Sunday, May 01, 2016

First-ever LGBTQ religious children's books published

A page from “Faithful Families”

LGBTQ-affirming religious books for kids are available for the first time ever with the launch of the Good News Children’s Book Series this spring.

Books such as “Faithful Families” remind children that God loves them, no matter what their family looks like -- even if they have two mommies or two daddies.

Mr. Grumpy Christian” is for LGBTQ families to read if they hear Christians telling them that God cannot love them.

What to Wear to Church” was written with transgender children in mind, while the gender diversity of God’s creation is affirmed in “Is it a Boy, Girl or Both?”

Megan Rohrer
The books are published by Wilgefortis Press as a project of Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco. All nine books in the series so far are written by Megan Rohrer, pastor at Grace Lutheran and the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran church.

Not every book in the series specifically addresses LGBTQ themes, but each one is promoted as “a safe book for reconciling churches and diverse families.”

Aimed at children from pre-school up to age 12, each book expresses God’s all-inclusive love with simple language and beautiful pictures by a variety of illustrators.

“My thought with these books is that as a collection they could help kids know that they are loved no matter what they wear, who they love and no matter what others tell them about it,” Rohrer told the Jesus in Love Blog.

The books grew naturally out of the ministry at Grace Lutheran. “A longtime welcoming congregation located in San Francisco, with a transgender pastor, we knew that our children's books had the ability to be full of the grace that our congregation was named after,” Rohrer explained.

The first nine books were published quickly in February and March so they would be ready to use as prizes for the congregation’s Easter Egg Hunt.

“The children who received them over Easter were really excited and loved getting something they could take home with them from the service,” Rohrer said.

The books delighted adults in the church too. “Many wished they had books like this when they were younger,” Rohrer said.

Faithful Families” was inspired by the many families and children at the church's Grace Infant Child Care Center. Rohrer co-wrote it with Pamela Ryan, director of the center for more than 30 years. It is illustrated by Ihnatovich Maryia and aimed at children up to 8 years old.

A page from “Mr. Grumpy Christian

Rohrer wrote “Mr. Grumpy Christian” after meeting a 7-year old-boy who tried to kill himself because a pastor threatened him with hell. It is suitable for LGBTQ families who face hostility from other Christians. Children ages 5 to 10 are the target audience. The rhyming book affirms:

When a grumpy Christian ruins your day,
Remember God’s love is here to stay.

In the true spirit of Christ, the book goes on to add, “But remember that God’s love extends to grumpy Christians too.”

What to Wear to Church” reminds children that God will always love them no matter what clothes they wear. The illustrations were designed from a photo of Rohrer’s real-life grandmother, who inspired the story.

“‘What to Wear to Church’ is a short book for toddlers that I imagine my grandma reading to me if she knew I was going to grow up to be transgender,” Rohrer said. It is illustrated by Daren Drda.

Is it a Boy, Girl or Both?” is one of the series’ most popular books with children. Pictures of animals illustrate the point that God's creation includes many kinds of gender expression.  It is geared to children up to 8 years old. After exploring everything from koalas and penguins to banana slugs, the book concludes:

But, no matter your favorite color,
what your body looks like,
if you have a baby or not,
if you are in charge,
if you are a girl, boy, both or do not know,
or how any of these things change in the future,
God will love you no matter what.
And so will I.

Others in the series of Good News Children’s Books include “Church Bugs,” “Jesus’ Family,” “The Parable of the Succulent” and “The Children’s Crumbs.”

“We even have a book on the Holocaust that has some of my favorite illustrations of the series,” Rohrer said. “Never Again” was inspired by Rohrer’s wife Laurel, whose relatives who were killed in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Illustrations are by Eugene Ivanov.

Wilgefortis Press works with a variety of artists to illustrate the Good News Children’s Books. “We gave the artists the story and creative license to illustrate,” Rohrer explained.

Rohrer received a master of divinity degree from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and is currently a candidate for the doctorate of ministry degree there. Rohrer created Wilgefortis Press to publish books about queer, disability and poverty issues. Other books by Rohrer include “Queerly Lutheran” and “Letters for My Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect.”

Rohrer was an art major at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD before switching to religion. That artistic training will be put to use when Rohrer serves as both writer and illustrator of the next book in the series. It addresses how hard it is to come to church for the first time by telling the story of a dog coming to church.

