And what it’s like for you and where you were disadvantaged and where you struggled, and then many can go from that to thinking about gender,” she said.

These days, McNeil is searching for a new house. But for them, Beechmont is out of the question.

“This has definitely rattled the neighborhood. It’s still a community, and it was a community I was a part of, but it’s a community I don’t feel welcome in now,” they said.

If the neighborhood association doesn’t find an alternate location by January, board chair Pitts said it will stop sponsoring the market. Farmers who are in favor of staying near the church would be free to register their own market with the Department of Agriculture.

“Of all the hills to die on, for the neighborhood association to say, ‘We’re against transphobia enough that we’ll kill our own market but not before we lost our trans market manager if we can’t find a suitable place other than the church,’ that’s disappointing,” McNeil said.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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