Monday, May 30, 2011

Joan of Arc: Cross-dressing warrior-saint

Saint Joan of Arc by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1994

Joan of Arc was a cross-dressing teenage warrior who led the medieval French army to victory when she was 17. She is a queer icon, girl-power hero and patron saint of France. Her feast day is today (May 30).

Smart and courageous, Joan of Arc (c. 1412-1431) had visions of saints and angels who told her to cut her hair, put on men’s clothes and go to war. At age 18 she helped crown a king and at 19 she was killed by the church that later made her a saint. She died for her God-given right to wear men’s clothing, the crime for which she was executed 580 years ago today.

Joan of Arc portrait, c. 1485
Wikimedia Commons
Today’s LGBT people recognize a kindred spirit in her stubborn defiance of gender rules. LGBT writers tend to downplay Joan’s Christian faith, while the church covers up the importance of her cross-dressing. In truth, Joan believed strongly in God AND in cross-dressing. She insisted that God wanted her to wear men’s clothes, making her what today is called “queer” or “transgender.” Cross-dressing was illegal, but what really upset the church authorities, then as now, was the audacity of someone being both proudly queer AND devoutly Christian. Her belief that God was the source of her gender-bending queerness makes her an especially inspiring role model for LGBT Christians and our allies.

Joan’s extraordinary life continues to fascinate all kinds of people. Many are eager to claim her as a symbol, from LGBT people and feminists to the Catholic Church and French nationalists. Joan is the subject of more than 10,000 books, plays, paintings and films, including recent works by transgender author Leslie Feinberg and lesbian playwright Carolyn Gage.

Gage’s one-woman show “The Second Coming of Joan of Arc” is an underground classic with Joan as “a cross-dressing, teenaged, runaway lesbian” confronting male-dominated institutions. Feinberg has a chapter on Joan as “a brilliant transgender peasant teenager leading an army of laborers into battle” in her history book “Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman.”

The extensive records of her trials by the Inquisition make Joan of Arc the best-documented person of 15th century. There are only hints that she may have been a lesbian, but the evidence is absolutely clear about her transgender expression as a cross-dresser.

Joan of Arc, also known as Jeanne d’Arc, was born to peasants in an obscure village in eastern France around 1412, toward the end of the Hundred Years War. Much of France was occupied by England, so that Charles, the heir to the French throne, did not dare to be crowned. When Joan was 13, she began hearing voices that told her to help France drive out the English.

The visions continued for years, becoming more detailed and frequent. Once or twice a week she had visions of Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret. They told her that God wanted her to meet Charles and lead an army to Reims for his coronation.

Joan’s family tried to convince her that her visions weren’t real, and her first attempt to visit the royal court was rejected. When she was 17 she put on male clothing and succeeded in meeting Charles. He agreed to outfit her as a knight and allowed her to lead a 5,000-man army against the English.

On Charles’ order, a full suit of armor was created to fit Joan. He had a banner made for her and assigned an entourage to help her: a squire, a page, two heralds, a chaplain and other servants.

Joan of Arc on Horseback, 1505
Wikimedia Commons
Joan’s appearance awed the soldiers and peasants when she traveled with the army. Mounted on a fine warhorse, she rode past cheering crowds in a suit of armor. Her hair was “cropped short and round in the fashion of young men.” She carried an ancient sword in one hand and her banner in the other. Her sword was found, as Joan predicted, buried at the church of St. Catherine at Fierbois. The banner showed Christ sitting on a rainbow against a background of white with gold lilies and the motto “Jhesus-Maria.” Legend says that white butterflies followed Joan wherever she rode with her banner unfurled.

With Joan leading the way, the army won the battle at Orleans and continued to defeat English and pro-English troops until they reached Reims. She proudly stood beside Charles VII at his coronation there on July 17, 1429.