The Good News Children’s Books are published as both ebooks and paperbacks. Discounts on paperbacks ordered directly from the church are available by contacting

This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery. It also highlights great queer artists from history, with an emphasis on their spiritual lives.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Saturday, April 30, 2016

New in May: LGBTQ Christian books

Forgotten LGBT religious history, a queer love story at a British university and Joan of Arc's gender ambiguities are covered in new books this month.

They are “Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation” by Jim Downs, “Speak Its Name” by Kathleen Jowitt and “Joan of Arc: Her Trial Transcripts” by E. P. Sanguinetti.

Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation” by Jim Downs.

LGBT religious life is the "forgotten history" covered in the major new book “Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation” by Harvard history professor Jim Downs. “One of my goals in this book has been to shift the focus of discussion of gay culture from sex to religion, and from intimacy to community,” he writes. The second chapter is titled “The Gay Religious Movement” and tells about MCC, Dignity, Integrity, and many other groups in the 1970s and ‘80s, plus lesbian and gay clergy such as Troy Perry, John McNeill and Ellen Barrett. The first chapter is about “The Largest Massacre of Gay People in American History,” which was the fire at the UpStairs Lounge, a bar / gay church that embodied the mixed identities of the age. Religion is woven throughout the book, which also looks at the role of bookstores, newspapers, theaters, and prisons. Endorsed by such luminaries as historian John D’Emilio. Published by Basic Books.

Speak Its Nameby Kathleen Jowitt.

Faith, love and politics mix and explode as lesbian and bisexual students fall in love with each other on campus in this novel about being queer and Christian at a British university. This is one of the first novels about a young lesbian’s struggle to reconcile her sexuality with Christian faith since the classic “The Well of Loneliness.” Lydia, the main character, tries to balance her studies with her responsibilities as an officer for the Christian Fellowship while hiding her attraction to women. She discovers that there are more ways to be Christian – and to be herself – when she encounters out-and-proud bisexual Methodist Colette in an eccentric ecumenical household. Controversy erupts when a disgruntled member of the conservative Catholic Society raises questions. Male novelists have explored young gay men’s struggles with Christianity, but this breaks new ground with a female perspective. The author is a bisexual Christian in Cambridge, England. Self published.

Joan of Arc: Her Trial Transcripts” by Emilia Philomena Sanguinetti.

Extensive evidence that Joan of Arc was a lesbian or transgender person is presented in the epilogue of this groundbreaking book about the cross-dressing medieval saint. She explores how Joan shared her bed with another woman and insisted on wearing male clothing. The bulk of the book consists of her trial transcripts. They are translated into modern English by Sanguinetti with nothing edited out (as sometimes happened in the past) to support or refute various opinions about the sexuality and gender identity of Joan of Arc. The author is a theology student at the University of Notre Dame whose credentials include five years of French language study. Published by Little Flower Publishing.

Related links:

New in April 2016: LGBTQ Christian books "Justice Calls" and "Signs and Wonders"

New in March 2016: LGBTQ Christian books "The Firebrand and the First Lady" and "Space at the Table"

New in Feb 2016: LGBTQ Christian books “Brother-Making in Late Antiquity" and “Two Pews from Crazy”

Top 25 LGBTQ Christian books of 2015 named (Jesus in Love)

Top 25 LGBTQ Christian books of 2014 named (Jesus in Love)

Top 20 Gay Jesus books (from Jesus in Love)

Queer Theology book list (from Patrick Cheng)

Jesus in Love Bookstore (includes LGBT Christian classics)

15 LGBTQ Christian Valentine’s Day books, movies and gifts (Jesus in Love)

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Friday, April 29, 2016

RIP: Bangladesh LGBT martyrs Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar

In memory of
Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar

LGBT activists in Bangladesh

Murdered April 25, 2016

white candle Pictures, Images and Photos

I light a memorial candle for Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar, who were hacked to death for being "pioneers of practicing and promoting homosexuality in Bangladesh" on April 25 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The militant Islamist militant group Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for murder in the south Asian nation, calling it a "blessed attack."

