As Pride Month and Black Lives Matter protests co-exist, the spirituality of queer women of color teaches white allies how to listen.
After nearly eighty days of sheltering in place, I feel like I’ve stepped out and found the world on fire. June isn’t supposed to be this way. It’s Pride Month, after all, and I’m queer, eager to dance alongside my favorite drag queens, albeit reticent to embrace capitalism’s commodification of our beloved rainbows.
Most of our annual Pride events have been cancelled due to concerns of social distancing amid a global pandemic. I support these cancellations, though my first family outing since quarantine was a Black Lives Matter protest in Hilo, Hawai’i; we all stood six-plus feet apart, wore masks, and waved our signs beneath the King Kamehameha statue. As my six-year-old was complimented on how he wrote his own sign, I adjusted my three-year-old daughter’s face mask and thought about how queer BIPOC started the Stonewall riots only 51 years ago. I thought about how we queers would have every right to demand our Pride celebrations, storming capitals with glitter bombs, and demanding our civil liberties, not completely dissimilar to the myriad gun clad white dudes demanding haircuts only weeks ago. But we don’t.
Perhaps that’s because we know what it’s like to have our actual rights withheld. Currently. And in the very recent past. Maybe it’s because we have been, and often continue to be, the vulnerable in need of protection. From the AIDS pandemic to continued housing discrimination, marriage equality to the astronomical homicide rates for black transgender women, the queer community knows what it means to be vulnerable, to be discriminated against, and to collectively mourn.
But that’s not the story that needs repeating this Pride month. The stories that need telling come from our black kindred gasping for breath beneath the knee of white supremacy. And it’s incumbent upon the white queer community to listen. From sheltering in place with my wife and two young children to abiding in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, my work as a queer clergywoman is calling me, and my white kindred, to be reflective rather than reactive during Pride month. To listen. This year must be different. I believe Pride 2020 needs to be subversively spiritual, and it needs to center the voices of those most vulnerable in queer movement work, namely queer women of color.
As an ordained queer clergywoman and professor of religion, the recommendation for a spiritual approach to Pride should probably come as no surprise. For fourteen years, I subverted traditional spirituality as a pastor, forming LGBTQ+ Spirituality Groups, Parenting Groups, and Transgender Support Groups from within the hallowed walls of churches, those places that had otherwise done so much harm to the queer community. Over time, however, the Church hurt me, too. Even those spaces I believed to be affirming turned out to assault my queer soul. So, I left to embrace faithlessness. And it was the holiest decision I’ve ever made.
In the non-profit work I do now, I’m always asking the question, “Where are all the women?” when faced with practical, political, or philosophical dilemmas. Considering the spiritual role in queer pride, the bold stories of women like Sappho, Jane Addams, and Mary Daly jump out at me, and though they are, indeed, revolutionary, these are not the stories the queer community needs most right now. Rather, the people who have continually taught us about queer spirituality, queer community, and queer connection are the people we most often exclude and neglect: queer women of color.
Whether it’s the subversive spirituality of the queer women founders of Black Lives Matter, the sister outsider spirituality of Audre Lorde, or the ways Guanyin, Buddhist Goddess of Compassion and Mercy has become a trans* icon, queer women of color have taught us what it means to imagine a more just and beautiful world. From 3rd century martyrs, Perpetua and Felicity, dubbed the Patron Saints of Same-Sex Marriage, to Lilith returning to the Garden of Eden to rescue and fall in love with Eve, to the Shulamite’s dance evoking erotic love poetry in the bible, the stories of queer women of color subverting spirituality are hidden in the crevices of our canons.
It’s the co-founder of the National Organization of Women and author of what Thurgood Marshall called “the bible of the civil rights movement,” Pauli Murray, who was the first African American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest, all while in loving relationships with women. It was the Chicana lesbian feminist, Gloria Anzaldúa, who taught us to build bridges between our spirits, our activism, and our academia, with la Virgen de Guadalupe, Yoruban orishás Yemayá and Oshún, or Nahuatl/Toltec divinities as her guides. It was a black drag queen, Marsha P. Johnson, canonized as Saint of Christopher Street. And it was a Middle Eastern Jew named Judith who delivered her people, beheaded injustice, and led the Israelites in a faithful dance while committing her life to a woman despite multiple marriage proposals from men.
It is these women—and so many others—whose lives, legends, and legacies have delivered us. This month, we should take the opportunity to savor their stories with gratitude. For queer women of color have taught us what it means to be faithful when faith has abandoned us. They have taught us to be authentically ourselves when the world wants to force us into one of two boxes. They have shown us resilience, claiming, “Hope is a song in a weary throat; give me a song of hope and a world where I can sing it (Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat).” Let us lift our voices in gratitude and praise for the ones who have taught our souls to sing, even while the world around us burns. Let us queerly connect from every inch of the globe, not in flashy rainbow parades this year, but in reflectively honoring the ones who made it possible.
And, if you’re so inclined, join me in my 3 CEU credit course Queer Spirituality: Global Perspectives, which offers us glimpses at the queer spiritualities of twelve BIWOC from around the world. Spirituality, I dare say, is an act of resistance in times like these.
Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber, with four publications listed among the Top LGBTQ Religion Books, is the author, artist, and Executive Director of the Tehom Center non-profit, and teaches an online course on Queer Spirituality: Global Perspectives.