Joan soon resumed leading military campaigns. Even during her lifetime the peasants adored her as a saint, flocking around her to touch her body or clothing. Her cross-dressing didn’t disturb them. In fact, they seemed to honor her for her transgender expression. Perhaps, as some scholars say, the peasants saw Joan as part of a tradition that linked transvestites and priests in pre-modern Europe.

One of the first modern writers to raise the possibility of Joan’s lesbianism was English author Vita Sackville-West. She implied that Joan was a lesbian in her 1936 biography “Saint Joan of Arc.” The primary source for this idea was the fact, documented in her trials, that Joan shared her bed with other girls and young women. She followed the medieval custom of lodging each night in a local home. Joan always slept with the hostess or the girls of the household instead of with the men.

Nobody knows for sure whether Joan of Arc was sexually attracted to women or had lesbian encounters, but her abstinence from sex with men is well documented. Her physical virginity was confirmed by official examinations at least twice during her lifetime. Joan herself liked to be called La Pucelle, French for “the Maid,” a nickname that emphasized her virginity. Witnesses at her trial testified that Joan was chaste rather than sexually active.

Joan’s illustrious military career ended in May 1430. She was captured in battle by the Burgundians, the French allies of the English. During her captivity they called her “hommase,” a slur meaning “man-woman” or “masculine woman.”

In a stunning betrayal, Charles VII did nothing to rescue Joan. It was normal to pay ransom for the release of knights and nobles caught in battle, but he abandoned Joan to her fate. Historians speculate that French aristocrats felt threatened by the peasant girl with such uncanny power to move the masses.

The Burgundians transferred Joan to the English, who then gave her to the Inquisition. She spent four torturous months in prison before her church trial began on Jan. 9, 1431 in Rouen, the seat of the English occupation government. She was charged with witchcraft and heresy.

The politically motivated church trial was rigged against her, and yet Joan was able to display her full intelligence as she answered the Inquisitors’ questions. Her subtle, witty answers and detailed memory even forced them to stop holding the trial in public.

Witchcraft was hard to prove, so the church dropped the charge. (Many of today’s Wiccans and pagans still consider Joan one of their own.) The Inquisitors began to focus exclusively on the “heresy” of Joan’s claim that she was following God’s will when she dressed as a man. The judges told her that cross-dressing was “an abomination before God” according to church law and the Bible. (See Deuteronomy 22:5.)

They accused Joan of “leaving off the dress and clothing of the feminine sex, a thing contrary to divine law and abominable before God, and forbidden by all laws” and instead dressing in “clothing and armor such as is worn by man.”

Joan swore that God wanted her to wear men’s clothing. “For nothing in the world will I swear not to arm myself and put on a man’s dress; I must obey the orders of Our Lord,” she testified. She outraged the judges by continuing to appear in court wearing what they called “difformitate habitus” (“monstrous dress” or “degenerate apparel.”)

Today Joan’s conservative admirers claim that she wore men’s clothes only as way to avoid rape, but she said that it meant much more to her. Joan of Arc saw cross-dressing as a sacred duty.

The judges summarized Joan’s testimony by saying, “You have said that, by God’s command, you have continually worn man’s dress, wearing the short robe, doublet, and hose attached by points; that you have also worn your hair short, cut ‘en rond’ above your ears with nothing left that could show you to be a woman; and that on many occasions you received the Body of our Lord dressed in this fashion, although you have been frequently admonished to leave it off, which you have refused to do, saying that you would rather die than leave it off, save by God’s command.”

Joan refused to back down on the visions she received from God, and she was sentenced to death. She was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431 in Rouen. Twenty five years later she was retried and her conviction was overturned. Joan was declared innocent.

Her armor, that “monstrous dress,” became an object of veneration, sought after like the Holy Grail with various churches claiming to have her true armor. Joan of Arc was canonized as a saint in 1920. Famous writers and composers who have done works about her include Shakespeare, Voltaire, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Mark Twain, Bertolt Brecht and George Bernard Shaw.

