30th anniversary for the LGBTQ Coalition
By Leslie A. Brown ’10 M.Div.
As YDS celebrated the 2009 Convocation and Reunions, an enthusiastic group of alumni, current students, faculty and staff gathered on Oct. 14 to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer (LGBTQ) Coalition, which was created in 1979.
The late Letty Russell, professor emerita of theology and a leading feminist theologian, had attempted to create, without immediate success, a sexuality task force in the mid 1970s. But at the anniversary gathering speakers recalled how it was Russell’s work and scholarship that became the starting point for their theological reflections on church, community and sexuality.
At the time of the Coalition’s founding, the national conversation around the LGBTQ community was volatile, charged by events such as the slaying of San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Harvey Milk, who was openly gay. The climate at YDS was not entirely immune from this national animus, and it was in this milieu that LGBTQ students and their allies made creation of a safe and constructive space to come together for mutual support a top priority.
Leading the way for this open environment were classmates Talitha Arnold ’80 M.Div. and Jerry Henry ’80 M.Div., both of whom were at the anniversary celebration on Oct. 14. Serving as heads of the Women’s Center and Community Life Committee, respectively, they wanted to create a dialogue that “held straight students accountable for the issues impacting the whole body of Christ” recalled Arnold at the gathering.
The Coalition began as a group of 25 students committed to a full conversation on sexuality, but the initial reception by YDS was mixed. Former students described a campus where some professors seemed hostile, and very vocal in their opposition, to the Coalition’s aims. Nonetheless, participants in the celebration reflected openly on the positive impact the Coalition has had on the individual lives of LGTBQ students and the YDS community as a whole.
Thirty years later, Coalition supporters point with pride to the Coalition’s legacy as one of great accomplishment, institutionally as well as individually, stretching from the days in the 1970s when pink triangles were used to garner support to more contemporary times when “coming out” Eucharists have gained traction.
Jason Peno ’10 M.Div., who serves as a liaison between undergraduate students and the Coalition as part of the Supervised Ministry Program, said, “We have the power to continue to tell and broaden the story and move from lament to celebration.” Kate Spelman ’11 M.Div., a current student leader with the Coalition, spoke about the Coalition’s current aims, including creation of greater outreach to other graduate and professional schools at Yale, an upcoming Transgender awareness week in late November, and worship services where persons can speak openly about sexuality.
This kind of openness is a completely different YDS experience for alumni like Carl Caskey ’57 M.Div., who remembers when everything was “strictly underground,” and the relationship was one of “total silence…presence and absence.” Now a retired United Methodist minister in Minnesota, Caskey is part of the Reconciling Retired Clergy Caucus (RRCC)—a statewide informal coalition focused on advocacy within the denomination.