First Woman of Color and Openly Queer President Elected by Unitarian Universalists

A theologian, ethicist and minister has been elected as the first openly queer individual and woman of color to head the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), marking a significant milestone in the faith tradition that embraces diverse and inclusive beliefs.

The Reverend Sofía Betancourt assumed the role of the 10th president of the UUA on June 25, after an uncontested election in which she garnered an impressive 95.5 percent of the vote, winning the support of more than 2,300 Unitarian Universalist delegates. Her term will span six years.

Betancourt, who hails from New York City, was raised by immigrant parents from Panamá and Chile. The grandchild of a seventh-generation Unitarian, she has fulfilled ministerial roles at Unitarian Universalist congregations in California and Connecticut.

In 2017, Betancourt was appointed as the UUA interim co-president.

In the late aughts (2000s), Betancourt held the position of director at the UUA’s Office of Racial and Ethnic Concerns. She pursued her doctorate in religious ethics and African American studies at Yale University and, more recently, served as a resident scholar at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing human rights.

As Betancourt assumes the presidency, the UUA finds itself in a period of transition, grappling with its evolving identity and the increasing presence of younger and non-white members.

During an interview with Religion News Service, Betancourt expressed her belief in the crucial role of pastoral leadership during times of collective trauma.

“Being able to hold a container for how we do the work of faith together in a way that is trauma informed, that is pastoral, that has an ethic of care at the center … that has always been woven through my language and how I’ve done my work in ministry, across a range of roles,” she said.

The UUA is in the midst of redefining the essence of being a Unitarian Universalist. During the recent General Assembly, a resolution was passed to further revise Article II of the bylaws, which represents the covenant that UU congregations commit to.

The current revised proposal for Article II places emphasis on accountability and interdependence, and it introduces a new commitment to “dismantle racism and all forms of systemic oppression.” The final proposal will be subject to a vote in 2024.

As she embarks on her tenure, Betancourt has identified her top three priorities: communal care, collaborative leadership, and navigating uncertainty together. An advocate of Unitarian Universalism as a living tradition that must adapt creatively to address contemporary needs, she believes her faith’s strength lies in a space that is inclusive and welcoming of all, while honoring its distinctive historical tradition.

When questioned about the significance of her election, Betancourt replied that her presidency would not revolve around her racial or queer identity. However, she emphasized the importance of diverse representation in leadership positions for young individuals.

She highlighted the ongoing learning process within the realm of justice work, acknowledging the significance of following the leadership and amplifying the voices of frontline communities most affected by the issues being addressed. As she put it: “I think it is important to say, ‘This is who we are,’ in this moment.”