A widely used prayer to Saint Joan of Arc makes a powerful statement that can inspire those who believe in equality for LGBT people, despite rejection by religion and society:


“In the face of your enemies, in the face of harassment, ridicule, and doubt, you held firm in your faith. Even in your abandonment, alone and without friends, you held firm in your faith. Even as you faced your own mortality, you held firm in your faith. I pray that I may be as bold in my beliefs as you, St. Joan. I ask that you ride alongside me in my own battles. Help me be mindful that what is worthwhile can be won when I persist. Help me hold firm in my faith. Help me believe in my ability to act well and wisely. Amen.”


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Click for more info:
Wikipedia article on Cross-dressing, sexuality, and gender identity of Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc trial transcript online

Joan of Arc: Cross-dressing martyr at Queering the Church Blog

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

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




Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Rapture humor: Jesus comes for the gay Christians


From “Evading Rapture” cartoon by Justin Pierce

Enjoy a gay-friendly cartoon about the Rapture that DIDN’T happen as predicted on May 21.

I can relate to a Jesus who says, “Gay Christians have remained faithful to me, despite being bashed by my followers in my name. If that’s not devotion, I don’t know what is.”

The cartoon comes from “The Non-Adventures of Wonderella” by Justin Pierce and it is reposted by permission.

To see a larger view of the whole “Evading Rapture” cartoon, click the image below or see the original at www.nonadventures.com.



Sunday, May 22, 2011

Harvey Milk Day celebrates equality

Harvey Milk of San Francisco
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. Copyright 1987
Courtesy of www.trinitystores.com

Equality for all is celebrated today (May 22) on Harvey Milk Day, the birthday of LGBT rights pioneer Harvey Milk.

As America’s first openly gay man elected to public office*, Milk was responsible for passing a tough gay-rights law in San Francisco before his assassination on Nov. 27, 1978. He has been called a martyr for LGBT rights -- and for all human rights.

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.

Harvey Milk Day March,
by Show Me No Hate
St. Louis, MO
Harvey Milk Day events are being planned all across America, especially in California, where it became an official state holiday in 2009. Milk is the only openly gay person in the United States to receive such a distinction.

The Harvey Milk Day Facebook page offers constant updates. A calendar of events and other resources are available at HarveyMilkDay.co, the official home of Harvey Milk Day.  Their materials emphasize that Milk was more than an LGBT rights activist, but a “social and political pioneer” who ”fought for the rights and equality of all” and inspires “disenfranchised communities.”

Harvey Milk Day events often include showing one of the two Oscar-winning movies about his life, the documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984) or the biographical drama “Milk” (2008), which stars Sean Penn as Milk. Beautiful posters from a couple of events are posted here.

Milk has received many honors for his visionary courage and commitment to equality. In 2009 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and inducted into the California Hall of Fame. He was included in the Time “100 Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century” for being “a symbol of what gays can accomplish and the dangers they face in doing so.”

Milk became the public face of the GLBT rights movement, and his reputation has continued to grow since his assassination.
Harvey Milk Day
by Equality Action Now
Sacramento, CA

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country,” Milk said. Two bullets did enter his brain, and his vision of queer people living openly is also coming true.

Haunted by the sense that he would be killed for political reasons, Milk recorded tapes to be played in the event of his assassination. His message, recorded nine days before his death, included this powerful statement:

“I ask for the movement to continue, for the movement to grow, because last week I got a phone call from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and my election gave somebody else, one more person, hope. And after all, that's what this is all about. It's not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power — it's about giving those young people out there in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias, hope. You gotta give them hope.”

Shots fired by conservative fellow supervisor Dan White cut Milk’s life short. More than 30 years later, the hope and the movement for LGBT rights are more alive than ever.

The Harvey Milk icon painted by Robert Lentz (pictured above) was hailed as a “national gay treasure” by gay author/activist Toby Johnson. Milk holds a candle and wears an armband with a pink triangle, the Nazi symbol for gay men, expressing solidarity with all who were tortured or killed because of their sexuality. It is one of 40 icons featured in the book “Christ in the Margins” by Robert Lentz and Edwina Gateley.