Xulhaz Mannan was editor of "Roopbaan," Bangladesh's first and only LGBT magazine, and also an employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Before that he worked for eight years as protocol specialist at the a U.S. Embassy. He tried to organize a Rainbow Rally for LGBT youths on April 14, the Bengali New Year, but was stopped by officials. His friend Tanay Mojumdar was a theater and TV actor who sometimes helped with publishing the magazine.

Roopban was launched in 2014 to promote greater acceptance of LGBT people in Bangladesh.

An Associated Press news report explained:

Mannan had written openly about the frustration of living "in the closet" as a gay man in Bangladesh, where homosexual relations are considered a crime. In a May 2014 blog, he said gays and lesbians in Bangladesh experience "A country where the predominant religions say you are a sinner, the law of the land says you are a criminal, the social norms say you are a pervert, the culture considers you as imported."

Mannon and his friend were killed a gang who got into his apartment by posing as messengers. Witnesses reported that the attackers yelled "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great") as they left.

The misuse of religion to condone murder adds to the tragedy of their deaths. All life, including LGBT lives, must be honored and protected as God intended.
Related links:

Al-Qaida says it killed Bangladesh gay activist, friend (Associated Press)

Al-Qaeda affiliate says it killed a gay rights activist and his friend in Bangladesh (Washington Post)

Related books:

Lotus Of Another Color: An Unfolding of the South Asian Gay and Lesbian Experience” by Rakesh Ratti (editor)

Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures” by Gayatri Gopinath

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Christina Rossetti: Queer writer of Christmas carols and lesbian poetry

Cover illustration for Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market and Other Poems” (1862) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti)

Portrait of Christina Rossetti
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina Georgina Rossetti was a 19th-century English poet whose work ranged from Christmas carols to sensuous lesbian love poetry. A devout Christian who never married, she has been called a “queer virgin” and “gay mystic.” Her feast day is today (April 27) on the Episcopal and Church of England calendars.

Many consider her to be one of Britain’s greatest Victorian poets. Rossetti’s best-known works are the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Goblin Market,” a surprisingly erotic poem about the redemptive love between two sisters who overcome temptation by goblins. The homoeroticism is unmistakable in verses such as these:

She cried, “...Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me…”

She clung about her sister,
Kiss’d and kiss’d and kiss’d her…
She kiss’d and kiss’d her with a hungry mouth.

Some of these verses were set to music in a choral piece commissioned by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir: “Heartland” by Matthew Hindson.

There is no direct evidence that Rossetti was sexually involved with another woman, but historian Rictor Norton reports that her brother destroyed her love poems addressed to women when he edited her poetry for publication. Rossetti is included in “Essential Gay Mystics” by Andrew Harvey.  A comprehensive chapter titled “Christina Rossetti: The Female Queer Virgin” appears in “Same Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture” by Frederick S. Roden. Rossetti is also important to feminist scholars who reclaimed her in the 1980s and 1990s as they sought women’s voices hidden in the church’s patriarchal past.

Rossetti (Dec. 5, 1830 - Dec. 29, 1894) was born in London as the youngest child in an artistic family. Her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti became a famous Pre-Raphaelite poet and artist. Encouraged by her family, she began writing and dating her poems starting at age 12.

When Rossetti was 14 she started experiencing bouts of illness and depression and became deeply involved in the Anglo-Catholic Movement of the Church of England. The rest of her life would be shaped by prolonged illness and passionate religious devotion. She broke off marriage engagements with two different men on religious grounds. She stayed single, living with her mother and aunt for most of her life.

Christina posed
for this Annunciation
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
During this period she served as the model for the Virgin Mary in a couple of her brother’s most famous paintings, including his 1850 vision of the Annunciation, “Ecce Ancilla Domini” (“Behold the Handmaid of God.”)

Starting in 1859, Rossetti worked for 10 years as a volunteer at the St. Mary Magdalene “house of charity” in Highgate, a shelter for unwed mothers and former prostitutes run by Anglican nuns. Some suggest that “Goblin Market” was inspired by and/or written for the “fallen women” she met there.

Goblin Market” was published in 1862, when Rossetti was 31. The poem is about Laura and Lizzie, two sisters who live alone together and share one bed. They sleep as a couple, in Rossetti’s vivid words:

Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Lock’d together in one nest.

