His conservative Christian family in Florida disdainfully called California the “Left Coast,” but Gregory Stevens was eager to embrace the Golden State. He’d grown up queer in a town where he believed everyone looked the same, where people referred to the non-Christian woman in the neighborhood as “the Jew,” where the khaki pants and polo shirts recently co-opted by white supremacists were an unofficial uniform. California, he imagined, would be different—a place where liberal ideas flourished and where people were willing to rally against inequality and injustice.
But Stevens, now 28, did not end up in the liberal den of San Francisco, the stoner paradise of Humboldt County, or the alternative-living community of Slab City, in the Sonoran Desert. After finishing seminary at the progressive Claremont School of Theology, in Southern California, Stevens got a job as a pastor in Palo Alto, one of the wealthiest communities in the country, where the median family income is around $163,000 and the median home price is over $3 million. He settled into his job at the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, a historic church located in a neighborhood that’s also home to Google co-founder Larry Page and Laurene Powell Jobs, who founded the Emerson Collective (which owns a majority stake in The Atlantic).