The Harvey Milk icon sparked a church controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for this and nine other controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. All 10 were displayed there as a collection titled “Images That Challenge.”

The icon has also been criticized for portraying Milk, a secular Jew, in a iconographic style rooted in Christian tradition. “The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, that is true perversion!” He is honored in the interfaith LGBTQ Saints series here as a martyr who died in the struggle for LGBT rights.

[*Note: When Milk was elected, two gay politicians were already in office: lesbian Massachusetts State Representative Elaine Noble and Minnesota State Senator Allan Spear, who came out after he won re-election.]

Icons of Harvey Milk and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com



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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hunky Jesus contest: Liberating or offensive?

Brokeback Mountain Jesus (photo by Xero Britt)

For me as a lesbian Christian, there’s a lot to love about the Hunky Jesus contest held every Easter in San Francisco by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of “queer nuns” who do street theater for charity.

First and most important, it makes me feel like Jesus is right here with us, queer or not -- living up to his name Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

Happy crowds attend the costume competition every year to see the sexy side of Jesus exposed by contestants with nicknames such as Stimulus Package Jesus, Gym Bunny Jesus and Victoria’s Secret Jesus.

Hunky Jesus contestant,
photo by Xero Britt
The Hunky Jesus contest is packed with living, breathing gay Jesuses -- or “Jesi,” as they are called. Many of the Hunky Jesus photos are wonderful, and a few favorites are posted here. See more photos below.  I put a lot of energy into promoting images of a queer Christ in order to heal the damage done by homophobes in Jesus’ name. You can see them on this blog and in my book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.” The Hunky Jesi can free people who feel left out when Jesus is presented as a straight man. Maybe they can even enlarge the way some people see God.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence say that the Hunky Jesus contest is a fun way to promote the ideal of a loving God who has a sense of humor. It’s also a birthday party for their organization, which has raised more than $1 million for LGBT groups, AIDS service organizations, and other non-profits that don’t see a penny from conservative Christians.
Classic Jesus and Roma,
photo by Xero Britt

It’s no surprise that the Hunky Jesus contest offends the religious right. But even gay Christians are denouncing it in the news media this year. Some LGBT Christians and our allies fear that such events could provoke a backlash. Political commentator Andrew Sullivan, a gay Catholic, attacked it as “the tired, lame bigotry of some homosexuals” and gay Catholic priest Donal Godfrey of San Francisco called it “sacrilege” at Queerty.com.

I wouldn’t go that far, but parts of it do disturb me. I decided against posting the recent 2011 Hunky Jesus contest video here because it includes nudity, the f-word and simulated gay sex. A link to the video is at the end of this article.

I’m sure that Jesus felt sexual attractions for both men and women, but the more extreme Hunky Jesus contestants express it in a hyper-sexual way that seems, well, unChristlike. Even many progressive Christians will be offended.

Still, the critics are wrong when they say that the hunky Jesus contest is hate speech against Christians. As Sister Zsa Zsa wrote in her recent defense of the event, “Offending prudes and tyrants is not our purpose, but we consider it a bit of a bonus.” In my opinion, the real purpose is reclaiming Jesus from bigots who have attacked LGBT people in Christ’s name. We are the body of Christ, ALL of us, of every sexual orientation and gender identity. The contest is also about healing the split between sexuality and spirituality. And that can get messy, very messy.

Vintage Jesus,
photo by Xero Britt
Let’s not forget that Jesus himself was accused of blasphemy. It was one of the charges leading to his crucifixion. He broke rules, hung out with prostitutes and other “sinners,” taught that God loved everybody, and got killed for it. The Christ who appears at the Hunky Jesus contest is not an object of worship, but he does remind me of the Jesus who angered the Pharisees by eating and drinking with “sinners.” In the Bible, Jesus is always trying to demystify God, comparing God to some ordinary, even vulgar thing like yeast or a poor woman desperate to find a lost coin.

