The Story of Our Queer Saints & Martyrs (and others)

Ever since I started writing at Queering The Church, I have tried to share with you some information about our gay, lesbian and trans saints and martyrs, which I think is one of the great unknown stories of Church a and LGBT history. Ever since Stonewall, there has been a recognition that so much of the queer past has been hidden from history, with a great deal of work done to uncover this history and bring it into the light of day. In exactly the same way, and more dangerously, our history in the church has also been hidden. The pioneering work of scholars like John Boswell (and before him, Vern Bullough) has done a great deal to open this history up for exposure, but too often it remains buried in academic treatises which are valuable, but possibly inaccessible or intimidating to a general reader.

 

 

All Saints

 

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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“)