Sunday, September 14, 2014

Radclyffe Hall: Queer Christian themes mark banned book "Well of Loneliness"

Lesbian author Radclyffe Hall is a crucified Christ figure in a 1928 cartoon by Beresford Egan

A queer Christ figure is the main character in the world’s best known lesbian novel, “The Well of Loneliness” by Radclyffe Hall. The book was banned for obscenity in England in 1928, not just because it portrayed same-sex love, but also for using religious arguments to support “inverts” -- a 1920s term for LGBTQ people. Hall, a devoutly Catholic British lesbian, was herself pictured being nailed to the cross in a satirical cartoon from the era.

Radclyffe Hall
Hall (1880-1943) is widely recognized as a pioneering lesbian (or perhaps transgender) author. But her Christian side is often downplayed because of the conflict between Christianity and homosexuality -- what was then called “congenital sexual inversion.” Hall lived with those contradictions and tried to reconcile them in her books. Today the Jesus in Love Blog focuses on the role of Christianity in Hall’s life and work.

The Well of Loneliness” ends with a desperate prayer that has been echoed by countless LGBTQ people and still rings true now. The prayer is uttered by the novel’s protagonist, Stephen Gordon. She was born on Christmas Eve and named after the first Christian martyr. As a girl she had a dream “that in some queer way she was Jesus.” Like Hall, Stephen grows up to become a masculine woman who wears men’s clothes, has romantic relationships with women, and identifies as an “invert.”

At the climax of the novel Stephen has a vision of being thronged by millions of inverts from throughout time: living, dead and unborn. They beg her to speak with God for them, and then they possess her. She speaks for all queer people from the past, present and future as she gives passionate voice to their collective prayer:

“God,” she gasped, “We believe; we have told You we believe…We have not denied You, then rise up and defend us. Acknowledge us, oh God, before the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!”

Such themes led to obscenity trials for “The Well of Loneliness,” even though the novel is not sexually explicit. It gets no more risqué than saying, “She kissed her full on the lips, as a lover.” In Britain it was condemned and all copies were ordered destroyed. It was only published in America after a court battle.

British judge Chartres Biron was especially outraged that Hall defended LGBTQI people by affirming that they are part of God’s creation. In his decision Biron wrote::

“I confess that the way in which the Deity is introduced into this book seems to me singularly inappropriate and disgusting. There is a plea for existence at the end. That of course means a plea for existence in which the invert is to be recognized and tolerated, and not treated with condemnation, as they are at present, by all decent people. This being the tenor of the book, I have no hesitation whatever in saying that it is an obscene libel, that it would tend to corrupt those into whose hands it should fall, and that the publication of this book is an offence against public decency, and obscene libel, and I shall order it to be destroyed.”

Both sides of the controversy were satirized in “The Sink of Solitude,” a series of cartoons including “Saint Stephen” by Beresford Egan. One drawing shows Hall nailed to a cross wearing her trademark sombrero. A near-nude Sappho leaps in front of the martyred author and Cupid perches on the crossbeam. The crucifixion is witnessed by the evangelical Home Secretary William Joynson-Hicks, who helped enforce the censorship order.

Hall was upset to see herself portrayed in a way that she considered blasphemous. The drawing strengthened her resolve to write a modern version of Christ’s life as her next novel. Titled “The Master of the House,” it concerns Christophe, a compassionate carpenter born in Provence, France to a carpenter called Jouse and his wife Marie. He ends up being crucified during the First World War.

Writing the book was so spiritually intense that Hall developed stigmata on the palms of her hands during the two-year creative process. She believed it was her best book, but it got bad reviews and sales slumped. In America the book was seized not by police, but by creditors because her publisher went bankrupt.

Almost all references to “The Master of the House” describe it as a deeply religious book without further explanation. Actually it is an adaptation of Christ’s story for modern times. One of the only detailed summaries comes from the Delphi Classics edition of “The Complete Works of Radclyffe Hall.” It states:

“This 1932 novel concerns Christophe Benedict, a carpenter who lives in Provence. Almost saint-like, he is deeply spiritual, compassionate and experiences visions of a previous life as the Carpenter of Nazareth. He is attracted to girls, but refrains from having a relationship, held back by some unknown power -- his closest friend is his male cousin Jan, (but this is not a novel about homosexuality). When the 1914-1918 war begins, he enlists and is posted to Palestine. A close encounter with the enemy leads to a dramatic turn of events.”

Hall’s religious devotion dates back to 1912, when she was in her early 30s. She converted to the Roman Catholic Church under the influence of her first long-term lover, Mabel “Ladye” Batten, who died in 1916. Ladye was a Catholic convert too, as was Hall’s next lover, Una Troubridge (1887-1963). All three of them were part of a trend. A surprising number of upper-class English lesbians and intellectuals converted to Catholicism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Conversion was a way of rebelling against English society while maintaining connection with tradition. Hall was also interested in Spiritualism.

An independently wealthy heiress, Hall gave generously to the church. One source says that she and Troubridge left their money to the church after their deaths. Hall died of cancer at age 63 on October 7, 1943. She is buried with Ladye in London’s Highgate Cemetery.

At the time of her death, “The Well of Loneliness” had been translated into 14 languages and was selling more than 100,000 copies per year. It has never gone out of print. For decades it was the only lesbian book generally available, and therefore it made an enormous impact on generations of queer people. It remains on many lists of the top LGBT books.

Hall is the subject of several book-length biographies, including “The Trials of Radclyffe Hall” by Diana Souhami, “Our Three Selves: The Life of Radclyffe Hall” by Michael Baker, “Radclyffe Hall: A Woman Called John” by Sally Cline, and “Radclyffe Hall: A Life in the Writing” by Richard Dellamora.

“The Well of Loneliness” has sparked controversy not only from conservatives, but also among the LGBTQ community. The novel is often criticized for expressing shame and self-hatred, defining all lesbians as masculine, and presenting a stereotyped butch-femme lifestyle. Hall has long been classified as a lesbian, but now there is debate over whether she was a transgender man. Secular LGBT readers tend to dismiss the religious aspects as embarrassing and irrelevant relics of a bygone era.

One scholar who affirms the role of religion in Hall’s work is Ed Madden, English professor at the University of South Carolina. His article “The Well of Loneliness, or the Gospel According to Radclyffe Hall” is included in the 2003 book "Reclaiming the Sacred: The Bible in Gay and Lesbian Culture,” edited by Raymond-Jean Frontain. It was originally published in the Journal of Homosexuality, where the abstract summarizes it this way::

“Radclyffe Hall's 1928 novel, 'The Well of Loneliness,' is repeatedly described as a "bible" of lesbian literature. The novel itself repeatedly alludes to biblical stories, especially the story of Christ. Yet there has been little sustained analysis of the biblical language of the novel. Most feminist and lesbian critics have dismissed the biblical allusions and language as unfortunate and politically regressive; religious critics have ignored the novel. This essay reexamines the biblical nature of the novel, especially its portrayal of the lesbian Stephen Gordon as a Christ figure. The study further claims a creative and interventionary power in Hall's use of biblical narratives and tropes, a power traceable in public reception to the novel and in courtroom reactions to the use of spiritual language in a text about lesbianism. By writing the life of a lesbian as a kind of gospel of inversion, Hall turns a language of condemnation into a language of validation, making her use of biblical language a kind of Foucauldian "reverse discourse." The novel's power lies in its portrayal of a lesbian messiah, and in its joining of sexological and religious discourses.”

Another scholar who writes in depth about the queer Christian aspect of Hall’s work is Isabella Cooper. She was a Ph.D. candidate in the English Department at the University of Maryland in College Park when she wrote “The Passion of Stephen Gordon: The Messianic Lesbian Artist in Radclyffe Hall’s 'The Well of Loneliness.'” The article appeared in the Transverse Journal in 2011. In the article she states:

“The Well’s readers have frequently noticed the deliberate parallels Hall draws between Stephen and Christ; they have also noticed Hall’s identification with both. Some readers have mocked the novel for precisely this reason. Hall’s strategy of creating an alter-ego/ protagonist and identifying her with Christ reflects her understanding of her role as a Christian lesbian artist. She attempts in this novel to perform a powerful work of redemption for those whose desires society and the Church label sinful. In order to combat the stigma of sinfulness, Hall fashions (and speaks through) a protagonist whose Christ-like suffering and self-sacrifice challenge her readers, and whose ability (by the novel’s end) to reconcile her commitments to her faith, her art, and her sexual identity enable her to take on a messianic role.”

