Friday, October 31, 2014

LGBT-friendly Memorial for All Saints, All Souls and Day of the Dead

Add the names of your loved ones to Jesus in Love’s queer-friendly online memorial. Many believe they are visiting this weekend for All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), All Saints Day, All Souls and Day of the Dead. Everyone is invited to add names by leaving a comment here.

Religion and society have often dishonored and desecrated LGBT lives. May all saints and all souls be restored to wholeness and holiness as we remember them. More info at the end of the memorial

Compassionate Spirit of God, unite us with the lives and visions of lesbian and gay heroes of our time… Unite us with all the souls living and dead, especially those souls taken by violence and AIDS. Unite us with all who boldly pioneered a way of pride and justice.
--from “Invocation for All Saints Day” by James Lancaster, published in Equal Rites

white candle Pictures, Images and Photos

In memory of: Tyler Clementi, Leelah Alcorn, Haylee Fentress, Paige Moravetz, Seth Walsh, Jeanine Blanchette, Chantal Dube and all other LGBTIQ youths who have committed suicide. Gwen Araujo, Rita Hester, Brandon Teena and all others who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. Harvey Milk, Matthew Shepard, FannyAnn Eddy, David Kato, Alan Schindler, and all others who were murdered in homophobic violence. Marcella Althaus-Reid, John Boswell, Peter Gomes, Bayard Rustin and all others who came out and supported LGBT people during their lifetimes. Mychal Judge, Henri Nouwen, Pauli Murray and all other religious leaders who worked for justice while keeping quiet about their sexual orientation. For Jeanne Manford, Adele Starr, and all others who stood as allies to LGBT family and friends. Rock Hudson, Freddie Mercury, Keith Haring, Alvin Ailey, Rev. Ron Russell-Coons, Rev. Jim Sandmire, Rev. Howard Wells and all others who died of AIDS. And for all saints and all souls, named and unnamed.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
--Hebrews 12:1

candle animated avatar Pictures, Images and Photos

I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the God they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green;
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
-- from “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” by Lesbia Scott, 1929

All Saints Day used to be called All Hallows Day, and the preceding evening was the Eve of All Hallows, now celebrated as Halloween. In Catholic and Protestant Christianity, the Feast of All Saints commemorates all saints, known and unknown. The following day, the Feast of All Souls, pays respect to the faithful departed who have not yet reached heaven. Prayers are offered to ask the saints to help the living, and to offer help to the souls of deceased friends and family.

All Souls Day is celebrated in Latin America as the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). The holiday is especially popular in Mexico, where the happy celebration is one of the biggest events of the year. These holidays are associated with the Celtic Festival of the Dead (Samhain). They grow out of the pagan belief that the souls of the dead return to visit at this time of year.

Related links:

LGBT Saints Series

Why we need LGBT saints: A queer theology of sainthood by Kittredge Cherry

LGBT litany of the saints: Harvey Milk, pray for us; Joan of Arc, pray for us... by Rachel Waltz

Queering All Saints and All Souls, Celebrating the Queer Body of Christ by Adam Ackley (Huff Post)

A Litany of All the Saints by James Kiefer

This post is part of the LGBT Holidays 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.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why we need LGBT saints

Rainbow detail from St. John Altarpiece by Hans Memling (

It’s time to welcome the queer saints. Many believe that saints and other souls will visit this weekend for Halloween, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). LGBT saints are important because people are searching for alternative ways to lead loving lives.

Churches have tried to control people by burying queer history. The LGBT saints show us not only THEIR place in history, but also OUR place -- because we are all saints who are meant to embody love. We can tap into the energy of our ancestors in faith. For some they become friends and helpers, working miracles as simple as a reminding us that “you are not alone.”

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Why we need LGBTQ saints: A queer theology of sainthood

At first I thought that LGBT saints were rare. Gradually I came to see that they are everywhere throughout all time and they are among us now. We have all met saints in our lives. They are ordinary people who are also extraordinary.

Calling someone a “queer saint” is a liberating act in two ways: The most obvious one is that revealing the hidden queer sexual orientation or gender identity of traditional saints liberates people from sex-negative, oppressive church dogmas. In addition, revealing the “saintliness” of LGBT people ignored by the church liberates people from the tyranny of the sacred/secular dichotomy. Phrases like “queer saint” make a nice shorthand for headlines -- neatly challenging the assumption that sainthood and LGBTQ identity are mutually exclusive.

As All Saints Day approaches, I offer reflections on what I have learned by writing more than 70 profiles in the LGBT Saints Series over the past eight years. This is my queer theology of sainthood.

Sergius and Bacchus
by Robert Lentz
Who are the LGBT and queer saints? If you want some specific names of this rainbow tribe, visit the LGBT Saints page at

One of the greatest challenges has been to figure out who is a “saint” and who is “LGBT.” If the boundaries of sainthood are slippery, then the definition LGBT is even more fluid.

Most mainstream churches would not canonize any saints who were openly LGBT, so we must claim our own saints. It’s important to re-evaluate familiar figures as well as to recover those who have been lost and recognize the saints of our own time. The church may seem to have the power to decide who is a saint, but each individual can also choose for themselves. Paul urges us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Mitch Gould, a historian of queer and Quaker subjects, summed up the dilemma well when he told me, “Sainthood is a devilishly nuanced accusation.” Traditional stories of the saints tend to be overly pious, presenting idealized super-heroes who seem distant and irrelevant. Saints have been used to get people to passively accept oppressive situations. Too often the saints have been put on a pedestal to glorify virginity and masochistic suffering. The emphasis on miracles disrespects nature, the ongoing miracle of life.

