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Spirituality  
 
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The flowering of spirituality within people who experience same-sex attraction and love is not a modern phenomenon. Indeed, today's glbtq spirituality movements must be seen as part of a long history in which gender-special people were considered sacred to their tribe or family because of their obvious spiritual gifts of healing and nurturing across blood lines.

The Native American berdache is only the best known example of this cultural phenomenon. Indeed, in a wide range of cultures and spiritual traditions, in both the West and the East, archetypes of those who do not conform to gender and sexual norms abound. Myths often attempt to convey spiritual meaning by using literary or folkloric characters who transcend gender or who incorporate diverse genders as they participate in the creation of a new spirituality.

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Moreover, there is some evidence that even today a disproportionate number of individuals who identify as gay or lesbian enter priesthoods and ministries. For example, the percentage of Roman Catholic priests who are gay has been estimated as from 30 to more than 50 per cent.

Environment

Spirituality may be defined as the individual's inner communion with something beyond him or herself. It is generally rooted in the human desire to escape from the radical loneliness that separation from a deity or higher power entails. Spirituality often leads to a quest to discover a source of support in dealing with the crises and changes of life and an understanding of the meaning of human existence in general and of the individual's life in particular.

While spirituality may be furthered by religion and religious organizations and practices, religion and spirituality are not the same. Indeed, organized religion may divert some individuals from the pursuit of spirituality. Considering the frequently associated with many of the world's religions, including Christianity and Islam, it is not surprising that many glbtq individuals feel rejected by organized religion and have sought other spiritual paths.

Spirituality is inevitably shaped by the culture in which one lives. Thus, when homosexuals live in a homophobic society, they tend to seek out each other for support and comfort. The bonding that results is often a bonding of the spirit, based on the shared experience of rejection and discrimination by the majority society. Hence, glbtq communities are often held together as much by spiritual bonds as by geography or politics or even sexual attraction.

It is also not surprising that when a disease disproportionately attacks homosexuals, members of the glbtq community, already bonded to a high degree by a hostile environment, would demonstrate a high degree of care for their afflicted brothers. Thus, in the AIDS epidemic, gay men and lesbians have responded to those stricken with an unusual degree of empathy, one fostered by years of community bonding and struggle.

The intense concern manifested in the glbtq community for those suffering from AIDS at the height of the epidemic is an example of the altruistic love that the ancient Greeks called agape and that the early Christians appropriated for the selfless love of God for humans and of humans for each other.

In addition to this altruistic love, gay spirituality also typically includes characteristics that are endemic to gay culture, including gentleness and non-judgmentalism. For example, studies have indicated that neighborhoods with a high proportion of homosexuals have a low level of violent crime. Similarly documented is a high level of tolerance in gay men and lesbians. According to studies in the United States and other Western countries, homosexuals tend to have a lower level of racial, economic, ethnic, and religious bias than do heterosexuals.

Gay spirituality, thus, often exhibits high tolerance for diversity and low tolerance for prejudice and violence. These characteristics may be seen in organizations such as Gentle Men of Westchester, New York, which, at its bi-monthly meetings for the Lower Hudson Valley's gay community, stresses emotional contact and simple non-sexual touching. Similar aspects of glbtq spirituality are expressed in Holly Near's gay liberation anthem "Singing for Our Lives," in which she declares, "We are a gentle, loving people."

This kind of gay spirituality was also manifest at the turn of the twenty-first century when a group of gay men and lesbians donned huge angel wings and stood in front of rabidly anti-gay hecklers at the funerals of those who died of AIDS complications or who were victims of homophobic violence such as was Matthew Shepard. Whereas the hecklers carried signs proclaiming that "God Hates Fags," the gay men and lesbians in angel wings witnessed to a deeper and truer spirituality.

Since homosexuals are often denied the support of state-recognized and church-approved marriage, many glbtq people have investigated alternative avenues of familial support systems to nurture their spirituality. Some create "families of choice" that may include many combinations of sexual and non-sexual support structures. Some couples have widened gay relationships to move beyond traditional monogamy, resulting in a sense of common brotherhood and sisterhood that in mainstream society is sometimes stifled by rigorous societal prohibitions.

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Buddha Daibutsu, Kamakura, Japan. Buddhism is one of many religious traditions that inspire contemporary glbtq spirituality. Photograph by Dirk Beyer.
 
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Aaron Anson
Gay writer Aaron Anson was raised a black devout Christian in the American South. In Mind Your Own Life, Anson recounts a journey to love, self-acceptance, and a new experience of spirituality.

  
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