Thursday, January 26, 2012

David Kato: Ugandan LGBT rights activist (1964-2011)

“David Kato” by Rod Byatt

David Kato, Ugandan LGBT rights activist, was beaten to death one year ago today (Jan. 26). He is considered a father of Uganda’s gay rights movement.

David Kato
Some blame religious rhetoric for his death. American evangelicals helped stir up the hostility that led to Kato’s death because they promoted a law imposing the death penalty for homosexuality. Shortly before his murder Kato won a lawsuit against a Ugandan magazine for identifying him as gay and calling for his execution.

The law never passed and in November Kato’s murderer was sentenced to 30 years in prison.  However, the anti-gay motive for the murder was covered up in the trial.

Australian artist Rod Byatt drew the portrait of David Kato above. The stark, unfinished quality of the portrait conveys the sense of a life cut short. Byatt posted it on his blog **gasp!** (Gay Artists’ Sketchbook Project) with a reflection that begins, “We grieve over the loss of David Kato. We know that being gay is anathema to Family, Church and State, and increasingly The Media...” Byatt is part of the Urban Sketching movement that seeks to link personal identity to broader social issues.

A new documentary about Kato, “Call Me Kuchu,” will premiere Feb. 11 at the Berlin Film Festival. Watch the trailer for the video below.  "Kuchu" is the term used in Uganda for LGBT people.


Call Me Kuchu - Trailer from Call Me Kuchu on Vimeo.

Below is a news video about Kato from “The Rachel Maddow Show.” It includes scenes from David’s funeral, where Ugandan clergy speak both for and against LGBT rights, and David’s own voice in an NPR interview about homosexuality in Uganda.

On the anniversary of his murder, may those who honor David Kato’s legacy continue to work for justice and equality for all. May he find peace with all the other LGBT martyrs and saints who have gone before.



Related links:

Activists, Filmmakers Mark First Anniversary of David Kato Murder (Towelroad)

Portrait of David Kato by Random Salmon

They will say we are not here (New York Times, Jan. 25, 2012)

Ugandan Activists Commemorate Anniversary of David Kato's Death (Advocate)

David Kato at Wikipedia

In Uganda, a “Fearless Voice” for Gay Rights is Brutally Silenced (Wild Reed Blog)

David Kato: A new Ugandan martyr (Queer Saints and Martyrs - And Others)

Martyrs of Uganda (Walking with Integrity Blog)

The Silence of the Wolves (Counterlight's Peculiars Blog)
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Huffington Post features Kittredge Cherry on LGBT Christian art


My writing is featured at Huffington Post starting today with my first piece, “Attack on LGBT Christian Art: An Ugly Trend Continues.”

See it now at the following link. Please leave a comment and share the link with friends:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kittredge-cherry/lgbt-christian-art_b_1229585.html

I’m thrilled and honored by my new role as an official blogger in the Gay Voices section of Huffington Post, an Internet newspaper that gets more than 35 million visitors per month. I will continue blogging regularly here at Jesus in Love too.

My first piece at HuffPost examines the recent attack on a gay and lesbian Nativity scene at a Claremont church, putting it into the larger context of an ugly trend targeting LGBT Christian art. I look forward to reading your comments at Huffington Post.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hate crime targets gay and lesbian Nativity scene at Claremont church

Gay and lesbian Nativity scene by John Zachary at Claremont United Methodist Church -- before vandals attacked it.

A recent attack on a gay and lesbian Nativity scene at a California church is being investigated as a hate crime by police.

Vandals knocked over the same-sex couples in a manger scene at Claremont United Methodist Church in Claremont, CA, doing $3,000 in damage. The destruction proves the ongoing need for religious images that affirm LGBT people.

The Claremont church dared to re-imagine the Nativity scene as three couples -- gay, lesbian and heterosexual. They stood on the church lawn in life-sized silhouettes built from 600-pound light boxes. Each pair held hands beneath the star of Bethlehem. The words “Christ is born” blazed above them. There was no baby Jesus, but a small tree of life grew atop a statement pointing out that “Christ was the victim of hate and intolerance while he taught love and compassion.” After the attack, only the straight couple was left standing.

The Claremont Nativity has various meanings. It suggests that Christ is born anew to every couple, regardless of their sexual orientation. The scene also implies that queer people today are following the star in search of Christ, hoping that there will be room at the manger for gays and lesbians.

Leaders at the Claremont church emphasized that they wanted to show where Christ might be born today. Since 1993 the church has been a “reconciling” congregation, committed to welcoming LGBT into the full life of the church. “We do believe that Christ is in the world for the outcast and not for the privileged, and so each year we want to represent that through our Nativity scene,” youth minister Rev. Dan Lewis told KTLA-TV news.

For the last six years artist John Zachary has worked with the church to create progressive versions of the Nativity scene, but nobody damaged them until now. Previous versions addressed themes of poverty, war, immigration, racism and prison. When the Holy Family was shown as homeless in an alley full of trash and shopping carts, strangers spontaneously left bags of food and clothing at the Nativity, prompting the church to launch a Christmas homeless outreach.

The gay and lesbian Nativity evoked no such compassion. Police quickly labeled the attack a hate crime because it occurred on church property and targeted a specific group: gays and lesbians. The crime occurred on Christmas Eve and remains unsolved.

I take this attack personally because Christian conservatives made nasty accusations of blasphemy against me for creating my own gay and lesbian Nativity scenes. Like the Claremont church, I was motivated by a desire to communicate the love of God for all.  Last month I also coordinated a Queer Nativity project with liberating images from 7 people here at the Jesus in Love Blog.  I documented other attacks on LGBT Christian art in my book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More

Claremont’s gay and lesbian Nativity is one of the best that I have seen. Vandals should have stopped to reflect on the message written at the base of its tree of life:

“We must look to all people to discover the prophetic voice that is among us. The ancients looked to Christ as he delivered his radical message of Love. Ironically, Christ was the victim of hate and intolerance while he taught love and compassion. We are living in a time where people need to embrace love instead of fighting and devouring one another. May we open our hearts as we celebrate the birth of Christ. Let us learn to embrace each other with openness and kindness. Let us practice Christ’s teachings by loving those who are different and those who need our compassion and join hands in celebration as brothers and sisters, sharing our voices, and our differences.”

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(Photos provided by Claremont United Methodist Church, claremontumc.org)
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Related links:

Conservatives attack our lesbian and gay Nativity scenes

Queer Nativity Project at Jesus in Love, Dec. 2011

Video: Gay and lesbian manger scenes show love makes a family

Gay and lesbian Nativity cards

KTLA-TV news: Non-traditional Nativity scene targeted in hate crime
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Thursday, January 12, 2012

St. Aelred: Gay saint of friendship

St. Aelred of Rievaulx
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, www.trinitystores.com

Saint Aelred (1109-1167) is considered one of the most lovable saints, the patron saint of friendship and also, some say, a gay saint. His feast day is today (Jan. 12).

Aelred was the abbott of the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in England. His treatise “On Spiritual Friendship” is still one of the best theological statements on the connection between human love and spiritual love. “God is friendship… He who abides in friendship abides in God, and God in him,” he wrote, paraphrasing 1 John 4:16.

Aelred’s own deep friendships with men are described in “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality” by Yale history professor John Boswell. “There can be little question that Aelred was gay and that his erotic attraction to men was a dominant force in his life,” Boswell wrote.

Boswell’s account inspired the members of the LGBT Episcopal group Integrity to name Aelred as their patron saint. Click here for the full story on how they won recognition for their gay saint.

Aelred certainly advocated chastity, but his passions are clear in his writing. He describes friendship with eloquence in this often-quoted passage:

“It is no small consolation in this life to have someone who can unite with you in an intimate affection and the embrace of a holy love, someone in whom your spirit can rest, to whom you can pour out your soul, to whose pleasant exchanges, as to soothing songs, you can fly in sorrow... with whose spiritual kisses, as with remedial salves, you may draw out all the weariness of your restless anxieties. A man who can shed tears with you in your worries, be happy with you when things go well, search out with you the answers to your problems, whom with the ties of charity you can lead into the depths of your heart; . . . where the sweetness of the Spirit flows between you, where you so join yourself and cleave to him that soul mingles with soul and two become one.”

The icon of Saint Aelred was painted by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. It includes a banner with Aelred’s words, “Friend cleaving to friend in the spirit of Christ.”

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Related links:

12th January: St Aelred of Rievaulx, Patron of Same Sex Intimacy (Queer Saints and Martyrs -- and Others)

A St. Aelred Catechism (Walking with Integrity Blog)

St. Aelred of Rievaulx (Pharsea’s World: Homosexuality and Tradition)
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This post is part of the LGBT 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.
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Icons of St. Aelred and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores



Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts



Friday, January 06, 2012

Epiphany: Queer eye for the Magi

“Epiphany” by Janet McKenzie, copyright 2003.
www.janetmckenzie.com
Collection of Barbara Marian, Harvard, IL

Reimagining the three kings as queer or female gives fresh meaning to Epiphany, a holiday celebrating the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. It is observed on Jan. 6.

The word “epiphany” also refers to a sudden, intuitive perception. By looking at the Bible and church history from a LGBT viewpoint, people can experience new insights -- their own personal “epiphanies” of understanding. New interpretations of the wise ones known as the Magi include:
  • Queer Magi. LGBT church leaders suggest that the Magi were eunuchs -- people who today would be called gay, queer or transgender.
  • Female Magi appear in a controversial painting by Janet McKenzie.
  • Queer gifts are presented to the Christ child in an icon by William Hart McNichols.
Queer Magi
The Magi played the shamanic role often filled by eunuchs, an ancient term for LGBT people, says Nancy Wilson in her book Outing the Bible: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Christian Scriptures.” She writes:

“They were Zoroastrian priests, astrologers, magicians, ancient shamans from the courts of ancient Persia. They were the equivalent of Merlin of Britain. They were sorcerers, high-ranking officials, but not kings—definitely not kings. But quite possibly, they were queens. We’ve always pictured them with elaborate, exotic, unusual clothing—quite festive, highly decorated and accessorized! …Also, the wise eunuchs, shamans, holy men were the only ones who had the forethought to go shopping before they visited the baby Jesus!

They also have shamanistic dreams. They deceive evil King Herod and actually play the precise role that many other prominent eunuchs play in the Bible: they rescue the prophet, this time the Messiah of God, and foil the evil royal plot against God’s anointed.”

The concept of the queer Magi is amplified by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, author of Omnigender. “My guess is that they were people who today would be termed transwomen,” she writes in the brochure “Gender Identity and Our Faith Communities.”

Eunuchs and cross-dressers were surprisingly common in the Mediterranean world of the Bible and later. By happy coincidence, a cross-dressing saint happens to have a feast day on Jan. 5, the day before Epiphany. Apollinaria of Egypt, put on men’s clothing and presented herself as a eunuch named Dorotheos in order to live as a monk. For more info on Apollinaria and other cross-dressing saints in early Christian communities, visit Queering the Church.

Three stylish Magi wear fabulous outfits on a 1972 German Christmas stamp (Wikimedia Commons)

Female Magi
A multi-racial trio of female Magi visits the baby Jesus and his mother in “Epiphany” by Janet McKenzie. Instead of the traditional three kings or three wise men, the artist re-interprets the Magi as wise women from around the world.

The unconventional portrayal of the Magi makes good theological sense. Barbara Marian, who commissioned the painting, explains: “The story of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew allowed the Jewish followers of Jesus to imagine the unthinkable -- God’s grace extending to the outsiders, the gentiles. Who are the outsiders in our world? Can we imagine the favor of God extending beyond the human boundaries of race, class, nationality, ethnicity, religious devotion, and gender?”

Marian commissioned “Epiphany” for the Nativity Project, which revisits and revitalizes the Gospel with new images of women. “It’s easy to get so caught up in regal images of Matthew’s night visitors that we miss the core message -- Christ for all people,” Marian says.

