Readers’ Thoughts

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John Boswell’s Precursors: An Exchange

To the Editor:

In his homage to John Boswell in the May-June issue, Brian Bromberger failed to mention one of the three books that was favorable toward gay Christians and that preceded John Boswell’s 1980 Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. In 1978, Harper & Row published Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? Another Christian View, by Letha Scanzoni and me. Written primarily for and by evangelical Christians, the books treated the Bible with great respect, discussing various misinterpretations that had made the Bible seem like an enemy to GLBT people.

Harvey Milk brought his motorcade to the book-release luncheon in San Francisco. (His murder took place later that year.) Later, John Boswell and I became good friends when we both spoke at a “Lesbian, Gay, and Christian” weekend at Kirkridge Conference Center in Pennsylvania.

Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, PhD,
Professor of English Emeritus,
William Paterson University, NJ

 

Brian Bromberger Replies:

No slight or disrespect was intended toward Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, as I remember reading her wonderful book in my early twenties and realizing that Christianity and homosexuality are not mutually exclusive. What she and Letha Scanzoni did so effectively was to take academic arguments and make them accessible to lay readers (those not theologically trained) by using real-life examples. I could easily have cited her book, as well as others by Malcolm Boyd and Troy Perry in that pre-Boswell era, which all were favorable toward gay Christians. I was primarily referencing books that had a historical bent to them, which is why I only cited Derrick Sherwin Bailey’s Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (1955) and John McNeill’s The Church and the Homosexual (1976), who did a historical theology of moral attitudes toward homosexuality. However, I did not make that clear in my introductory sentence, so mea culpa.

The Scanzoni and Mollenkott book is deservedly still in print, and through the years I have met evangelical and mainline Protestant LGBT Christians who cited their book as helping them to accept both being gay/lesbian and Christian. Mollenkott’s other books, The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God As Female (1983) and Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach (2001) are also classics. She has been a great intellectual leader in the LGBT Christian movement and wrote at a time when it was very unpopular in religious circles to be pro-LGBT. We owe her a great deal for her courageous stance in the early years of the gay liberationmovement.


And a Correction.
Due to an editorial error, the “h” in John Boswell’s first name was omitted on the cover of this issue. We regret the mistake.

 

When China Dreamed of Liberation

To the Editor:

In his article in the March-April issue, “In Search of the Spirit of Mu Xin,” Alfred Corn writes: “Qing Yuan spoke of a program in which apprentice gay Chinese activists were brought to Los Angeles to receive training.” The program that he writes about was founded in 1997 by Wan Yan Hai and me. I was a professor at the University of Southern California, and with the help of activist Dr. Lyle Henry I arranged for Dr. Wan to receive an offer as a visiting scholar at USC. We persuaded the U.S. State Department to give him a scholar visa, which got him out of China just before he would have been arrested by the police due to his activism.

When Wan arrived, I presented him with a copy of the book Overcoming Heterosexism and Homophobia: Strategies That Work (Columbia, 1997), edited by James T. Sears and myself. After reading this book, Wan decided to use its approach as a template for reducing homophobia in China. The first step was for us to organize a conference. The First International Conference on Chinese Sexual Minorities was held at USC in 1998. Activists came not only from China and the U.S. but also from Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, Taiwan, and Europe. It was a historic milestone.

At the time, I was president of ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives. Wan and I planned a strategy to focus on the Chinese Psychiatric Association, which still defined homosexuality as a mental illness. When several of its leaders came to L.A., Wan arranged for them to visit ONE Archives. After giving them a tour of the world’s largest LGBT library (founded by Jim Kepner and Dorr Legg in the 1950s and brought into affiliation with USC by me in the 1990s), I gave them a seminar in LGBT Studies. I believe this was the single most influential lecture of my career, because these scholars returned to China to lobby the CPA for a change.

In 1999, Wan decided to return to China, despite my worry that he would be in great personal danger. By this time there were other brave gay activists working for reform in China. In 2001 international headlines were made when the CPA voted to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

Wan and others arranged for me to give lectures at Beijing University and Shanghai Medical University. In November 2001, I traveled to China, gave these lectures, talked to groups of LGBT activists, and spoke with a member of the national legislature. Large audiences heard my speeches, and I was hopeful that this was a new dawn for China.

Alfred Corn writes: “I don’t know if the Los Angeles program Qing Yuan mentioned (the one offering training for Chinese gay activists) is still operative.” The answer is that it is not. I resigned from the board of ONE Archives and shifted my attention to other countries. In 2002 I gave the first lecture on homophobia, sponsored by the Korean Sexual Minority Rights Center, in Seoul. From 2003 to 2009 I spent most of my time in Thailand and Cambodia, where I did ethnographic research and gave several speeches. In 2005 I gave speeches in Belize, building upon my previous research among the Maya of Yucatan (as reported in my book The Spirit and the Flesh).

It is too bad that the program for gay activists (in China and elsewhere) that Wan Yan Hai and I began at ONE Archives no longer exists. But our struggle for liberation, in both the U.S. and around the world, will not die. We shall overcome.

Walter L. Williams, Littleton, CO

 

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