Tonight’s music video is Nina Simone performing “I Shall Be Released,” in Paris 1968.

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What would a religion made for & by LGBTQ people look like?

William Heath, one of the queer activists who helped build the Chelsea Manning float used at Queerbomb 2013 (and again in my front yard this Christmas), is starting an LGBTQ religion. From the Austin Chronicle:

Religion has always been a thorny subject for LGBTQ. Many of us have abandoned the church. William Heath, aka Brother Bear, aims to change that with Queer Church Revival. The nondenominational collective focuses less on dogma and more on creating a safe space for queer spirituality to blossom. ‘I just felt really empty,’ said Heath when asked why he started the group. ‘I have a million friends here and I can go out and say, “Hey, hey, hey!” But it doesn’t go any further. I just wanted a deeper connection.’

The service I attended this weekend was a dress rehearsal for the inaugural service, which takes place in February. It began with a trio on stage playing the guitar, accordion, and conga, as the parishioners filed in and made themselves comfortable with their neighbors. During the musical interlude, Heath contracted an altar-like space at the foot of the stage, filling it with relics from his performance work that ranged from candles and red paper hearts to a ‘Heart Throb Prom’ banner and red solo cups. This was followed by a guided meditation designed to open us up to the space and the messages to come.

The exercise seemed to work; the energy in the room was clear, settled, and ready for the chorus, who treated us to an earnest version of Jeff Buckley’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’ Heath’s nerves got the best of him — public speaking terrifies him — during the song: He changed clothes often and nervously before settling into a full-length Navy double-breasted coat with fur collars and his underwear.

With the song finished, he stepped off the stage and into the middle of the semicircle of parishioner chairs. There, the son of a theology and psychology major sat on the bare floor to address the group. Instead of offering a sermon, he opted for a more confessional mode of communication, touching on his creative history in Austin, his family life, experiences with religion, his social personae, and hopes for QCR.

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Photo by mendolus shank released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license.