Feminists have criticized saints as tools of the dominant morality, but with LGBT saints the opposite is true: They saints can shake up the status quo. We can restore the complex reality of saints whose lives are being hijacked by  hagiograpahies and hierarchy to enforce the status quo. Queer saints can help reclaim the wholeness, connecting sexuality and spirituality for the good of all.

Perpetua and Felicity
by Robert Lentz
I began writing about LGBT saints after finishing a series of books on the queer Christ (Jesus in Love novels and Art That Dares). Many people told me that they couldn’t relate to a gay Jesus, but they liked the idea that LGBT people were among his followers. Church leaders have used saints to impose control from the top down, but the desire for saints springs naturally from the grassroots. People are drawn to the presence of spiritual power in the lives of the saints, and their willingness to use that power for others, even at great cost to themselves. Saints attract others with the quality of their love, even though their personal lives may not be “saintly.”

I was aware of new research and art about LGBT saints, so I was shocked to discover that it was not easily available online. Largely due to the church’s crackdown on LGBT spirituality, much of it was buried under obscure code names like “images that challenge” -- if it was available on the Internet at all.

As an independent blogger, I am free to put LGBT saints out there where more people can find and benefit from them. I decided to uncover and highlight holy heroes and role models to inspire LGBT people of faith and our allies. The positive response quickly affirmed that people are hungry to connect with queer people of faith who have gone before.

“The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” by Fra Angelico, 1428-30, Wikimedia Commons

What is a saint?
My definition of who qualifies as a “LGBT saint” continues to expand. First I included saints officially canonized by the church, but I soon discovered that many have achieved “sainthood” by popular acclaim. The church didn’t even have a formal canonization process for its first 1,000 years.

Ultimately all believers, living and dead, can be called “saints,” a practice that began in the early church. In the New Testament, Paul used the word “saint” to refer to every member of the Christian community, a practice continued by Rev. Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Churches. One of my memories from working with him was that whenever he wrote a letter to MCC members, he addressed it as "Dear Saints." We always got back some responses from people protesting, "I'm not a saint!" But in a very real sense, we are all saints.

Dictionaries define a saint as “a holy person” or “an extremely virtuous person.” I rather like the concept of sainthood that emerged in comments on this blog during a discussion of the post “Artist shows sensuous gay saints.” Atlanta artist Trudie Barreras wrote: “My definition of saint has absolutely nothing to do with what the hierarchical church defines, and everything to do with the quality of love displayed.” Or, as gay author Toby Johnson commented, “Being a saint means creating more love in the world.”

Joan of Arc
by Robert Lentz
Sainthood comes in many different forms. Some become saints by leading an exemplary life, but the surest path to sainthood is to risk or lose one’s for the good of others. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). Martyrs, from the Greek word for “to bear witness,” are a common type of saint.

Sometimes readers object that my LGBT saints series includes modern martyrs whose lives were not “saintly.” My understanding is that martyrs need not be role models, but they are honored simply because they were killed for a particular cause. Therefore I include people such as Harvey Milk and Matthew Shepard because they were killed for being gay and their deaths furthered the cause of LGBT rights, regardless of their flaws.

Whether or not they died as martyrs, the lives of the saints were indeed difficult. Our lives are difficult too -- and that can become a point of connection. Like today’s LGBT Christians, the saints sometimes faced opposition from within the church. Some martyrs, including cross-dresser Joan of Arc, were killed not FOR the church, but BY the church!

What is LGBT?
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer did not exist as categories throughout most of the history in which the saints lived. A convenient way around this dilemma is to say that LGBT saints are those of special interest to LGBT people and our allies. The term “queer” is increasingly used to describe gender-variant people of the past, so I often use the phrase “queer saints.”

Harvey Milk
by Robert Lentz
Some deny the existence of historical LGBT saints because it’s almost impossible to prove their sexual activity. However, same-sex love does not have to be sexually consummated for someone to be honored as an LGBT saint. Deep love between two people of the same gender is enough.

Homosexuality is more than sexual conduct. The American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as “an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions.” The dominant Christian culture tried to suppress overt homosexuality, so any hint of homosexuality that survives in the historical record should be given extra significance. Many official saints were nuns or monks living in same-gender convents or monasteries.  Naturally their primary emotional attachments were to people of the same gender. Soon almost all saints seem LGBT!

Let us be inspired by the LGBT saints who surround us as a “great cloud of witnesses” and commit ourselves to our own queer paths toward sainthood.

Image credit: God is enthroned in concentric rainbows with 24 elders seated within the outer rainbow in a detail from the 15th-century St. John Altarpiece by Hans Memling ( The image is based on John’s vision of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation.

Related links:

I have expanded on the ideas presented here by writing theological reflections based on feminist and queer theology at the following two blogs:

Feminism and Religion Blog: Feminism leads to a queer theology of sainthood by Kittredge Cherry

99 Brattle (Episcopal Divinity School blog): A queer theology of sainthood emerges by Kittredge Cherry

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
¿Por qué necesitamos santas y santos LGBT?

Who are the "Queer Saints and Martyrs"? by Terence Weldon (Queering the Church)

LGBT-friendly memorial for All Saints, All Souls and Day of the Dead

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

LGBT litany of the saints: Harvey Milk, pray for us; Joan of Arc, pray for us... by Rachel Waltz

Queering All Saints and All Souls, Celebrating the Queer Body of Christ by Adam Ackley (Huff Post)

A Litany of All the Saints by James Kiefer

All Saints Day: Why We Need LGBT Saints by Kittredge Cherry (Believe Out Loud)

Sanctity And Male Desire: A Gay Reading Of Saints by Donald Boisvert
Spitting at Dragons: Towards a Feminist Theology of Sainthood by Elizabeth Stuart

Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People by Dennis O’Neill

Special thanks to CJ, Sage, Terence, Dennis, Liz, Trudie, Toby, Mitch, Adam and Eric for comments and conversation that helped me develop this queer theology of sainthood.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Allen Schindler: Gay martyr in the military

The Murder of Allen Schindler by Matthew Wettlaufer

Allen Schindler (1969-1992) brought international attention to anti-gay hate crimes and gays in the military when he died on this date (Oct. 27) in 1992.

Maybe Allen Schindler is resting more peacefully now that the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy against gays and lesbians in the military ended on Sept. 20, 2011.

Today also happens to be Navy Day in the United States. Remembering the service of Allen Schindler is a fitting way to mark the day.

Allen R. Schindler, Jr.
Schindler was a U.S. naval petty officer who was brutally beaten to death because he was gay by two of his shipmates in a public restroom in Sasebo, Japan. Schindler’s murder was cited by President Bill Clinton and others in the debate about gays in the military that culminated in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The crime is portrayed in an epic painting by gay artist Matthew Wettlaufer, who makes connections between anti-gay violence and other human rights struggles in his art.

At first the Navy tried to cover up the circumstances of Schindler’s death. The movie “Any Mother’s Son” tells the true story of how his mother, Dorothy Hadjys-Holman, overcame her own homophobia and Naval cover-up attempts to get justice for her gay son. She also spoke at the 1993 March on Washington for LGBT Rights.

Wettlaufer discusses his painting of Schindler and his other gay-related political art in my previous post “New paintings honor gay martyrs.”

Related link:

American Veterans for Equal Rights
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, 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.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Friday, October 24, 2014

Victory! Facebook approves gay Passion of Christ ad

Victory! Facebook backed down today and approved the ad for our gay Passion of Christ book. Thanks to good friends, the gay media, and God!

Artist Doug Blanchard was able to get the ad running again today. The book “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” features Doug’s paintings of Jesus as a contemporary gay man in a modern city.

I consider this a win for the power of the people and the press. As Doug said, “We have the best friends in the universe!” We are especially grateful to Tris Reid-Smith of Gay Star News.

"Gay Star News contacted the social networking site for comment, they have reversed their decision and ruled it didn’t breach their guidelines after all. … Facebook told Gay Star News the ad was blocked but they have now reviewed it and decided it doesn’t breach their terms and shouldn’t have been removed" Reid-Smith reported today in the article “Facebook u-turns to allow gay Jesus crucifixion ad.”

Facebook shut down ads promoting the book’s Facebook page on Monday because the image “may shock or evoke a negative response from viewers.” They banned image was “Jesus Goes to His Execution,” which shows the gay Jesus carrying his cross.

In a strange and holy twist, the controversy brought the book even more attention than it would have gotten from the ads. Doug and I are deeply grateful to the many friends old and new who “liked” the Passion book page and invited their friends.

The page currently has 403 “likes,” and about half of them came AFTER the ads were shut down.

It reminds me of Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Facebook didn’t know what it was up against!

You can still show support by "liking" the page that Facebook didn’t want us to advertise:

Censorship of social media, especially social media advertising, is a grey area / new frontier with very few laws and legal precedents to govern it. It's the like the Wild West, and we won this round. I found a valuable article about it this week during the battle with Facebook: "The Brave New World of Social Media Censorship" (Harvard Law Review)

Related links:
Facebook censors gay Passion of Christ ad

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

News release: Facebook censors gay Passion of Christ ad


Facebook censors gay Passion of Christ ad

NEW YORK, NY — Oct. 23, 2014 — Facebook canceled ads purchased for the new book “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” this week because the images “may shock or evoke a negative response from viewers.”

The book features art by Doug Blanchard showing Jesus as a gay man in a modern city, including the crucifixion and resurrection.

“We are fighting what appears to be censorship and discrimination based on sexual orientation at Facebook,” said author Kittredge Cherry.

Blanchard suspects that complaints from religious conservatives scared Facebook into canceling the ads. He bought the ads to promote the book’s Facebook page,

“The book is indeed controversial, but its intentions are not blasphemous, there is no sexual content, and the violence is unavoidable in any retelling of Christ's Passion,” he said.

The artist, author and publisher contacted Lambda Legal over the matter.

The ads were supposed to run for a week starting on Oct. 17, but Facebook shut down the promotion on Monday, Oct. 20. A message from Facebook explained, “Your ad wasn’t approved because the image or video thumbnail may shock or evoke a negative response from viewers.”

Blanchard complained to Facebook, and they sent a surprising reply on Wed., Oct 22: “Your ad was rejected because the image violates the Ad Guidelines. Ads may not use images that are shocking. Prohibited images include: -Accidents -Car crashes -Dead or dismembered bodies -Ghosts, zombies, ghouls and vampires.”

One purpose of the book is to reawaken people to the reality that violence is unacceptable and shocking. But the artist and author believe that Facebook is being unfair in how it applies its policy.

“Facebook publishes crucifixes all the time, which would always violate the criteria that they lay out in their reply,” Blanchard said. “Why was our book singled out? I suspect strongly that it is because of the gay content.”

Cherry invited people to show support by "liking" the page that Facebook won't let them advertise:

In the book’s 24 paintings, a contemporary Christ figure is jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes, and rises again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God. His diverse friends join him on a journey from suffering to freedom. Each image is accompanied by an essay on its artistic and historical context, Biblical basis and LGBT significance.

Douglas Blanchard is a gay artist who teaches art and art history at the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian author and art historian who founded, an online resource for LGBT spirituality and the arts. She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches.

“The Passion of Christ” (ISBN 194067140X) was published this month by the Apocryphile Press, a publisher based in Berkeley.

Related links:
Facebook u-turns to allow gay Jesus crucifixion ad (Gay Star News)

"Facebook bans art book advert" by Madpriest - with funny cartoon (

Victory! Facebook approves gay Passion of Christ ad (Jesus in Love Blog)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Facebook censors gay Passion of Christ ad

Facebook canceled ads purchased for our book “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” this week because it was too “shocking.”

The book features art by Doug Blanchard showing Jesus as a gay man in a modern city, including the crucifixion and resurrection. We contacted Lambda Legal and the National Coalition Against Censorship for advice on how to handle the Facebook censorship.

People can show support by "liking" the Passion of Christ page on Facebook on Facebook and buying the Passion of Christ book at or other bookstores.

Doug and I assumed that Facebook was upset about the gay aspect, but today Facebook sent a surprising explanation: They rejected the ad because it shows “Dead or dismembered bodies -Ghosts, zombies, ghouls and vampires.”

Are they seriously upset at the shocking nature of the image of a crucified Jesus?! They see the risen Christ as a zombie?! One point of the book was to reawaken people to the reality that violence is unacceptable and shocking. But this is unfair.

Facebook features plenty of other images of Jesus on the cross, including ones that are more gruesome than anything in the book. And Facebook has many images of ghosts and zombies for Halloween, “The Walking Dead” TV show, etc. We still suspect that our book was singled out due to its gay content.

If Facebook wants to stop all image of the crucifix, we might even have fundamentalist Christians on our side with this!

We also wonder whether these explanations were automatically issued by a computer -- based on complaints from right-wing Christians. It feels like what one supporter called the “Robotic Inquisition” -- automated messages generated by algorithms without any human staff member taking a look at the images.

The following is a detailed chronology of the whole crazy chain of events.

Fri., Oct. 17: Doug Blanchard bought a series of ads to promote the Facebook page about our new book, “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision.” They were supposed to run for a week.

Mon, Oct. 20: Facebook canceled the ads. They posted a message saying, "Your page wasn't promoted because your ad violated an ad guideline" with a link that said, "Learn More." Doug clicked on the link and didn't learn much. It said:

"Your ad wasn't approved because the image or video thumbnail may shock or evoke a negative response from viewers. However sometimes we make mistakes. If the image you used was not intended to shock but was still disapproved, get in touch." 

Doug began sending messages to Facebook while I contacted Lambda Legal and the National Coalition Against Censorship.

Wed., Oct. 22: Facebook finally responded with this message:

Hi Doug,
Thanks for writing in. I'm here to help.

Your ad was rejected because the image violates the Ad Guidelines. Ads may not use images that are shocking.
Prohibited images include: -Accidents -Car crashes -Dead or dismembered bodies -Ghosts, zombies, ghouls and vampires

To resubmit your ad, edit the image from your ads manager.

Review our policies on ad images here:


Michelle Facebook Ads Team Facebook

Doug sent this reply today:

Dear Michelle,

Here is a link to the website for the book we are trying to promote and to all of the images in the book:

The book is indeed controversial, but its intentions are not blasphemous, there is no sexual content, and the violence is unavoidable in any retelling of Christ's Passion. Facebook publishes Crucifixes all the time, which would always violate the criteria which you lay out in you reply. If promoting a book of art means that we are limited to strictly happy uncontroversial subject matter, then only Thomas Kinkade and the work of a select few children's book illustrators would pass muster. Picasso and Michelangelo would both be out of bounds by your own definition.

Facebook publishes the most bloodthirsty homophobic rants all the time, but lately seems to have a lot of problems with anything with gay, and especially gay positive, content. Is this a problem for Mr. Zuckerberg?

I suspect that Facebook is trying to impose a kind of candied anodyne vision upon the chaotic variety and vitality of human communication that uses its social network. Where better to directly enforce that vision than in advertising policies?

The author, the publisher, myself, and a few friends are in conversation with Lambda Legal over this matter.

I notice that the Facebook page for the Mel Gibson movie The Passion of Christ -- a much more violent version of this subject than anything in our book -- has more than 3 million likes. Can you explain this to us, and why our book was singled out? I suspect strongly that it is because of the gay content.

--Doug Blanchard, the artist of the book.

Visit the page that Facebook won't let us pay to advertise -- and show support by clicking "like" and inviting your friends.

Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision

Promote Your Page Too

Here's a link to one of many lively discussions about the Passion ad censorship on Facebook today.  Feel free to join in:

Related links:
The Brave New World of Social Media Censorship” (Harvard Law Review)

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Gay Passion of Christ book available now

Jesus challenges viewers by arriving as a young gay man of today in a modern city with “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a new book by Kittredge Cherry (author) and Douglas Blanchard (artist).

The book was released today and is available for purchase. Readers can buy the book now at and other bookstores.

In 24 stunning new paintings, the contemporary Christ figure is jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes, and rises again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God. His surprisingly diverse friends join him on a journey from suffering to freedom. He lives out a 21st-century version of Jesus’ last days, including the crucifixion and resurrection. Readers call it “accessible but profound.”

“These dramatic paintings break the deadly illusion that Jesus belongs exclusively to a particular time or group,” says author Kittredge Cherry, a minister and art historian. “A queer Passion is crucial now even for non-believers because Christianity is being used to justify discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The book speaks not only to the LGBT community, but to everyone who is passionate about building a more just world.”

The illustrated book brings together a gifted gay artist and an established lesbian author who specializes in LGBT Christian art. They take the most important narrative in Western culture and rescue it from fundamentalists and also from over-familiarity. Both are at the forefront of a trend towards envisioning Christ as queer.

Each image is accompanied by an insightful essay on its meaning, artistic and historical context, Biblical basis and LGBT significance, plus a short meditation with a scripture and one-line prayer. The Passion is placed in a larger context in introduction by the artist and an afterword by Toby Johnson, comparative religion scholar and author of “Gay Spirituality.” The book itself is a work of art with lavish full-color reproductions and an elegant design.

“Christ is one of us in my pictures,” says Blanchard. “In His sufferings, I want to show Him as someone who experiences and understands fully what it is like to be an unwelcome outsider.” Blanchard, an art professor and self-proclaimed “very agnostic believer,” used the series to grapple with his own faith struggles as a New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The gay Passion book is “transformative in the most profound sense of the word,” says Michael Bronski, Harvard professor and author of “A Queer History of the United States.” “Whether you are religious or not, it is impossible to read ‘The Passion of Christ’ without having your basic beliefs shaken and expanded.”

LGBT religious leaders also praise the book. “I was deeply moved by this retelling of the Easter story,” says Rev. Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Churches. Soulforce founder Rev. Mel White calls it “an amazing read,” Rev. Patrick Cheng welcomes it as “a beautiful work of contextual theology,” and Rev. Chris Glaser describes it as “a great contribution.” Mary Hunt of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual declares, “The divine leaps from these pages into open hearts.”

Lambda Literary Award finalist Kittredge Cherry is an art historian who founded, an online resource for LGBT spirituality and the arts. She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as its National Ecumenical Officer, advocating for LGBT rights at the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches. She holds degrees in religion, art history, and journalism. Cherry’s other books include “Art That Dares,” “Equal Rites,” “Jesus in Love,” “Hide and Speak,” and “Womansword.” The New York Times Book Review praised her “very graceful, erudite” writing style. She lives in Los Angeles.

Artist Douglas Blanchard teaches art and art history at the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. He paints in a realistic figurative style to explore gay experience, religion, mythology, history, and current events. Born and raised in Dallas, Blanchard earned degrees in art and art history from the Kansas City Art Institute, Washington University in St. Louis, and the New York Academy of Art. His Passion series was exhibited at New York’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in 2004 and JHS Gallery in Taos, New Mexico in 2007. called his Passion paintings “an emotional reminder of the courage it takes to resist the powers that be.”

The book functions both as a meditation aid for believers and as an informative analysis for secular readers interested in religion, art, history, and LGBT studies. “The purpose of reflecting on the Passion is not necessarily to worship Christ, but to remember the ongoing cycle of human violence, and to seek a way to move from suffering to freedom,” Cherry says “To Christians, the Passion is the ultimate affirmation that God stands in solidarity with humankind.”

“The Passion of Christ” (ISBN 194067140X) is published by the Apocryphile Press, a publisher and purveyor of fine books on religion, spirituality, philosophy and poetry since 2004. Based in Berkeley, Apocryphile has more than 100 titles in print by historical and contemporary authors.


The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision
By Kittredge Cherry (author) and Douglas Blanchard (artist)
Publisher: Apocryphile Press
Paperback with color images: 150 pages
Dimensions: 8.5 x 11 inches
Price: $38.95
ISBN: 194067140X
Publication date: Fall 2014

* Book website:
* Author website:
* Artist website:
* Publisher website:
* On sale now at at
* Spanish: El Libro "La Pasión de Cristo: Una Vision Gay" ya está disponible

Monday, October 13, 2014

Two-spirit Native Americans bridge genders on Columbus Day

“Unknown Mayan Couple” by Ryan Grant Long

“Dance to the Berdache” by George Catlin (Wikipedia)

Almost all Native American tribes traditionally recognized “two-spirit” people of mixed gender. Sometimes they played a spiritual role.  They appear as sacred figures in Native American rituals and myths. Two-spirit Native Americans are honored today for Columbus Day, when European explorer Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas on Oct. 12, 1492.

Before Columbus arrived, most Native American societies valued people who mixed male and female roles or characteristics.  Their languages had words for third and sometimes even fourth genders. “Two spirit” is one of the many and varied Native American terms for alternative genders because one body housed both feminine and masculine spirits. Sometimes they served as spiritual guides who mediated between the realms of body and spirit, male and female. From a Western cultural viewpoint, the two-spirited people have been seen as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or queer.