Hall would probably be the first to insist that she was no saint, but she is included in the LGBT Saints series here at the Jesus in Love Blog because was a pioneer in the effort to reconcile Christianity and homosexuality. Thank you, Radclyffe, for voicing a prayer from queer people of all times: “Acknowledge us, oh God, before the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!”

Related links:
Radclyffe Hall (

Radclyffe Hall, E. Lynn Harris, and Franz Kafka: Christianity, Queerness, and the Politics of Normalcy” by Margaret Soenser Breen (International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies)
Joan of Arc and Radclyffe Hall: Inspiration and Influence” by Steven Macnamara

Full text of "The Well of Loneliness" free online (

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, 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. It is also part of the Queer Christ series,which gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

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

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mychal Judge, gay saint of 9/11 and chaplain to New York firefighters

“Holy Passion Bearer Mychal Judge and St. Francis of Assisi” by Father William Hart McNichols

Father Mychal Judge, chaplain to New York firefighters and unofficial “gay saint,” died helping others in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center 13 years ago today on Sept. 11, 2001. He was killed by flying debris while praying and administering sacraments at the World Trade Center. Father Mychal (1933-2001) was the first recorded victim of 9/11.

He responded quickly when extremists flew hijacked planes into the twin towers. He rushed with firefighters into the north tower right after the first plane hit. Refusing to be evacuated, he prayed and gave sacraments as wreckage crashed outside. He saw dozens of bodies hit the plaza outside as people jumped to their deaths. His final prayer, repeated over and over, was “Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!”

While he was praying, Father Mychal was struck and killed in a storm of flying steel and concrete that exploded when the south tower collapsed. Father Mychal was designated as Victim 0001 because his was the first body recovered at the scene. More than 2,500 people from many nationalities and walks of life were killed. Thousands more escaped the buildings safely.

After Father Mychal’s death, some of his friends revealed that he considered himself a gay man. He had a homosexual orientation, but by all accounts he remained faithful to his vow of celibacy as a Roman Catholic priest of the Franciscan order.

The charismatic, elderly priest was a long-term member of Dignity, the oldest and largest national lay movement of LGBT Catholics and their allies. Father Mychal voiced disagreement with the Vatican’s condemnation of homosexuality, and found ways to welcome Dignity’s AIDS ministry despite a ban by church leaders. He defied a church boycott of the first gay-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade in Queens, showing up in his habit and granting news media interviews.

Many people, both inside and outside the LGBT community, call Father Mychal a saint. He has not been canonized yet by his own Roman Catholic Church, but some feel that he has already become a saint by popular acclamation, and the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America did declare officially declare him a saint.

The icon at the top of this post was painted by Father William Hart McNichols. He shows Father Mychal with St. Francis of Assisi as the World Trade Center burns behind them. The text that accompanies the icon describes Father Mychal as a Passion Bearer who “takes on the oncoming violence rather than returning it… choosing solidarity with the unprotected.”

McNichols is a Roman Catholic priest based in New Mexico. He has a deep connection to New York City because he worked at an AIDS hospice there in the 1980s. Both McNichols and Lentz have faced controversy for painting gay-affirming icons. They are two of the 11 artists whose life and work are featured in “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More ” by Kittredge Cherry.

“(Saint) Mychal Judge being Welcomed by the Franciscan Saints” by JR Leveroni

New this year at the Jesus in Love Blog is “(Saint) Mychal Judge being Welcomed by the Franciscan Saints” by JR Leveroni. Deliberately painted in the primitive style of folk art, it goes beyond the iconic news photo, sometimes called the “American Pieta,” that shows firefighters carrying Father Mychal’s limp corpse at Ground Zero. In Leveroni’s vision, saints replace the firefighters to carry Mychal onward to heaven. He holds his red firemen's helmet in his left hand. Leveroni has also painted gay martyrs Matthew Shepard and Saint Sebastian together. A variety of male nudes and religious paintings can be seen on Leveroni’s website (warning: male nudity).

