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Lindsey Jr. E Mitchell. Lohman, and Phyllis Kapetanakis. Watson Saunders. Are children of a diabetic mother in comparison to children of a nondiabetic mother at an increased risk for developing obesity in the first 10 years of life? Are Physician Assistants' unique job characteristic of career flexibility truly fulfilling the needs of primary and non-primary healthcare needs?


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This article raises questions about how scholars of African American religions and of Black Queer Studies have historically and historiographically rendered queer and transgender persons as being devoid of a religion of their choosing. Where should we look for inspiration? To whom are we able? How should those of us located in academe respond and push the project forward? Allen's queries are provocative for two reasons.

Second, Allen's questions appear in an anthology that does not include a reading of Black queer religious experiences in the Americas and across the Diaspora. In this article, I raise questions about how scholars of religion and of Black Queer Studies have historically and historiographically rendered queer and transgender persons as being devoid of a religion of their choosing.

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I argue that historical scholarship on queer and nonnormative sexuality in African American religious studies can serve as a corrective to the erasure of queer persons and queer religious institutions in dominant discourses across the Diaspora and offer insight into queer pasts, experiences, political organizing, and understandings of the sacred Alexander, Without question, the study of African American religions, like most fields of study, has historically and historiographically privileged cisgender, heterosexual persons.

It is an acknowledgment that queer people have lived and are living. While these interventions have been critical, most of these scholars altogether overlook the ificance of African American religions in queer history. I do not wish to suggest, however, that queering the dominant narrative of African American religious history i. Similarly, M. Second, I historicize queer and transgender religious experiences using foundational secondary and primary sources. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer.

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We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality […] The future is queerness's domain. Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see and feel beyond the quagmire of the present. Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley, on the other hand, speaks of the already present queerness of Blackness in the anti-black Americas. Like the question of gender, there has been a curious absence with regard to sexuality, including but not limited to attention to queer sexuality, in the study of preth century African American religious history.

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Scholars have, however, rightly discussed the intersections of sexual violence, racialization, and captivity in the early Americas. In this vein, I would like to think about gender, sexuality, and African American religions in the context of the historian Albert Raboteau's foundational book, Slave Religionwhich arguably transformed the field of African American religious history when it was first published in Berry argues that soul values emerged in both private and public.

Sometimes this internal value appeared as a spirit, a voice, a vision, a premonition, a sermon, an ancestor, a God. Queering African American religious history, then, means prioritizing the clandestine, the invisible institution, and soul values—things which did not meet white master class eyes and yet still existed.

While the sources are replete with evidence of rape and nonconsensual, forced sexual exploitation, Camp and historians after her, especially Treva Lindsey and Jessica Marie Johnson, build on studies on slave religion to consider consensual sex and pleasure among the enslaved, which for purposes here, is in conversation with the literature on rape but also expands and exceeds such discourses.

Queering African American religious history in this period, then, necessitates that we also search for how free black people articulated transgressive sexualities and religions.


Take, for instance, Rebecca Cox Jackson —a free black woman of Philadelphia and Holiness Methodist preacher. After leaving her husband, Cox entered into a lifelong partnership with another woman, Sister Rebecca Perot, who she considered a disciple and companion.

Cox later ed the Shaker community at Watervliet, New York, and then founded a predominately Black Shaker sisterhood in Philadelphia.

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Indeed, historians must approach the historical record without assuming that all subjects from the past were straight-identified, gender-conforming, or beholden to heteropatriarchal gender roles. The first half of the twentieth century was replete with historical change in African American communities but also across the nation due to such events as the Great Migration, the first and second World Wars, urbanization, the Harlem Renaissance, and the early beginnings of the long Civil Rights Movement.

It was also a moment in which shifting understandings of sexuality in African American religions began to materialize. Such racialized, gendered, and sexualized policing was connected to religion, in which many African American religious actors concealed their nonnormative sexualities and gender identities see Heilbut, ; Johnson, a ; Jones, ; King, ; McCune, ; Moore, ; Snorton, ; Williamson,pp.

Take, for example, the Reverend Clarence Cobbs and Dr. Mary Evans, whom historian Wallace Best describes as being rumored to be homosexual and lesbian, respectively, during the Great Migration era in Chicago pp. Bestpp. Bearing these observations and analyses in mind, how might historians continue to locate queer sexuality and queer-identified individuals in publicly recorded dissent to nonnormative sexualities proffered by African American religious leadership and the otherwise straight-identified?