But “goblin men” tempt them with luscious forbidden fruit and Laura succumbs. After one night of indulgence she can no longer find the goblins and begins wasting away. Desperate to help her sister, Lizzie tries to buy fruit from the goblins, but they refuse and try to make her eat the fruit. She resists even when they attack and try to force the fruit into her mouth. Lizzie, drenched in fruit juice and pulp, returns home and invites Laura to lick the juices from her in the verses quoted earlier. The juicy kisses revive Laura and the two sisters go on to lead long lives as wives and mothers.

“Goblin Market” can be read as an innocent childhood nursery rhyme, a warning about the dangers of sexuality, a feminist critique of marriage or a Christian allegory. Lizzie becomes a Christ figure who sacrifices to save her sister from sin and gives life with her Eucharistic invitation to “Eat me, drink me, love me…” The two sisters of “Goblin Market” are often interpreted as lesbian lovers, which means that Lizzie can justifiably be interpreted as a lesbian Christ.

In 1872 Rossetti was diagnosed with Graves Disease, an auto-immune thyroid disorder, which caused her to spend her last 15 years as a recluse in her home. She died of cancer on Dec. 29, 1894 at age 64.

She wrote the words to “In the Bleak Midwinter” in 1872 in response to a request from Scribner’s Magazine for a Christmas poem. It was published posthumously in 1904 and became a popular carol after composer Gustav Holst set it to music in 1906. Her poem “Love Came Down at Christmas” (1885) is also a well known carol.  “In the Bleak Midwinter” continues to be sung frequently in churches, by choirs, and on recordings by artists such as Julie Andrews (video below), Sarah McLaughlin, Loreena McKennitt and James Taylor. The haunting song includes these verses:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ....

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air -
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

The Episcopal Church devotes a feast day to Christina Rossetti on April 27 with this official prayer:

O God, whom heaven cannot hold, you inspired Christina Rossetti to express the mystery of the Incarnation through her poems: Help us to follow her example in giving our hearts to Christ, who is love; and who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Rossetti herself may well have felt ambivalent about being honored by the church or outed as a queer. She shared her own thoughts for posterity in her poem “When I am dead, my dearest” (1862):

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

Related links:

Christina Rossetti profile (

The Many Weird and Wonderful Illustrations for Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market (Unpretentious Blabberings)

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Biblical same-sex love found in “David and Jonathan” art by Edward Hicks

Tantalizing symbols of Biblical same-sex love appear when scholar Mitch Gould analyzes the painting “David and Jonathan at the Stone Ezel” for the Jesus in Love Blog.

It was painted in 1847 by Edward Hicks, Quaker minister and American folk artist famous for painting many versions of the Peaceable Kingdom.

Their moment of embrace...
by Mitchell Santine Gould

Their moment of embrace is arrested in the morning mist, outside of the passage of time. David, nearly at the center of the painting, stands facing the viewer like a crude Attic kouros statue, with a spread stance and a vacant smile on his face. As Jonathan approaches at left, he curls his arm around David's neck, and Jonathan responds with an affectionate pat on the butt. (Or, perhaps, Edward "Peaceable Kingdom" Hicks intended for the identity of these two lovers to be the reverse? We'll never know.)

Detail from "David and Jonathan
at the Stone Ezel"
by Edward Hicks
Jonathan is dressed in a brick-red tunic, carelessly drafted; it might as well be a clunky gown. With his fishbelly-white complexion, rouged cheeks, fragile chinline, and flowing auburn tresses, he looks less like a swarthy, brawny, blood-thirsty Hebraic warrior, and more like the drag queens arrested in England's molly-houses only a few decades prior. David, with the same rouge and consumptive complexion, is wearing a cobalt-blue kilt sort of a thing, a bronze-studded belt, and what appears to be a fringed buckskin jacket suitable for Buffalo Bill. This is the moment in The Book of Samuel in which Jonathan finds David at their appointed meeting place, the stone ezel: "David got up from the south side of the stone Ezel, fell with his face to the ground, and bowed three times. Then he and Jonathan kissed each other and wept with each other, though David wept more."