Founded in 1979, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have a vision statement that says, “We believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty and we use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.”

Surely Jesus, hunky or otherwise, is with them.

Hunky Jesus Contest, photo by Jere Keys, www.jerekeys.com


Before and After Jesuses, photo by Xero Britt


Double-Crossed Jesi and Roma, photo by Xero Britt

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Here are additional resources on the Hunky Jesus contest:

Video of the 2011 Hunky Jesus contest
(Warning: contains profanity, male nudity and simulated gay sex.)

More photos! The photos by Xero Britt come from the following sets:
2008    2009    2011

It Ain't Easy Being Queer and Christian by Douglas Blanchard (aka Counterlight)

Caught in the Crossfire by Terence Weldon

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Celebrating Mother Jesus: Julian of Norwich

“Julian of Norwich” by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1995

Julian of Norwich is a medieval English mystic who celebrated “Mother Jesus.” Her feast day (May 8) happens to fall on Mother’s Day this year.

It’s not known if Julian herself was queer, but her ideas were. Julian is often listed with LGBT saints because of her genderbending visions of Jesus and God.

Her visions of Jesus as a mother sound radical even now, more than 600 years later. In today’s understanding, Julian’s Jesus seems to be transgender! Her omnigendered vision of the Trinity fits with today’s feminist and queer theology.

Julian (c.1342-1416) is the first woman to write a book in English. The book, “Revelations of Divine Love,” recounts a series of 16 visions that she experienced from May 8-13, 1373 during a severe illness when she was 30 years old. The book includes Julian’s most famous saying, “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” -- words spoken to her by God in one of Julian’s visions.

Julian of Norwich
from Wikimedia Commons

Later Julian went on to become an anchoress, a type of recluse who lives in a cell attached to a church and does contemplative prayer. Her hermit’s cell was at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich. It had two windows, one opening to the church and the other opening to the street. She became known throughout England for the spiritual counseling that she gave there.

Julian is considered the first Catholic to write at length about the motherhood of God. Her profound ideas about God as mother speak powerfully today to women and queer people of faith. “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother,” Julian wrote.

Here are a few short quotes from Julian’s extensive writings about “Mother Jesus”:

“So Jesus Christ who sets good against evil is our real Mother. We owe our being to him--and this is the essence of motherhood! --and all the delightful, loving protection which ever follows. God is as really our Mother as he is our Father.“ (Chapter 59)

“So Jesus is our true Mother by nature at our first creation, and he is our true Mother in grace by taking on our created nature.” (Chapter 59)

“A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our dear mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and he does so most courteously and most tenderly with the holy sacrament, which is the precious food of life itself… The mother can lay the child tenderly to her breast, but our tender mother Jesus, he can familiarly lead us to his blessed breast through his sweet open side….” (Chapter 60)

These quotes come from modern English translations of “Revelations of Divine Love” by Elizabeth Spearing and Clifton Wolters. Click here for some longer quotations:

The sacred feminine is just one of the many revelations that have endeared Julian to the public. She uses objects from ordinary life to illustrate God’s loving, forgiving nature. For example, in one vision God shows Julian a small object like a hazel-nut in the palm of her hand.

Julian writes, “I looked at it and thought, 'What can this be?' And the answer came to me, 'It is all that is made.' I wondered how it could last, for it was so small I thought it might suddenly disappear. And the answer in my mind was, 'It lasts and will last forever because God loves it; and in the same way everything exists through the love of God'.” (Chapter 5)

In the icon at the top of this post, Julian looks out the window of her cell with her beloved cat. As an anchoress she probably lived alone. The only other being said to share her room was a cat -- for the practical purpose of keeping it free from rats and mice. A longstanding legend tells of Julian’s friendship with her cat companion.

The icon was painted by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar based in New York. Known for his innovative icons, he was rebuked by the church for painting LGBT saints and God as female. Some of his controversial icons are displayed in an online collection titled “Images That Challenge.”