By analyzing the letters Wonderful Joy and Happy S. Indeed, by moving beyond mainline Christianity, Weisenfeld additionally models for historians of African American religions and sexuality how to deconstruct the ways the literature on African American Protestants dominates the discourse on queer sexuality in the study of African American religions. In contrast to Weisenfeld, Tim Retzloff contends that historians can repurpose already existing archives that have been used for other studies in African American religious history, in the service of researching and writing about Black queer sexuality and religion.

In his work on Detroit's Prophet Jones, he shows how homophobic rhetoric directed towards the minister, along with the rumors about his queer sexuality as told by the national press and the likes of famed Harlem pastor the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, are critical and expansive sites for exploration in queer African American religious history. They were his disciples. If you have a bunch of men behind you, they'll talk. If you got a bunch of women behind you, they'll talk.

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If you got men and women, they'll talk. Indeed, rumors about queer sexuality proliferated in African American religious life, even as an underground sexual culture persisted as argued by the historian LaShawn Harris and Kevin Mumfordsuch that churches were not the only sites of queer sexuality. Given the privileging of cisgender, heterosexual Christian men in the study of African American religious history, scholars will need to look beyond Christocentric religious formations to locate religion among the non-cisgender and non-heterosexual. This work necessitates looking beyond African American Protestant and Protestant adjacent churches.

For instance, as Angela Davis has argued, during the blues era, religion and sexuality were viewed as co-constitutive elements of Black culture. During the era of Civil Rights and Black Power, many more African American queer, transgender, and gender nonconforming persons fought for the recognition of their gender and sexual identities in the movement for racial justice.

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Johnson Cohen,pp. Scholars have only recently begun thinking about the intersections between civil rights and gay rights, along with Black power and gay power, which each galvanized many activists across the globe during the period. The question of religion with regard to many gay and transgender African American activists and political organizers has not been thoroughly explored. Marcus Anthony Hunter and Zandria F.

Robinson do, however, describe Black transgender activist and Stonewall legend Marsha P. Indeed, Johnson was a practitioner of syncretic African American religions.

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In her reverence for Mary and the Church's relics more broadly, her posture of prayer—towards the street—served as an indication of where her heart and moral vision truly lay. Her politics were also reflected in her spiritual practice. Aisha M. In this way, she is but one example of what new insights become available when we search for queer and transgender religions both inside and outside of African American Protestantism over the course of the twentieth century and beyond. Johnson did not die from AIDS complications.

Nonetheless, Johnson lived during a historical moment in which thousands of queer and transgender persons died as a result of HIV and AIDS complications between the s and the s.

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Surprisingly, the earliest scholarly on African American religions and AIDS can be found in the work of political scientist Cathy Cohen; however, theologians and ethicists in the Black church tradition have also addressed HIV and AIDS, even as historians and other religious studies scholars of African American religions have not Douglass, ; Griffin, ; Harris, Though Cohen elucidates how some HIV and AIDS activists historically and rightfully complained about some African American churches' silence during the epidemic, and how others praised some churches' desire to act, Cohen misdiagnoses African American Protestant churches' relationship to the AIDS epidemic, in particular, the ways people in both the pews and pulpits of Black churches also fell ill.

For example, gospel legend the Rev. In After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality and American ReligionAnthony Petro briefly underscores the activist and theological contributions of Black preachers and pastors in traditional Black church denominations during the AIDS epidemic, yet the main focus of his text are predominately white mainline Protestant and Catholic denominations pp. Historian Kevin Mumford also details the creation of affirming Black Pentecostal churches in the late s in response to the AIDS epidemic and the homophobia in mainline denominations pp.

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Because same-sex-attracted men and women inside the church had been trained not to discuss their orientation in public, when AIDS became a public illness, many didn't know where to turn. Inthe Rev. Tinney, a Pentecostal, called for Black religious spaces which were queer-affirming in order to provide safe havens for those plagued by racialized medical disparities, poverty, and the threat of death because of homophobia and police violence Tinney,pp. Many other church leaders responded to the crisis. The Rev. While scholars have begun to discuss African American Protestant AIDS activism, there is much more work to be done on this time period, especially as scholars shift from centering Protestantism and begin to think about how the AIDS epidemic impacted other African American religions, such as in the Nation of Islam, other Black Muslim organizations, and Black Catholic churches.

In a similar vein, scholars must consider the religious dynamics of the contemporary same-sex marriage debate among African Americans.

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Inthe Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. For example, queer persons and their allies criticized the late Bishop Eddie Long and Rev.

Berniece King for their march against same-sex marriage in Atlanta, Georgia. King, the daughter of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the years after, King was named CEO of the King Center after leaving Long's New Birth Missionary Church as an associate minister, due to his highly publicized sex scandal in which he was accused of sexually abusing four young men see Chipumuro,

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