Conservative Christians protested against the inclusive “Epiphany” in 2007 when it appeared on the Christmas cards of the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth, Texas, sent a notice to clergy and 2007 convention delegates condemning Jefferts Schori for her choice of art. “Happy Multicultural Feminist Celebration Day,” sneered the headline of a traditional Anglican blog where nearly 100 comments were posted condemning the image as “stupid,” “faux-nouveau hipster theology” and worse. For more info, see my previous post Conservatives blast inclusive Christmas card.

McKenzie denies the accusations that she is trying to be divisive and rewrite scripture. “Of course this is as far from my thinking as possible,” she says. “I feel called to create sacred and secular art that includes and celebrates those systematically ignored, relegated and minimized, and for the most part that is women and people of color.”

The artist continues to be amazed that her loving images provoke so much anger. “Even this gentle image of a loving Holy Mother and Child, with no agenda except to include and honor us as the nurturing feminine beings we are, surrounded in community with other women, is still misunderstood -- even at this late date,” she says.

McKenzie has weathered even bigger storms before. Her androgynous African American “Jesus of the People” painting caused international controversy when Sister Wendy of PBS chose it to represent Christ in the new millennium.

Critics focus on the content of McKenzie’s art, but her outstanding artistic style is one reason that her work attracts attention. The Vermont artist uses drawing and line with oils to build images that glow. Her painting technique and pastel colors are reminiscent of American Impressionist Mary Cassatt, who is famous for painting intimate scenes of mothers and their children.

The controversy over McKenzie’s work is a reminder of the power of art, and the continuing need for progressive spiritual images. Opposition seems to fuel her passion to paint. “We all need to find ourselves included within the sacred journey of life, and afterlife,” McKenzie says. “I have been surprised to find archaic and out-dated hate still in place, still alive and well and fueled by fear, in response to some of my art. I have made the decision to respond to such hate not in the way it comes to me, but by creating ever more inclusive art that confronts prejudice and hate. The only path open to any of us is the one of love.”

McKenzie’s art is featured in my book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” and her book “Holiness and the Feminine Spirit.”

(Special thanks to Barbara Marian for permission to quote from her article “Recasting the Magi.”)


“The Epiphany: Wisemen Bring Gifts to the Child”
By William Hart McNichols © 1984, fatherbill.org

Queer gifts

Father William Hart McNichols paints another kind of queer Epiphany. McNichols is a New Mexico artist and Roman Catholic priest whose gay-positive icons have caused controversy. He worked at an AIDS hospice in New York City from 1983-90, when many in the gay community were dying of the disease. During that period he painted “The Epiphany: Wisemen Bring Gifts to the Child.”

St. Francis and St. Aloysius are the wise men visiting the baby Jesus in this icon.  Instead of the usual gold, frankincense and myrrh, the “gifts” they bring to the Christ child are people with AIDS, perhaps gay men. The baby Jesus reaches eagerly to receive these gifts. The child and his mother appear in a form popular in Mexico and other Latino cultures as Our Lady of Guadalupe and El Santo Niño de Atocha. The halo around them echoes the colors of the rainbow flag of the LGBT community. McNichols offers a prayer with this icon:

Dearest Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe,
Mother of the poor and the oppressed,
we watch full of reverence
and joy as St. Francis and
St. Aloysius bring the gifts of
these two people afflicted with AIDS
to the Holy Child in your arms,
who is so eager to receive them.
Teach us to find and embrace
your Son Jesus in all peoples,
but most especially those who
are in greatest need and
who suffer most.
Amen

In closing, the question arises: What gifts are queer people bringing today to Christ, the church and the world?
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Related links:

LGBTQ Nativity 4: Queer Magi visit Mary, Josephine and Jesus

Magi: Followers of the Light (Jesus Loves Gays Blog)

“Wise Women Also Came” and Women’s Christmas by Jan Richardson

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This post is part of the LGBT Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to LGBT and queer people of faith and our allies.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts