Wednesday, October 31, 2012

2012 LGBTQ guide to AAR (American Academy of Religion) and SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) Annual Meeting

A mind-boggling variety of about 40 LGBT and queer events are planned for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature Nov. 17-20 in Chicago.

Here is the Jesus in Love guide to LGBTQ activities at AAR-SBL. My unique guide covers both AAR and SBL, including all the official LGBTQ events, plus “buried treasures” that are sponsored by other interest groups, and panels on other topics with a lone queer voice. Please let me know if I missed anything!

The joint annual meeting is the largest gathering of biblical and religion scholars in the world with more than 11,000 attendees. This list is a useful summary for those attending -- and a sneak-preview of the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer religious scholarship for those of us who can’t be there.

Events on this list cover everything from Arab masculinities to Zambian Pentecostal ideas on homosexuality. LGBTQ programs at the conference present liberating new ideas about the Bible, the church and the impact of Christianity on individuals. They go on to take a queer look at every major world religion from various racial, ethnic and cultural perspectives.

The dizzying array of topics includes lesbian dharma teachers, queer Quaker utopias, the homosexuality of the Hebrew patriarch Joseph, a theology of LGBTQ homeless youth, and the Korean Christian fundamentalist antigay movement. There are drag kings in Corinth and “gender performance” in the Prophets. They’ve got “outsider theology” and “indecent ecology.” And much more.

A few trends emerge: Same-sex marriage is discussed in various contexts ranging from ancient Mesopotamia to today’s historically black churches. Two separate sessions will examine gay artist David Wojnarowicz, whose video art was recently censored by the Smithsonian after pressure by religious conservatives. At least four sessions apply ideas from the book Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others by Sara Ahmed, professor of race and cultural studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

The meeting also features LGBTQ entertainment, such as the animated film Tokyo Godfathers and the one-person play “Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible” by Peterson Toscano -- both followed, of course, by scholarly reflections on their queer Christian content.

It’s possible to do LGBTQ religious events almost non-stop for five days! Sometimes multiple events even overlap.

Getting access to this information is not easy. The Jesus in Love AAR-SBL guide offers a rare glimpse into the fairly private world of scholarship-in-the-making. I spent many happy hours searching the conference program books with a fine-toothed comb to create this list.

As one friend wrote when I posted my guide last year, “Wow - that is so great that you will be consolidating all the LGBTQ sessions - very helpful! Your blog is going to become my go-to site for choosing where to go next :)”

Best wishes to the many friends of the Jesus in Love Blog who will be attending and presenting at AAR-SBL!

Note: Session numbers begin with "A" for AAR and other letters for SBL. These events are subject to change.

Friday, Nov. 16

A16-108 AAR Status of LGBTIQ Persons in the Profession Committee Meeting
Friday - 9:00 AM-5:00 PM

M16-407: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Caucus at AAR
Friday - 7:30 PM to 9:00 PM

Saturday, Nov. 17

A17-120 Gay Men and Religion Group
Theme: Behold the Book, the Author, and the Critics: Kent Brintnall's book Ecce Homo: The Male-Body-in-Pain as Redemptive Figure (University of Chicago Press, 2012)
Saturday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Patrick Cheng, Episcopal Divinity School, Presiding
(The Ecce Homo book analyzes the way narratives of Christ's death and resurrection both support and subvert cultural fantasies of masculine power.)
Björn Krondorfer, St Mary's College, Maryland
Aaron Klink, Duke University
Joseph A. Marchal, Ball State University
Karmen MacKendrick, Le Moyne College
Stephen Moore, Drew University
Kent Brintnall, University of North Carolina, Charlotte


A17-123: Liberal Theologies Group
Theme: New Contexts for Liberal Theology
Saturday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Panelists include:
Hussein Abdul Latif, University of Alabama, Birmingham
Towards Muslim Same-sex Unions


A17-109 Theology and Religious Reflection Section
Theme: Theorizing Maternality
Saturday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Panelists include:
Carolyn Roncolato, Chicago Theological Seminary
Mimetic Conception: Infertility Treatment as Deconstruction and Reinscription of Western Maternality and Heteronormativity
(She applies queer theory to infertility treatments.)


A17-135 LGBTIQ Mentoring Lunch
Saturday - 11:45 AM-12:45 PM
Melissa M. Wilcox, Whitman College, Presiding
Claudia Schippert, University of Central Florida
Cameron Partridge, Harvard University
Mary E. Hunt, Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual
Rudy V. Busto, University of California, Santa Barbara
Kent Brintnall, University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Patrick Cheng, Episcopal Divinity School
Horace Griffin, Pacific School of Religion
W. Scott Haldeman, Chicago Theological Seminary
Rebecca Alpert, Temple University
Mark Jordan, Harvard University
Laurel Schneider, Chicago Theological Seminary
Jennifer Harvey, Drake University
Heather White, New College of Florida


A17-220 Lesbian-Feminist Issues and Religion Group
Theme: Queering Women's Religious History: Desire, Identity and Religious Practice
Saturday - 1:00 PM-3:30 PM
Yvonne Zimmerman, Methodist Theological School, Ohio, Presiding
Judith Weisenfeld, Princeton University
“From Father in Me”: Celibacy and Same Sex-Desire in Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement

Emily L. Silverman , Graduate Theological Union
Out of Line: Sarah Ahmed’s “Queer Phenomenology” Applied to Edith Stein’s and Regina Jonas’ “Out of Place” Religious Identities.

Marie Cartier, California State University, Northridge
Wendy Griffin, Cherry Hill Seminary
Herlands: Finding Goddess on Lesbian Land

Heather White, New College of Florida
Melissa Wilcox, Whitman College


A17-233 Latina/o Critical and Comparative Studies Group and Religion in Latin America and the Caribbean Group
Theme: Contested Spaces: A Critical Engagement of Latina Spirituality
Jennifer Hughes, University of California, Riverside, Presiding
Saturday - 1:00 PM-3:30 PM
Panelists include:
Laura Perez, University of California, Berkeley
Latina/o Feminist Spirituality and the Decolonial: (Non)violence and the (Non)Western
(She examines the recent work of queer U.S. Latina/o artists, including Alex Donis and Maya Gonzalez.)


A17-322 Queer Studies in Religion Group
Theme: Queer Reorientations: Questioning Bodies and Futures
Saturday - 4:00 PM-6:30 PM
Claudia Schippert, University of Central Florida, Presiding
(Panelists discuss topics in the context of Sara Ahmed’s book Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others)
Brandy Daniels, Vanderbilt University
Is Kinship Always Already Reproductive? Ecclesiology, Ethics, and the Antisocial Thesis

Brian Blackmore, Chicago Theological Seminary
Quaker Unprogrammed Liturgy as Queer Futurity

Sarah Bloesch, Southern Methodist University
Maximus Confessor and God's Queer Table

Heike Peckruhn, University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology
Bodies as Orientation in/to the World – Bodies in Queer Phenomenology and Religious Studies

S17-304 Bible and Cultural Studies. Theme: Difference
Sponsored jointly by various groups, including LGBT/Queer Hermeneutics
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM

Difference and pedagogy
Jacqueline Hidalgo, Williams College, Presiding
The first part of this session, “Difference and pedagogy,” considers how to teach concepts of difference to undergrads.

Encouraging hermeneutics of difference
Lynn Huber, Elon University, Presiding
Melanie Howard, Princeton Theological Seminary, Presiding
James Hoke, Drew University, Presiding
The second part, “Encouraging hermeneutics of difference,” is a mentoring session for graduate students working in “non-traditional” approaches.


A17-326 Roman Catholic Studies Group.
Theme: Disrupting Complementarity II: Male Bodies
Saturday - 4:00 PM-6:30 PM
Panelists include:
Jeffrey Marlett, College of Saint Rose
Getting the Cloud: Leo Durocher and Catholic Manliness
(He applies queer theory to Hall of Fame baseball manager Leo Durocher)


A17-319 Kierkegaard, Religion, and Culture Group
Theme: Memory and the Ethics of Forgiveness
Saturday - 4:00 PM-6:30 PM
Panelists include:
Adam Pryor, Graduate Theological Union
Who Are We? Remembering and Forgetting in the Reparation of Communal Memory
(He proposes that Kierkegaard’s ideas on forgiveness can help congregations heal after votes on gay and lesbian ordination.)


A17-404 LGBTIQ Scholars/Scholars of LGBTIQ Studies Reception
Saturday - 8:00 PM-10:00 PM


A17-407 Film: Tokyo Godfathers
Saturday - 8:00 PM-10:00 PM
(Japanese anime film about three homeless people, including a flamboyant ex-drag entertainer / transvestite, who find a baby on Christmas Eve.)

Sunday, Nov. 18

A18-100 Sex, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion Cluster
Theme: Naming Our History, Rebuilding Our Alliances, Mapping Our Future
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Jacqueline Hidalgo, Williams College, Presiding.
Bjorn Krondorfer, Men, Masculinities and Religions Group; St. Mary's College, Maryland
R. Marie Griffith, Religion and Sexuality Group; Washington University, St. Louis
Stephanie Mitchem, Womanist Issues in Religion and Society Group; University of South Carolina
Jay Emerson Johnson, Gay Men and Religion Group; Pacific School of Religion
Jung Ha Kim, Women and Religion Section; Georgia State University
Marie Cartier, Lesbian Feminist Issues in Religion Group; California State University, Northridge
Karen Alliaume, Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection Group; Lewis University
Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Women of Color Scholarship, Teaching and Activism Group; Moravian Theological Seminary
Melissa Wilcox, Queer Studies in Religion Group; Whitman College


S18-131 LGBT/Queer Hermeneutics
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
James Hoke, Drew University, Presiding

Kathleen McCaffrey, Independent Scholar
Same Sex Marriage in Ancient Mesopotamia (Newt is Wrong)

David Tabb Stewart, California State University, Long Beach
Another Look at Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: Can Anything New Be Said?

Nicholaus Benjamin Pumphrey, Claremont Graduate University
The Lack of Action: Textual Evidence for Joseph’s Homosexuality

A18-101: Arts, Literature, and Religion Section
Theme: Expanding Borders: Religion and the Arts
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Panelists include:

Benjamin Lindquist, Yale University
Sex, Art, and Censorship: Chris Ofili’s Black Madonna and David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly


A18-110 Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society Group
Theme: Asian North American “Conservative” Christian Communities, Masculinities, and Gender Issues
Sunday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Michael Sepidoza Campos, Graduate Theological Union, Presiding
(Topics include the experience of a trans-male in a Korean American Christian community in New York, and the activism of conservative Asian Americans in opposing LGBTQI rights in America.)
Steve B. Hu, University of California, Santa Barbara
Mark Chung Hearn, Azusa Pacific University
Sung Won Park, Union Theological Seminary
Justin K.H. Tse, University of British Columbia
Patrick S. Cheng, Episcopal Divinity School

Grace Yia-Hei Kao, Claremont School of Theology


S18-141: Reading, Theory, and the Bible. Theme: Affect Theory and Biblical Interpretation
Joint Session With: Reading, Theory, and the Bible, Bible and Cultural Studies
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Panelists include:
Alexis G. Waller, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
The Thunder: Perfect Mind as a queer approach to trauma
(Looks at shifting gendered self-characterizations in a Nag Hammadi text)


S18-240: Postcolonial Studies and Biblical Studies. Theme: Postcolonial Theory in Dialogue
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Panelists include:
Stephen D. Moore, The Theological School, Drew University
Does the Empire of Heaven Run on Roman Time? Postcoloniality, Queer Temporality, and Matthew’s Canaanite Woman


A18-208: Religion in South Asia Section
Theme: Re-figuring Bodies That Matter: Sex, Gender, and Alternative Bodily Identities in South Asian Traditions
Sunday - 1:00 PM-2:30 PM
Vasudha Narayanan, University of Florida, Presiding
(Panelists engage the queer theories of Judith Butler)
Panelists include:
Barbara A. Holdrege, University of California, Santa Barbara
Alternative Bodily Identities in Gaudiya Vaishnava Discourse: From Karmically Constructed Sexed Bodies to Eternally Gendered Nonmaterial Bodies

Anya Pokazanyeva, University of California, Santa Barbara
Sexed Voices, Gendered Bodies: Constructions of the Feminine Subject in Bhakti Poetry

Harshita Mruthinti Kamath, Emory University
Paris is Burning, Gender is Burning: The Drag Performer versus the Kuchipudi Female Impersonator
(Female impersonation is done by brahmin male Kuchipudi dancers in South India)

Elaine Craddock, Southwestern University
Altered Bodies and Alternative Lives: Tirunangai Communities in Tamilnadu (Tirunangais are Tamil male-to-female transgender people.)


A18-282 World Christianity Group
Theme: Sex, Gender, Society, Faith: Homosexualities in World Christianity
Sunday - 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Jane Redmont, Guilford College, Presiding

Min-Ah Cho, St. Catherine University
The Other Side of Their Zeal: Evangelical Nationalism and Anticommunism in the Korean Christian Fundamentalist Antigay Movement Since the 1990s

Adriaan van Klinken, University of London
The Homosexual as the Antithesis of “Biblical Manhood”? Queer(y)ing a Zambian Pentecostal Discourse


A18-272 Religion and Cities Group and Religion, Film, and Visual Culture Group
Theme: Roots in the Concrete: Urban Tales of Redemption, Hybridity and Family
Sunday - 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Panelists include:
Julie Hawks, University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Constellations of Redemption in the Inner City in Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers
(Analysis of Japanese anime film about a homeless transvestite who finds a baby on Christmas Eve)


A18-276: Ritual Studies Group
Theme: Performed Ritual Expression: The Ethnographic Study of Art, Prayer, and Song
Sunday - 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Panelists include:
Avvia Goldberg, York University
Reimagining Ritual: Examining Ritual through a Jewish Queer Lens

A18-279: Sociology of Religion Group
Theme: Sociology of Public Religion: A Global Perspective
Sunday - 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Panelists include:
Helene Slessarev-Jamir, Claremont Lincoln University and Claremont School of Theology
A Cross National Analysis of Religion’s Role in Legislative Debates over Gay Marriage


A18-321 Gay Men and Religion Group
Theme: The Borders of Queer Religion
Sunday - 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Jared Vazquez, University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology, Presiding
Justin Tanis, Graduate Theological Union
David Wojnarowicz: Outsider Theologian
(Wojnarowicz was a gay artist and AIDS activist.)

Jennifer Loh, School of Oriental and African Studies
Spiritual Practices Among the Hijras of India: Amalgamating Traditions

Elizabeth Perez, Dartmouth College
A 'Trans' Formation of Religious Experience: Transgender and Transsexual Subjects of Afro-Atlantic Traditions

Peter Savastano, Seton Hall University


A18-315: Buddhist Critical-Constructive Reflection Group and Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection Group
Theme: Buddhists Shifting Gender Paradigms through Teaching, Chanting, and Transcending
Sunday - 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Panelists include:
Barbara Sullivan, University of Queensland
Women Dharma Teachers in the West
(She interviewed 20 women dharma teachers, including lesbian and transgendered.)

Hsiao-Lan Hu, University of Detroit, Mercy
Queering Avalokitesvara: From the Thirty-Three Forms in the Lotus Sutra to Minority Identities in Today's World
(Avalokitesvara is also known as Kuan Yin)


A18-336: Beyond the Boundaries
Theme: Religion and Politics
Sunday - 6:00 PM-8:00 PM
Panelists include:
Jermaine McDonald, Emory University
President Obama, Historically Black Churches, and Public Discourse about Same-Sex Marriage


A18-402 Arts Series: Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible
Sunday - 8:00 PM-10:00 PM
Joseph Marchal, Ball State University, Presiding
Theatrical performance followed by cross-disciplinary conversation.
Peterson Toscano, Performance Artist and Guest
Deborah Haynes, University of Colorado
Erin Runions, Pomona College
Lou Ruprecht, Georgia State University
Sharon Fennema, Harvard University
Ken Stone, Chicago Theological Seminary
Peterson Toscano, Performance Artist and Guest

Monday, Nov. 19

S19-128: LGBT/Queer Hermeneutics
Theme: Drag, Performance, and Biblical Traditions

9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
David Stewart, California State University, Long Beach, Presiding
M Adryael Tong, Yale Divinity School
"Dude Looks Like A Lady": Queering Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9

Susan E. Haddox, University of Mount Union
The Queenmakers: Gender Performance in the Prophets

Making Perfect Men: Isaiah 56:3-5 Through Torah as an Anti-Queer Text
Joseph A. Marchal, Ball State University
Female Masculinity in Corinth?: Drag Kings, Laggings, and Imitations

Lynn Huber, Elon University, Respondent


A19-127 Men, Masculinities, and Religions Group
Theme: Rethinking Hegemonic Masculinities after Twenty-five Years
Monday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Panelists include:
Amy Chaney, Syracuse University
Fragmented Hegemonies: Recovering Arab Masculinities
(She draws from Sara Ahmed’s book Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others to discuss the Arab male body.)

A19-227 Queer Studies in Religion Group and Transformative Scholarship
and Pedagogy Group
Theme: Vanguard Revisited: A Transformative Theology for/with/by LGBTQ Homeless Youth in the 1960s and Today
Monday - 1:00 PM-3:30 PM
Panelist: Megan Rohrer, Pacific School of Religion


S19-221: Gender, Sexuality, and the Bible
Theme: Methods and Afterlives
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Panelists include:
Heather R. White, New College of Florida
The Sexologist’s Bible: Homosexual Acts and Sexual Identities in the Science of Biblical Interpretation


S19-246: Women in the Biblical World
Theme: Bible Trouble: Queer Reading at the Boundaries of Biblical Scholarship
(book edited by Teresa J. Hornsby and Ken Stone; Semeia Series; SBL August 2011)
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Luis Menendez, Vanderbilt University, Presiding
Hal Taussig, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York
Jennifer Knust, Boston University
Gail Streete, Rhodes College
Kent Brintnall, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Ellen Armour, Vanderbilt University
Teresa Hornsby, Drury University, Respondent


A19-207 Religion and Ecology Group
Theme: Religion, Ecology, and the Body: Inscribing and Enacting Eco-Imaginings
Monday - 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Panelists include:
Jacob Erickson, Drew University
Indecent Ecologies: Karen Barad, Naturecultural Performativity, and Queer Ecotheology


A19-224 Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection Group
Theme: Feminist Theory on Disability, Trauma and Vulnerability
Monday - 1:00 PM-3:30 PM
Panelists include:
Lisa Powell, St. Ambrose University
The Infertile Womb of God: Ableism and the Doctrine of God
(She challenges ideas about Mother God with feminist and queer theory.)

A19-311 Special Topics Forum
Theme: Mentoring Across Sexualities and Genders
Monday - 4:00 PM-6:30 PM
Horace Griffin, Pacific School of Religion, Presiding
Cameron Partridge, Harvard University
Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology
Thelathia Young, Bucknell University
Patrick Cheng, Episcopal Divinity School
Mary Hunt, Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual
Alice Hunt, Chicago Theological Seminary
Laurel Schneider, Chicago Theological Seminary

Tuesday, Nov. 20

A20-118 Gay Men and Religion Group and Lesbian-Feminist Issues and Religion Group
Theme: (Un)holy Bullies in LGBTQ Lives
Tuesday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, University Denver and Iliff School of Theology, Presiding

Benjamin Lindquist, Yale University
Touch and the Ex-Gay Movement

Carolyn Davis, Vanderbilt University
Bullying as Christian Practice? Homophobic Harassment and Christian Speech

Mauricio Najarro, Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology
"Your Son, Your Only One, Whom You Love": Sacrifice, Idolatry, and Reproductive Futurism

Jeanine Viau, Loyola University, Chicago
Does It Get Better? Considering the “Capacity to Persevere in a (Queer and) Livable Life”

Kate Ott, Drew University


A20-128 Paul Tillich: Issues in Theology, Religion, and Culture Group.  Theme: The Radical Tillich
Tuesday - 9:00 AM-11:30 AM
Panelists include:
Christopher Rodkey, Lebanon Valley College and Pennsylvania State University, York
Pirating Paul Tillich, the Patriarch with Good Ideas: Mary Daly and the Radical Tillich
(Mary Daly is a lesbian philosopher.)


If you appreciate this list, please donate to support my work at Jesus in Love.

Last year a couple of readers asked Are the AAR-SBL presentations available in any way to people who can't attend?

The panels are usually not recorded or available in printed form, but abstracts of some of the papers are online now. Visit the AAR and SLB links below, go to the online program books and start searching. You can also try contacting the speakers directly.

For more info, visit:

Meeting events list from AAR Status of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer Persons in the Profession

American Academy of Religion

Society of Biblical Literature

Here’s another resource for those who want to follow the latest research and scholarship of various LGBT theologians (and others).

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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Allen Schindler: Gay martyr in the military

The Murder of Allen Schindler by Matthew Wettlaufer

Allen Schindler (1969-1992) brought international attention to anti-gay hate crimes and gays in the military when he died on this date (Oct. 27) in 1992.

Maybe Allen Schindler is resting more peacefully now that the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy against gays and lesbians in the military ended on Sept. 20, 2011.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Allen Schindler: LGBTQ role the military highlighted by murder of gay sailor

Today also happens to be Navy Day in the United States. Remembering the service of Allen Schindler is a fitting way to mark the day.

Allen R. Schindler, Jr.
Schindler was a U.S. naval petty officer who was brutally beaten to death because he was gay by two of his shipmates in a public restroom in Sasebo, Japan. Schindler’s murder was cited by President Bill Clinton and others in the debate about gays in the military that culminated in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The crime is portrayed in an epic painting by gay artist Matthew Wettlaufer, who makes connections between anti-gay violence and other human rights struggles in his art.

At first the Navy tried to cover up the circumstances of Schindler’s death. The movie “Any Mother’s Son” tells the true story of how his mother, Dorothy Hadjys-Holman, overcame her own homophobia and Naval cover-up attempts to get justice for her gay son. She also spoke at the 1993 March on Washington for LGBT Rights.

Wettlaufer discusses his painting of Schindler and his other gay-related political art in my previous post “New paintings honor gay martyrs.”

Related link:

American Veterans for Equal Rights
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved. presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Artist paints portrait of Kittredge Cherry, lesbian Christian author

Kittredge Cherry is delighted to receive her new portrait on her birthday. (Photo by Audrey)

A portrait of lesbian activist, author and art historian Kittredge Cherry has been painted by Angela Yarber for her “Holy Women Icons” series.

Yes, it’s me! My life partner Audrey commissioned the portrait in honor of my birthday this month. I am pictured with rainbows and this message in my heart:

Body grounded,
her heart dances the passionate
love of God
in queer harmonies
untethered and free...

“Kittredge Cherry” by Angela Yarber,  2012
Acrylic on canvas, 11x14 inches

I love the beautiful way that Angela captured my spirit in words and images with vibrant rainbow energy. It’s an honor to be included in her “Holy Women Icons” series with great lesbians of history as well as goddesses and historical, Biblical, literary and mythological women. She uses a colorful, expressive style to portray holy women from Sappho and Sophia, from Mary the mother of Jesus to lesbian philosopher Mary Daly. What a gift to be among them!  My heart overflows with gratitude.

The portrait wasn’t a surprise present. Part of the gift was collaborating with Angela in the creative process. I helped write the text and choose the rainbow imagery.  One of her first questions to me was “Are there particular colors that are meaningful for you?”

The first “color” that came to mind was a rainbow. The reason was threefold: 1) The rainbow symbolizes the LGBT community, where I have done all my ministry, and affirms my identity as a lesbian who has been in love with the same woman for 37 years. 2) One of my most important healing practices is doing meditations in which I visualize balancing the colors of the rainbow within my body's energy centers (chakras). 3) The rainbow represents God's covenant with humanity in the Bible.

I was delighted by Yarber’s Holy Women Icons when I discovered them last year. I began to dream of having Yarber paint my portrait when I interviewed her for the article Artist paints holy lesbians and other women.

Somehow when I saw her holy women icons I had a feeling that she could portray a loving, dancing essence of me that is not usually visible. Yarber and I are both lesbian ministers, although I am a retired MCC clergy and she is a pastor at a Baptist church in North Carolina. We both studied at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, although I was long gone by the time she got there. For my full bio, click here.

Angela sees her art as a “redemptive act” because it highlights people whose stories are rarely heard and affirms their alternative forms of holiness. Vibrantly alive and life-giving women dance through her paintings. Now I am one of them!  Thanks, Audrey and Angela!

Related link:

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.

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

Friday, October 12, 2012

Matthew Shepard: Modern gay martyr and hate-crime victim

Matthew Shepard brought international attention to anti-gay hate crimes when he died on Oct. 12, 1998. He was a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming at the time.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Matthew Shepard: Modern gay martyr and hate-crime victim

Shepard (1976-1998) was brutally attacked near Laramie, Wyoming, on Oct. 6-7, 1998 by two men who later claimed that they were driven temporarily insane by “gay panic” due to Shepard’s alleged sexual advances. Shepard was beaten and left to die.

Now the Matthew Shepard Foundation seeks to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance. U.S. President Obama signed "The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act" into law on Oct. 28, 2009. It broadens the federal hate-crimes law to cover violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Matthew Shepard” by Tobias Haller

Shepard has become a cultural icon, inspiring dozens and dozens of paintings, films, plays, songs and other artistic works -- with more still being created every year. Among the new images is a sweet portrait of him with a rainbow halo by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He is the author of “Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality.” Haller enjoys expanding the diversity of icons available by creating icons of LGBTQ people and other progressive holy figures as well as traditional saints. He and his spouse were united in a church wedding more than 30 years ago and a civil ceremony after same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

Shepard’s martyrdom gives him the aura of a Christ figure. His torturous death evokes the Good Shepherd who was crucified. The officer who found Shepard said that he was covered with blood -- except for the white streaks left by his tears. Based on this report, Father William Hart McNichols created the striking icon at the top of this post. McNichols dedicated his icon The Passion of Matthew Shepard to the 1,470 gay and lesbian youth of commit suicide in the U.S. each year, and to the countless others who are injured or murdered.

McNichols is a New Mexico artist and Catholic priest who has been rebuked by church leaders for making icons of saints not approved by the church, including one of Matthew Shepard. McNichols’ own moving spiritual journey and two of his icons are included in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry. His Matthew Shepard icon appears in his book “Christ All Merciful,” which he co-authored with Megan McKenna.

Another new project inspired by Shepard is “Matthew Shepard Meets Coyote,” a play that blends Christianity, queer experience and Native American folklore. In the final moments of Shepard’s life he encounters Coyote, the trickster god of the American West, who urges him to move beyond the cruel tricks that life has played on him. It was written by Harry Cronin, a priest of Holy Cross and professor in residence at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. In 2014 it was performed at the San Francisco Fringe Festival and at Bay Area churches as a way to spark dialogue. Cronin currently writes plays about redemption in alcoholic and queer experiences.

Several works were released in 2013 for the 15th anniversary of Shepard’s death.  They include the musical tribute “Beyond the Fence,” the film “Matt Shepard was a Friend of Mine” and the book “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard.”

"Matthew Shepard: Beyond the Fence," a musical tribute celebrating a life that helped change the world, premiered in October 2013 in a production by the South Coast Singers, a LGBTQ performance troupe in Long Beach, California. Written by SCC creative director Steve Davison, it incorporates existing music by gay composers Levi Kreis, Ryan Amador and Randi Driscoll.

The documentary film “Matt Shepard was a Friend of Mine” is directed by Michele Josue, who indeed was a close friend of Shepard. She takes a personal approach, exploring his life and loss by visiting places that were important to him and interviewing his friends and family. View the trailer below or at this link.

Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine: Teaser #2 from Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine on Vimeo.

Award-winning gay Journalist Stephen Jimenez does extensive research into the circumstances of the crime in “The Book of Matt.” He finds that Shepard was not killed for being gay, but for reasons far more complicated.

Other books about Shepard include “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son's Murder in Laramie” and “A World Transformed” by his mother (Judy Shepard) and “October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard” by Lesléa Newman, a novel in verse about the murder.

“Saint Sebastian and Matt Shepard Juxtaposed” by JR Leveroni

“Saint Sebastian and Matt Shepard Juxtaposed” by JR Leveroni is a painting that makes an important connection between a gay Christian martyr from history and the gay victims of hate crimes today. Leveroni is an emerging visual artist living in South Florida. Painting in a Cubist style, he matches Shepard’s death with the killing of another gay martyr, Saint Sebastian. The suffering is expressed in a subdued style with barely a trace of blood. A variety of male nudes and religious paintings can be seen on his website (warning: male nudity).

“The Murder of Matthew Shepard” by Matthew Wettlaufer

The grim scene of Matthew’s death is vividly portrayed in “The Murder of Matthew Shepard,” above, by gay artist-philosopher Matthew Wettlaufer. He lived in El Salvador and South Africa before returning to California. For an interview with Wettlaufer and more of his art, see my previous post “New paintings honor gay martyrs.”

“The Last of Laramie” by Stephen Mead
Above is a lyrical painting dedicated to Matthew Shepard: “The Last of Laramie” by gay artist Stephen Mead.of New York. It appears in his book “Our Book of Common Faith.” For more about Mead and his art, see my previous post “Gay Artist Links Body and Spirit.”

