The Saints & Martyrs of Stonewall

Devotion to the saints is one of the most characteristic features of Catholic culture – but just who are the “saints”? The best known are those officially recognised by the church, those who have been formally canonized and listed in official guides by the Church. But it was not always so – in the early church, before it became an institutional industry (sometimes even a commercial enterprise) things were different: saints were recognized by popular acclamation.
In this month of LGBT Pride, worldwide, there has been a lot written about the events of the Stonewall rebellion in June 1969, events that led to the first gay liberation marches the following year, and to countless more Pride Parades, in an expanding list of locations, ever since. Can we think of those Stonewall heroes as “saints”? Kittredge Cherry thinks we can, and has written about them for her LGBT Saints and Martyrs series at “Jesus in Love” Blog.

There are many forms of sainthood, and Kitt is right to include as saints more than just those formally recognised by the institutional church. Often linked to “saints” is the word “martyrs”, from the Greek “to bear witness”. It is in this sense, that we can think of the Stonewall heroes not only as saints, but also as “martyrs”, those who bore witness to the truth. So it is too, that we are all called to “martyrdom” at Pride, to bear witness to out own truth. “Speak the Truth in Love” is the instruction from Scripture, and even from the Vatican in its infamous Hallowe’en letter. “Speaking the Truth” can also mean, quite simply, joining a Pride Parade as a religious act.

I like to think of saints in terms of the lessons they can offer us in our lives today, and in this there is another lesson we can take from the Stonewall martyrs: the importance of standing up against injustice. For them, it was the harassment of the police they were standing up to and resisting, against all expectations. For us, it is the harassment and unequal treatment meted out by the institutional church.

This is how Kitt introduces her post:

LGBT people fought back against police harassment 41 years ago today (June 28) at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, launching the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender liberation movement.

The Stonewall Rebellion (aka Stonewall Riots) became known as the first time that LGBT people rebelled against government persecution of homosexuality. It is commemorated around the world during June as LGBT Pride Month.

The queer people who fought back at Stonewall are not saints in the usual sense. But they are honored here as “saints of Stonewall” because they had the guts to battle an unjust system. They do not represent religious faith — they stand for faith in ourselves as LGBT people. They performed the miracle of transforming self-hatred into pride. These “saints” began a process in which self-hating individuals were galvanized into a cohesive community. Their saintly courage inspired a justice movement that is still growing stronger after four decades.

Before Stonewall, police regularly raided gay bars, where customers submitted willingly to arrest. The Stonewall Inn catered to the poorest and most marginalized queer people: drag queens, transgenders, hustlers and homeless youth.

She concludes with a prayer for all saints:

I think of the saints of Stonewall as I pray this standard prayer for all saints:

God, May we who aspire to have part in their joy

be filled with the Spirit that blessed their lives. Amen.

(Read the full post at  “GLBT saints: The Saints of Stonewall“)

 

Gay Popes, Papal Sodomites

For the month of Gay Pride (in church), it would be great if we could simply celebrate a list of unambiguously gay popes – but we can’t. This is not because they don’t exist (there were undoubtedly several popes whom we know had physical relationships with men), but because of the inadequacies of language, and the weakness of the historical record over something so deeply personal, especially among the clergy. Both of these difficulties are exemplified by Mark Jordan’s use of the phrase, “Papal Sodomites”.  In medieval terms, a “sodomite” was one of utmost abuse, which meant far more than just the modern “homosexual”. It could also include, bestiality, or heresy, or withcraft, and (in England, after the Reformation) “popery”, which is deeply ironic, and hence treason.

So in the years before libel laws and carefully controlled democratic institutions, accusations of “sodomy” were a useful slander for the powerful to throw at their political enemies. Read the rest of this entry »

Gay Popes, Papal Sodomites

For the month of Gay Pride (in church), it would be great if we we could simply celebrate a list of unambiguously gay popes – but we can’t. This is not because they don’t exist (there were undoubtedly several popes whom we know had physical relationships with men), but because of the inadequacies of language, and the weakness of the historical record over something so deeply personal, especially among the clergy. Both of these difficulties are exemplified by Mark Jordan’s use of the phrase, “Papal Sodomites”.  In medieval terms, a “sodomite” was one of utmost abuse, which meant far more than just the modern “homosexual”. It could also include, bestiality, or heresy, or withcraft, and (in England, after the Reformation) “popery”, which is deeply ironic, and hence treason.

So in the years before libel laws and carefully controlled democratic institutions, accusations of “sodomy” were a useful slander for the powerful to throw at their political enemies. Read the rest of this entry »

RIP Anthony Grey, Pioneer Gay Activist

The struggle for equality has been a long one – it didn’t all begin with Stonewall. Our modern heroes have stood on the shoulders of giants. Here’s one of them:

From the Guardian:

Antony Grey, who has died aged 82, was arguably the most important British gay rights campaigner of the 20th century. He worked in the hostile environment of the 1950s and 60s to bring about the decriminalisation of male homosexual acts, enabling an open and active gay liberation movement to flourish. He campaigned for the overturn of the 1885 Labouchere amendment, the Victorian law known as “the blackmailer’s charter”, which criminalised homosexual activity, sent thousands of gay men to jail and left many more fearing for their liberty and safety.

His campaigns were controversial, not only among the establishment, but also upper-class gay men, who did not want him to rock the boat, and gay rights campaigners who were angered by the inadequacies of the 1967 decriminalisation. Grey acknowledged its weakness but favoured compromise on the path to legal equality.

(Read the full report)

Catechism, Inquisition – and Chocolate!

The Catechism can evoke strong feelings from many Catholics. Bill Lindsey responded to my recent post on the subject with a reflection of his own, primarily on the folly and error of claiming to know and follow “all” Catholic teaching. He also covers the well known path of discussing the many changes in Catholic teaching – but includes many changes that are not so well-known:

Forbidden?

Here are some extracts:

Read the rest of this entry »

In Memoriam: Fr Robert Carter, Priest and Gay Activist

“Since Jesus had table fellowship with social outcasts and sinners, those rejected by the religious establishment of his time, I consider myself to have been most fully a Jesuit, a ‘companion of Jesus,’ when I came out publicly as a gay man, one of the social rejects of my time. It was only by our coming out that society’s negative stereotypes would be overcome and we would gain social acceptance.”

-Fr Robert Carter

There is no contradiction between being Catholic and gay or lesbian. Indeed, just as Robert Carter says he was most fully a Jesuit when he cane out publicly, so for many of us, we are most fully Catholic when we too come out in Church.  (I say deliberately “for many of us”, as coming out is always a deeply personal decision, which may not always be feasible for all.)

Robert Carter, Priest and Gay Activist, Dies at 82

The Rev. Robert Carter, who in the early 1970s was one of the first Roman Catholic priests in the country to declare publicly that he was gay and who helped found the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, died on Feb. 22 in the Bronx. He was 82.

Robert Carter, right, with Dan McCarthy, left, Bernard Lynch and John McNeill at a gay pride march in the early 1980s

 

Read the rest of this entry »

Gays in Military History: Japanese Samurai

Now that DADT is finally under serious review, it is once again appropriate to consider how other military regimens deal or have dealt with their queer members – or aspirant members.

As I have noted before, across the EU this is simply not a question at issue. Gay men and lesbians serve routinely, just as any other servicemen and women. Here in the UK, every July some members routinely join the annual “London Pride” through the streets of London, either in uniform, in military squads, or as individuals in other groups of specific (non- military) interest. In South Africa, the constitution’s non-discrimination clause guarantees that sexual minorities should be able to serve on the same basis as anyone else. Last month, I was intrigued by this report from Peter Toscano, telling of a South African soldier who faced a gender identity issue by transitioning – and the military authorities provided a female officer as mentor and support to help her through the process.

In European history, gay soldiers were prominent in the Greek armies: notably in the Sacred Band of Thebes and its pairs of lovers (where only gay lovers were admitted), but also in other Greek fighting forces, where they were often crucial in creating or defending democracy.

Today, I want to discuss another renowned military culture with a strong homoerotic tradition – the Japanese shoguns and samurai.

 

A possibly gay soldier

Samurai and Shoguns

For centuries, love and sex between men have been recorded and celebrated at the highest levels of Japanese society, including several emperors, and have especially associated with the military establishment and with the monasteries. Read the rest of this entry »