Julian lived a long life. The date of her death is unknown, but records show that she was still alive at age 73 to receive an inheritance. She was never formally canonized, but Julian is considered a saint by popular devotion. The Episcopal and Lutheran Churches keep her feast day on May 8.
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Icons of Julian of Norwich and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com




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Image credit: “Julian of Norwich” by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1995
Courtesy of www.trinitystores.com
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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, heroes and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.


Sunday, May 01, 2011

Holocaust Remembrance: We All Wear the Triangle

For a new version of this article, click
Holocaust Remembrance: We all wear the triangle




A gay priest killed in the Holocaust appears in the icon
"Holy Priest Anonymous one of Sachsenhausen"

International Holocaust Remembrance Day honors the victims of the Nazi era, including the estimated 5,000 to 60,000 sent to concentration camps for homosexuality. The United Nations set the date as Jan. 27 -- the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.

Established by the UN in 2005, International Holocaust Remembrance Day recalls the state-sponsored extermination of 6 million Jews and 11 million others deemed inferior by the Nazis, including 2.5 million Poles and other Slavic peoples, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies and others not of the "Aryan race," the mentally ill, the disabled, LGBT people, and religious dissidents such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholics. Holocaust Remembrance Day aims to help prevent future genocides.

The date chosen is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, by Soviet troop on Jan. 27, 1945.

Approximcately 100,000 men were arrested from 1933 and 1945 under Paragraph 175, the German law against homosexuality. They were imprisoned or sent to concentration camps. Only about 4,000 survived.

Artists who address LGBT deaths in the holocaust (or “homocaust”) include Tony O’Connell, Mary Button, William Hart McNichols, Richard Grune, John Bittinger Klomp and those who designed the world's dozens of memorials to LGBT Holocaust victims. Their art is featured here today.

The defeat of the Nazis brought liberation for most prisoners in the concentration camps, but some of those accused of homosexuality were re-imprisoned in post-war Germany based on evidence found by the Nazis.

The world's first LGBT Holocaust memorial was the Homomonument, opened in 1987 in the Netherlands. Queer British artist Tony O’Connell made a photo and video record of his prayers and offerings at the Homomonument in Amsterdam on Christmas Day 2014 as part of his contemporary performance art series of LGBT pilgrimages.

Holocaust Memorial Pilgrimage to Homomonument in Amsterdam by Tony O'Connell

O'Connell visits historical sites such as to the Harvey Milk Metro station in San Francisco, New York City's Stonewall Inn, and the Alan Turing Memorial Bench in Manchester. Democratizing the idea of sacredness and reclaiming the holiness in ordinary life, especially in LGBT experience, are major themes in O'Connell's work. Based in Liverpool, O’Connell was raised in the Roman Catholic church, but has been a practicing Buddhist since 1995. For more info about O’Connell’s art, see my previous post Codebreaker Alan Turing honored in queer pilgrimage by artist Tony O’Connell.

Persecution of LGBT people during the Holocaust is juxtaposed with Jesus falling under the weight of his cross in the image at the top of this post: Station 3 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button. The painting features headshots of men who were arrested for homosexuality under Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code and sent to concentration camps between 1933 and 1945.

Jesus falls the first time and Nazis ban homosexual groups in Station 3 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button, courtesy of Believe Out Loud

Using bold colors and collage, Button puts Jesus' suffering into a queer context by matching scenes from his journey to Golgotha with milestones from the last 100 years of LGBT history. For an overview of all 15 paintings in the LGBT Stations series, see my article LGBT Stations of the Cross shows struggle for equality.

Richard Grune, a Bauhuas-trained German artist sent to Nazi concentration camps for homosexuality, also saw a connection between Christ’s Passion and the suffering of people in the camps. After being imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Flossenbürg, he created “Passion of the 20th Century,” a set of lithographs depicting the nightmare of life in the camps. Published in 1947, it is considered one of the most important visual records of the camps to appear in the immediate postwar years.

