Category Archives: Modern Heroes

Nov 1st : All (Gay) Saints

Are there gay saints? Some sources say clearly yes, listing numerous examples. Others dispute the idea, saying either that the examples quoted are not officially recognised, or denying that they were gay because we do not know that they were sexually active. Before discussing specifically LGBT or queer saints, consider a more general question. Who are the “Saints”, and why do we recognise them?

All Saints Albrecht  Dürer

Richard McBrien gives one response, at NCR on-line:

There are many more saints in heaven than the relatively few who have been officially recognized by the church. “For every St. Francis of Assisi or St. Rose of Lima there are thousands of unknown and long forgotten mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors, co-workers, nurses, teachers, manual laborers, and other individuals in various kinds of occupations who lived holy lives that were consistent with the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Although each is in eternal glory, none of their names is attached to a liturgical feast, a parish church, a pious society, or any other ecclesiastical institution. The catch-all feast that we celebrate next week is all the recognition they’re ever going to receive from the church.” “The church makes saints in order to provide a steady, ever renewable stream of exemplars, or sacraments, of Christ, lest our following of Christ be reduced to some kind of abstract, intellectual exercise.

Two things are important here: the category of saints is far larger than just those who have been recognised by a formal process; and the reason for giving them honour is to provide role models. It is not inherent to the tradition of honouring the saints that they should be miracle workers, or that we should be praying to them for special favours – although three officially attested miracles will help the formal canonization process. This formal process did not even exist in the early church: it was only in the 11th or 12th centuries that saint making became the exclusive preserve of the Pope. It now becomes easier to make sense of the gay, lesbian and transvestite saints in Church history, and their importance.

For some, their official recognition is not important – all that counts is their value as role models. If they are widely seen as such, we are entitled to call them so, even without clear canonized status.

The LGBT Saints are also not limited to the distant past. The American Episcopal church recognizes two twentieth century lesbians as saints: Vida Dutton Scudder has a feast day in October, and just recently, Rev Pauli Murray was added to its book of “Holy Men, Holy Women”. In the Catholic Church, there is a strong popular move to initiate a cause for sainthood for Fr Mychal Judge, “The Saint of 9/11”. Earlier, there was a formal cause for another American, Dr Tom Dooley. That failed, apparently because of his sexuality – but when the church revises its thinking on sexuality, that cause could well be revised.

The formal canonization process, or Anglican equivalents however, are really not the point.   They are merely the public confirmation and recognition of sainthood, not its criterion. There are countless more men and women who qualify by the virtue of their lives – but whose qualities have not been publicly noted. Among LGBT Christians, there are still others who deserve attention for the opposition and persecution they have received from the institutional church – and the courage they have displayed in standing up to this modern martyrdom.

In fact, we are called to sainthood, and to witness – witness as Christians, and in honesty in our lives as lesbian, gay or trans. This is not a conflict. Numerous writers on spirituality have noted that embracing our sexuality can bring us closer to the divine, not drive us away. We can, indeed, take a rainbow bridge to God  (and sainthood) – but the the gay closet is a place of sin.

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David Morley, Twice Martyred Gay Barman?

Saint Sebastian is unique among the recognized saints of the church for having been martyred not once, but twice. In the modern context, perhaps we can say the same of David “Sinders” Morley. Working and well-known as a gay barman, there is no doubt at all that Morley was openly gay. Living openly, he was bearing witness to the possibility of living honestly and openly as a gay man in London. In 1999, it almost cost him his life – and may have done five years later, in 2004.

On 30th April, 1999, Morley was on duty at the Admiral Duncan pub in London’s Old Compton Street when it was hit by a nail bomb attack, which killed three people and wounded about 70 others. Morley was injured, not killed, and ignoring his own burns, he set about helping others who were more seriously wounded as best he could.

Five years later, he was killed in a late night assault, which may have been prompted by homophobia, by a group of teenagers outside Waterloo station.
Religious leaders who rant about the supposed “evils” of same-sex love need to know that this is irresponsible. Such talk promotes hatred, hatred breeds violence.
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Ramon Navarro ( 1899 – 1968), Victim of the Catholic Closet.

Ramon Navarro was once the leading Latin actor in movies after the death of Rudolph Valentino, starring in several major silent films and early talkies, in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. He was killed on October 30th by two sex-workers he had hired from an agency,  in attempt to extort from him some of his perceived, but non-existent wealth. I see this tragic death as a sad symbol of the dangers of life in the closet, which had been forced on him by the twin pressures of his conflicts over sexuality and this Catholicism, and the constraints of the Hollywood publicists.
Those of us who are able to live out and proud in spite of the Vatican’s disordered sexual teaching, are able to form sound, healthy and adult relationships. Those who live in the closet are forced to live alone in solitude, or in sham marriages – such as the system of lavender marriages imposed by Hollywood on its sex-symbol gay and lesbian stars.
Some Catholics living alone will attempt to live a strictly celibate life in accordance with Catholic teaching – some may even succeed. Many others straddle an uneasy divide, between attempted celibacy, and sexual encounters in the closet. Especially for older men, sometimes the only feasible outlets are the seedier ones, in public toilets, or with commercial trade.  Both can be dangerous.
Ramon Navarro resisted the Hollywood pressure to enter a Hollywood marriage, and for a time was able to sustain a meaningful, but closeted relationship with his publicist, Herbert Howe, until the latter’s death in 1959.

Some years later, in October 1969, he hired two brothers, Paul and Tom Ferguson (aged 22 and 17, respectively), to come to his home for sex.  Mistakenly believing that there was a large sum of money in the house, the two then assaulted and tortured Navarro for some hours, hoping to force him to reveal the whereabouts of the cash. They eventually left with just $20. Navarro died of asphyxiation, having choked on his own blood.

It is probable that what most offends opponents of the “gay lifestyle” is its association in their minds with the kind of anonymous, impersonal sexual activities that take place in public toilets, backroom bars and in commercial transactions. What they fail to observe, is that these are less typical of gay men in open and publicly affirmed partnerships, than of those who remain closeted. 
 
The best way to reduce the seedier, and more dangerous, elements in gay lives, is to support marriage equality.




Raymond Navarro. Wikipedia
Film Actors, Gay Male, glbtq encyclopedia

 

About “Queer Saints and Martyrs”

At my primary blog, “Queering the Church”, and at my blogger site, “Queer Saints and Martyrs (and Others)“. one of the strands I have been exploring for some years now has been the place of LGBT/queer people in Christian history.

However, I have been dissatisfied with the blogger technology(and the way I set it up originally), and am in the process of transferring the entire site here, to the WordPress platform. Continue reading About “Queer Saints and Martyrs”

Henri Nouwen, Gay Priest and “Wounded Healer”

b. January 24, 1932

d. September 21, 1996

Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection.

A Dutch-born Catholic priest and writer who authored 40 books about spirituality. Nouwen’s books, which are still being read today, include The Wounded HealerIn the Name of JesusClowning in RomeLife of the Belovedand The Way of the Heart.. The results of a Christian Century magazine survey conducted in 2003 indicate that Nouwen’s work was a first choice of authors for Catholic and mainline Protestant clergy.One of his most famous works is Inner Voice of Love, his diary from December 1987 to June 1988 during one of his most serious bouts with clinical depression – which was rooted in part, in his early conflicts over sexuality and celibacy.

 

Nouwen is thought to have struggled with his sexuality. “Although his homosexuality was known by those close to him, he never publicly claimed a homosexual identity.” Although he never directly addressed the matter of his sexuality in the writings he published during his lifetime, it is said that he acknowledged the struggle both in his private journals and in discussions with friends, both of which were extensively referenced by Michael Ford in the biography Wounded Prophet, which was published after Nouwen’s death. Ford suggests that Nouwen only became fully comfortable with his sexual orientation in the last few years of his life, and that Nouwen’s depression was caused in part by the conflict between his priestly vows of celibacy and the sense of loneliness and longing for intimacy that he experienced. Ford conjectured, “This took an enormous emotional, spiritual and physical toll on his life and may have contributed to his early death.” There is no evidence that Nouwen ever broke his vow of celibacy

His spirituality was influenced notably by his friendship with Jean Vanier. At the invitation of Vanier, Nouwen visited L’Arche in France, the first of over 130 communities around the world where people with developmental disabilities live with those who care for them. In 1986 Nouwen accepted the position of pastor for a L’Arche community called “Daybreak” in Canada, near Toronto. Nouwen wrote about his relationship with Adam, a core member at L’Arche Daybreak with profound developmental disabilities, in a book titled Adam: God’s Beloved. Father Nouwen was a good friend of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

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Father Mychal Judge

b. May 11, 1933
d. September 11, 2001

Father Mychal Judge was a Franciscan priest and Fire Department of New York chaplain who died heroically on September 11, 2001. He has been called a “Saint of 9/11.”

“The first thing I do each day is get down on my knees and pray, ‘Lord, take me where you want me to go, let me meet who you want me to meet, tell me what to say, and keep me out of your way.’ “

Shortly before entering the World Trade Center on 9/11, Father Judge rejected an offer to join Mayor Giuliani, choosing instead to step into harm’s way to be with the FDNY and victims of the terrorist attack. A Reuters photograph of Father Judge’s body being carried from Ground Zero by rescue workers made him an international icon of heroism.

Father Judge was a hero to many long before his death. He was beloved by Fire Department of New York personnel and their families and a champion of New York’s homeless, AIDS patients, gay and lesbian Catholics, alcoholics, immigrants, and disaster victims.
Born in Brooklyn to Irish immigrant parents, he was only six when his father died after a long illness. As a boy, Judge was inspired to enter the priesthood by the Franciscan friars at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi near Penn Station in Manhattan.
In the early years of his ministry, Father Judge served two parishes in New Jersey, where he gained a reputation as “the listening priest.” During his service as Assistant to the President of Siena College, Father Judge confronted his alcoholism and achieved sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous.
In the 1980’s, Father Judge was among the first clergy to minister to AIDS patients, who at that time were considered untouchable. Through the organization Dignity, he ministered to gay and lesbian Catholics even after the Church excluded the organization from holding masses in New York churches.
In 1996 Father Judge led a memorial service on the beach at Smith Point, Long Island for the families of the victims who lost their lives in the nation’s second worst air disaster, the explosion of TWA Flight 800. More than 2,000 people attended.
Father Judge received numerous posthumous honors, including France’s highest recognition, the Legion of Honor. His FDNY fire helmet was blessed by Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.

Bibliography:

In Celebration: Rev Jane Spahr, “Lesbyterian”

With the widespread press attention to the gay and lesbian bishops in the Episcopalian church, the ECLA decision last year to recognize openly gay and lesbian clergy in committed and faithful relationships, and this summer’s decision (not yet ratified) by the Presbyterian Church of the USA to do the same, it is too easy to overlook the fact that gay and lesbian clergy have been around for a long time – right from the start of ordained ministry. Of the earliest years, I have written before, but I am now finding numerous reports of openly gay or lesbian clergy in modern times, going back a lot further than I had recognised. (The earliest clear example I have found so far is of Rev. Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford, who was ordained a Quaker minister in 1869.) The problem is not that there were not gay or lesbian clergy, but getting them recognised. Recognition, however, is important, and achieving it has been a major problem, with many courageous men and women making stands, suffering persecution, and securing a series of breakthroughs along the way.
In the Presbyterian Church, one of these pioneers has been Rev Jane Spahr, who was in the news this week for her appearance in a church court for conducting same sex marriages in California in 2008, during the few months when they were fully legal in California law- but not sanctioned by the church’s own regulations. I will come back to the weddings, and the trial, later. First, I want to go back a little further.

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Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon, lesbian pioneers

Del Martin 

b. May 5, 1921
August 27, 2008

Phyllis Lyon 

b. November 10, 1924


“Two extraordinary people … that have spent the greater part of a half century … fighting for their right to live the way so many of us, frankly, take for granted.

 – San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom

Wedding of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons, 2008

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon founded the first lesbian organization in the United States and have fought for more than 50 years for the rights of lesbians and gays. On June 16, 2008, Martin and Lyon became the first gay couple to be legally married in California.

Martin and Lyon both earned degrees in journalism. While working as journalists in Seattle, the two became romantically involved. The couple relocated to San Francisco and moved in together on Valentine’s Day 1953.

In 1955, finding it hard to develop a social network in San Francisco, Martin, Lyon and a small group of women founded the first lesbian organization, called the Daughters of Bilitis. The name was inspired by Pierre Louys’s “Songs of Bilitis,” a collection of poems celebrating lesbian sexuality.

Though it was intended to be a secret society, Martin and Lyon wanted to make the Daughters of Bilitis more visible. The group began publishing a monthly magazine, called The Ladder, which was the first-ever lesbian publication. As editors of the magazine, they capitalized the word “lesbian” every time it appeared.

In 1964, while fighting to change California sex laws criminalizing homosexuals, the couple joined religious and gay community leaders to form the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH). This organization was at the forefront of the movement to gain religious support on gay rights issues. Both women served on the founding CRH board of directors.

In 2004, when gay marriage was offered in San Francisco, Martin and Lyon were the first to wed. A California appellate court ruling subsequently invalidated their marriage. Then in May 2008, a California Supreme Court decision provided same-sex couples the right to marry. On June 16, 2008, they were the first same-sex couple married in California. The wedding was officiated by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Martin and Lyon have published two books together, “Lesbian/Woman” (1972) and “Lesbian Love and Liberation” (1973). On their 50th anniversary, the documentary “No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon” premiered. In 2005, the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association inducted Martin and Lyon into the LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame for their pioneering work on The Ladder. In 2007, they received the 2007 Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Pioneer Award.

Bibliography
Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon.” (The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Religious Archives Network).
Kornblum, Janet. “Gay Activists Blaze Trail for half century.”  USA Today. March 4, 2004

Streitmatter, Rodger.  “Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin.”  National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association: LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame.  June 5, 2008

Articles
Gordon, Rachel. “Lesbian Pioneer Activists See Wish Fulfilled.” San Francisco Chronicle. June 16, 2008

Marshall, Carolyn. “Dozens of Gay Couples Marry in San Francisco Ceremonies.” The New York Times. February 13, 2004

McKinley, Jesse. “Same-Sex Marriages Begin in California.” The New York Times. June 17, 2008

Books

Lesbian love and liberation (The Yes book of sex) (1973)
Battered Wives (1976)

Other Resources

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Paul Abels (August 4, 1937 – March 12, 1992) U.S.A

A striking feature of LGBT Church history, is how after a long period of invisibility, in the years following Stonewall, gay clergy followed other gay men and lesbians in coming out of their closets. Facing the prospect of so much more hostile reaction than those in some other professions, and with housing as well as income and career at stake, these people were embarking on acts of rare courage. In doing so, they were simply bearing witnessing to the truth of their lives, and its integration into their faith. In doing so, they can truly be regarded as modern martyrs. Paul Abels was one of the first. Like many others, he ultimately lost his career through his prophetic witness, and was forced to rebuild a new one outside of the church.
The fruits of his martyrdom though, live on. Many more gay (and later, lesbian) clergy were forced out of ministry or refused ordination on the grounds of orientation or gender identity. However, even in the beginning, they were able to gather some supporters who contested this injustice. Over time, these supporters grew in number, until we reached the current position where several mainstream Protestant denominations have accepted the value of including openly gay, lesbian or trans clergy, and others denominations are at least conducting serious discussions around LGBT ordination and even church recognition of same sex unions. Thanks to the early sacrifices of Paul Abel and others like him, the struggle for queer inclusion in church has become a broad –based and growing movement.
Paul was the pastor of the Washington Square United Methodist Church in New York City from 1973 to 1984, and was the first openly gay minister with a congregation in a major Christian denomination in America. This congregation in Greenwich Village was locally known as the Peace Church for its opposition to the Vietnam War and for its large gay and lesbian membership.


In 1973 Paul was appointed pastor of Washington Square United Methodist Church. While at Washington Square, he initiated a $1.5 million restoration campaign, planned the church’s 125th anniversary, and worked with the many community groups housed in the building, including the Harvey Milk School, a parent-run day care center, and many lesbian/gay support and social groups.
On Sunday, November 27, 1977, Abels was featured in a New York Times article entitled “Minister Sponsors Homosexual Rituals.” The article told about four “covenant services” that Paul had performed in recent months. And in the article Paul identifies himself as a “homosexual.”
Controversy arose throughout the denomination with many critics calling for his removal. Bishop Ralph Ward asked Paul to take a leave of absence. Paul refused and his appointment was upheld by vote of the New York Annual Conference. The bishop then appealed to the Judicial Council, highest court in United Methodism, which ruled in 1979 that Abels was in “good standing” and in “effective relation” and could remain as pastor at Washington Square.
(Read more at  LGBT Religious Archives“.)

Troy Perry’s Modern Martyrdom and Resurrection

b. July 27, 1940

Founder of Metropolitan Community Churches


“God did not create gays and lesbians so He could have something to hate.”

Troy Perry is the founder of the United Fellowship of the Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), a Protestant denomination ministering to the gay community. UFMCC reflects Perry’s commitment to provide a safe space for gays and lesbians to celebrate their faith.
Perry was born in Tallahassee, Florida. He was drawn to the church at an early age and delivered his first sermon when he was 13. At the age of 15, he was licensed as a Baptist minister. In 1959, Perry married a woman and had two sons. The couple separated in 1964 and later divorced.
Perry overcame hardships on his journey to becoming the founder of the UFMCC. He was stripped of a religious position because of his homosexuality, became estranged from his two sons and attempted suicide. He lost hope that he could reconcile his homosexuality with his faith. The seemingly homophobic arrest of a friend convinced Perry to start a church providing spiritual support to the gay community.
In October 1968, Perry launched UFMCC with a service for 12 people in his living room. UFMCC has grown to include more than 40,000 members with churches around the world. In 1969, he performed the first same-sex wedding. In the next year, he filed the first lawsuit seeking legal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Perry and his partner, Philip Ray DeBlieck, have been together since 1985. In 2003, they married at a UFMCC church in Toronto, Canada. The newlyweds sued the state of California for legal recognition of their marriage. They were among the plaintiffs in the May 2008 California Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.
Perry has been awarded honorary doctorates from Episcopal Divinity School, Samaritan College and Sierra University. He received Humanitarian Awards from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Gay Press Association.
Bibliography

Rapp, Linda.  “Perry, Troy.” GLBTQ: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer Culture. August 17, 2005

Rev. Troy Perry.” The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Religious Archives Network. March 1, 2004

“Rev. Troy D. Perry Biography.” Revtroyperry.org. June 9, 2008

Books


The Lord Is My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay: The Autobiography of the Reverend Troy D. Perry
(1972)

Don’t Be Afraid Anymore: The Story of Reverend Troy Perry and the Metropolitan Community Churches
(1990)

Profiles in Gay and Lesbian Courage (Stonewall Inn Editions)
(1991)

10 Spiritual Truths for Gays and Lesbians* (*and everyone else!) (2003)

Other Resources


Call Me Troy (2007)

Metropolitan Community Churches

Websites

Official Rev. Elder Troy D. Perry Website

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