Category Archives: LGBT history

Holocaust Memorial Day

Let us remember, today, Holocaust Memorial Day, which in 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the largest and most notorious Nazi death camp. The BBC will mark this with a memorial program, and there will be many memorial events around the United Kingdom.

Most of the attention, quite appropriately, will be focussed on the Jewish Holocaust, but without wishing to detract from that tragedy, we must not forget that there were other victims, too – for example, with particular relevance  to lgbt peopIe, gay men and lesbians. I offer for your consideration, a posts on this theme that I have published previously, and another by Kittredge Cherry, at Jesus in Love.

The Priest With the Pink Triangle.

For the first post in my “queer modern heroes” series, I begin with someone most people have never heard of. (I’m not sure anyone even knows his name.) I begin with him because he represents a double martyrdom, martyred for his orientation, and also martyred for his faith. I choose him also precisely because he is anonymous, reminding us that in our own way, we are all called to our own heroism in the face of persecution, all called to be “martyrs” in the true, original sense – as witnesses to truth. I read this story in John McNeill’s “Taking a Chance on God“: McNeill got the story from Heinz Heger. These are McNeill’s words:

“I would like to end this reflection on the mature life of faith with the eyewitness account of a gay priest who was beaten to death in a German concentration camp during World War II because he refused to stop praying or to express contempt for himself. The story is recounted by Heinz Heger in his book “The Men With the Pink Triangle“, in which he he recalls what took place in the special concentration camp for gay men in Sachsenhausen (Sachsenhausen was a “level 3″ camp where prisoners were deliberately worked to death):

continue reading.

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(also at Queering the Church, on a related theme: Lest We Forget: Remember the Ashes of Our Martyrs)

 

This day is commemorated on different dates in the UK, and the USA. From the other side of the Atlantic, for the American remembrance day in April, Kittredge Cherry reminded us at Jesus in Love:

 

Holocaust Remembrance: We All Wear the Triangle

 

Holy Priest Anonymous one of Sachsenhausen
By William Hart McNichols ©

On Holocaust Remembrance Day we recall the genocide of 6 million Jews in state-sponsored extermination by Nazi Germany during World War II. The Nazis also murdered millions of people in other groups, including thousands of gay men and lesbians. Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom HaShoah, is April 11 this year.

One of those killed was an anonymous 60-year-old gay priest who died at the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, Germany in 1940. Heinz Heger gives an eyewitness account in his book, “The Men with the Pink Triangle.” The priest was brutally beaten and tortured, and yet there was a moment of grace when a narrow beam of sunlight shone on the priest’s face. For a detailed account, visit:
http://queering-the-church.blogspot.com/2010/01/priest-with-pink-triangle.html

The gay priest is honored in the icon above, “Holy Priest Anonymous one of Sachsenhausen” by Father William Hart McNichols, a renowned iconographer and Roman Catholic priest based in New Mexico.

It is in recognition of the significance of this gay holocaust in our collective memory, that the pink triangle has become such a potent symbol of our continuing struggle for full equality and inclusion in society – and why I developed, as my own symbol of the struggle for inclusion and equality in church, this adaptation:
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Pope Francis, Gay Marriage – and Africa.

In the Philippines, Pope Francis made some observations about marriage when addressing a gathering of families, that have been widely interpreted as an attack on gay marriage, urging people to resist pressures to “colonize” the family. (Read the full text here)

At Bondings 2.0, Frank DeBenardo has a thoughtful reflection on the Pope’s message, which he describes as “problematic”. I have not yet read the actual text, or detailed reports of it, so withhold comment on the message itself, concerning marriage. Read instead, DeBenardo’s thoughts.  However, he does include a useful observation on the word “colonization” that this may have been prompted by the concerns of African bishops at the family synod. As an African myself, this struck me as important.  Continue reading Pope Francis, Gay Marriage – and Africa.

Blessed Are the Queer in Faith……

…… for they shall inherit the Church!

 

Follow this link for a presentation I did for the Quest Conference of United Kingdom gay and lesbian Catholics in 2012. In the Queen’s diamond jubilee year, this conference looked back on 60 years of queer history.  My contribution looked specifically at 60 years of queer church history – in the UK, and elsewhere.

 

The Story of the Queer Saints and Martyrs

Prequel: Before Christianity

Studies of the animal kingdom, and of non-Western and pre-industrial societies show clearly that there is no single “natural” form for either human or animal sexuality. Homosexual activity  has been described by science for all divisions of the animal kingdom, in all periods of history, and in all regions of the world. Most religions recognise this. The monotheistic Christian religion teaches that God made us in His own image and likeness – but other religions, when they attempted to picture their many gods and goddesses, created their gods in human image and likeness, and so incorporated into their pantheon many gods who had sex with males – either divine or human.

The Hebrews’ concept of a single all-powerful God did not incorporate any concept of divine sexuality, but they did include into their Scriptures numerous passages that describe same sex loving relationships  as well as the books of the prophets who were eunuchs.

The Christian Gospels offer tantalizing hints at Jesus’ own sexuality which may have included some male love interest. However, more directly relevant to us are His teaching and example , which clearly show that His message is an inclusive one, that quite explicitly does include sexual minorities of all kinds.

After the Gospels, the most important Christian writings are the letters of Paul, who has a reputation as strongly condemning same sex behaviour – but a more careful consideration of his life as well as his letters, in their own context, can offer a different perspective.

The Early Christians.

The cultural context of the early was one where  they were political and even social outcasts, in a society of a bewildering range of attitudes to sexuality, ranging from substantial sexual licence for Roman citizens, to negligible freedom of sexual choice for slaves, to sexual abstemiousness for those influenced by Greek stoicism. The stories of queer saints that come down to us include those of martyred Roman soldiers, martyred Roman women, bishops who wrote skilled erotic poems, and (especially in the Eastern regions), cross-dressing monks.

In addition to the examples of individuals who were honoured as saints, there are also important examples from Church practice. Evidence from archaeology and written records shows clearly that from the late Roman period onwards, the Church made liturgical provision for the recognition of same sex couples. From Macedonia, there is extensive evidence of Christian same sex couples who were buried in shared graves. More telling evidence for church recognition of same sex couples comes from the existence of formal liturgical rites for blessing their unions. In the Eastern Church, these rites (known as “adelphopoeisis”)  date from the late Roman period. In the Western Church, where the evidence begins a little later, they were known as making of “sworn brothers”.

Medieval Homoeroticism

The early Middle Ages were once known as the “Dark Ages”, a disparaging term, which nevertheless is descriptive of the murky information we have about the saints: some of what is commonly believed about these saints is clearly mythical. Nevertheless, knowledge of the queer associations of saints like Patrick and Brigid of Ireland, George the dragon slayer and “Good King Wenceslas” is simple fun – and literal, historical truth or not, can provide useful material for reflection.

This period is also notable for the widespread use of specific liturgies for blessing same sex unions in Church. Even if these unions are not directly comparable with modern marriage, understanding of this recognition by the church deserves careful consideration, for the guidance it can offer the modern church on dealing with recognition for same sex relationships.

By the time of the High Middle Ages, influenced by increasing urbanization and greater familiarity with more homoerotic Muslim civilization, the earlier moderate opposition and grudging toleration of same sex love softened to a more open tolerance, with some remarkable monastic love letters with homoerotic imagery, more erotic poetry, and acceptance of open sexual relationships even for prominent bishops  and abbots – especially if they had suitable royal collections.

It was also a time of powerful women in the church, as abbesses who sometimes even had authority over their local bishops.

However, the increase in open sexual relationships among some monastic groups also led to a reaction, with some theologians starting to agitate for much harsher penalties against “sodomites”, especially among the clergy. Initially, these pleas for a harsher, anti-homosexual regime met with limited support – but bore fruit a couple of centuries later, with disastrous effects which were felt right through to the present day – and especially the twentieth century.

The Great Persecution

Symbolically, the great change can be seen as the martyrdom of Joan of Arc – martyred not for the Church, but by the Church, for reasons that combined charges of heresy with her cross-dressing. A combination of charges of heresy and “sodomy” were also the pretext for the persecution and trials of the Knights Templar – masking the naked greed of the secular and clerical powers which profited thereby. The same confusion of “sodomy” and heresy led to an expansion of the persecution from the Templars to wider group, and  also the expansion of the methods and geographic extent, culminating in the executions of thousands of alleged “sodomites” across many regions of Europe. This persecution was initially encouraged or conducted by the Inquisition, later by secular authorities alone – but conducted according to what the church had taught them was a religious justification. Even today, the belief that religion justifies homophobic violence is often given as a motivation by the perpetrators – and the fires that burned the sodomites of the fifteenth century had a tragic echo in the gay holocaust of the second world war.

Yet even at the height of the persecution, there was the paradox of a succession of  popes, who either had well-documented relationships with boys or men,  or commissioned frankly homoerotic art from renowned Renaissance artists, which continues to decorate Vatican architecture. This period exemplifies the continuing hypocrisy of an outwardly homophobic, internally.

Modern Martyrs, Modern Revival

The active persecution of sodomites by the Inquisition gradually gave way to secular prosecutions under civil law, with declining ferocity as the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment and more modern times (although executions continued until the nineteenth century). From this time on, theoretical condemnation of “sodomites” co-existed with increasing public recognition of some men who had sex with men, and records relating to queers in the church are less prominent than either earlier or later periods.  In the nineteenth century, Cardinal Newman’s request to be buried alongside Ambrose St John does not appear to have aroused any opposition.

In the twentieth century, the increasing visibility of homosexual men produced the horrifying backlash in Germany in the gay holocaust, with its echos of the medieval bonfires of heretics and sodomites – the modern gay martyrs.

Only after WWII did the Vatican begin to seriously address the question of homosexuality, with increasingly harsh judgements and attempts to silence theologians and pastors who questioned their doctrines and practice. Other denominations drove out existing gay or lesbian pastors, and refused ordination, or even church membership, to other openly gay or lesbian church members. However, these victims of church exclusion, who can be seen metaphorically as modern martyrs, martyred by the church for being true to their sexual identity,  refused to be silenced. Like St Sebastian before Emperor Maximilian, they found new ways to minister to the truth of homosexuality and Christianity.

Today, these early pioneers for queer inclusion in church have been joined by countless others, who work constantly at tasks large and small, to witness to the truth of our sexuality and gender identity, and to its compatibility with authentic Christianity. In effect, that includes all of who identify as both Christian, and simultaneously as lesbian, gay trans, or other  – and the women who refuse to accept the narrow confines of the gender roles church authorities attempt to place on us.

November 1st is the day the Church has set aside to celebrate All Saints – the recognition that sainthood is not only a matter of formally recognized and canonized saints, but is a calling to which we must all aspire. For queers in Church, it is especially a day for us to remember our modern heroes, who in facing and overcoming their attempted silencing are martyrs of the modern church – and that we, too, are called to martyrdom, in its literal sense: to bear witness, in our lives, to our truth.

Rosa Bonheur: Cross-dressing painter honored “androgyne Christ”

Rosa Bonheur, the most famous female painter of the 19th century, was a queer cross-dresser who honored what she called the “androgyne Christ.” She had two consecutive long-term relationships with women. She died on this date (May 25) in 1899.

Born in France in 1822, Bonheur received much acclaim in her lifetime for her paintings of animals. In recent years she has been celebrated as a queer pioneer, feminist icon, and role model for the LGBT community. Her achievements grew out of an unusual religious upbringing in the proto-feminist Saint-Simonian sect, and the queer Christian ideals that she expressed in adulthood. Bonheur’s gender-bending lifestyle has been covered extensively by scholars, but her spirituality has received much less attention.

Her parents raised her in Saint-Simonianism, a French utopian Christian-socialist movement that advocated equality for women and prophesied the coming of a female messiah. Her father was an artist and an ardent apostle for the Saint-Simonian religion. Bonheur writes a whole chapter about growing up as a Saint-Simonian in the book “Rosa Bonheur: The Artist’s (Auto)biography,” which she wrote with her companion Anna Klumpke.

The Saint-Simonian concept of gender equality paved the way for Bonheur’s father to train her as a painter… and for her own defiance of gender norms. As she put it, “To his doctrines I owe my great and glorious ambition for the sex to which I proudly belong and whose independence I shall defend until my dying day.”

read more:  Jesus in Love Blog

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Harvey Milk, Secular Gay Saint and Modern Martyr

In California, May 22 is officially recognised as “Harvey Milk Day“. The reasons for this secular honour are well-known, and recorded in several books and notable movies.  In 1977, he became the first openly gay man elected to public office as a gay man, but served for only a short term before he was assassinated on  Nov. 27, 1978. Even in that brief term of office, he made his mark with his contribution to San Francisco’s landmark Gay Rights Ordinance, and to the defeat of the Briggs initiative, which would have required California school districts to fire openly gay and lesbian teachers, but was defeated in the November election shortly before Milk’s assassination. Rather than rehashing the bare facts of Harvey Milk’s life and career, which can be read elsewhere, I want to reflect a little on the symbolism and lessons that these have acquired, three decades later.

Although he is best known for his unique position as a trailblazer for out gay politicians, his work was not limited to queer advocacy, as Kittredge Cherry reminds us at Jesus in Love:

Milk (1930-1978) served only 11 months on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before he was killed, but in that short time he fought for the rights of the elderly, small business owners, and the many ethnic communities in his district as well as for the growing LGBT community.

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Continue reading Harvey Milk, Secular Gay Saint and Modern Martyr

Another Red State Victory for Queer Families

Step by step, queer families are seeing moves to full recognition, even in American red states (and in church). The latest in victory in Idaho follows court decisions in Utah and Oklahoma to strike down the states’ constitutional ban on gay marriage, and the decision by Nevada’s Republican governor not to defend his state’s ban. A challenge to the gay marriage ban in Texas is in court this week, and court challenges under way in a further 19 states.
There is progress too in many churches, including the Catholics: Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, is just the latest in an expanding list of senior bishops who have opposed full marriage equality, but suggested civil unions as an alternative.
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Idaho’s top court grants adoptive rights to spouse in gay marriage 

Idaho’s top court on Monday ruled that state law allows a woman to adopt the children of her same-sex spouse, in a precedent-setting victory for gay couples in a socially conservative U.S. state that has banned the unions.
idaho rainbow
The ruling stems from an adoption petition filed last year by an Idaho woman shortly after her marriage in California to her same-sex partner, the parent of boys ages 12 and 15, legal records showed.
The woman, unidentified in court documents on confidentiality grounds related to adoption, sought to share parental rights with her long-term partner. She appealed a magistrate judge’s rejection of her petition.
The Idaho Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision reversing the lower court’s ruling, said a person’s gender or sexual orientation was not part of the legal criteria that allowed a minor to be adopted by an in-state adult resident.
“Any adult person” is defined as any human being over the age of 18 and “cannot possibly be construed to mean ‘any married adult person’ as the magistrate ultimately determined,” Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones wrote for the court.
– continue reading at  Reuters.
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Some Divine Patrons of Queer Love

In Christian theology, we are told that we are made “in God’s image and likeness.” Taking a broader view across all religions, it is more accurate to say that humans make gods & goddesses in our image and likeness – even where they are visualized in non-human form, their reported behaviour is frequently anthropomorphic.

This is especially obvious outside of the monotheistic religions. In these, the necessity for imagining gods & goddesses in relationships and interactions with other gods produces tales of jealousy, rivalry, and amorous adventures that look remarkably human.   Reflecting what each culture sees in itself, the deities also reflect a range of interests, temperaments – and sexual preferences. Many pantheons, especially those from Classical Greece and Rome, China, India, South America and Oceania, feature prominent gods and goddesses who had homosexual relationships or adventures. (Hindu deities are especially notable for the ease with which many of them change gender from time to time).

This much I knew. But the biggest surprise for me yesterday, when I was reading some more about LGBT themes in mythology, was the discovery that in some mythologies, there are gods who are specifically designated not just as practitioners, but even as patrons of male homosexuality.

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Continue reading Some Divine Patrons of Queer Love

James Stoll, Unitarian Pioneer of LGBT Inclusion in Church

Rev. James Lewis Stoll, who died on December 8th 1994, was a Unitarian Universalist minister who became the first ordained minister of any religion in the United States or Canada to come out as gay. He did so at the annual Continental Conference of Student Religious Liberals on September 5, 1969 in La Foret, Colorado. Later, he led the effort that convinced the Unitarian Universalist Association to pass the first-ever gay rights resolution in 1970.
After training at Starr King School for the Ministry, in Berkeley, followed by ordination, he served as pastor at a church in Kennewick, Wash., from 1962 until 1969. For reasons that have not been disclosed, he was asked to resign, and then moved to San Francisco, where he shared an apartment with three others.
In September of 1969, he attended a convention of college-age Unitarians in Colorado Springs. One evening after dinner, he stood up and came out publicly as a gay man. He declared his orientation, stated that it was not a choice, that he was no longer ashamed of it, and that from then on, he would refuse to live a lie.

“On the second or third night of the conference,” according to Mr. Bond-Upson, “after dinner, Jim got up to speak. He told us that he’d been doing a lot of hard thinking that summer. Jim told us he could no longer live a lie. He’d been hiding his nature — his true self — from everyone except his closest friends. ‘If the revolution we’re in means anything,’ he said, ‘it means we have the right to be ourselves, without shame or fear.’

“Then he told us he was gay, and had always been gay, and it wasn’t a choice, and he wasn’t ashamed anymore and that he wasn’t going to hide it anymore, and from now on he was going to be himself in public. After he concluded, there was a dead silence, then a couple of the young women went up and hugged him, followed by general congratulations. The few who did not approve kept their peace.” ’

After the convention, Stoll wrote articles on gay rights, and preached sermons on the subject at several churches. The following year, the full annual meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association passed a resolution condemning discrimination against homosexual persons, beginning a gradual but irresistible move towards full LGBT inclusion.
No action was ever taken by the church against Stoll, and so he remained a minister in good standing, but he was never again called to serve a congregation. It is not clear whether this had anything to do with lingering prejudice against his orientation. It could also be on the grounds of some suspicions of drug abuse, or of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Later, he founded the first counseling center for gays and lesbians in San Francisco. In the 1970s he established the first hospice on Maui. He was president of the San Francisco chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1990s. He died at the age of 58 from complications of heart and lung disease, exacerbated by obesity and a life-long smoking habit
Stoll’s name is not well known today, but for this brave and honest public witness, he deserves to be better remembered.In declaring himself, he was not the first ordained clergyman to come out, but he was the first to do so voluntarily, and the first in an established denomination. His action undoubtedly made it easier for the others who followed him, and to the formal acceptance by the Unitarians of openly gay men and lesbians in the church, and to the now well-established process to full LGBT inclusion in so many denominations.

Source:

Haunted Man of the Cloth, Pioneer of Gay Rights (NY Times)

Nzinga (1583-1663), Female King of the Mbundu.

Nzinga is renowned in Black history for her courageous part in resistance to the Portuguese colonial power in what is now Angola.
Her father had been the “ngola” or ruler (from which the Portuguese took the name for their colonial territory), and was followed in that position by Nzinga’s brother, Ngola Mbande. As a child, Nzinga had been greatly favoured by her father, who gave her the opportunity to watch him closely as he governed, and even went with him to war. Later, she was sent by her brother as envoy to the Poruguese governor at a peace conference,  in Luanda in 1622, aiming to have the Portuguese withdraw a fortress they had built on Mbundu land, return some of her brother’s subjects who had been captured, and to put an end to the marauding raids by bands of Portuguese.
She was able to secure a peace treaty – which the Portuguese failed to keep. Her brother then committed suicide, leaving his son Kaza as heir, with Nzinga acting as regent.Instead, she had him killed, and assumed the throne herself. As ruler, she continued to resist the Portuguese in numerous battles, personally leading her army in war, and forming alliances with both the neighbouring African peoples of Kongo in the African interior, and with the Dutch on the coast. She maintained this resistance for over thirty years, until well into her sixties, before finally signing a peace treaty in 1657.
The queer interest in Nzinga rests in her assuming the throne of her people, which traditionally could only be held by men. As she had occupied a position absolutely restricted to men, so she was necessarily regarded as male.  As a man, and as king, it then became important that s/he acquire a harem of wives. As Nzinga was biologically female, her wives then needed to be biologically male, who dressed as women and took female gender roles.
In the African context, her story is not as extraordinary as it may sound. Ethnographic reports from all regions of the continent have shown that gender roles were traditionally less closely identified with biological sex than in the West, so that wealthy women who could afford it, could and sometimes did acquire wives, and take on the roles of “husband” – while some wealthy men included the occasional male among their “wives”.