“Solidarity.” Richard Grune lithograph from a limited edition series “Passion des XX Jahrhunderts” (Passion of the 20th Century). Grune was prosecuted under Paragraph 175 and from 1937 until liberation in 1945 was incarcerated in concentration camps. In 1947 he produced a series of etchings detailing what he witnessed in the camps. Grune died in 1983. (Credit: Courtesy Schwules Museum, Berlin) (US Holocaust Museum)




Willem Ardondeus
A gay Dutch artist who died in the Holocaust was Willem Arondeus (Aug. 22, 1894 - July 1, 1943). He participated in the anti-Nazi resistance movement with openly lesbian cellist Frieda Belinfante and others. Arondeus was openly gay before World War II began and proudly asserted his queer identity in his last message before his execution: “Let it be known that homosexuals are not cowards.”  His life and art are featured in a YouTube video.

The Nazis also denounced and attacked lesbians, but usually less severely and less systematically than they persecuted male homosexuals. Their history is told online in the article Lesbians and the Third Reich at the US Holocaust Museum. Some lesbians claim the black triangle as their symbol. The Nazis imposed the black triangle on people who were sent to concentration camps for being “anti-social.”

Identification pictures of Henny Schermann, a shop assistant in Frankfurt am Main. In 1940 police arrested Henny, who was Jewish and a lesbian, and deported her to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp for women. She was killed in 1942. Ravensbrueck, Germany, 1941. (US Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archives)

Nazis used the pink triangle to identify male prisoners sent to concentration camps for homosexuality. Originally intended as a badge of shame, the pink triangle has become a symbol of pride for the LGBT rights movement.

A recent painting on the theme is “Pink Triangle” by John Bittinger Klomp, a gay artist based in Florida.

“Pink Triangle” by John Bittinger Klomp, 2012

“The Pink Triangle was part of the system of triangles used by the Nazis during World War II to denote various peoples they deemed undesirable, and included Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals,” Klomp said. The painting is part of his “Gay Dictionary Series” on words and symbols related to being gay.

The pink triangle appears in a variety of monuments that have been built around the world to commemorate LBGT victims of the Nazi regime. In January 2014 Israel's first memorial for LGBT victims of the Holocaust was unveiled in Tel Aviv. Since 1984, more than 20 gay Holocaust memorials have been established in places ranging from San Francisco to Sydney, from Germany to Uruguay. Some are in the actual concentration camp sites, such as the plaque for gay victims in Dachau pictured below.

Plaque for gay victims at Dachau concentration camp by nilexuk


To see powerful photos of all the queer Holocaust memorials and read the stories behind them, visit:
http://andrejkoymasky.com/mem/holocaust/ho08.html

The logo for the Jesus in Love Blog also shows the face of Jesus in a pink triangle. He joins queer people in transforming suffering into power.

The last surviving man to wear the pink triangle in the concentration camps was Rudolf Brazda, who died in 2011 at age 98. His story is told in his obituary at the New York Times.

Another of those who wore the pink triangle was an anonymous 60-year-old gay priest, brutally beaten to death because he refused to stop praying at the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, Germany. Eyewitness Heinz Heger reported that the murder was so brutal that “I felt I was witnessing the crucifixion of Christ in modern guise.”

The priest is honored in the icon at the top of this post, “Holy Priest Anonymous One of Sachsenhausen.” It was painted by Father William Hart McNichols, a New Mexico artist and Catholic priest who was rebuked by church leaders for making LGBT-affirming icons of unapproved saints. His Anonymous Priest of Sachsenhausen icon appears in his book “The Bride: Images of the Church,” which he co-authored with peace activist Daniel Berrigan.

Here is the beginning of his tragic story, as told by Heger in his book The Men With the Pink Triangle.

Toward the end of February, 1940, a priest arrived in our block, a man some 60 years of age, tall and with distinguished features. We later discovered that he came from Sudetenland, from an aristocratic German family.

He found the torment of the arrival procedure especially trying, particularly the long wait naked and barefoot outside the block. When his tonsure was discovered after the shower, the SS corporal in charge took up a razor and said "I'll go to work on this one myself, and extend his tonsure a bit." And he saved the priest's head with the razor, taking little trouble to avoid cutting the scalp. quite the contrary.

The priest returned to the day-room of our lock with his head cut open and blood streaming down. His face was ashen and his eyes stared uncomprehendingly into the distance. He sat down on a bench, folded his hands in his lap and said softly, more to himself than to anyone else: "And yet man is good, he is a creature of God!"

The book goes on to recount in heartbreaking detail how the Nazis tortured the priest, hurling anti-gay slurs and beating him to death. More excerpts are available at the Queering the Church Blog in a post titled The Priest With the Pink Triangle.

The award-winning 1979 play “Bent” by Martin Sherman helped increase awareness of Nazi persecution of gays, leading to more historical research and education. A film version of “Bent” was made in 1997 with an all-star British cast including Clive Owen, Mick Jagger and Jude Law. Its title comes from the European slang word “bent” used as a slur for homosexuals.

The 2000 documentary film “Paragraph 175” tells the stories of several gay men and one lesbian who were persecuted by the Nazis, including interviews with some of the last survivors.

In recent years new memoirs of gay Holocaust survivors have been published and queer theory has brought new understanding of the Gay Holocaust as not just atrocities, but also a system of social control. Valuable books include:

I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror by Pierre Seel (2011)

Lost Intimacies: Rethinking Homosexuality under National Socialism by William J. Spurlin (2008)

An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin by Gad Beck (2000)

"The Hidden Holocaust?: Gay and Lesbian Persecution in Germany 1933-45” by Gunter Grau (1995)

The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals by Richard Plant (1988) -- first comprehensive book on the subject

Homosexuality d Male Bonding in Pre-Nazi Germany: The Youth Movement, the Gay Movement, and Male Bonding Before Hitler’s Rise” by Hubert Kennedy (1992)

Josef Jaeger by Jere' M Fishback (young adult novel based partly on the life of Jürgen Ohlsen, Nazi propaganda film star who turned out to be gay)


International Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed here with the prayer “We All Wear the Triangle” by Steve Carson. It appears in the book “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations.” Carson was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served congregations in New York, Boston and San Francisco.
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One: We are in many ways a culture without memory. The Holocaust, a series of events that occurred just over a generation ago, changed the world forever. Yet by some the Holocaust is forgotten, or seen as irrelevant, or even viewed as something that never happened.

All: As people of faith, we refuse to forget. We refuse to participate in the erasing of history. As a community of faith, we decide to remember, as we hear the historical record from Europe a generation ago and reflect upon events in our own time. We dare to listen to the voices of the past, even as they echo today.

One: In this moment, we are all Jews wearing the yellow Star of David.

All: We are all homosexuals wearing the pink triangle.

One: We are all political activists wearing the red triangle.

All: We are all criminals wearing the green triangle.

One: We are all antisocials wearing the black triangle.

All: We are all Jehovah’s Witnesses wearing the purple triangle.

One: We are all emigrants wearing the blue triangle.

All: We are all gypsies wearing the brown triangle.

One: We are all undesirable, all extendable by the state.

…Leader: To God of both memory and hope, we pledge ourselves to be a people of resistance to the powers of death wherever they may appear, to honor the living and the dead, and to make with them our promise: Never again!

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Related links:

Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-45 (US Holocaust Museum)

Lesbians and the Third Reich (US Holocaust Museum)

Pink Triangle at the Legacy Walk

Persecution of Homosexuals in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust (Wikipedia)

Holocaust Memorial Day: The Nazi Bid to Exterminate Gay People by Peter Tatchell (Huffington Post)

Sachsenhausen (Counterlight’s Peculiars).

The Holocaust's Forgotten Victims: The 5 Million Non-Jewish People Killed By The Nazis by Louise Ridley (Huffington Post)

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This post is part of the LGBTQ Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, events in LGBTQ history, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and our allies.

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