News & Politics

Gay with God

Given past rejection and open persecution by mainstream religion many gay men are seeking spiritual guidance outside the church.
The gay community is coming out of the closet again – spiritually. "The movement is in its infancy, but it's just starting to gel," says Steve Kammon, editor of Circuitnoize.com, a website devoted to circuit parties. Kammon attended the first ever gay spiritual summit, held in upstate New York in May – an event that serves as testament to the community's burgeoning shift from cruising to consecration. "New connections are being forged. We're trying to make way for a kind of communal energy that supports and uplifts," he says.

The summit, held at the Garrison Institute, a retreat center overlooking the Hudson River, drew 130 gay leaders from disparate spiritual and religious paths. What attracted them was what they see as a broader spiritual movement and the queer community's emerging part within it. "Gay people have a significant role to play," says Christian de la Huerta, author of Coming Out Spiritually, which addresses the gay community's spiritual heritage. "We're trying to reconnect to One-ness and all the superficial externals, like what's between your legs, are meaningless."

At a time when gay marriage has snagged the media spotlight, the community's focus on relationship – including relationship to Higher Purpose – signals a growing need for many to reconnect. But it's not about just getting laid. "Spirituality embodies having the full expression of personal choice," says Sam Lipton, a spiritual healer in New York City. "If you're going to connect with someone and venture into any union – whether it's marriage or business – you have to be whole."

Given past rejection and open persecution by established faith-based communities, which now face potential schism, many gay men have sought spiritual guidance outside the church, if at all. "All too often we've thrown the baby out with the baptismal water and closeted our spirituality," says de la Huerta. "We've isolated ourselves from spiritual support and yet we remain deeply spiritual."

Today, that is beginning to change. Gay spirituality organizations such as Q-Spirit (founded by de la Huerta), The Gateway, and Manifest Love are forming across the country, offering workshops that aim at grounding men in their deeper selves. There are even gay "Course in Miracles" or "Conversations with God" discussion groups available. While there are also workshops geared towards women, also, the movement seems to be spearheaded by gay men.

"The coming out process has as much to do with others knowing as an awareness of one's own nature," says Jerry Polansky, co-executive director of The Gateway, which is based in San Francisco. "We are coming to a greater understanding of ourselves and how each human being, regardless of how they identify, is seeking to find purpose and understanding."

Many within the community see the rising shift towards spirituality as a natural outgrowth of the AIDS pandemic. "The roots for many different kinds of spirituality were there, working in the background of the plague," says Kammon, noting how the community pulled together in the sobering face of death. "Caring for the dying strips away what we previously thought it meant to be alive." AIDS, he says, quickly shifted the community's focus from raw physicality to activism, and grief eventually lead to transformation for some, addiction for others.

Patrick McNamara, the summit's project coordinator and co-convenor of the Spiritual Caucus at the United Nations, concurs. "AIDS laid the foundation. It made us go into great depth, both as individuals and within small communities, to explore what has real purpose," he says.

Others like Toby Johnson, author of Gay Spirituality, feel that the spiritual undercurrent has always been there. "Look at how many gay men are ex-seminarians or former priests," says Johnson, himself a former Catholic monk. "We've gained a spiritual perspective from growing up as outsiders, assuming a kind of critical perspective that pushes us to question our very existence." Johnson, who studied comparative religions under mythology guru Joseph Campbell, says historical evidence illustrates how gays and lesbians were often revered as spiritual leaders. For example, the Native American Indians honored the berdache, or Two-Spirit people, who were considered androgynous visionaries and eagerly sought as matchmakers.

Johnson feels mainstream depictions of gay men have largely been distorted because "youth and sex sell." "Listen, men are fascinated with sex, whether they're straight or gay. Most of us are in stable, long-term relationships, and we see relationships in unity and harmony. That's also the way we see God," he says.

In Coming out Spiritually, de la Huerta traces how gays have been spiritual teachers, shamans and healers, often playing the role of "consciousness scouts," or those who map out what lies ahead in order to report back and inform the tribe. "In that sense, we've always been in the vanguard," he says, "whether it's setting trends in fashion, music, or the arts. Even with AIDS, we were the guinea pigs, there to provide a service for the rest of humanity."

That particular role – being on the cutting edge of consciousness – is being revved up, according to many gay spiritual practitioners, due to a wider societal awakening. This spiritual renaissance may have been spurred, in part, by aging baby boomers, who dropped out of major religion yet have continually hungered for spiritual truth. 78 million boomers are now in the 50-year age bracket, a time when most people begin to question and reevaluate their lives. And their disproportionate representation of the general populace often dictates the general zeitgeist. According to a Business 2.0 report, the number of Americans who felt the need for spiritual growth swelled to 82 percent in 2000, up from 56 percent in 1984. The same article reported the sale of religious and spiritual books also shot up 59 percent between 1992 and 1994. The collective consciousness is geared towards spirituality, and many gay spirituality leaders are baby boomers.

Whatever the exact reasons, the spiritual movement within the gay community is gaining momentum. "The impulse happened at the right time and the right place and it keeps happening," says McNamara excitedly of the summit. "People are taking whatever they're passionate about, collaborating with others, and the work is continuing to unfold. Now it has a life of its own."
Dara Colwell is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn.
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