Thursday, November 27, 2014

LGBTIQ religion scholars meet at AAR-SBL: We’ve come a long way

Kittredge Cherry appreciates the official sign at the LGBTIQ Scholars Reception: "We're not outsiders anymore."

I was struck by how far the LGBT religious community has come in the last 20 years when I attended the American Academy of Religion / Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in San Diego last weekend.

It felt like witnessing the fruit of my generation’s tough activism, a glimpse of the Promised Land, when I attended the LGBTIQ Scholars Reception on Saturday night, Nov. 23.

We queer religious folk used to spend most of our energy just battling for a place at conferences. We were weighed down by oppression and consumed by the fight to exist. Now have some official status and can actually do the work we were called to do by creating, studying, and teaching about LGBT religious journeys. We are not total outsiders anymore.

For me personally the biggest thrill was meeting "old friends" for the first time. I got to meet face to face with many friends whom I have known online for years. We all found each other at the LGBTIQ Scholars Reception.

Kittredge Cherry was overjoyed to meet Patrick Cheng and Xochitl Alvizo for the first time after years of online collaboration

Collectively the queer group felt more liberated and even happier than in the old days. A new generation is doing great quality work. The shadow of the AIDS crisis is diminishing. There appeared to be an egalitarian ease between men, women and everyone else in the LGBTIQ alphabet.

I could see the progress clearly because the last time I was in the queer faction of a major religion conference was in 1995. In the early 1990s I advocated for LGBT religious rights at more than a dozen conferences, including the World Council of Churches, National Council of Churches NGLTF and various denominational conferences. It was part of my ministry as ecumenical director for Metropolitan Community Churches.

Although I have blogged about LGBT events at AAR for years, I never actually attended any of their meetings until now. The committee that sponsored our reception didn’t even exist until recently. The AAR Task Force on the Status of LGBTIQ Persons in the Profession was established in 2007. It official standing committee just two years ago in 2012.

I wondered what to expect as my life partner Audrey Lockwood and I searched for the reception room in the enormous San Diego Convention Center. The joint annual meeting is the largest gathering of biblical and religion scholars in the world with more than 11,000 attendees. But the cavernous convention center was mostly empty by 9 p.m. when the reception began.

I knew we were in the right place when I spotted a sign with a rainbow flag proclaiming, “LGBTIQ Scholars Reception.” It was beautifully printed, not like the handwritten signs we used to sneak onto the doors of our unauthorized queer gatherings 20 years ago. Today’s staff was respectful, not homophobic, and easily agreed to take a photo of Audrey and me with the sign.

We stepped inside and began finding faces that were familiar from Facebook photos. Right away we spotted Patrick Cheng, chair of the committee hosting the event and a huge supporter / co-conspirator in many queer-Christ projects for nearly a decade. For example, I published an early draft of his book “From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ” on the Jesus in Love Blog. What a joy to hug Patrick for the very first time!

“I feel like we’ve met before,” Patrick said – a sentiment that would be shared many times as I encountered “old friends” for the first time that night. Before the night was over a crowd of about 100 LGBTIQ scholars had gathered. I had first-time reunions with such luminaries as Robert Goss, Sharon Fennema, Cameron Partridge and Heather White.

Naturally I showed off my new book “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision.” I was happy to hear professors say that their students enjoyed my Jesus in Love Blog.

Audrey marveled that she had never met so many lesbian Ph.D.’s in her life. We soon learned a new vocabulary word: dissertating. “She’s still dissertating” was used often to refer to someone who was still working on a Ph.D. dissertation.

But these academics did not take themselves too seriously. Susannah Cornwall joked about the absurdly long title of the AAR panel where she spoke “Researching Sexuality and Religion: Cultivating Self-Reflexive Practices and Ethical Relationalities.” Susannah, author of the instant classic "Controversies in Queer Theology," came all the way from England for the AAR conference.

Susannah Cornwall gave a lei to Kittredge Cherry

Dressed in a three-piece grey suit with red buttonholes, Audrey quickly gravitated toward another dapper queer in a lavender-checkered bowtie. She was Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, who presented a paper on “Materializing Sex in the Borderland.” Her many writings on queer theology include a chapter in "New Frontiers in Latin American Borderlands." Soon Robyn and Audrey were swapping tips on queer-friendly clothiers. (Audrey recommends Sharpe Suiting.)

Audrey Lockwood, left, and Robyn Henderson-Espinoza were butch fashionistas

Making a dramatic entrance near the end was another big supporter of both Jesus in Love and my Spanish-language blog Santos Queer: Xochitl Alvizo. I instantly felt the warmth of her welcome. She gave a presentation at the conference about her work with radical lesbian feminist theologian Mary Daly. Xochitl is still “dissertating” at Boston University until 2015, but it was great to hear about the job opportunities available for tomorrow’s scholars. Her chapter on "Being Undone by the Other" appears in the new book "Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century."

Almost all the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer scholars at the reception were younger than I am. I feel proud to see a new generation building upon LGBT traditions as they create their own queer spiritual paths toward the future.

I close with a few more photos of the happy moments when I met my longtime friends in person for the first time.

AAR honored Robert Shore-Goss, left, for the 20-year anniversary of his groundbreaking book "Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto" in a special program on Monday. He came out as an eco-queer theologian and invited others to take climate change seriously. Bob and his husband, Joseph Shore-Goss (right), both minister at MCC in the Valley in North Hollywood.

Cameron Partridge, chaplain at Boston University, made history this summer as the first openly transgender priest to preach at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. It was a highlight in my personal history when we met for the first time after years of email friendship.

"I couldn't have done my work without you," Sharon Fennema told me when Audrey and I met her in person at last during AAR. She interviewed me by phone years ago for her dissertation about worship during the AIDS crisis in San Francisco. We also provided her with cassette tape recordings of worship services that I helped lead. Now they are considered historic. Today Sharon teaches worship at my alma mater Pacific School of Religion.

Heather White and I discussed resources related to her presentation on "Stonewall as Sacred History." She wrote a chapter on "Gay Rites and Religious Rights" in the new book "Queer Christianities: Lived Religion in Transgressive Forms."

This post is part of the Queer Christ series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others. More queer Christ images are compiled in my book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.

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

1 comment:

Xochitl said...

Kitt, this is a great report - I loved reading about all your various connections! Thank you for writing up this report - the pictures are great!