“Employments of the Hermaphrodites,” engraving based on a watercolor by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)

The earliest known European depictions of Native Americans include two-spirit people. “Employments of the Hermaphrodites” is based on a watercolor made by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues while exploring Florida in the 1560s. It illustrates his report that two-spirit people’s duties included caring for the sick and carrying the dead on stretchers.

Contemporary artists have tried to re-envision the freedom of two-spirit people before the Europeans arrived. Wisconsin artist Ryan Grant Long includes an unknown Mayan couple enjoying a playful moment together in his series “Fairy Tales” series of same-sex love throughout history. For more info, see my article Artist paints history’s gay couples: Interview with Ryan Grant Long.

Two-spirit people were not only accepted in many Native American societies, but also appear as sacred figures in Native American sacred rituals and mythology. For example the Zuni have a two-spirit god called Ko'lhamana, and Hopi and Acoma-Laguna myths tell about a whole tribe of two-spirit people called the Storoka.

“Warharmi and Madkwahomai” by Brandon Buehring

Artist Brandon Buehring included several two-spirit groupings in his “Legendary Love: A Queer History Project.” In one sketch he portrays Warharmi, a “half-man, half-woman” and twins named Madkwahomai from the creaton myth of the Tipai tribe of the Kumeyaay people in California’s Imperial Valley.

Buehring uses pencil sketches and essays “to remind queer people and our allies of our sacred birthright as healers, educators, truth-tellers, spiritual leaders, warriors and artists.” The project features 20 sketches of queer historical and mythological figures from many cultures around the world. He has a M.Ed. degree in counseling with an LGBT emphasis from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He works in higher education administration as well as being a freelance illustrator based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

George Catlin, famous artist who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West, sketched the “Dance to the Berdache” in the 19th century while on the Great Plains with the Sac and Fox Nation. He depicted a ceremonial dance to celebrate the Berdache, a European term for two-spirit people. But Catlin refused to give two-spirit people a place in his paintings of “traditional” Indian life.

Executions for homosexuality were common in Europe for centuries, and Europeans soon imported homophobic violence to the Americas. For example, the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa found homosexuality among the Native American chiefs in 1594 at Quarqua in Panama. He ordered 40 of these two-spirited people thrown to his war dogs to be torn apart and eaten alive to stop the “stinking abomination.”

Balboa executing two-spirit Native Americans for homosexuality in 1513 in Panama -- engraving by Théodore De Bry, 1594 (Wikimedia Commons).  

While Europeans were mostly hostile to two-spirit people among the Native Americans whom they converted to Christianity, a contemporary icon offers hope of reconciliation by showing holy same-sex love with both Christian and Native American imagery. For example, John Giuliani's “Jesus and the Beloved Disciple” shows Jesus and his male beloved in the native dress of the Aymara Indians, descendants of the Incas who still live in the Andean regions of Chile, Peru and Bolivia. Giuliani is an Italian-American artist and Catholic priest who is known for making Christian icons with Native American symbols. He studied icon painting under a master in the Russian Orthodox style, but chose to expand the concept of holiness to include Native Americans, the original inhabitants of the Americas.

“Jesus and the Beloved Disciple” by John Giuliani, 1996

Despite the violence, some two-spirit individuals are still remembered in history and contemporary art. They include We’wha of Zuni and the Woman Chief known as Pine Leaf. Their portraits and stories are posted for Columbus Day on the Jesus in Love Blog.

“We’wha of Zuni” by Br. Robert Lentz OFM,

We’wha of Zuni

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. We’wha (pronounced WAY-wah) was the most famous “lhamana,” the Zuni term for a male-bodied person who lived in part as a woman. Lhamanas chose to specialize in crafts instead of becoming warriors or hunters.

We’wha (1849-1896) was a skilled weaver and potter who helped Anglo-American scholars studying Zuni society. In 1886 We’wha traveled from her home in New Mexico to Washington DC, where she met president Grover Cleveland. She was welcomed as a celebrity during her six months in Washington. Everyone assumed that the 6-foot-tall “Indian princess” was female.

The spiritual side of We’wha is emphasized in the above icon by Brother Robert Lentz, is a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons. She is dressed for a religious ceremony as she prepares to put on the sacred mask of the man-woman spirit Kolhamana.

We’wha is the subject of the book “The Zuni Man-Woman” by gay anthropologist Will Roscoe. He also wrote “Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America” and “Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same-Sex Love.” Roscoe’s website offers resources in the Native American two-spirit tradition, third genders in the ancient world, and studies in early Christianity.

“We’wha” by Jim Ru

Jim Ru painted We’Wha with a dramatic blue background  His icon was included in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.  He discusses it in a video.

“Biawacheeitche or Woman Chief aka Barcheeampe or Pine Leaf” by Ria Brodell

Pine Leaf or Woman Chief

“Woman Chief” is one of the names for the two-spirit tomboy born around 1800 to the Gros Ventre tribe. She was captured by the Crow nation when she was 10 and was so adept at hunting and warfare that she rose to become their chief.

Historical accounts say that she wore women’s clothes but had “all the style of a man and chief,” with “her guns, bows, lances, war horses, and even two or three young women as wives.”

“Pine Leaf, Indian Heroine” from “The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth,” 1856 (Wikipedia)

She was killed in 1854 by the Gros Ventre tribe, but her story lived on in the popular memoirs of a freed slave and fur trader named James Beckwourth. He called her Pine Leaf because he refused his multiple marriage proposals by saying she would wed him “when the pine leaves turn yellow.” Later he figured out that pine leaves never turn yellow.

She is portrayed in the “Butch Heroes” series by genderqueer Boston artist Ria Brodell. For more on Brodell’s work, see my article “Artist paints history’s butch heroes.”
Related links:

Two Spirit People at the Legacy Walk

Kent Monkman (Canadian artist of Cree ancestry whose work has strong queer or gay male imagery dealing with sexuality and Christianity)

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, 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.

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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Matthew Shepard: Modern gay martyr and hate-crime victim

Matthew Shepard brought international attention to anti-gay hate crimes when he died on Oct. 12, 1998. He was a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming at the time.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Matthew Shepard: Modern gay martyr and hate-crime victim

Shepard (1976-1998) was brutally attacked near Laramie, Wyoming, on Oct. 6-7, 1998 by two men who later claimed that they were driven temporarily insane by “gay panic” due to Shepard’s alleged sexual advances. Shepard was beaten and left to die.

Now the Matthew Shepard Foundation seeks to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance. U.S. President Obama signed "The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act" into law on Oct. 28, 2009. It broadens the federal hate-crimes law to cover violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Matthew Shepard” by Tobias Haller

Shepard has become a cultural icon, inspiring dozens and dozens of paintings, films, plays, songs and other artistic works -- with more still being created every year. Among the new images is a sweet portrait of him with a rainbow halo by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He is the author of “Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality.” Haller enjoys expanding the diversity of icons available by creating icons of LGBTQ people and other progressive holy figures as well as traditional saints. He and his spouse were united in a church wedding more than 30 years ago and a civil ceremony after same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

Shepard’s martyrdom gives him the aura of a Christ figure. His torturous death evokes the Good Shepherd who was crucified. The officer who found Shepard said that he was covered with blood -- except for the white streaks left by his tears. Based on this report, Father William Hart McNichols created the striking icon at the top of this post. McNichols dedicated his icon The Passion of Matthew Shepard to the 1,470 gay and lesbian youth of commit suicide in the U.S. each year, and to the countless others who are injured or murdered.

McNichols is a New Mexico artist and Catholic priest who has been rebuked by church leaders for making icons of saints not approved by the church, including one of Matthew Shepard. McNichols’ own moving spiritual journey and two of his icons are included in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry. His Matthew Shepard icon appears in his book “Christ All Merciful,” which he co-authored with Megan McKenna.

Another new project inspired by Shepard is “Matthew Shepard Meets Coyote,” a play that blends Christianity, queer experience and Native American folklore. In the final moments of Shepard’s life he encounters Coyote, the trickster god of the American West, who urges him to move beyond the cruel tricks that life has played on him. It was written by Harry Cronin, a priest of Holy Cross and professor in residence at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. In 2014 it was performed at the San Francisco Fringe Festival and at Bay Area churches as a way to spark dialogue. Cronin currently writes plays about redemption in alcoholic and queer experiences.

Several works were released in 2013 for the 15th anniversary of Shepard’s death.  They include the musical tribute “Beyond the Fence,” the film “Matt Shepard was a Friend of Mine” and the book “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard.”

"Matthew Shepard: Beyond the Fence," a musical tribute celebrating a life that helped change the world, premiered in October 2013 in a production by the South Coast Singers, a LGBTQ performance troupe in Long Beach, California. Written by SCC creative director Steve Davison, it incorporates existing music by gay composers Levi Kreis, Ryan Amador and Randi Driscoll.

The documentary film “Matt Shepard was a Friend of Mine” is directed by Michele Josue, who indeed was a close friend of Shepard. She takes a personal approach, exploring his life and loss by visiting places that were important to him and interviewing his friends and family. View the trailer below or at this link.

Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine: Teaser #2 from Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine on Vimeo.

Award-winning gay Journalist Stephen Jimenez does extensive research into the circumstances of the crime in “The Book of Matt.” He finds that Shepard was not killed for being gay, but for reasons far more complicated.

Other books about Shepard include “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son's Murder in Laramie” and “A World Transformed” by his mother (Judy Shepard) and “October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard” by Lesléa Newman, a novel in verse about the murder.

“Saint Sebastian and Matt Shepard Juxtaposed” by JR Leveroni

“Saint Sebastian and Matt Shepard Juxtaposed” by JR Leveroni is a painting that makes an important connection between a gay Christian martyr from history and the gay victims of hate crimes today. Leveroni is an emerging visual artist living in South Florida. Painting in a Cubist style, he matches Shepard’s death with the killing of another gay martyr, Saint Sebastian. The suffering is expressed in a subdued style with barely a trace of blood. A variety of male nudes and religious paintings can be seen on his website (warning: male nudity).

“The Murder of Matthew Shepard” by Matthew Wettlaufer

The grim scene of Matthew’s death is vividly portrayed in “The Murder of Matthew Shepard,” above, by gay artist-philosopher Matthew Wettlaufer. He lived in El Salvador and South Africa before returning to California. For an interview with Wettlaufer and more of his art, see my previous post “New paintings honor gay martyrs.”

“The Last of Laramie” by Stephen Mead
Above is a lyrical painting dedicated to Matthew Shepard: “The Last of Laramie” by gay artist Stephen Mead.of New York. It appears in his book “Our Book of Common Faith.” For more about Mead and his art, see my previous post “Gay Artist Links Body and Spirit.”

"The Candlelight Vigil for Matthew Shepard (NYC Oct. 19, 1998)” by Sandow Birk

California artist Sandow Birk painted a candlelight vigil for Shepard. With a drummer and a rainbow flag, it seems to echo “The Spirit of 76,” a famous patriotic painting of Revolutionary War figures by Archibald MacNeal Willard. But it is based on the 1889 painting (“The Conscripts” by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, a work that takes a hard look at the toll of war, especially the conscription of young people into the military during the Franco-Prussian War.

For more about Sandow Birk’s art, see my previous post Stonewall's LGBT history painted: Interview with Sandow Birk.

The play “The Laramie Project” by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project has been performed all over the world since it premiered in 1998. Many American performances were picketed by Westboro Baptist Church members, who appear in the play picketing Shepard’s funeral as they did in real life. “The Laramie Project” draws on hundreds of interviews with residents of Laramie conducted by the theater company. A film version of The Laramie Project was released in 2002.

Matthew’s story has also been dramatized in biopic movies such as “The Matthew Shepard Story” with Sam Waterson and Stockard Channing as the grieving parents.

More than a 30 songs inspired by Matthew Shepard are listed in “Cultural Depictions of Matthew Shepard” at Wikipedia. They come from a variety of singers, including Melissa Etheridge, Janis Ian, and Elton John.

The Altar Cross of LGBTQ Martyrs from Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco

The Altar Cross of LGBTQ Martyrs from Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco features photos of Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, Gwen Araujo and others. In the center of the cross is the fence where Shepard was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming.

The tendency to acclaim Shepard as a martyr is analyzed in a scholarly paper that won the 2014-15 LGBT Religious History Award from the LGBT Religious Archives Network. “The Martyrdom of Matthew Shepard” was written by Brett Krutzsch, religion professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio. It is an excerpt from his Ph.D dissertation, “Martyrdom and American Gay History: Secular Advocacy, Christian Ideas, and Gay Assimilation,” which examines how religious rhetoric and gay martyr discourses facilitated American gay assimilation from the 1970s through 2014. He finds that secular gay advocates invoked Shepard as a gay martyr, using Christian ideas to present gay Americans as similar to the dominant culture. He questions the politics of martyrdom and analyzes why the deaths of a few white, middle-class, gay men have been mourned as national tragedies.

The award announcement explains: “The paper argues that Shepard’s appeal was connected to constructions of him as Christ-like and as an upstanding young, Christian man. His posthumous notoriety reveals a historical moment when Christian ideas significantly shaped arguments for American gay social integration. In turn, Matthew Shepard became an icon of the apparently ideal late twentieth-century gay citizen: a white, nonsexual, practicing Protestant.”

Related links:
Cultural Depictions of Matthew Shepard (Wikipedia)

Top image credit: “The Passion of Matthew Shepard” by William Hart McNichols

This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved. presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Vida Dutton Scudder: Lesbian saint, reformer and teacher

Vida Dutton Scudder, c. 1890 (Wikipedia)

Vida Dutton Scudder is an American social reformer, professor, prominent lesbian author -- and an officially recognized saint in the Episcopal Church. Her feast day is today (Oct. 10.)

Her ideas on economic inequality are especially relevant amid the financial crises of our times. Born in India to missionary parents in 1861, Scudder studied at Oxford and became a professor at Wellesley College, where she taught English literature for 41 years. All her primary relationships were with women. For 35 years from 1919 until her death in 1954, Scudder lived with author Florence Converse in a lesbian relationship.

Scudder’s spirituality went hand in hand with her social conscience and love of learning. She was active in the Social Gospel movement, co-founding a Boston settlement house to reduce poverty, promoting Christian socialism and backing trade unions. Scudder wrote 16 books, including her autobiography “On Journey,” plus numerous articles on religious, political, and literary subjects.

Converse (1871-1967), a New Orelans native and Wellesley graduate, served on the editorial staff of the Atlantic Monthly and The Churchman magazine.  She wrote many novels with titles such as “The Story of Wellesley” and “The Holy Night.”

The couple'sr lesbian life is documented in the books “Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America” by Lillian Faderman and “Passionate Commitments: The Lives of Anna Rochester and Grace Hutchins” by Julia M. Allen. Their long-term relationship lasted until Scudder died at age 91 on Oct. 9, 1954.

The two women are buried near each other at Newton Cemetery and Crematory in Newton, Massachusetts. The Internet makes it possible to visit to the graves of Scudder and Converse online.

The Episcopal Church added Scudder to its book of saints several years ago. She expressed her belief in the power of prayer when she wrote, “If prayer is the deep secret creative force that Jesus tells us it is, we should be very busy with it.” Here is the official prayer that the Episcopal Church offers in memory of this lesbian saint:

Most gracious God, you sent your beloved Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Raise up in your church witnesses who, after the example of your servant Vida Dutton Scudder, stand firm in proclaiming the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Related links:

Vida Dutton Scudder, American Lesbian Saint for Our Times (Queering the Church)

Vida Dutton Scudder, Educator and Witness for Peace (Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church)

Vida Dutton Scudder (Wikipedia)

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.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts