OKLAHOMA CITY - A metro church honored a transgender Oklahoman with the Hero of Hope Award. The recognition goes to someone who's taken a stand for rights of LGBT community.

Paula Sophia Schonauer is no stranger to adversity but the retired Oklahoma City police officer has found peace in who she is and serves as a beacon of hope for those around her.

“There was a time where I had to struggle to keep my job,” said Schonauer.

Schonauer decided to become a woman in 2001, making her the first openly transgender officer with the Oklahoma City Police Department.

“People don't understand transgender identity or transgender issues, but they respected my work ethic and that was what mattered to them and that was how we were able to build a bridge and not only be colleagues but friends,” she said.

The 20-year veteran retired with honor from the force but remains an advocate for transgender visibility and equality.

“I'm trying to show that being a Christian and being LBGTQ does not have to be mutually exclusive,” she said.

The ordained minister who was asked to renounce her orders found comfort in Cathedral of Hope Oklahoma City. Cathedral of Hope Oklahoma City was founded in 2000 by Cathedral of Hope in Dallas which is the world's largest progressive Christian church with a primary outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“Although my faith journey has taken directions that I never anticipated years ago, it still has been a journey and it has still been one of the most important aspects of my life and a grounding of who I am,” said Schonauer.

Schonauer is a published author. Her published works include her first novel “Shadowboxer,” which explores closeted identities, the consequences of bullying, and the explosive release of a suppressed personal truth.  

She also ran for the Oklahoma House in District 88 in 2014, losing by just over 20 votes.

“That was an amazing experience to receive the trust of so many voters,” she said. “I was humbled and honored by that.”

Finding love with her new wife Pam, Schonauer said she’s comforted by the support of her family and friends. 

“The best thing to do is work on being authentic and work on being who you really are no matter where you are and being open and telling your story is important,” she said.

Paula is working on her master’s degree in social work and hopes to work in community mental health one day. Schonauer received the honor from the Cathedral of Hope on Sunday in the sanctuary of Church of the Open Arms, 3131 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Oklahoma City.