Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Pauli Murray: Queer saint who stood for racial and gender equality

Pauli Murray by Laurel Green

Human rights champion and queer saint Pauli Murray is a renowned civil rights pioneer, feminist, author, lawyer and the first black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest. Her feast day is today (July 1).

Murray was arrested and jailed for refusing to sit in the back of a segregated bus in Virginia in 1938 -- 15 years before Rosa Parks became a national symbol for resisting bus segregation. In 1941 she organized restaurant sit-downs in the nation’s capital -- 20 years before the famous Greensboro sit-ins.

She was approved for trial inclusion in the Episcopal Church’s book of saints, “Holy Women, Holy Men” in a 2012 vote. Usually the Episcopalians wait until 50 years after a person has died before making granting sainthood, but for Murray the church set aside the rule and approved “trial use” of materials commemorating her now.

Murray was attracted to women and her longest relationships were with women, so she is justifiably considered a lesbian. But she also described herself as a man trapped in a woman’s body and took hormone treatments in her 20s and 30s, so she might even be called transgender man today.

Others have written extensively about her many accomplishments, but material on Murray’s sexuality is hard to find. She did not speak publicly about her sexual orientation or gender identity issues, but she left ample evidence of these struggles in her letters and personal writings.

Pauli Murray (Wikipedia)

Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray (November 20, 1910 – July 1, 1985) was born in Baltimore, Maryland and raised in Durham, North Carolina. She became aware of her queer sexuality early in life. In Pauli Murray and Caroline Ware: Forty Years of Letters in Black and White, historian Anne Firor Scott explains:

“In adolescence Murray began to worry about her sexual nature. She later said that she was probably meant to be a man, but had by accident turned up in a woman’s body. She began to keep clippings about various experiments with hormones as a way of changing sexual identity…. In 1937, at the initiative of a friend, she had been admitted to Bellevue Hospital in New York, and during her stay there she examined her worries about her sexual nature in writing, and said that she hoped to move toward her masculine side... . She continued for years to discuss the developing medical literature about hormones, thinking they might help her. She discussed the possibility of homosexuality with doctors; she knew that she was attracted to very feminine, often white, women, and she knew as well that… she was not physically attracted to men. This conflict would continue for the rest of her life.”

Murray’s queer side is discussed in many books, including American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism by Nancy Ordover and To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done For America by Lillian Faderman, and in the play “To Buy the Sun: The Challenge of Pauli Murray” by Lynden Harris.

A graduate of New York’s Hunter College, Murray was rejected from the University of North Carolina UNC Chapel Hill’s graduate school in 1938 because of her race. She became a civil rights activist. In the late 1930s Murray was also seeking psychological help and testosterone implants from doctors in an effort to “treat” her homosexuality by becoming more male.

Eager to become a civil rights lawyer, Murray was the only woman in her law school class at Howard University in Washington, DC. She graduated first in her class in 1944, but was rejected by Harvard because of her gender -- even though President Franklin Roosevelt wrote a letter of support for her after Murray contacted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Instead Murray studied law at the University of California in Berkeley. She wrote numerous influential publications, and NAACP used her arguments in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that ended racial segregation in U.S. public schools.

In the early 1960s President John Kennedy appointed Murray to the Commission on the Status of Women Committee. She worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin on civil rights -- and criticized the 1963 March on Washington at the time for excluding women from leadership. In 1965 she became the first African American to receive a law doctorate from Yale. A year later she co-founded the National Organization for Women.

Instead of retiring, Murray launched a new career at age 62. She entered New York’s General Theological Seminary in 1973, before the Episcopal Church allowed women priests. She was ordained in 1977. She celebrated her first Holy Eucharist at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, NC -- the same church where her grandmother, a slave, was baptized.

After a lifetime as a human rights activist, she drew on her own experience to preach a powerful vision of God’s justice. In a 1977 sermon recorded in Pauli Murray: Selected Sermons and Writings, she said:

It was my destiny to be the descendant of slave owners as well as slaves, to be of mixed ancestry, to be biologically and psychologically integrated in a world where the separation of the races was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States as the fundamental law of our Southland. My entire life’s quest has been for spiritual integration, and this quest has led me ultimately to Christ, in whom there is no East or West, no North or South, no Black or White, no Red or Yellow, no Jew or Gentile, no Islam or Buddhist, no Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, or Roman Catholic, no Male or Female. There is no Black Christ, no White Christ, no Red Christ – although these images may have transitory cultural value. There is only Christ, the Spirit of Love.

Murray died of cancer on July 1, 1985 at age 74. Her best known book is Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family (1956), her memoir of growing up as a mixed-race person in the segregated South.

The trial use commemorations of the Episcopal Church include this new prayer:

Liberating God, we thank you most heartily for the steadfast courage of your servant Pauli Murray, who fought long and well: Unshackle us from bonds of prejudice and fear so that we show forth your reconciling love and true freedom, which you revealed through your Son and Our Savior Jesus Christ.

Pauli Murray image from Holy Women, Holy Men on Facebook celebrating saints in the Episcopal Church, produced by the Paradoxy Center at St. Nicholas Church.

The image of Pauli Murray at the top of this post is part of the “In the Spirit of Those Who Led the Way” series by North Carolina artist Laurel Green. She creates digital artworks in conversation with more traditional media.

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Related links:

Pauli Murray profile at LGBTHistoryMonth.com

www.paulimurrayproject.org

Pauli Murray Named to Episcopal Sainthood (duke.edu)

Paul Murray bio (Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina)

Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints: Additional Commemorations” (Episcopal resource including Pauli Murray)

Convention OKs continued trial use of ‘Holy Women, Holy Men’ (Episcopal News Service)

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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, 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.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Saints of Stonewall inspire LGBT justice -- and artists

“It was Beautiful” by Douglas Blanchard shows the Stonewall Rebellion
Oil on canvas, 24" x 36," 1999.

Queer people fought back against police harassment at New York City’s Stonewall Inn in June 1969, launching the modern LGBT liberation movement. The Stonewall uprising began 46 years ago today (June 28, 1969).

Their bold rebellion against government persecution of homosexuality is commemorated around the world during June as LGBT Pride Month. The Stonewall Uprising continues to inspire a variety of art that is featured here today.

The LGBT people who resisted police at the Stonewall Rebellion (also known as the Stonewall Riots) are not saints in the traditional sense. But they are honored here as “saints of Stonewall” because they dared 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. A couple of dozen acts of resistance pre-dated and paved the way for Stonewall, such as the 1967 demonstration at the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles.

Despite the progress made, police raids of gay bars have continued in recent years, such as the notorious 2009 Rainbow Lounge raid in Forth Worth, Texas. June 28 is also the anniversary of the 2009 raid on the Rainbow Lounge, a newly opened gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas. Five customers were zip-tied and taken to jail, multiple others were arrested or detained, and one got a severe brain injury while in custody. The raid sparked an unprecedented public outcry that led to historic change.

The Stonewall Inn catered to the poorest and most marginalized queer people: drag queens, transgender folk, hustlers and homeless youth. Witnesses disagree about who was the first to defy the police raid in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. It was either a drag queen or a butch lesbian. Soon the crowd was pelting the officers with coins, bottles, bricks and the like. The police, caught by surprise, used nightsticks to beat some people before taking refuge in the bar itself. News of the uprising spread quickly. Hundreds gathered on the street and a riot-control police unit arrived. Violence continued as some chanted, “Gay power!”

Drag queens started spontaneous kick lines facing the police with clubs and helmets. That dramatic moment is captured in the painting “It was Beautiful” by Douglas Blanchard. The drag queens met violence with defiant humor by singing,

We are the Stonewall girls
We wear our hair in curls
We wear no underwear
We show our pubic hair
We wear our dungarees
Above our nelly knees!

That night 13 people were arrested and some hospitalized. The streets were mostly cleared by 4 a.m., but a major confrontation with police happened again the next night, and protests continued on a smaller scale for a week.

A month later the Gay Liberation Front was formed, one of many LGBT rights organizations sparked by the saints of Stonewall. LGBT religious groups are indebted to the saints of Stonewall for our very existence.

“Gay Liberation” by George Segal commemorates the Stonewall rebellion (Photo by Wally Gobetz)

One of the most significant Stonewall artworks is also the world’s first piece of public art honoring the struggle for LGBTQ equality. “Gay Liberation” was created in 1979 by famed pop sculptor George Segal. It consists of four statues, a gay couple and a lesbian couple, cast in bronze and painted white in Segal’s typical style. The figures are arranged realistically in casual poses, evoking the power of love with their ghostly presence.

The idea for a public sculpture honoring the 10th anniversary of Stonewall came from LGBT activist Bruce Voeller. His vision inspired the Mildred Andrews Fund of Cleveland to commission Segal to create the sculpture. After much controversy, vandalism and alternate locations, the sculpture was installed permanently across the street from the Stonewall Inn at Christopher Park, which also holds two monuments to Civil War heroes.

Artists usually choose between two approaches when addressing the Stonewall Uprising. Some focus on the action in the past while others highlight the present-day Stonewall Inn, which is still in operation as a bar for the LGBT community.

Artists who recreate the past include Doug Blanchard, a gay New York artist who teaches art at City University of New York and is active in the Episcopal Church. “It was Beautiful” and other Stonewall paintings by Blanchard were shown at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center of New York in 1999. His series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” has been featured here at the Jesus in Love Blog and in a 2014 book with text by Kittredge Cherry.

“The Battle of Stonewall - 1969” by Sandow Birk

California artist Sandow Birk put Stonewall history into heroic context in a big way. The oil paintings in his Stonewall series measure up to 10 feet wide. The crown jewel of the series is “The Battle of Stonewall - 1969.” It updates the classic painting “The Battle of Mons-en-Pévèle - 1304” by 19th-century French artist Charles Philippe Lariviere. In both cases, the physically superior side attacked those who were considered weaker, but the underdogs won and gained their freedom. Birk replaces swords with police batons and turns national flags into “Gay Power” banners. The knight in shining armor is replaced by a drag queen in mascara and high heels. For more about Birk’s Stonewall series, see my previous post: Sandow Birk: Stonewall's LGBT history painted.

The actual Stonewall riots weren’t as white as Birk's paintings make it appear: “On the first night of the Stonewall riots, African Americans and Latinos likely were the largest percentage of the protestors, because we heavily frequented the bar,” scholar-activist Irene Monroe writes in  Dis-membering Stonewall, her chapter in the book Love, Christopher Street. “For homeless black and Latino LGBTQ youth and young adults who slept in nearby Christopher Park, the Stonewall Inn was their stable domicile.”

“Stonewall Inn” by Trudie Barreras (Collection of Kittredge Cherry)

The location where history happened is emphasized in the colorful painting of the Stonewall Inn by Trudie Barreras, a long-time member of Metropolitan Community Churches. Her art and writing on queer religious themes have appeared frequently here at the Jesus in Love Blog. She also does personalized pet portraits as “donation incentives” for Jesus in Love.

“Prostrations at the Holy Places and Veneration to Our Martyrs (Stonewall Pilgrimage)” by Tony O’Connell

British artist Tony O’Connell paid homage to the power of Stonewall by photographing his own personal pilgrimage to the historic bar in New York City in 2013. He prayed with incense at the Stonewall Inn as part of his series on LGBT pilgrimages, which he does as performances recorded in photos. He travels to places of importance in LGBT history, treating the trip as a pilgrimage to the shrine of a saint. For more about O’Connell’s pilgrimages and other art, see my previous post Tony O’Connell reclaims sainthood: Gay artist finds holiness in LGBT people and places.

Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem and the Stonewall Riots happen in Station 8 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button

Tennessee artist Mary Button weaves together the LGBT uprising at Stonewall with Christ’s journey to Calvary in Station 8 of her LGBT Stations of the Cross. She shows that a chain of oppression that stretches from the crucifixion of Christ to police harassment of LGBT people today, offering hope for resurrection. For more about Button’s Stations, see my previous post LGBT Stations of the Cross shows struggle for equality.

The history of the Rainbow Lounge raid and reaction is told in the 2012 film “Raid of the Rainbow Lounge,” directed by Robert Camina. He says it has “haunting parallels” to Stonewall. Emmy-nominated actress Meredith Baxter narrates the documentary. A video trailer is posted online.



May the saints of Stonewall continue to inspire all who seek justice and equality!

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Related links:

2015 book for teens: “Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights” by Ann Bausum

Book: “Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution” by David Carter

Book: “Stonewall” by Martin Bauml Duberman

Video: “American Experience: Stonewall Uprising

Stonewall (Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife)

Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park (Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife)

George Segal’s "Gay Liberation" (glbtq.com)

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

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Poem: "Faggots We May Be"


A new poem weaves together LGBT spiritual themes, making connections between gay men burned to death, global warming and the Rainbow Christ. Georgia poet S. Alan Fann evokes Stonewall-style empowerment in the face of the UpStairs Lounge Fire and the thousands who were executed for homosexuality throughout history.

Faggots We May Be
By S. Alan Fann ©

Faggots We May Be
- standing strong despite at times being strewn about like broken wood,

- though burned by society’s condemnation, homophobia and persecution,

- together we rise to reclaim the livelihood of purposeful living with the planetary elemental solution.

Where sacred mutual respect abounds, where the Lupus Dei, Corporis Leo Deus and gravity laden Earth walkers surround the living while remembering and honoring all who have come before us, and all beginning to begin the journey and chances at choosing, yet again.

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

With that knowledge, we - empowered, look forward without the shackles of the past holding us back. Co-creating space for regeneration, transformation and liberating fulfillment with sustainable communication.

We faggots advocate - nay demand, a reversal of the global warming trend.

We transform fear of being burned as faggots by refusing to be consumed with convention,
by leading and enjoining ourselves and others into harmonious, sustainable living,
by educating ourselves and others as to our impact, dependency and interrelatedness to our Mother Earth and Rainbow Christ on this glorious, eternal reincarnation journey.

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Georgia poet S. Alan Fann identifies as a mystic and has master’s degrees in clinical psychology and project management. Part of his journey is described at http://gentlefeminist.tumblr.com. Fann has a deep, abiding commitment to his same-sex life partner of over 11 years. He occasionally writes poems and meditations on http://alanfann.tumblr.com and shares LGBTQ items of interest, including some political opinion pieces also on Twitter and Facebook @salanfann.


“The Crucifixion of Christ” by Becki Jayne Harrelson

Painter Becki Jayne Harrelson also lives in Georgia and uses LGBT Christian imagery to re-interpret a common anti-gay slur. She explains the painting sometimes known as “Faggot Crucifixion” this way on her website:

“I chose the word FAGGOT because today, gays are socially-acceptable and religiously-justifiable targets for hate. And, just like gays, Jesus was made a hate target in his time because he dared to be different, to tell his understanding of the truth even though his words and his position defied the religious establishment. We all are created by God to be who we are, including gays and lesbians.”

A chapter about Harrelson is included in “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” by Kittredge Cherry.

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Related links:

Ash Wednesday: Queer martyrs rise from the ashes

Earth Day: LGBTQ theologians join in protecting the environment

Faggot: slang (Wikipedia)

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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.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

UpStairs Lounge fire: Deadliest attack on LGBT people killed 32

“See You at the UpStairs Lounge” by Skylar Fein

The deadliest attack on LGBT people in U.S. history is being remembered in powerful new ways today on its 42nd anniversary, including two new films. An arson fire killed 32 people at the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans, 42 years ago today on June 24, 1973.

Upstairs Inferno,” directed by Robert Camina and narrated by Christopher Rice, premieres tonight in New Orleans, where “Tracking Fire” is currently filming on location with director Sheri Wright. “Upstairs Inferno” brings humanity to the headlines by interviewing more than 20 people, including several survivors who have kept silent for decades.

Few people cared about the UpStairs Lounge fire at the time. The crime was never solved, churches refused to do funerals for the dead, and four bodies went unclaimed. Now there is a resurgence of interest in the martyrs of New Orleans.

Other recent works about the fire include an award-winning online exhibit at the LGBT Religious Archives Network; the 2014 book “The Up Stairs Lounge Arson: Thirty-two Dead in a New Orleans Gay Bar, June 24, 1973” by Clayton Delery-Edwards; and the musical drama “Upstairs” by Louisiana playwright Wayne Self. In 2013 the New Orleans Museum of Art acquired Louisiana artist Skylar Fein’s major installation “Remember the UpStairs Lounge.” The tragedy is also recounted in a short documentary by award-winning film maker Royd Anderson released on June 24, 2013, and in the 2011 book “Let the Faggots Burn: The UpStairs Lounge Fire” by Johnny Townsend.

For queer people, the UpStairs Lounge served as a sanctuary in every sense of the world. It was a seemingly safe place where LGBT people met behind boarded-up windows that hid them from a hostile world. Worship services were held there by the LGBT-affirming Metropolitan Community Church of New Orleans. The pastor, Rev. William R. Larson, died along with a third of congregation. Half the victims were MCC members. Those who died included people from all walks of life: preachers, hustlers, soldiers, musicians, parents, professionals and a mother with her two sons.

The horror of the fire was compounded by the homophobic reactions. Churches refused to hold funerals for the victims. Finally MCC founder Rev. Troy Perry flew to New Orleans to conduct a group memorial service. Families of four victims were apparently so ashamed of their gay relatives that they would not identify or claim their remains. The City refused to release their bodies to MCC for burial, and instead laid them to rest in a mass grave at a potter’s field.


UPSTAIRS INFERNO - Teaser Trailer [HD] from Camina Entertainment on Vimeo.

The full-length feature documentary “Upstairs Inferno” was produced and directed by Camina, whose previous film was the widely praised “Raid of the Rainbow Lounge” about a police raid at a Texas gay bar. Now he has created the most comprehensive and authoritative film on America's biggest gay mass murder. Survivors interviewed in the film include Ricky Everett and Francis Dufrene and a survivor who lost her lover Reggie Adams in the blaze.

Narrator Chrisopher Rice is an openly gay New York Times bestselling author whose hometown is New Orleans. His debut novel "A Density of Souls" got a landslide of media attention, mostly because he is the son of famed vampire author Anne Rice.

“Upstairs Inferno” will play at film festivals around the United States over the next 18 months before it becomes available on DVD. Two videos trailers for the film have been released. The first trailer provides an overview while the second trailer present additional interviews about the personal impact of the fire.


UPSTAIRS INFERNO - Trailer 2 [HD] from Camina Entertainment on Vimeo.

Meanwhile a different film crew working on “Tracking Fire” discovered vandalism on the memorial plaque while filming an interview there in May 2015. Someone through a paint bomb at the plaque, leaving it discolored even after the paint was cleaned off.

A sidewalk memorial plaque outside the UpStairs Lounge building in New Orleans was dedicated in 2003 and vandalized in 2015 (photo courtesy of "Tracking Fire")

“Tracking Fire” is just about to wrap filming and a video trailer is posted. “My focus is to tell the story of what happened, honor the victims, including the mother who died with her two sons, the survivors, their friends and family. It is also my intention to present a way for healing to replace the pain of tragedy and to offer a healthy resolution for personal and social conflict,” the film’s website explains.



Announcing the full-length trailer for Tracking Fire, a documentary which chronicles an unsolved case of arson that claimed 32 lives - one of the worst tragedies in LGBT history in America.
Posted by Tracking Fire on Monday, March 24, 2014


LGBT Religious Archives created an online exhibit about the UpStairs Lounge Fire with more than 120 artifacts that weave together stories about the fire and its aftermath, early gay activism, and the beginnings of Metropolitan Community Church in New Orleans. Original artifacts include newspaper and journal articles, photographs, correspondence, government reports and recordings from the time. The exhibit went online in September 2013 and received the 2014 Allan Bérubé Prize for “outstanding work in public or community-based LGBT and/or queer history.”

The crime received little attention from police, elected officials and news media.  The only national TV news coverage at the time was these video clips from CBS and NBC:



Louisiana playwright and composer Wayne Self spent five years weaving together the stories of the UpStairs Lounge fire victims and survivors. The result was the dramatic musical "Upstairs," which has been performed in various cities in Louisiana, New York and California after opening in New Orleans and Los Angeles in June 2013. He says his work takes the form “of tribute, of memorial, even of hagiography.”

The musical "Upstairs" brings back to life people such as MCC assistant pastor George “Mitch” Mitchell, who managed to escape the fire, but ran back into the burning building to save his boyfriend, Louis Broussard. Both men died in the fire. Their bodies were found clinging to one another in the ashes. In the musical, Mitchell sings a song called “I’ll Always Return”:
…Modern age,
Life to wage.
To get ahead, must turn the page.
I can't promise I'll never leave,
But I'll always,
I'll always return….

“I’ll Always Return” is one of five songs from the musical that are available online as workshop selection at http://upstairsmusical.bandcamp.com/.

Self raised funds so that Mitchell’s son and the son’s wife and could travel from Alabama to attend the play. Many victims of the UpStairs Lounge fire were survived by children who are still alive today.

The musical also explores the unsettled and unsettling question of who set the fire. Rodger Dale Nunez, a hustler and UpStairs Lounge customer, was arrested for the crime, but escaped and was never sentenced. He was thrown out of the UpStairs Lounge shortly before the fire for starting a fight with a fellow hustler. He committed suicide a year later. Self says that other theories arose to blame the KKK and the police, but he implicates Nunez -- with room for doubt -- in the musical.

A gay man may have lit the fire, but the real culprit is still society’s homophobia that set the fuse inside him. Hatred for LGBT people was also responsible for the high death toll in another way. The fire was especially deadly because the windows were covered with iron bars and boards so nobody could see who was inside. But they also prevented many people from getting outside in an emergency.

The UpStairs Lounge is recreated with haunting detail in Skylar Fein’s 90-piece art installation. He builds an environment with artifacts, photos, video, and a reproduction of the bar’s swinging-door entrance, evoking memories of how the place looked before and after the fire. “Remember the UpStairs Lounge” debuted in New Orleans in 2008 and was shown in New York in 2010. In January 2013 the New Orleans Museum of Art announced that it had acquired the installation. Fein donated it to the museum, saying that he did not want to dismantle the work or profit from its sale. He discusses the fire and shows objects from his installation in this video.

The victims of the UpStairs Lounge fire are part of LGBT history now, along with the queer martyrs who were burned at the stake for sodomy in medieval times. Their history is told in my previous post Ash Wednesday: Queer martyrs rise from the ashes.

The UpStairs Lounge fire gives new meaning to the Upper Room where Jesus and his disciples shared a Last Supper. It was also the place where they hid after his crucifixion, but the locked doors did not prevent the risen Christ from joining them and empowering them with the Holy Spirit.

The shared journey of LGBT people includes much loss -- from hate crimes, suicide, AIDS, and government persecution. But the LGBT community has also found ways to keep going. Reginald, one of the survivors of the UpStairs Lounge fire, expresses this strength in the song "Carry On" from the "Upstairs" musical:
I can speak.
I can teach.
I can give of the compassion I've received.
I can build.
I can sing!
I can honor all the loves,
That have passed away from me,
By sharing all the good that they have ever shown to me.
I can live my life.
I can carry on.
Carry on.
Carry on!


New Orleans film maker Royd Anderson's “The UpStairs Lounge Fire” documentary lasts 27 minutes (longer than the fire itself) and includes interviews with an eyewitness, a son who lost his father, a rookie firefighter called to the scene, author Johnny Townsend, and artist Skylar Fein, whose art exhibit about the tragedy gained national prominence. Here is a video trailer for the documentary.



The value of remembering the UpStairs Lounge fire was summed up by Lynn Jordan in the LGBT Religious Archives online exhibit that he co-curated. Jordan, founding member of MCC San Francisco, visited New Orleans shortly before and after the fire. In his introduction to the UpStairs exhibit, he explains:


“I left New Orleans with the promise to each of the 32 who would become immortal, that I would remember their sacrifice and carry them with me in all that would unfold in my life. The research and documentation that is an integral part of this Upstairs exhibit is “my” living into completion the promise to these “32 martyrs of the flames” that they “would not” be forgotten.

For those who would say that this event was so yesterday, i.e., we have achieved so many advances in our civil rights and in our acceptance for this to happen again, I would remind them that hate and intolerance are not constrained to finding shelter in any one moment, any one location in our “queer” history. To focus only on how far our LGBTQI communities may have progressed in 40 years; to fail to remember the sacrifice of all the lives lost or shattered in this journey; to lapse into complacency about our personal security: places us at risk of reviving the tragedy of our past in the present.”
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Related links:

UpStairs Lounge online exhibit (LGBT Religious Archives)

The Horror Upstairs (Time.com - June 21, 2013)

UpStairs Lounge arson attack (Wikipedia)

The Tragedy of the UpStairs Lounge (Jimani.com - website of the bar now at the same location)

Remembering the UpStairs Lounge Fire (glbtq.com)

32 Died, and I Wrote a Musical About It: Why I Did It and Would Do It Again by Wayne Self (HuffingtonPost)

NOMA acquires evocative major artwork by Skylar Fein: 'Remember the Upstairs Lounge' (nola.com)

‘Upstairs Inferno’ Recounts The Gay Mass Murder You Didn’t Know About (2015 interview with Robert Camina)

Poem: “Faggots We May Be” by S. Alan Fann


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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.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rainbow Christ Prayer: LGBT flag reveals the queer Christ in new short version

“Stained-glass Rainbow Flag with Cross" by Andrew Craig Williams

Colors of the rainbow flag reveal the many faces of the queer Christ in the Rainbow Christ Prayer by lesbian author Kittredge Cherry and gay theologian Patrick S. Cheng. A new short version was released today:


Rainbow Christ, you embody all the colors of the world. Inspire us to celebrate each color of the rainbow!

Red gives us life. Self-Loving Christ, you are our Root.

Orange stirs our passion. Erotic Christ, you are our Fire.

Yellow awakens our courage. Out Christ, you are our Core.

Green moves us to love. Transgressive Christ, you are our Heart.

Blue frees us to speak. Liberator Christ, you are our Voice.

Violet clears our vision. Interconnected Christ, you are our Wisdom.

The colors of the rainbow are distinct, but they all shine together to make one light. Hybrid Christ, you are our Crown.

Rainbow Christ, you are the light of the world. May the rainbow lead us to experience the whole spectrum of life! Amen.


The prayer matches the colors of the rainbow flag with the seven models of the queer Christ from Patrick’s book “From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ.

Rainbow flags are flying around the world in June for LGBT Pride Month. Rainbows are also an important symbol in many religious traditions. The Rainbow Christ Prayer honors the spiritual values of the LGBT movement.

Here is the original version of the Rainbow Christ Prayer:








Rainbow Christ, you embody all the colors of the world. Rainbows serve as bridges between different realms: heaven and earth, east and west, queer and non-queer. Inspire us to remember the values expressed in the rainbow flag of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.


Red is for life, the root of spirit. Living and Self-Loving Christ, you are our Root. Free us from shame and grant us the grace of healthy pride so we can follow our own inner light. With the red stripe in the rainbow, we give thanks that God created us just the way we are.


Orange is for sexuality, the fire of spirit. Erotic Christ, you are our Fire, the Word made flesh. Free us from exploitation and grant us the grace of mutual relationships. With the orange stripe in the rainbow, kindle a fire of passion in us.


Yellow is for self-esteem, the core of spirit. Out Christ, you are our Core. Free us from closets of secrecy and give us the guts and grace to come out. With the yellow stripe in the rainbow, build our confidence.


Green is for love, the heart of spirit. Transgressive Outlaw Christ, you are our Heart, breaking rules out of love. In a world obsessed with purity, you touch the sick and eat with outcasts. Free us from conformity and grant us the grace of deviance. With the green stripe in the rainbow, fill our hearts with untamed compassion for all beings.


Blue is for self-expression, the voice of spirit. Liberator Christ, you are our Voice, speaking out against all forms of oppression. Free us from apathy and grant us the grace of activism. With the blue stripe in the rainbow, motivate us to call for justice.


Violet is for vision, the wisdom of spirit. Interconnected Christ, you are our Wisdom, creating and sustaining the universe. Free us from isolation and grant us the grace of interdependence. With the violet stripe in the rainbow, connect us with others and with the whole creation.


Rainbow colors come together to make one light, the crown of universal consciousness. Hybrid and All-Encompassing Christ, you are our Crown, both human and divine. Free us from rigid categories and grant us the grace of interwoven identities. With the rainbow, lead us beyond black-and-white thinking to experience the whole spectrum of life.

Rainbow Christ, you light up the world. You make rainbows as a promise to support all life on earth. In the rainbow space, we can see all the hidden connections between sexualities, genders and races. Like the rainbow, may we embody all the colors of the world! Amen.










Detail from “Christ and the Two Marys” by William Holman Hunt (Wikimedia Commons)

I got the idea for the Rainbow Christ Prayer as I reflected on Patrick Cheng’s models of the queer Christ. Patrick and I each spent years developing the ideas expressed in the Rainbow Christ Prayer. It incorporates rainbow symbolism from queer culture, from Christian tradition and from the Buddhist/Hindu concept of chakras, the seven colored energy centers of the human body. The prayer is ideal for use when lighting candles in a rainbow candle holder.


Kittredge Cherry with Rainbow Candles (photo by Audrey)

The Rainbow Christ Prayer has been welcomed and used by many progressive Christian communities and denounced as blasphemy by conservatives at Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.

I first wrote about linking the colors of the rainbow flag to queer spirituality in my 2009 reflection on Bridge of Light, a winter holiday honoring LGBT culture. Meanwhile Patrick was working on his models of the queer Christ based on LGBT experience. In 2010 he presented five models of the queer Christ in his essay “Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People” at the Jesus in Love Blog (and as a chapter in the book “Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection.”)

In a moment of inspiration I realized that Patrick’s various queer Christ models matched the colors of the rainbow flag. Patrick and I joined forces and the Rainbow Christ Prayer was born.

With wonderful synchronicity, Patrick had already added two more queer Christ models, so he now had seven models to match the seven principles from Bridge of Light. He wrote a detailed explanation of all seven models in his 2012 book “From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ.” The following year Patrick authored “Rainbow Theology: Bridging Race, Sexuality, and Spirit.”

For more on the history and meaning of the rainbow flag, see my Huffington Post article Rainbow Christ Prayer honors LGBT spirituality.

Gay spirituality author Joe Perez helped lay the groundwork for this prayer in 2004 when he founded the interfaith and omni-denominational winter ritual known as Bridge of Light. People celebrate Bridge of Light by lighting candles, one for every color of the rainbow flag. Each color corresponds to a universal spiritual principle that is expressed in LGBT history and culture. I worked with Joe to revise the Bridge of Light guidelines based on my on own meditations on the chakras and their connections to the colors of the rainbow flag.

The symbolism of the rainbow resonates far beyond the LGBT flag. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the rainbow stands for God’s promise to support all life on earth. It plays an important role in the story of Noah’s Ark. After the flood, God places a rainbow in the sky, saying, “Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Genesis 9:15-16). In the Book of Revelation, a rainbow encircles the throne of Christ in heaven.

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Related links:
Rainbow Christ Prayer goes nationwide at churches, schools and events (with version adapted by Heath Adam Ackley)

Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People by Patrick Cheng (Jesus in Love)

Welcome the New Year with Bridge of Light by Kittredge Cherry (Jesus in Love)

Rainbow Christ Prayer at Huffington Post

Rainbow flag (Wikipedia)

Patrick Cheng's website and Twitter feed

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This post is part of the Queer Christ series 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.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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