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

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Codebreaker Alan Turing honored in queer pilgrimage by artist Tony O'Connell

"Seven Bowls of Water for the Saint" from “Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Alan Turing” by Tony O’Connell

Alan Turing is a gay icon, pioneering computer scientist and wartime British codebreaker who is honored as a saint in new artwork by queer artist Tony O’Connell.

The artist made a photographic record of his recent trip to the Alan Turing Memorial in Manchester, England -- an act that served simultaneously as pilgrimage, performance art and political statement.

Turing’s life story is also told in the new movie “The Imitation Game,” which opens in the US on Nov. 21. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the eccentric genius who broke many codes.

Democratizing the idea of sacredness and reclaiming the holiness in ordinary life, especially in LGBT experience, are major themes in O'Connell's work. Based in Liverpool, O’Connell was raised in the Roman Catholic church, but has been a practicing Buddhist since 1995.

“For me Alan Turing is so important because his work shortened World War II (some believe by between two and four years) and by doing so he caused millions of lives -- on both sides -- to be saved,” O’Connell told the Jesus in Love Blog. He added that Turing “laid the groundwork for the modern computer industry and even artificial intelligence.”

He decided to add Turing to ongoing series of LGBT pilgrimages. Previous pilgrimages took him to the Harvey Milk Metro station in San Francisco Metro and New York City's Stonewall Inn.

“For the LGBT community the nature of his death, that he was driven to suicide by the homophobic legislation of the period not only speaks of a profound lack of government gratitude for his work but also of an enshrined homophobia which perceives a personal consensual relationship as more important than the saving of so many thousands of lives and the advances thereof. It was for these reasons I felt this most recent pilgrimage had to be to the statue of him in Manchester to regard it as a holy place,” O’Connell said.

The Turing pilgrimage photos begin with the artist at a canal in Manchester. O'Connell removes his shoes to walk barefoot on the holy ground along the canal toward the Turing memorial.

"Walking on Holy Ground" by Tony O’Connell

The heart of the memorial is a life-sized sculpture of Turing. The bronze figure sits alone on a bench located between the local gay neighborhood and the University of Manchester, where he taught mathematics. It was sculpted by Glyn Hughes.

O’Connell puts his hands together in prayer as he greets the Turing statue. He communes with the saint in various ways, offering seven silver bowls of holy water at Turing’s feet. The artist cleanses the rainbow mosaic embedded in the pavement and bathes them with holy water. The ritual ends when O’Connell pours the water into the canal in the middle of the gay village. Photographer Damian Cruikshank recorded the whole journey.

"Prostrations to the Saint" by Tony O’Connell

"Offering the Water" by Tony O’Connell

"Bathing the Rainbow with Holy Water" by Tony O'Connell

"Daring to Sit Beside Him" by Tony O’Connell

"Adoring the Saint" by Tony O’Connell

“It has often been a theme in my work to reclaim religious imagery in a secular way to discuss LGBT issues, but this time it felt more spiritual than I would have expected,” O’Connell recalled.

After returning from the pilgrimage, he created an embossed foil icon titled “Saint Alan Turing Ora Pro Nobis.” The Latin phrase, which means “pray for us,” is repeated in the traditional Litany of the Saints.

“Saint Alan Turing Ora Pro Nobis” by Tony O’Connell

Plans are underway for an exhibition of the Turing image photos, but for now the images can be seen in an online photo album on O’Connell’s Facebook page:

O’Connell is also doing an ongoing series of photos of people with haloes formed by round objects from daily life, such as light fixtures, mirrors, windows, baskets, and the sun. “We do not need the permission of anyone else to see perfection in each other,” he explained.

Turing (June 23, 1912 - June 7, 1954) played a major role in winning World War II by breaking Germany’s complex Enigma code. He also broke the code against homosexuality. His wartime work was top secret, so nobody knew of his contributions when he was tried and convicted of homosexual acts in 1952. His security clearance was revoked and he was sentenced to “chemical castration” through hormone treatments.

Disgraced and forgotten, Turing committed suicide in 1954 at age 41. He has received a growing number of honors in the years since his death. The British government officially apologized in 2009 and the queen granted him as posthumous pardon in 2013.

The definitive biography of Turing is “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges. His life is also chronicled in the documentary file "Codebreaker." The first major motion picture to dramatize his story is "The Imitation Game," which is featured in the following video trailer.”

Related links:

Station 6: Gay Scientist Alan Turing Driven to Suicide” from “LGBT Stations of the Cross” by Mary Button
For more art by Tony O’Connell on the Jesus in Love Blog, visit:

Tony O’Connell reclaims sainthood by finding holiness in LGBT people and places

Olympics: Spiritual art supports Russia’s LGBT rights struggle

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. It also highlights great queer artists from history, with an emphasis on their spiritual lives.

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

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Transgender Day of Remembrance: Nov. 20, 2014

  Christ's crucifixion is linked to the murder of transgender woman Rita Hester in “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button, courtesy of Believe Out Loud

Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov. 20) commemorates those who were killed due to anti-transgender prejudice. The Jesus in Love Blog also honors transgender visions in art, theater, religion and spirituality today.

Religious violence against transgender people goes back at least as far as Biblical times and continued in the Middle Ages when St. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for cross-dressing and St. Wilgefortis was crucified for being a bearded woman. The list of unlawfully killed transgender people is long and continues to grow.

Transgender Day of Remembrance serves the dual purpose of honoring the dead and raising public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people—that is, transsexuals, crossdressers, and other gender-variant people. It was founded in 1999 to honor Rita Hester, an African American transgender woman murdered in Massachusetts on Nov. 28, 1998. The outpouring of grief and anger over her death led to the "Remembering Our Dead" web project and a candlelight vigil in San Francisco. Since then it has grown into an international phenomenon observed around the world.

Hester’s murder is boldly identified with Jesus’ death in “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle for LGBT Equality” by Mary Button. The new set of 15 paintings links the crucifixion of Christ with the history of LGBT people.

In the painting a banner carried by people at a Transgender Day of Remembrance march stretches across Jesus on the cross: “How many transgenders have to die before you get involved?” The text on the banner comes from an actual news photo.

Another high-profile murder case was transgender man Brandon Teena, whose 1993 murder is told in the popular movie “Boys Don’t Cry.” The ever-growing list of transgender victims calls to mind the words of Jesus: “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

Transgender Day of Remembrance by Mikhaela Reid

Political cartoonist Mikhaela Reid pictures some of the more prominent victims of anti-transgender violence in the illustration above. Let us remember them by lighting a memorial candle here for them and others like them.

white candle Pictures, Images and Photos
In memory of: Gwen Araujo, Rita Hester, Brandon Teena (subject of the movie “Boys Don’t Cry”), Chanelle Picket, Nakia Ladelle Baker, Debra Forte, Tyra Hunter, Joe Stevens, Logan Smith, Jessica Mercado, Terrianne Summers, Venus Xtravaganza, Chanel Chandler... and all others who died due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.

The Altar Cross of LGBTQ Martyrs from Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco features photos of transwoman Gwen Araujo, Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, and others.


Transgender Pride Flag
Other spiritual resources for Transgender Day of Remembrance are available at TransFaith Online, including this prayer by Rabbi Reuben Zellman, who became the first openly transgender person accepted to the Reform Jewish seminary Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati in 2003:

God full of mercy, bless the souls of all who are in our hearts on this Transgender Day of Remembrance. We call to mind today young and old, of every race, faith, and gender experience, who have died by violence. We remember those who have died because they would not hide, or did not pass, or did pass, or stood too proud. Today we name them: the reluctant activist; the fiery hurler of heels; the warrior for quiet truth; the one whom no one really knew.

As many as we can name, there are thousands more whom we cannot, and for whom no prayers may have been said. We mourn their senseless deaths, and give thanks for their lives, for their teaching, and for the brief glow of each holy flame. We pray for the strength to carry on their legacy of vision, bravery, and love.

And as we remember them, we remember with them the thousands more who have taken their own lives. We pray for resolve to root out the injustice, ignorance, and cruelty that grow despair. And we pray, God, that all those who perpetrate hate and violence will speedily come to understand that Your creation has many faces, many genders, many holy expressions.

Blessed are they, who have allowed their divine image to shine in the world.

Blessed is God, in whom no light is extinguished.


Click the headlines below for more about transgender spirituality.  Not all of these people self-identified as transgender, but their stories are offered here as an inspiration for transgender people and their allies.

Jemima Wilkinson: Queer preacher reborn in 1776 as “Publick Universal Friend”
Jemima Wilkinson (1752-1819) was a Quaker preacher who woke from a near-death experience in 1776 believing she was neither male nor female. She changed her name to the “Publick Universal Friend,” fought for gender equality and founded an important religious community.

Ethiopian eunuch: A black gay man was the world’s first convert to Christianity

Pauli Murray: Queer saint / activist for civil rights and gender equality
Human rights champion Pauli Murray (1910-1985), a recent addition to the Episcopal books of saints, described herself as a man trapped in a woman’s body and took hormone treatments in her 20s and 30s.

Joan of Arc: Cross-dressing warrior-saint
Joan of Arc was a cross-dressing teenage warrior who led the medieval French army to victory when she was 17.

Image credit: Saint Joan of Arc by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM.,

We'wha of Zuni: Two-spirited Native American
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.

Image credit: “We’wha” by Jim Ru

Artist paints history’s butch heroes: Ria Brodell interview
"Butch Heroes" of history are painted by genderqueer artist Ria Brodell. She uses the format of traditional Catholic holy cards to present butch lesbians, queer women and female-to-male transgender people from many different times, places, and backgrounds.

Image credit: “James How aka Mary East and Mrs. How” by Ria Brodell

Religious threats to LGBT people exposed in Jerusalem photos
Religion-based oppression of LGBT people is revealed in “Jerusalem,” a photo exhibit by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. It includes “Tranny,” a portrait of a drag queen from Jerusalem. Biblical words against crossdressing are projected behind her.

Queer Lady of Guadalupe: Artists re-imagine an icon
Queer art based on Our Lady of Guadalupe includes a bearded drag queen version titled “Virginia Guadalupe” by Jim Ru.

St. Wilgefortis: Bearded woman saint
St. Wilgefortis prayed to avoid marriage to a pagan king -- and her prayers were answered when she grew a beard!

300 protest transsexual Jesus play
More than 300 conservative Christian protesters picketed the Scottish opening of “Jesus, Queen of Heaven,” a play about a transsexual Jesus by Jo (formerly John) Clifford.

 Transgressing gender in the Bible
Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible” is an LGBT-positive play by Peterson Toscano.
Transvestite Jesus appears in photo project
A transvestite Jesus appears in a series of alternative Christ photos by Colorado artist Bill Burch


More transgender spiritual and religious resources include:

Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) Transgender Day of Remembrance Resource Page

A Kaddish Prayer for International Transgender Day of Remembrance by H. Adam Ackley (HuffPost)

Prayers To and For the Transgender Community (

An All Hallows' Eve Vigil to Begin Transgender Awareness Month by H. Adam Ackley (Huff Post)

Trans Martyrs (Queering the Church)

Book: Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach by Virginia Mollenkott

Book: Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith (Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry) by Justin Tanis

Book: Transgendering Faith: Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality by Leanne Tigert (editor)

Call Me Malcolm (video)

Call me Malcolm Video and Training Guide (United Church of Christ)

Voices of Witness: Out of the Box (Episcopal film)
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 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and our allies.

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

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

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hot topics in queer religion: 2014 LGBTQ guide to AAR (American Academy of Religion) and SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) Annual Meeting

An amazing variety of more than 30 LGBT and queer events are planned for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) Nov. 22-25 in San Diego.

Presentations cover everything from African lesbians to a queer zoological reading of Song of Songs. Hot topics this year include religion and sexuality in debates over same-sex marriage, anti-gay laws in Africa, and queer interpretations of Paul's letters in the Bible. Scholars will also make connections between queer experience and many other facets of life, such as disability and ecology.

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 joint annual meeting is the largest gathering of biblical and religion scholars in the world with more than 11,000 attendees.

There's surprisingly little about Jesus from a queer viewpoint. The only LGBTIQ event focused on Christ is "Jesus Is Still Acting Up! Celebrating Bob Goss' Scholarship and Ministry 20 Years Later." Author Robert Shore-Goss and a panel of scholars will reflect on his groundbreaking 1993 book "Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto."

Other books that are up for major LGBT discussion include "The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities" by Amanullah De Sondy and "Ain't I a Womanist, Too?: Third Wave Womanist Religious Thought" by Monica A. Coleman.

For a helpful list of LGBTIQ-themed sesssions at AAR, visit:

For LGBTIQ events at SBL, click this link and input the key word “queer”:

Reading the schedule provides a sneak-preview of the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer religious scholarship, even for those who can’t be there.

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

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts
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Monday, November 17, 2014

Dance of the 41 Queers: Police raid on Mexican drag ball remembered

“Los 41 Maricones” (The 41 Queers) by Jose Guadalupe Posada, 1901 (Wikipedia)

One of the world’s most notorious police raids on a queer gathering occurred 113 years ago today (Nov. 17-18, 1901) when police arrested 41 men at a drag ball in Mexico City.

The raid on the “Dance of the 41” caused a huge scandal with lasting repercussions against LGBT people. The incident was widely reported and was used thereafter to justify years of police harassment, including more raids, blackmail, beatings and imprisonment. The number 41 entered popular culture in Mexico and continues to be used as a negative way to refer to gay men, evoking shame.

About half of the men at the Dance of the 41 were dressed as women, with silk and satin dresses, elegant wigs, jewelry and make-up. Police raided the private house where the “transvestite ball” was underway. They never released the names of those arrested because they came from the upper class of Mexican society.

As punishment the 41 detainees were humiliated in jail and then forced into the army, where they dug ditches and cleaned latrines in the Yucatan. A lesbian gathering in Santa Maria was raided soon after on Dec. 4, 1901, but it received much less publicity.

The vivid reports of the Dance of the 41 included a famous series of caricatures by popular Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. These mocking images stand in contrast to the new LGBT Stations of the Cross by Mary Button, whose paintings connect police raids of queer bars with the suffering of Jesus. The raid on the Dance of the 41 is an example of police harassment that happened in many countries.

Today same-sex marriage is legal in Mexico City and the Dance of the 41 is being reclaimed and reinterpreted by LGBT activists and scholars. A non-profit organization called “Honor 41” honors and celebrates Latina/o LGBTQ individuals who are role models. Their English-language video on the Dance of the 41 gives an accessible overview of the history.

The event is known in Spanish as simply as “el baile de los cuarenta y uno” (the dance of the forty-one) or with an added anti-gay insult “el baile de los cuarenta y uno maricones” (the dance of the forty-one fags).

All the facts and the full context concerning the Dance of the 41 are examined in the scholarly book “The Famous 41: Sexuality and Social Control in Mexico” by Robert McKee Irwin, Edward J. McCaughan and Michelle Rocio Nasser.

Related links:

Dance of the 41 (Wikipedia English)

Mexico (

Baile de invertidos (Homosexual balls) (Wikipedia Spanish)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
El baile de los cuarenta y uno: Recordando el momento en que la policía allanó un baile queer en México

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 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and our allies.

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