Another icon of Father Mychal was done by Brother Robert Lentz, is a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons. He is stationed at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“Father Mychal Judge” by Brother Robert Lentz,

Stories from the life of Father Mychal are presented in the book, “Mychal's Prayer: Praying with Father Mychal Judge” by Salvatore Sapienza, a former monk who worked with Father Mychal to build St. Francis AIDS Ministry in New York City. The book mixes prayers with stories from the chaplain’s life. It begins with Father Mychal’s own words, a text that has come to be known simply as “Mychal’s Prayer”:

Lord, take me where You want me to go;
Let me meet who You want me to meet;
Tell me what You want me to say; and
Keep me out of your way.

For an excerpt from the book, see my previous post 10 years later: Mychal Judge, gay saint of 9/11. Sapienza is also the author of Seventy Times Seven: A Novel, a novel about a young Catholic brother torn between his sexuality and his spirituality as an out and proud gay man.

The film Saint of 9/11 - The True Story of Father Mychal Judge is a complete and uplifting documentary on Father Mychal’s life, including his gay orientation and his support for LGBT rights.  Its producers include Brendan Fay, who directed “Taking a Chance on God,” a biopic about gay priest John McNeill.

Another gay man who died heroically helping others in the Sept. 11 attack was rugby champion Mark Bingham, who lost his life while fighting hijackers on Flight 93. His story is told in my previous post at this link.

On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, may these images and stories inspire people with renewed dedication to peace and service to humanity. An excellent interfaith selection of prayers for peace is available at It includes prayers by Father Mychal as well as Sister Joan Chittister, Dr. Maya Angelou, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Dr. Jane Goodall, Rumi, Lao-Tse, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad, Jesus and many more.

Related link:

Saint Mychal Judge Blog

Mychal Judge is the first recorded victim of 9/11 -- and also the first saint in the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series began on Sept. 11, 2009, and has grown to include many saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies. They are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

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

The Mychal Judge icon is available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Give now: New computer for Jesus in Love

Please give now for a new computer system to support my work at Jesus in Love for LGBTQ spirituality and the arts. My current computer is 10 years old.

Donate now by clicking the “GoFundMe” button below or visiting my GoFundMe page.

My fundraising goal includes a new computer and monitor, software, warranty, tax, installation, peripherals and accessories. A detailed wish list with prices is at the bottom of my donate page.

When you give, you bring hope, stand up for artistic and religious freedom, and liberate people to experience the divine in new ways.

I did a lot of research to find the right computer system at a low price. This system includes the cost of assistive technology that makes the computer accessible to me with my disability.

It’s getting harder every day to use my 10-year-old computer. It still uses the old Windows XP. It won’t start on cold days and crashes on hot days. Sometimes the cursor disappears. It keeps freezing when I visit up-to-date websites. The last straw came recently when I lost the work I did editing the Jesus in Love Newsletter due to my obsolete computer. Please help!

Since I launched in 2005, it has grown to include the popular Jesus in Love Blog and Newsletter, plus the Spanish-language blog Santos Queer. The Jesus in Love Blog receives 127,000 page views per year and the e-newsletter has almost 1,000 subscribers.

One reader says, "Jesus in Love is the most radically progressive and life affirming Christian LGBT site on the Internet that I have ever seen. I find its message both inspiring and empowering."

I am passionately committed to Jesus in Love because it grew out of my own personal journey as a lesbian Christian. Jesus is Love is my personal project and I rely on your funds to make it happen.

Many thanks to EVERYONE who has given their time, talent and resources.
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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Mel White stands for LGBTQ religious justice then and now

LGBTQ religious activists (from right) Kittredge Cherry, Mel White, Rev. Tanis and Dexter Brecht made an impact at the National Council of Churches annual meeting in November 1994 in New Orleans.

Soulforce founder Mel White spoke for LGBTQ religious rights 20 years ago at a forum that I organized as part of the 1994 National Council of Churches annual meeting in New Orleans.

Mel is famous for confronting the religious right, but that day he challenged what he called the “unsure middle” that enables them to attack LGBTQ people. His message still rings true now.

“You are responsible for the deaths of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters because they come to you and they get indecision,” Mel told NCC leaders at the event that I organized as national ecumenical officer for the LGBTQ-affirming Metropolitan Community Churches.

He began by detailing the threat posed by radical conservative Christians, but he reserved his anger for the “unsure middle” that enables them to attack LGBTQ people.