"The Candlelight Vigil for Matthew Shepard (NYC Oct. 19, 1998)” by Sandow Birk

California artist Sandow Birk painted a candlelight vigil for Shepard. With a drummer and a rainbow flag, it seems to echo “The Spirit of 76,” a famous patriotic painting of Revolutionary War figures by Archibald MacNeal Willard. But it is based on the 1889 painting (“The Conscripts” by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, a work that takes a hard look at the toll of war, especially the conscription of young people into the military during the Franco-Prussian War.

For more about Sandow Birk’s art, see my previous post Stonewall's LGBT history painted: Interview with Sandow Birk.

The play “The Laramie Project” by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project has been performed all over the world since it premiered in 1998. Many American performances were picketed by Westboro Baptist Church members, who appear in the play picketing Shepard’s funeral as they did in real life. “The Laramie Project” draws on hundreds of interviews with residents of Laramie conducted by the theater company. A film version of The Laramie Project was released in 2002.

Matthew’s story has also been dramatized in biopic movies such as “The Matthew Shepard Story” with Sam Waterson and Stockard Channing as the grieving parents.

More than a 30 songs inspired by Matthew Shepard are listed in “Cultural Depictions of Matthew Shepard” at Wikipedia. They come from a variety of singers, including Melissa Etheridge, Janis Ian, and Elton John.

The Altar Cross of LGBTQ Martyrs from Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco

The Altar Cross of LGBTQ Martyrs from Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco features photos of Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, Gwen Araujo and others. In the center of the cross is the fence where Shepard was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming.

The tendency to acclaim Shepard as a martyr is analyzed in a scholarly paper that won the 2014-15 LGBT Religious History Award from the LGBT Religious Archives Network. “The Martyrdom of Matthew Shepard” was written by Brett Krutzsch, religion professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio. It is an excerpt from his Ph.D dissertation, “Martyrdom and American Gay History: Secular Advocacy, Christian Ideas, and Gay Assimilation,” which examines how religious rhetoric and gay martyr discourses facilitated American gay assimilation from the 1970s through 2014. He finds that secular gay advocates invoked Shepard as a gay martyr, using Christian ideas to present gay Americans as similar to the dominant culture. He questions the politics of martyrdom and analyzes why the deaths of a few white, middle-class, gay men have been mourned as national tragedies.

The award announcement explains: “The paper argues that Shepard’s appeal was connected to constructions of him as Christ-like and as an upstanding young, Christian man. His posthumous notoriety reveals a historical moment when Christian ideas significantly shaped arguments for American gay social integration. In turn, Matthew Shepard became an icon of the apparently ideal late twentieth-century gay citizen: a white, nonsexual, practicing Protestant.”

Related links:
Cultural Depictions of Matthew Shepard (Wikipedia)

Top image credit: “The Passion of Matthew Shepard” by William Hart McNichols

This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved. presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Cardinal Newman and Ambrose St. John: Gay saint and his "earthly light" share romantic friendship

John Henry Newman, a renowned scholar-priest and Britain’s most famous 19th-century convert to Catholicism, was beatified in 2010 amid rampant speculation that he was gay. Newman’s feast day is today (Aug. 11) in the Anglican church and Oct. 9 in the Catholic church.

For a new version of this article, click this link to Blessed John Henry Newman and Ambrose St. John: Gay saint and his "earthly light" share romantic friendship Newman and another priest, Ambrose St. John, lived together for 32 years and share the same grave. Some say they shared a “romantic friendship” or “communitarian life.” It seems likely that both men had a homosexual orientation while abstaining from sex. Newman described St. John as “my earthly light.” The men were inseparable.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Blessed John Henry Newman and Ambrose St. John: Gay saint and his "earthly light" share romantic friendship

“Blessed Cardinal
John Henry Newman:
Lead Kindly Light”
by William Hart McNichols ©
Newman (Feb. 21, 1801 - Aug. 11, 1890) is considered by many to be the greatest Catholic thinker from the English-speaking world. He was born in London and ordained as an Anglican priest. He became a leader in the Oxford Movement, which aimed to return the Church of England to many Catholic traditions. On Oct. 9, 1845 he converted to Catholicism. He had to give up his post as an Oxford professor due to his conversion, but eventually he rose to the rank of cardinal.

Ambrose Saint John (1815 -1875) apparently met Newman in 1841. They lived together for 32 years, starting in 1843. St. John was about 14 years younger than Newman. He compared their meeting to a Biblical same-sex couple, Ruth and Naomi.  In Newman’s own words, St. John “came to me as Ruth came to Naomi” during the difficult years right before he left the Anglican church.

After converting together to Catholicism, they studied together in Rome, where they were ordained priests at the same time. When St. John was confirmed in the Catholic faith, he asked if he could take a vow of obedience to Newman, but the request was refused. Newman recalled their early years in this way:

“From the first he loved me with an intensity of love, which was unaccountable. At Rome 28 years ago he was always so working for and relieving me of all trouble, that being young and Saxon-looking, the Romans called him my Angel Guardian.”

Portrait of John Henry Newman, right, and Ambrose Saint John by Maria Giberne, 1847

A portrait of Newman and St. John together in Rome was painted by Maria Giberne, an amateur artist and a lifelong friend of the Newman family who followed him into the Catholic church. She painted the couple sitting together with their books in one of their rooms at the Propaganda College in Rome on June 9, 1847. Standing between them is Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, who appears to be blessing and watching over the priests who loved each other.

St. John, a scholar and linguist in his own right, helped Newman with his scholarship and shared other aspects of daily life as if they were a couple in a same-sex marriage. John Cornwell, author of Newman's Unquiet Grave: The Reluctant Saint, told National Public Radio that St. John’s support for Newman included “even doing things like packing his bags before he went away, making sure he was taking his medicine, making sure he kept dental appointments, that sort of thing. So it was almost like a wife, but without the marital bed.”

They lived together until St. John died on May 24, 1875. He was only about 60 years old. According to a memorial letter written by Newman himself, St. John died of a stroke that “arose from his overwork in translating Fessler, which he did for me to back up my letter to the Duke of Norfolk.” Newman needed a translation of the German theologian Joseph Fessler's important book in the wake of the First Vatican Council.

