Monthly Archives: November 2010

Harvey Milk

b. May 22, 1930
d. November 27, 1978

Harvey Milk became the first openly gay person to be elected to a significant public office when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He served eleven months before he was assassinated.

"The important thing is not that we can live on hope alone, but that life is not worth living without it."

Harvey Milk was a New Yorker who migrated to San Francisco in the 1970’s, when an influx of gay immigrants from across the country was changing the Castro neighborhood into the city’s gay village. Milk opened a camera store and founded the Castro Valley Association of local merchants. His willingness to represent the interests of local merchants with city government earned him the unofficial title of "the Mayor of Castro Street." Milk discovered that he had a natural flair for politics.

Milk was a political outsider and a populist who made his own rules. From his shop in the Castro, he ran grassroots campaigns based on relentless meetings, door-to-door canvassing, and media interviews. His supporters formed "human billboards" by standing along major thoroughfares holding placards. Milk’s first three tries for office were unsuccessful, but they gave him increasing credibility with the electorate.

When Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, a lesbian wrote, "I thank God I have lived long enough to see my kind emerge from the shadows and join the human race."

Milk was shot to death in his City Hall office on Nov. 27, 1978, by Dan White, a conservative anti-gay former supervisor who also murdered Mayor George Moscone. White was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years imprisonment. City-wide violence erupted in San Francisco when White’s sentence was announced.

Harvey Milk had forebodings of his assassination. He left a tape-recorded "political will" naming his preferred successor on the Board of Supervisors. On that tape he said: "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."

Bibliography:

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Nov 9th: St. Matrona/Babylas of Perge

St Matrona /Babylas of Perge is one of a number of female saints in the early church who dressed as men to be admitted to all-male monasteries. The stories and motives of these women are remote from our time, and ‘transvestite’ is not to be confused with ‘transgendered’. Still, whatever the full historic truth, it seems to me these are useful stories to hold on to as reminders of the important place of the transgendered, and differently gendered, in our midst. Many of us will remember how difficult and challenging was the process of recognising, and then confronting, our identities as lesbian or gay, particularly in the context of a hostile church. However difficult and challenging we may have found the process of honestly confronting our sexual identities, consider how much more challenging must be the process of confronting and negotiating honestly a full gender identity crisis. Their stories collectively also carry a sobering reminder of the differing regard given by society of the time to male and female lives – else why would women have sought out male monasteries, in spite of the risks and discomfort to themselves of their lives in disguise, if not expectation of some greater spiritual reward than in a female convent? 

Our Holy Mother Matrona (492 AD):
She was from Perga in Pamphylia, and married very young, to a youth named Domitian, to whom she bore a daughter. The couple settled in Constantinople. Matrona became so constant in attending all-night vigils in the city’s many churches that her husband suspected her of infidelity and forbade her to go out. This was unbearable to Matrona, who fled the house with her daughter. Determined to embrace monastic life, she gave her daughter into the care of a nun named Susanna, disguised herself as a eunuch, and entered the monastery of St Bassian (October 10) under the name of Babylas. Though she amazed all with her zeal and ascetic labors, Bassian one day discerned that she was a woman. Though he reprimanded her severely because of her zeal, he was unwilling to drive her away from monastic life because of her zeal; so he directed her to go to Emesa in Syria to enter a certain women’s monastery there.
  Matrona continued to advance in the virtues, and once healed a blind man by anointing his eyes with myrrh from the head of St John the Baptist (which had been miraculously discovered around that time). The miracle became widely-known, and because of it Matrona’s husband learned of her whereabouts. When he came to her monastery she escaped to Jerusalem, but he pursued her there too. She fled from place to place, even living for several years in an abandoned pagan temple in Beirut, where she was constantly assaulted by the demons that inhabited the place. In time several pagan women, seeing her struggles, asked to be her disciples, and a small monastic community sprang up in the pagan temple. After a few years she and her disciples made their way back to to Constantinople, where St Bassian received her joyfully and helped her to establish a monastery. There she was visited by the Empress Verina, wife of Leo the Great, and many other noblewomen of the City, some of whom left all to join Matrona in monastic life. Saint Matrona lived to be almost one hundred years old and reposed in peace, having foretold the day of her death. 
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Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

The story of Daniel is so well known to us, there is no need to repeat it here:  and that is exactly the problem  Like so many tales from long ago, we hear them as children with modern ears, and then never think to make the imaginative leap back into the historic conditions which completely change their significance.  So familiar are we with the sanitised "Children's Bible Stories" version, and the familiar, often soppy pictures that accompany it, we lose sight of the fact that the real story probably had sexual overtones.

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Nov 1st: All (Gay) Saints

Today is the feast of All Saints.  For us as gay men, lesbians in the church, this begs the obvious questions: are there gay saints?  Does it matter?
Some sources say clearly yes, listing numerous examples. Others dispute the idea, saying either that the examples quoted are not officially recognised, or denying that they wer gay because we do not know that they were sexually active.  Before discussing specifically LGBT or queer saints, consider a more general question.
Who are the “Saints”, and why do we recognise them?
All Saints Albrecht  Dürer
All Saints : Albrecht Dürer

Richard McBrien gives one response, at NCR on-line:

There are many more saints in heaven than the relatively few who have been officially recognized by the church.
“For every St. Francis of Assisi or St. Rose of Lima there are thousands of unknown and long forgotten mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors, co-workers, nurses, teachers, manual laborers, and other individuals in various kinds of occupations who lived holy lives that were consistent with the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Although each is in eternal glory, none of their names is attached to a liturgical feast, a parish church, a pious society, or any other ecclesiastical institution. The catch-all feast that we celebrate next week is all the recognition they're ever going to receive from the church.”
“The church makes saints in order to provide a steady, ever renewable stream of exemplars, or sacraments, of Christ, lest our following of Christ be reduced to some kind of abstract, intellectual exercise.
Two things are important here, especially at this feast of "all" saints: the category of saints is far larger than just those who have been recognised by a formal process; and the reason for giving them honour is to provide role models. It is not inherent to the tradition of honouring the saints that they should be miracle workers, or that we should be praying to them for special favours – although officially attested miracles are part of the canonization process. This formal process did not even exist in the early church:  it was only in the 11th or 12 the century that saint making became the exclusive preserve of the Pope.
It now becomes easier to make sense of the gay, lesbian and transvestite saints in Church history, and their importance for the feast of All Saints.

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