“If I had my say I’d never step into the halls of NCC for one more word of dialogue. NEVER! I’d go to the community. Every conversation with you is a conversation I lose with my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who are dying,” Mel told the audience of more than 50 people, including NCC General Secretary Joan Campbell.

Back in 1983 the NCC voted to postpone indefinitely MCC’s application for membership, leading to a decade of “dialogue” on homosexuality and Christianity. Many of its member churches are liberal denominations that also used long years of dialogue to delay decisions on same-sex marriage, ordination of LGBT clergy, etc.

Today I can see progress on equality for sexual minorities in the church, thanks to Mel and many others like him.  The middle has moved, but Christian conservatives (and those whose silence supports them) still need to be challenged for spreading hate and discrimination.

I remembered Mel’s speech recently when I read a question posted now at Mel founded Soulforce to end religious and political oppression of LGBTQ people by using non-violent resistance in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Christ. Their website asks: “What is your favorite Soulforce memory or activist lesson learned over the years?”

My memory actually dates back to a few years before Mel founded Soulforce in 1998 with his partner Gary Nixon. But the seeds of Soulforce already seemed to be stirring in his soul.

Mel White was a high-ranking insider in the Evangelical Protestant movement in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He ghostwrote autobiographies for such famous right-wing televangelists as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Billy Graham. Meanwhile he was spending decades trying to “cure” his homosexuality with “ex-gay” therapy, including prayer, fasting, exorcisms and even electroshock treatment.

Then he came out as gay in 1993, transferred his clergy credentials to MCC and became a national media sensation. He was interviewed on hundreds of radio and TV broadcasts, including a full segment on “60 Minutes.” His bestselling autobiography, “Stranger at the Gate: To be Gay and Christian in America,” was published in April 1994, just months before he spoke at the NCC forum.

Others in our Metropolitan Community Churches delegation at that meeting included Revs. Tanis of MCC San Francisco, Dexter Brecht of Vieux Carre MCC in New Orleans, and Carolyn Mobley of MCC of the Resurrection in Houston.

Mel and I shared a variety of experiences over the years. We have much in common as LGBT religious activists/authors who have also worked as ministers and professional writers. In addition to experiencing Mel’s tough talk against the religious right, I witnessed his weakness for chocolate-chip cookies on that same weekend in New Orleans. Another time he let me wear his jacket one chilly night when we walked on the beach together. We still keep in touch.

But the day Mel confronted the National Council of Churches stands out as a milestone memory. Today I have fresh appreciation for the activist lessons that Mel embodied when he joined me at the NCC meeting: Silence and indecision by the “unsure middle” can allow bigots to triumph. So speak up, speak out.
Related links:

Council of Churches Avoids Vote on Homosexual Group (New York Times, Nov. 10, 1983)

Church for Homosexuals Asks to Join Council (New York Times, July 26, 1981)

Gay Church Fails in Bid to Join National Council (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 14, 1992)

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

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Black Madonna becomes lesbian defender: Erzuli Dantor and Our Lady of Czestochowa

Left: Ezili Dantor Prayer Card from the Vodou Store. Right: The original Black Madonna of Czestochowa

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa, one of the most famous Catholic icons, is the model for a Haitian Vodou goddess who protects lesbians.

Traditional images of Erzulie Dantor, the Vodou defender of lesbians, are based on the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, whose feast day is today (Aug. 26). They even share the same two scars on the dark skin of the right cheek.

Every year more than 100,000 people view the original Black Madonna of Czestochowa icon in Poland at one of the most popular Catholic shrines on the planet. John Paul II, the Polish pope, was devoted to her. Few suspect that the revered icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary has a lesbian connection.

Our Lady of Czestochowa is among dozens of Black Madonna icons remaining from medieval Europe. The reason for their dark skin is unknown, but people speculate that the images may have been created black to match the color of indigenous people or they turned black due to smoke and aging. Some see her dark skin as a metaphor for the earth or a reference to the lover in Song of Songs who declared, “I am black but beautiful.”

Black Madonnas are said to embody the shadow side of the Divine Feminine, the unconscious and unpredictable aspects that are usually buried or kept in darkness. Erzulie Dantor reveals Mary’s hidden bonds with lesbians.

Legend says that the Czestochowa portrait of Mary was painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist while she told him the stories about Jesus that he later wrote in his gospel. The icon traveled from Jerusalem through Turkey and Ukraine, ending up in Poland in 1382. The painting is considered so important that it even has its own feast day: Aug. 26, the date that it was installed at its current home. In the 15th century looters pried two jewels off her cheek, leaving a characteristic pair of marks.

Events in Haiti soon took Our Lady of Czestochowa in a new direction. In the 18th century hundreds of thousands of slaves were brought from Africa to Haiti, where they were forced to do heavy labor and convert to Christianity. Through the process of syncretism, they developed a hybrid form of Christianity mixed with Vodou, an ancestral folk religion from West Africa.

Copies of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa were brought to Haiti by about 5,000 Polish soldiers who fought on both sides of the Haitian Revolution starting in 1802. She was transformed into Erzulie Dantor when Haitians merged her with Vodou.

Erzulie Dantor is a loa or lwa (Vodou spirit) who is recognized as a patron of lesbians. Her name has many alternate spellings such as Ezili Danto. She fiercely loves and defends women and children, especially lesbians, independent businesswomen, unwed mothers, and those who experience domestic violence. She has a reputation for taking revenge on abusive husbands and unfaithful lovers. Scar-faced warrior Erzulie Dantor liberated slaves by helping to start and win the Haitian Revolution. She is fond of knives, rum and unfiltered cigarettes.

“Erzulie Dantor” by Christie Freeman (

Like Our Lady of Czestochowa, she holds a child with a book. But instead of the infant Jesus with the gospels, the baby on her lap is her daughter Anais. The Catholic Church in Haiti identifies these images as neither Erzulie Dantor nor Mary, but “Saint Barbara Africana.” Erzulie Dantor is a single mother who has given birth, but some believe she is bisexual or lesbian herself.

The two scars on her cheek are explained either as tribal scarification or wounds from a fight with Erzulie Freda, her light-skinned and coquettishly feminine sister. Erzulie Freda, the goddess of love and sexuality, is the patron of gay men, especially drag queens and those who are effeminate. She is associated with images of the grieving Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows.

Erzulie Dantor and Erzulie Freda are among many Vodou spirits who appear to be LGBT, androgynous or queer. Many others are described in detail in “Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Participation in African-Inspired Traditions in the Americas” by Randy P. Conner and David Hatfield Sparks.

These queer Vodou deities include La Sirene, a pansexual mermaid who rules the seas; La Balen, her mysterious butch lesbian intimate companion who is often depicted as a whale; transgender divinity Mawu-Lisa, patron of artists and craftspeople; androgynous Legba, a Christ figure who mediates between the living and the dead; Ayido Wedo and Danbala, a married pair of queer rainbow serpents who bring prosperity, joy and peace; the sexually complex Gede family that oversees the transition to the afterlife; and many more. Each loa or spirit can possess or engage in spiritual marriage with Vodou practitioners of either gender, leading to many queer possibilities.

Black Madonna figures continue to inspire folk artists and fine artists such as Christie Freeman of Springfield, Illinois, who agreed to share her painting here at the Jesus in Love Blog. One of the best known and most controversial contemporary versions is the 1996 painting “The Holy Virgin Mary” by British artist Chris Ofili. He surrounded a stylized black Madonna with mixed media including elephant dung and images from pornography and blaxploitation movies. While using shock value to critique definitions of sacred and profane, it enraged the religious right.

Throughout history some church officials have attacked images such as Erzulie Dantor as illegitimate and incompatible with Christianity. But many Haitian Christians today see Vodou as a way to enhance their faith. Meanwhile Our Lady of Czestochowa is celebrated for revealing the dark face of God’s own mother.
Related links:

Black Madonnas and other Mysteries of Mary” by Ella Rozett (

Erzulie Dantor (Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife)

Christianity and Vodou (Wikipedia)

Read online: “Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Participation in African-Inspired Traditions in the Americas” by Randy P. Conner and David Hatfield Sparks

The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine” edited by Fred Gustafson (9 of 16 essays are on the Black Madonna with authors such as theologian Matthew Fox)

To read this article in Polish translation, visit the Don’t Shoot the Prophet website:
Czarna Madonna zostaje obrończynią lesbijek: Erzuli Dantor i Matka Boża Częstochowska

This post is part of the LGBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

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

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