In the memorial letter Newman goes on to describe their dramatic last moments together, including how St. John clung to him closely on the bed and clasped his hand tightly. Newman, unaware that his beloved companion was dying, asked others to unlock his fingers before saying the goodbye that turned out to be their last.

Newman was heartbroken by the loss of his beloved partner. “I have always thought no bereavement was equal to that of a husband’s or wife’s, but I feel it difficult to believe that anyone’s sorrow can be greater than mine,” Newman wrote.

He insisted three different times that he be buried in the same grave with St. John: “I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Father Ambrose St. John’s grave -- and I give this as my last, my imperative will,” he wrote, later adding: “This I confirm and insist on.”

John Henry Newman, left, and Ambrose St. John

Newman died of pneumonia on Aug. 11, 1890 at age 89. According to his express wishes, he was buried with St. John. The shroud over his coffin bore his personal coat of arms with the Latin motto, “Cor ad cor loquitur” (Heart speaks to heart), which he adopted when he became cardinal. Their joint memorial stone is inscribed with a Latin motto chosen by Newman: “Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem.”(Out of the shadows and reflections into the truth.”) They share a small grave site in the central English town of Rednal.

John Henry Newman’s coat of arms with the motto “heart speaks to heart” (Wikimedia Commons)

During the beatification process, the Vatican tried to violate Newman’s desire to be buried with his beloved companion. Vatican officials hoped to excavate and move his remains to a specially built sarcophagus in Birmingham in preparation for his beatification. Controversy arose as some LGBT activists saw the decision to disturb the shared grave as an attempt to separate them and cover up the queer side of Newman’s life. However when the grave was opened in 2008, the remains had completely decomposed, leaving nothing that could be separated.

“John Henry Newman”
by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. ©
Newman’s legacy is wide-ranging. Because Newman was an excellent scholar, Catholic centers on U.S. college campuses are named after him. Newman tells his own story in his acclaimed spiritual autobiography, Apologia pro Vita Sua . He is known for writing the poem “The Dream of Gerontius” and the popular hymn “Lead, Kindly Light.”

His theology of friendship and his emphasis on conscience are both significant for LGBT people and allies. Although the Catholic church tends to frown on special friendships among priests, nuns or monks, Newman taught, “The love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men.” He preached, “The best preparation for loving the world at large, and loving it duly and wisely, is to cultivate our intimate friendship and affection towards those who are immediately about us.”

Terence Weldon at Queering the Church explains how Newman’s teaching on conscience laid the groundwork for LGBT Christians today. “As a theologian, Cardinal Newman played an important role in developing the modern formulation of the primacy of conscience, which is of fundamental importance to LGBT Catholics who reject in good conscience the standard teaching on sexuality – or the high proportion of heterosexual couples who reject ‘Humanae Vitae,’” Weldon writes.

This post is illustrated with icons of Newman by Robert Lentz and William McNichols. Both artists faced controversy for their alternative and LGBT-affirming images.

Newman is honored by Catholics on Oct. 9, the anniversary of his 1845 conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism. Naturally Anglicans chose a different date for Newman’s feast day -- the anniversary of his death on Aug. 11.

With beatification, Blessed Newman is now only one step away from official sainthood. He is already a saint in the hearts of many, including the LGBT people who are inspired by his life and love.

His name is invoked in an official Catholic prayer:

O God, who bestowed on the Priest Blessed John Henry Newman
the grace to follow your kindly light and find peace in your Church;
graciously grant that, through his intercession and example,
we may be led out of shadows and images
into the fulness of your truth.

Author’s note: I decided to write this comprehensive piece about the love between Newman and St. John when I discovered that it had not been done yet on the Internet from a LGBT-positive viewpoint. I was one of many bloggers on both sides who wrote about whether Newman was gay at the time of his beatification, citing a few facts. I thought I would just do a quick update to focus on his achievements and his relationship with St. John.

But as I got into the research, I was surprised both by how compelling their love story is, and how hard it was to find an overview of their relationship on the Internet. Details of their deep love for each other are available on the Web, but mostly on websites that aim to prove they were not homosexual. It’s odd how they end up supporting the very point that they are trying to discredit. So I put it all together from a queer point of view.

Related links:
Was Cardinal John Henry Newman Gay? (NPR)

Was a would-be saint gay? (

Cardinal John Henry Newman and Father Ambrose St John (Idle Speculations Blog) (with extensive quotes from Newman’s writing about St. John)

Reflections on the Life and Legacy of John Henry Newman (Wild Reed)

Author interview: "Queer Martyrdom from John Henry Newman to Derek Jarman" by Dominic Janes (Jesus in Love)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Beato John Henry Newman y Ambrose St. John: Un santo gay y su "luz terrenal" comparten una amistad romántica

To read this post in Italian, go to:
Il beato John Henry Newman e Ambrose St. John, la sua “luce sulla terra” (

Top photo credit:
A rare photo of John Henry Newman and Ambrose Saint John together

This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved. presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Icons of John Henry Newman and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at

Monday, October 08, 2012

Two-spirit Native Americans bridge genders on Columbus Day

Almost all Native American tribes traditionally recognized “two-spirit” people of mixed gender. Sometimes they played a spiritual role.  They appear as sacred figures in Native American rituals and myths. Two-spirit Native Americans are honored today for Columbus Day, when European explorer Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas on Oct. 12, 1492.

Before Columbus arrived, most Native American societies valued people who mixed male and female roles or characteristics.  Their languages had words for third and sometimes even fourth genders. “Two spirit” is one of the many and varied Native American terms for alternative genders because one body housed both feminine and masculine spirits. Sometimes they served as spiritual guides who mediated between the realms of body and spirit, male and female. From a Western cultural viewpoint, the two-spirited people have been seen as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or queer.

Contemporary artists have tried to re-envision the freedom of two-spirit people before the Europeans arrived. In the image above, Wisconsin artist Ryan Grant Long includes an unknown Mayan couple enjoying a playful moment together in his series “Fairy Tales” series of same-sex love throughout history. For more info, see my article Artist paints history’s gay couples: Interview with Ryan Grant Long.

“Employments of the Hermaphrodites,” engraving based on a watercolor by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)

The earliest known European depictions of Native Americans include two-spirit people. “Employments of the Hermaphrodites” is based on a watercolor made by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues while exploring Florida in the 1560s. It illustrates his report that two-spirit people’s duties included caring for the sick and carrying the dead on stretchers.

Two-spirit people were not only accepted in many Native American societies, but also appear as sacred figures in Native American sacred rituals and mythology. For example the Zuni have a two-spirit god called Ko'lhamana, and Hopi and Acoma-Laguna myths tell about a whole tribe of two-spirit people called the Storoka.

“Dance to the Berdache” by George Catlin (Wikipedia)

George Catlin, famous artist who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West, sketched the “Dance to the Berdache” in the 19th century while on the Great Plains with the Sac and Fox Nation. He depicted a ceremonial dance to celebrate the Berdache, a European term for two-spirit people. But Catlin refused to give two-spirit people a place in his paintings of “traditional” Indian life.

“Jesus and the Beloved Disciple” by John Giuliani, 1996

While Europeans were mostly hostile to two-spirit people among the Native Americans whom they converted to Christianity, a contemporary icon offers hope of reconciliation by showing holy same-sex love with both Christian and Native American imagery. For example, John Giuliani's “Jesus and the Beloved Disciple” shows Jesus and his male beloved in the native dress of the Aymara Indians, descendants of the Incas who still live in the Andean regions of Chile, Peru and Bolivia. Giuliani is an Italian-American artist and Catholic priest who is known for making Christian icons with Native American symbols. He studied icon painting under a master in the Russian Orthodox style, but chose to expand the concept of holiness to include Native Americans, the original inhabitants of the Americas.

“Warharmi and Madkwahomai” by Brandon Buehring

Artist Brandon Buehring included several two-spirit groupings in his “Legendary Love: A Queer History Project.” In one sketch he portrays Warharmi, a “half-man, half-woman” and twins named Madkwahomai from the creaton myth of the Tipai tribe of the Kumeyaay people in California’s Imperial Valley.

Buehring uses pencil sketches and essays “to remind queer people and our allies of our sacred birthright as healers, educators, truth-tellers, spiritual leaders, warriors and artists.” The project features 20 sketches of queer historical and mythological figures from many cultures around the world. He has a M.Ed. degree in counseling with an LGBT emphasis from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He works in higher education administration as well as being a freelance illustrator based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Executions for homosexuality were common in Europe for centuries, and Europeans soon imported homophobic violence to the Americas. For example, the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa found homosexuality among the Native American chiefs in 1594 at Quarqua in Panama. He ordered 40 of these two-spirited people thrown to his war dogs to be torn apart and eaten alive to stop the “stinking abomination.”

Balboa executing two-spirit Native Americans for homosexuality in 1513 in Panama -- engraving by Théodore De Bry, 1594 (Wikimedia Commons).  

Despite the violence, some two-spirit individuals are still remembered in history and contemporary art. They include We’wha of Zuni and the Woman Chief known as Pine Leaf. Their portraits and stories are posted for Columbus Day on the Jesus in Love Blog.

“We’wha of Zuni” by Br. Robert Lentz OFM,

We’wha of Zuni

We’wha was a two-spirit Native American Zuni who served as a cultural ambassador for her people, including a visit with a U.S. president in 1886. We’wha (pronounced WAY-wah) was the most famous “lhamana,” the Zuni term for a male-bodied person who lived in part as a woman. Lhamanas chose to specialize in crafts instead of becoming warriors or hunters.

We’wha (1849-1896) was a skilled weaver and potter who helped Anglo-American scholars studying Zuni society. In 1886 We’wha traveled from her home in New Mexico to Washington DC, where she met president Grover Cleveland. She was welcomed as a celebrity during her six months in Washington. Everyone assumed that the 6-foot-tall “Indian princess” was female.

The spiritual side of We’wha is emphasized in the above icon by Brother Robert Lentz, is a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons. She is dressed for a religious ceremony as she prepares to put on the sacred mask of the man-woman spirit Kolhamana.

We’wha is the subject of the book “The Zuni Man-Woman” by gay anthropologist Will Roscoe. He also wrote “Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America” and “Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same-Sex Love.” Roscoe’s website offers resources in the Native American two-spirit tradition, third genders in the ancient world, and studies in early Christianity.

“We’wha” by Jim Ru

Jim Ru painted We’Wha with a dramatic blue background  His icon was included in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.  He discusses it in a video.

“Biawacheeitche or Woman Chief aka Barcheeampe or Pine Leaf” by Ria Brodell

Pine Leaf or Woman Chief

“Woman Chief” is one of the names for the two-spirit tomboy born around 1800 to the Gros Ventre tribe. She was captured by the Crow nation when she was 10 and was so adept at hunting and warfare that she rose to become their chief.

Historical accounts say that she wore women’s clothes but had “all the style of a man and chief,” with “her guns, bows, lances, war horses, and even two or three young women as wives.”

“Pine Leaf, Indian Heroine” from “The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth,” 1856 (Wikipedia)

She was killed in 1854 by the Gros Ventre tribe, but her story lived on in the popular memoirs of a freed slave and fur trader named James Beckwourth. He called her Pine Leaf because he refused his multiple marriage proposals by saying she would wed him “when the pine leaves turn yellow.” Later he figured out that pine leaves never turn yellow.

She is portrayed in the “Butch Heroes” series by genderqueer Boston artist Ria Brodell. For more on Brodell’s work, see my article “Artist paints history’s butch heroes.”
Related links:

Two Spirit People at the Legacy Walk

Kent Monkman (Canadian artist of Cree ancestry whose work has strong queer or gay male imagery dealing with sexuality and Christianity)

Top image credit: “Unknown Mayan Couple” by Ryan Grant Long

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, 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.

Icons of We’wha and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores