H. Alexander Robinson

Black LGBT History Day 8: Rev. Irene Monroe

Filed By H. Alexander Robinson | February 08, 2008 12:20 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Media
Tags: Black Gay History, black history, black LGBT, Rev. Irene Monroe

irene-headshot.jpgA native of Brooklyn, Rev. Irene Monroe is a graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University. She served as a pastor at an African-American church before a Ford Fellowship took her to Harvard Divinity School for a doctorate. Monroe has been profiled in Oprah Winfrey's magazine, O, as well as on CNN's Paula Zahn Now and CNN Headline News.

A frequent contributor to The Bilerico Project, she has also written columns for publications such as In Newsweekly, The Witness, Advocate magazine, the Windy City Times, Washington Blade, the Boston Globe, and many more. Monroe' award-winning essay, "Louis Farrakhan's Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia," was greeted with critical acclaim. Her "Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow: 365 Days a Year-Meditations on Bible Prayers" will be out in June 2008.


Rev. Irene Monroe's perspective:

In this era of the Christian Right, a notable element of my public outreach ministry is the number of queer religion columns I write for papers and online journals across the country. As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people. Because homophobia is a hatred of the "other" and is commonly acted upon in the name of religion, reporting religion in the news should highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also perpetuates other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti- Semitism.

When churches work, they ground the spiritual wanderer and embrace the ecclesiastically shy. They bring in the un-churched and uphold the Christian mission to welcome in all of God's children. However, when churches lose their prophetic call, they open themselves not only to the charge of inhospitality, but also to the charge of parochialism. Theology in these churches, unfortunately, assails LGBTQ people.

Similarly, seminaries lose their prophetic call when they address only the academy, or only the institutional interests of their denominational churches, and not the interests of those on the streets, like the epidemic of homelessness among LGBTQ youth.

While it is easy to see how economic disadvantage based on structural racial bias leads people of color to the streets, it is less determinable as to how many LGBTQ people are forced into homelessness. Abandoned by family and friends because of our sexual orientation, many of us have only the streets; I have found a home and my life's work there.

The foundation for my life's work is in what Jesus said in Matthew 25:45: "In truth I tell you, in so far as you failed to do it for the least of these, however insignificant, you failed to do it for me.." Therefore, in wanting to be a practitioner of applied Christianity and to do a "theology-in-praxis," I realized my work would be primarily for public liberation theology in tandem with a struggling community.

Much of what is written about LGBTQ people is by heterosexuals, thus much of who LGBTQ people are is seen and written through a complicated prism of homophobia that projects and condones lies, fears and violence for the holy sake of moral virtue and family values. Ignored is the distinctive epistemology that shapes not only our identity, but also the interpretative lens we zoom onto the world—on politics, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, arts, music, and ostensibly religion.

For LGBT people, writing from our social location is not only a radically queer act, but also a subversive tool to decentralize the traditional theological canon in this society which values and lauds heterosexuals' writings as normative. We create a counter voice with our writings—a text and knowledge that becomes a tool that not only gives us a voice, but also gives us power. Writing in this sense becomes both an act of liberation and of social activism which is the work of a public theology.

It is important that LGBT writers, journalists, theologians and activists write because our lives depend on it. We should write because not to write would be to participate in our own spiritual death. We should write because our progeny will need it. We should write because our opuses become canons for survival. We should write because our lives are sacred texts.


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It is important that LGBT writers, journalists, theologians and activists write because our lives depend on it. We should write because not to write would be to participate in our own spiritual death. We should write because our progeny will need it. We should write because our opuses become canons for survival. We should write because our lives are sacred texts.

Wow! That's such a powerful quote. Thanks Rev. Irene.

Dear Rev. Monroe:

We met at the dissertation writer's workshop at Radcliffe several years ago. I was struck to the heart by your powerful words at the time, and I'm struck again. Hearing your clear formulation of why I write (how did you know?) has given me focus and direction again after a time of exhaustion and burn-out. And, I would say, our voices belong everywhere, in writing and in person. Allowing our voices to be silenced is to acquiesce in our own spiritual death. This is why I continue to write and speak in venues where others have clearly signalled their intolerance and non-acceptance. I don't believe in boycotts. I believe in speaking up. Those are the places where our voices are most sorely needed.

Isn't the Rev great? I have to admit she's one of my favorite contributors to correspond with. She's always on point.