Unfortunately, Hicks had never learned how to portray human action, much less human emotions, so the figures fail to follow the Mosaic script; indeed, they have no more life than the primitive Greek kouroi. He did not know exactly what an ezel was, either, although to be fair, neither do we today. But he painted it as merely a small boulder, as opposed to a a monument, or a masonry structure large enough to hide David from his enemy, Saul. Some dark and murky trees shelter the beleagured pair from the olive-tinged desert landscape, and the silly, fantastical spires of Saul's palace. The scene is painted with the opalescent atmosphere favored during Morning in America, for example, George Caleb Bingham's Jolly Boatmen. Edward Hicks, the painter of 62 "Peaceable Kingdom" images, was always a naive folk artist, but one gets the feeling that he was not much invested in the concept or execution of David and Jonathan at the Stone Ezel.

And then one notices that this is actually two paintings/stories in one. On the right, there is an even murkier, dimmer vignette, portraying the Good Samaritan from the Book Of Luke, anointing the breast of the injured traveler with oil and wine. Ironically, the victim was on his way to Jericho when he was mugged, considering that Jericho, New York, was the home of Elias Hicks. The skin of both figures is the opposite of the deathly-pale main characters; oddly enough, their flesh takes on the dark, drab colors of acceptable Quaker attire. The short, muscular victim is partially swathed in large cloth bandages, but his torso is exposed very nearly to the crotch. Given the miniature scale of these figures, the ezel is now shown to be a boulder larger than a man. The scene has its own background, a misty olive hillside crowned with trees, with a monochromatic sky, also done in olive. Dreamlike, the Samaritan's olive sky melds into a grassy strip of terrain between Jonathan and David and Saul's castle.

No, sorry, maybe this is three paintings in one. Because in the absolute dead center of the canvas, standing on the olive strip, is another small figure, his back turned to the viewer, rendered entirely in drab brown. He is grasping three arrows, which we know Jonathan used to send a secret message to David: the direction of his arrows revealed to David that Saul intended to kill him. “Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, ‘Go, carry them back to town.’”

It's impossible at this late date to authoritatively decode these symbols, but they are tantalyzing. Scriptural figures done up in Quaker drab. Blatantly-gender-bending characters with a love that surpasses that of women. A top-secret meeting on the edge of town. Messages exchanged in indecipherable code, because Dad is ready to kill boyfriend. A muscular stranger getting a friendly oil-rub, after being clobbered by a villain. What does it all mean?

Quaker historians have neglected this rare, solitary outlier (which presumably dates to 1847) from Hicks's usual themes: the lion lying down with the lamb; Noah's ark; Penn's treaty with the Indians; and paintings which documented Quaker lands and livestock. If they ever took notice of it in the first place, they flew blind, with discombobulated gaydar. Hard though it may be for us to believe today, the feminine dress, hair, complexion, rouge, and pose has traditionally been easy enough to dismiss, given the reassuring stereotype that extreme sentimentality pervaded Victorian culture, especially religious culture. But following the rise of gay history in the 1970s, it became clear that earlier generations both encoded and ennobled same-sex love with references to Jonathan and David, Ruth and Naomi, Damon and Pythias, or Zeus and Ganymede. The simplest explanation is that Hicks undertook a commission to depict the love "that surpasses the love of women" for a gay client, almost certainly a Friend, though evidently without much enthusiasm. Let this stand as Exhibit A for the proposition that Brotherly Love had an eroticized variant.

In 1992, Mitchell Santine Gould experienced a mystical experience during the illness and death of his camerado Dan Sumner. Dan's love had inspired him to turn to Walt Whitman's poems, and Mitch soon discovered that scholars were unable to explain why Whitman had such a strong attraction to Quakers, since they were viewed to have a strict, ascetic morality. He has devoted decades of his life to untangling Walt Whitman's Quaker Paradox, and his results are being prepared for for his book Sailor - Lover - Quaker: the Litorral Truth in Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. He runs an Airbnb destination called PDXWheelhouse. His writing has appeared in such diverse venues as Popular Science, Men’s Fitness, Quaker History, and Friends Journal, and of course, at LeavesOfGrass.Org.

Related links:
David and Jonathan: Love between men in the Bible

Related books:

The Love of David and Jonathan: Ideology, Text, Reception” by James E. Harding (2014)

Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times” by Tom M. Horner (1978)

This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery. It also highlights great queer artists from history, with an emphasis on their spiritual lives.

Icons of Jonathan and David and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores