All posts by timalderman

About timalderman

Gay, visually-impaired guy writing professionally (and freelance) about disabilities, being gay, articles, opinion pieces, poems and short stories for over 15 years, mainly for small, local magazines. Obtained my Graduate Certificate in Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney in 2004.

Buddhism 101: Buddhist Goddess and Archetype of Compassion

White Tara; detail from a Tibetan Tangka painting. Zzvet / 

Tara is an iconic Buddhist goddess of many colors. Although she is formally associated only with Buddhism in Tibet, Mongolia, and Nepal, she has become one of the most familiar figures of Buddhism around the world.

She is not exactly the Tibetan version of the Chinese Guanyin (Kwan-yin), as many assume. Guanyin is a manifestation in the female form of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. Avalokiteshvara is called Chenrezig in Tibet, and in Tibetan Buddhism Chenrezig usually is a “he” rather than a “she.” He is the universal manifestation of compassion.

According to one story, when Chenrezig was about to enter Nirvana he looked back and saw the suffering of the world, and he wept and vowed to remain in the world until all beings were enlightened. Tara is said to have been born from Chenrezig’s tears. In a variation of this story, his tears formed a lake, and in that lake, a lotus grew, and when it opened Tara was revealed.

Tara’s origins as an icon are unclear. Some scholars propose that Tara evolved from the Hindu goddess Durga. She appears to have been venerated in Indian Buddhism no earlier than the 5th century.

Tara in Tibetan Buddhism

Although Tara probably was known in Tibet earlier, the cult of Tara appears to have reached Tibet in 1042, with the arrival of an Indian teacher named Atisa, who was a devotee. She became one of the most beloved figures of Tibetan Buddhism.

Her name in Tibetan is Sgrol-ma, or Dolma, which means “she who saves.” It is said her compassion for all beings is stronger than a mother’s love for her children. Her mantra is om tare tuttare ture svaha, which means, “Praise to Tara! Hail!”

White Tara and Green Tara

There are actually 21 Taras, according to an Indian text called Homage to the Twenty-One Taras that reached Tibet in the 12th century. The Taras come in many colors, but the two most popular are White Tara and Green Tara. In a variation of the original legend, White Tara was born from the tears from Chenrezig’s left eye, and Green Tara was born from the tears of his right eye.

In many ways, these two Taras complement each other. Green Tara often is depicted with a half-open lotus, representing night. White Tara holds a fully blooming lotus, representing the day. White Tara embodies grace and serenity and the love of a mother for her child; Green Tara embodies activity. Together, they represent boundless compassion that is active in the world both day and night.

Tibetans pray to White Tara for healing and longevity. White Tara initiations are popular in Tibetan Buddhism for their power to dissolve obstacles. The White Tara mantra in Sanskrit is:

Green Tara is associated with activity and abundance. Tibetans pray to her for wealth and when they are leaving on a journey. But the Green Tara mantra actually is a request to be freed from delusions and negative emotions.

As tantric deities, their role is not as objects of worship. Rather, through esoteric means, the tantric practitioner realizes himself as White or Green Tara and manifests their selfless compassion.

Other Taras

The names of the remaining Taras vary a bit according to the source, but some of the better-known ones are:

  • Red Tara: is said to have the quality of attracting blessings.
  • Black Tara: is a wrathful deity who wards off evil.
  • Yellow Tara: helps us overcome anxiety. She is also associated with abundance and fertility.
  • Blue Tara: subdues anger and turns it into compassion.
  • Cittamani Tara: is a deity of high tantra yoga. She is sometimes confused with Green Tara.


  • O’Brien, Barbara. “Buddhist Goddess and Archetype of Compassion.” Learn Religions, Feb. 11, 2020,

Gay History: The Weird Science of Homophobes Who Turn Out to Be Gay

There is some research suggesting a link between being closeted and being anti-gay. But while the notion feeds many jokes, it also obscures very real homophobia.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

2017 has been a banner year for the armchair psychological theory that anti-gay public figures are secretly gay themselves.

Never mind the long-running jokes and memes about Mike Pence covering up some secret homosexual identity. There have been actual examples this year of outspoken anti-LGBT figures exhibiting behavior that seems to contradict their political ideology.

The same idea emerges every time: The hypothesis is that their bigotry doesn’t just make their sexual behavior hypocritical, it actually functions as a cover for it, consciously or otherwise.

Recently, there has been former Ohio state Rep. Wesley Goodman, who resigned late last week after it came out that he had had sex with a man in his office.

In March, former Oklahoma state Sen. Ralph Shortey resigned after being hit with child prostitution charges for allegedly soliciting sex from a 17-year-old boy. Shortey has reportedly decided this week to plead guilty to a child sex trafficking charge.

Both Goodman and Shortey are married men who were clear political opponents of the LGBT community while in office.

After Shortey was arrested, the Associated Press noted that he “routinely” voted for anti-LGBT bills, quoting the director of the LGBT advocacy organization Freedom Oklahoma who said, “He was never vitriolic about it, but he would make the bad votes.”

More strident was Goodman who, as the Columbus Dispatch reported, “consistently touted his faith and conservative values,” with a Twitter bio that read: “Christian. American. Conservative. Republican.”

As more information about their alleged misdeeds emerges—Goodman now stands accused of fondling an 18-year-old man at a conservative event, and of pursuing several young gay men—there is a certain grim catharsis in seeing such hypocrisy exposed.

The LGBT community will never tire of bringing up the long history of Republican gay sex scandals every time new—and increasingly unsurprising—allegations emerge, precisely because they seem to be so predictable in hindsight.

(As GQ sarcastically put it in response to the Goodman news: “Anti-Gay Ohio Republican Resigns After, Surprise, Having Sex with a Man in the State Capitol.”)

A 2012 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology generated a fair number of headlines that year—including The New York Times’ “Homophobic? Maybe You’re Gay”—for suggesting that some self-avowed straight people who showed signs of same-sex desire were more likely to hold discriminatory attitudes.

Two authors on the study—psychologists Richard M. Ryan and William S. Ryan—wrote in their accompanying New York Times opinion piece that they had asked 784 college students to rate their sexual orientation on a 10-point scale and then told them to sort “images and words indicative of hetero- and homosexuality” into categories.

The “twist,” as they put it, were subliminal flashes of the words “me” or “other” before each image that can theoretically reveal subconscious bias based on how long it takes the subjects to sort images that don’t match their self-described sexual identity into the right category.

The result: The researchers isolated a “subgroup of participants”—more than “20 percent of self-described highly straight individuals”—who “indicated some level of same-sex attraction,” and who were “significantly more likely than other participants to favor anti-gay policies; to be willing to assign significantly harsher punishments to perpetrators of petty crimes if they were presumed to be homosexual; and to express greater implicit hostility toward gay subjects.”

“Thus our research suggests that some who oppose homosexuality do tacitly harbor same-sex attraction,” they concluded.

The psychological mechanism behind this subgroup’s anti-LGBT vitriol is, in theory, relatively simple: They are taking out their own issues with sexual identity on other people.

As Netta Weinstein, the study’s lead author, said in a press release, they “may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves.” So if you’re an American politician, there may be no more effective way to prove to yourself that you’re straight than to target LGBT people.

The 2012 study is certainly suggestive. It’s continually cited whenever it seems to apply to a homophobic figure, like after Pulse nightclub gunman Omar Mateen was rumored to have frequented the LGBT nightclub in the buildup to the shooting.

There are other studies that have come to similar conclusions. As Science magazine reported after Pulse, there is a “scattering of research” that suggests “some conflicted gay men might indeed be homophobic,” like a small 1996 study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology that measured penile arousal and found a link between “homophobia” and “homosexual arousal.”

But the keyword in all of the above literature is “some.”

There is, at this point, enough research in this area to suggest that there may be something deeper to the armchair psychology. But the “secretly gay homophobe” theory is far from being a complete explanation of anti-LGBT prejudice in American politics.

Twenty percent of people who describe themselves as “highly straight” is still 10 percent fewer than the 32 percent of Americans who oppose same-sex marriage.

Just because that 20-percent subgroup is “significantly more likely” to tout an anti-LGBT ideology doesn’t mean we can assume someone like Mike Pence is likely to be covering up a secret past as a gay clubgoer just because of his anti-LGBT track record. So-called closet cases may be abundant, but there’s no way to prove that every Republican who tries to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination is hiding something.

In fact, overgeneralizing and joking as if that were the case may hurt LGBT people.

On Twitter, comedian Cameron Esposito, herself a lesbian, has criticized the homophobic undertones of the constant Mike Pence jokes—and has called out the media for being seemingly more interested in the salacious “homophobe caught having gay sex” story than in the mistreatment of LGBT people writ large.


Weird & Creepy Catholic Relics & Reliquies

The Wax-Encased Remains of Blessed Anna Maria Taigi

Basilica of San Crisogono, Rome, Italy

The mystic whose incorrupt corpse still attracts the faithful.  

HOUSED IN THE BASILICA OF San Crisogono, is a small chapel with a glass coffin. Inside are the remains of Anna Maria Taigi, covered in a wax visage made from her death mask.

Born in Sienna, Anna Maria and her family moved to Rome when she was six years old. She later married and had seven children. Known for her charity and devotion, she joined the Secular Trinitarians in 1802. Of the many holy gifts attributed to her, the most impressive was the “miracle of the mystic globe-sun.” She would have visions of a sun-shaped globe that held images of current, past, and secret events. 

When she died in 1837 it was only a few days before pilgrims started to visit her resting place despite a cholera epidemic (which some believe she was holding off while alive). In 1868 her coffin was opened and though her clothes had deteriorated, her body was found to be incorrupt. When examined again in 1920, she had begun to decompose and so her visible hands and face were covered in wax replicas. Pope Benedict the XV declared her protector of families and mothers in 1920. Special masses are still held in her chapel to this day.

Arciconfraternita Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte

Rome, Italy

At the crypt of St. Mary of Eulogies and the Dead you are left alone to ponder mortality among piles of skulls. 

WITH SKULLS CARVED ABOVE THE doorway and winged skeletons etched into plaques outside, the exterior of St. Mary of Eulogies and the Dead suits its macabre name. 

Once inside, visitors can make a small donation to the church and a nun will unlock the crypt for you. The nun will take you down a short flight of stairs and leave you alone, surrounded by skeletons. There are skeletons set in the wall, etched skulls stacked on shelves, bones piled by the altar and made into a cross. Even the chandeliers are made with human vertebrate. A scythe lurks near the altar.

The stretcher in the corner offers a clue to the story behind the crypt. The church was established in 1576 to provide a proper burial for abandoned corpses. While it used to include huge vaults where over 8000 bodies were buried, most of the vaults were destroyed during other construction in 1886. This chamber is all that remains.

22 Papal Hearts at Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi

Bulgarian Orthodox Church

Rome, Italy

This former Roman Catholic Church still contains the embalmed hearts and organs of 22 popes. 

IN 2002, POPE JOHN PAUL II gifted use of Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi in Rome to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, but 22 hearts of the popes remain in the marble urns.

The popes are listed to the left of the altar and their reigns range form Sixtus V in 1583 to Leo XIII in 1903. The custom of separating the organs from the corpse was called praecordia and was done to prevent decay while funeral arrangements were made.

There is a large collection of ex voto in this church, most depicting the Sacred Heart. These are small metal ornaments that are left by the faithful as a token of thanks when their prayers are answered.

The church faces the more famous Trevi Fountain. As with many churches in Italy, the dress code is strictly enforced. Bare shoulders and knees are prohibited.

The Head of St. John the Baptist at San Silvestro in Capite

San Silvestro

Rome, Italy

One of four skulls claiming to belong to the beheaded St. John the Baptist is on display at this Roman church. 

THOUGH CHURCHES IN FRANCE, SYRIA and Germany also claim the skull of St. John the Baptist, the relic is what gives this church its name. The skull can be viewed in the first chapel to the left of the entrance. Don’t miss the stained glass in this room depicting St. John’s head on a plate. 

The church was built to house relics from the catacombs. These are not normally on display. Instead they’re housed in the confessio under the altar and listed near the front door of the church.

Santa Francesca Romana

St. Francesca Romana Church

Rome, Italy

St. Francesca Romana, patron saint of drivers, resides in the church she founded. 

THIS 8TH-CENTURY BASILICA HOUSES THE skeleton of its namesake, still wearing her habit and clutching her prayer book in the crypt below.

St. Francesca Romana founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary in 1421, a religious order for widowed women that cared for the poor and sick. Despite her piety, she had a dark side too. She was known for her unusually harsh mortifications including whipping herself with metal chains and burning herself with animal fat. For a while she even drank from a human skull in an effort to ward off the devil.

During the restitution of the Forum to its original form, many constructions that had covered the sites of ancient imperial temples and basilicas were destroyed. The St. Francesca of Romana church is rumored to be the only surviving example of Christian intervention in the Forum. The church itself is said to be built on the spot where Simon Magus (a favourite of emperor Nero at the time) used black magic to fly, as part of a “miracle contest” between Simon and St. Peter. The apostles Peter and Paul prayed that he would fall. When God granted the apostles’ request Simon fell from the sky, broke both legs and was then stoned to death by an angry mob. The marble where the apostles knelt miraculously had their knee-prints pressed into it. The stone was removed and inlayed in the floor of the church. It can be found on the right hand side wall of the sanctuary, close to the tomb of Gregory XI.

In the sacristy is a 6th century colossal painting Vergine col Bambino, which may have come from Santa Maria Antiqua, and it is one of the most ancient Christian paintings in existence.

Francesca Romana is also the patron saint of drivers since it’s said that her path was always lit by an angel. On her feast day, March 9th, people park as closely to the church as possible to have their cars blessed (which of course causes an unbelievable traffic jam even by Roman standards).

The Sweating Cenotaph at the Archbasilica San Giovanni in Laterano

Rome, Italy

Stone memorial that’s said to predict the death of the pope and the site of the Cadaver Synod. 

THIS FORMER PAPAL PALACE HOUSES an unusual monument- Pope Sylvester II’s cenotaph (a funeral moment for a person whose remains are entombed elsewhere) that’s said to sweat profusely when the death of a pope is near. If it’s clammy or damp, the death of a cardinal or bishop is immanent. 

Interestingly, Pope Sylvester II has long been associated with the supernatural. His contemporaries (likely amazed by and maybe jealous of his intellect) said he was a sorcerer who built an automaton which acted like an oracle. The automaton told him that if he ever went to Jerusalem he would be taken by the devil. Taking the warning literally, he avoided the Holy Land but was struck dead when he said mass at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, a basilica just down the street from San Giovanni in Laterano. His remains are still there and an alternate version of the legend says his bones rattle when a pope is about to die.

San Giovanni in Laterano was also the site of the Cadaver Synod in 897 when the rotting corpse of Pope Formosus was dug up and put on trial by Pope Stephen VI. Records show that an earthquake damaged the church during the trial and shortly after it concluded a fire nearly destroyed it completely. These events are usually viewed within the church as a sign of God’s displeasure with the macabre spectacle.

St. Valentine’s Skull

Basilica di Santa Maria

Rome, Italy

The skull of the patron saint of lovers lies in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin—maybe. 

A SKULL RESIDES IN A glass reliquary in Rome’s Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, surrounded by flowers. Lettering painted across the forehead identify the owner as none other than of the patron saint of lovers, St. Valentine.

Knowing just exactly whose skull it is, though, is complicated. There was more than one Catholic saint known as Saint Valentine, and there was approximately 1500 years between those martyrs’ deaths and the enthusiastic distribution and labeling of bodies in the Victorian era. Finally, and most troubling, there is the fact that no less than 10 places around the world claim to house the saint’s relics.

Though not much is really known of the real men behind the myth, at least two of the Saints Valentine lived in Italy in the late 3rd century, and another in North Africa around the same time. Over time, the stories of these different men seem to have merged. Most of the mythology about Valentine centers around him being a patron of lovers. In 496, Pope Gelasius I made February 14—originally part of the Roman festival of Lupercalia—a feast day dedicated to St. Valentine.

The Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin itself is very old, standing on the site of an ancient Roman temple that dates to the second century B.C. Most of what you see today dates to the 8th and 12th centuries, including the crypt located beneath the altar.

The skull can be found in the side altar on the left side of the church. While you’re there, stop by the portico to visit with the famous Bocca della Verità (mouth of truth).

The Catacombs of San Sebastian

Rome, Italy

Jesus’ footprints and the first catacombs in the world. 

KNOWN AS ONE OF THE Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, the Catacombs of San Sebastian have long attracted devout Christian pilgrims and curious visitors.

Along the first four mile stretch of Via Appia, are The Catacombs of San Sebastian. The martyred remains of San Sebastian were buried at the site in 350, and a basilica was erected over the grounds to worship the saint in the early 4th century. At the time, the subterranean burial area became known as ad catacumbas, which means “near the hollows,” due to the excavated mines near the site. This was the first use of term catacombs, and it has since signified underground Christian burials chambers.

Since the site was erected, many pilgrims have come to visit and see the relics held at the basilica as well. The basilica is dedicated to San Sebastian, who was martyred, and it houses the arrow that allegedly struck San Sebastian during his murder.

Besides the arrow relic, the basilica also possesses a set of marble footprints, that are attributed to Jesus, during his walk to Rome along the Via Appia.

Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory

Rome, Italy

A collection of objects supposedly singed by the hands of souls in purgatory. 

LOCATED IN THE BACK OF the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio on the banks of the Tiber, the tiny century-old Piccolo Museo Del Purgatorio, or “Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory,” holds a collection of bibles, prayer books, tabletops, and articles of clothing said to have been singed by the hands of souls in purgatory.

According to Catholic belief, the soul is stranded in purgatory until it atones for its sins, but can hasten its ascent to heaven through the prayers of loved ones still on earth. The scorched handprints and other burn-marks collected in this museum are believed to be the product of souls begging their earth-bound loved ones to pray harder.

Though not mentioned in the Bible, the idea of purgatory is a very old part of the Catholic faith, dating back to at least the 11th century. The notion that trapped souls might need to be freed comes from a story allegedly told to the Abbott Odilo of Cluny by a monk returning from the Holy Land. He told the Abbott how his ship had been wrecked, and he had been cast ashore on a mysterious island. A hermit who lived on the island related his own story of a mysterious chasm, from which burst forth demonic flames and the agonized screams of trapped souls. He pointed out that the demons were always complaining about losing souls when the living prayed or gave alms to the poor on their behalf.

The freeing of these trapped souls became a priority for the Church, and for family members grieving dead loved ones. November 2 was established as All Soul’s Day, whereon it was believed that prayers by the living could intercede on behalf of the faithful dead who had died without absolution, or babies who had died before baptism, thus freeing them for Heaven. (According to Catholic doctrine, one cannot go to hell from purgatory.)

Victor Jouet, the collector and French missionary, was supposedly inspired to build this purgatorial museum after a fire destroyed a portion of the original Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio, leaving behind the scorched image of a face that he believed to be a trapped soul.

Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts

Rome, Italy

The crypts of Capuchin friars decorated with the bones of over 4,000 friars, including an entire “crypt of pelvises.” 

IN 1775, THE MARQUIS DE Sade wrote of it, “I have never seen anything more striking.” Granted, the crypt was to his tastes.

Mark Twain wrote about it in his 1869 book Innocents Abroad. When Twain asked one of the monks what would happen when he died, the monk responded, “We must all lie here at last.” And lie there they do. Some 4,000 Capuchin friars who died between 1528 and 1870 are still lying, hanging, and generally adorning the Santa Maria della Concezione crypt in Rome.

In 1631, the Capuchin friars, so-called because of the “capuche” or hood attached to their religious habit, left the friary of St. Bonaventure near the Trevi Fountain and came to live at Santa Maria della Concezione, of which only the church and crypt remain. They were ordered by Cardinal Antonio Barberini (the Pope’s brother and a member of the Capuchin order) to bring the remains of the deceased friars along with them to their new home so that all the Capuchin friars might be in one place.

Rather than simply burying the remains of their dead brethren, the monks decorated the walls of the crypts with their bones as a way of reminding themselves that death could come at any time. A plaque in the crypt reads, “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.”

The ossuary contains a crypt of skulls, a crypt of leg bones, and perhaps the oddest—a “crypt of pelvises.” Mummified monks were dressed in friar’s clothes and hung from the walls and ceiling. With the addition of electricity, light fixtures were incorporated into some of the hanging monks, bringing a new meaning to the phrase “the eternal light.”

A particular highlight of the crypt is the skeleton enclosed in an oval of bones holding a scythe and scales—tools made entirely out of, yes, bones. The crypt is said to have been the inspiration for Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic.

The body of St Francis Xavier


Francis Xavier was a 16th century Roman Catholic missionary in Goa, India. He also worked in Japan and China, among others, but he’s most famous for his work in India. Most of his body is on display at the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India. You’ll find him in a glass container and he’s been in there since 1637.

His right forearm was detached in 1614 and is now at the Jesuit church in Rome, Il Gesù. Another arm bone, the humerus, is in Macau, having been kept there for safety instead of going on to Japan.

The Basilica of Bom Jesus, and indeed the Saint’s body, appear in my ARKANE thriller, Destroyer of Worlds, as Morgan and Jake race to stop an ancient weapon being unleashed.

The Holy Right Hand


The Holy Right Hand is thought to have belonged to King Stephen, the first Hungarian King, who died in 1038.

His death provoked unrest and his followers worried that his body might be desecrated. When he was exhumed, they discovered his right arm was perfectly preserved.

His arm was added to the Basilica’s Treasury. It was stolen and kept in Romania for a while, though it’s now back in the Basilica of St. Stephen in Budapest.

A chronicler noted that while it was in Romania, the hand wore St Stephen’s ring. The Holy Right Hand on display doesn’t wear one and doesn’t look like it’s ever worn one. Some wonder how genuine the Holy Right Hand actually is …

In my political thriller One Day in Budapest, the Holy Right is stolen and a right-wing faction move against the Jews of the city, as they did in the dark days of the Second World War. The right is rising

Mary’s Holy Belt


Most religious relics seem to take the form of body parts, but the Virgin Mary left her belt behind instead. Her handwoven belt is kept in a silver reliquary in Prato Cathedral. The arrival of the relic allowed the Cathedral to add a transept and a new chapel.

According to legend, she gave the belt to the apostle Thomas before she ascended to Heaven. That’s Doubting Thomas – and the Virgin allegedly gave him her belt as physical proof of her ascension. The belt, known as Sacra Cintola, is displayed five times a year in the chapel built especially to house it. In centuries gone by, it was venerated by pregnant women.

St Antoninus’ body


St Antoninus was a popular priest in Florence, getting by with only the bare essentials of life. He was so popular that Pope Eugene IV wanted to make him an Archbishop, and he threatened to excommunicate Antoninus when he declined the offer.

St Antoninus died in 1459 but his body wasn’t immediately embalmed as it should have been. Left to the elements for eight days, his body didn’t decompose. His followers took this as a sign of his incorruption, so he was placed in a glass coffin to display his divinity. You can see his corpse at the Church of San Marco.

Shrine of the Three Kings


The bones of the Three Wise Men apparently rest in the ornate gold-plated sarcophagus inside Cologne Cathedral. According to legend, their remains originally lay in Constantinople, before being taken to Milan, then Cologne in 1164. The shrine is the largest reliquary in the western world. Some of the images on the shrine depict the dawn of time, as well as the Last Judgment.

It was damaged when it was hidden in 1794 to keep it from French revolutionary troops, but it was largely restored during the 1960s. Cologne is so proud to house the Three Magi that there are even three crowns on the city’s coat of arms.

The Blood of San Gennaro


St Gennaro was beheaded by Emperor Diocletian in 4th century. His dried blood is presented to local residents and pilgrims at Naples Cathedral on September 19, December 16 and the first Sunday in May. They wait for the blood to liquefy, making this a grisly religious relic.

As the patron saint of Naples, the liquefaction of his blood is thought to signify a miracle and protects Naples from disaster. In 1527, it failed to liquefy and Naples suffered an outbreak of plague. In 1980, they were struck by an earthquake. The relic was even venerated by Pope Francis in March 2015.

The Heart of St Camillus

Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Rome,

St Camillus started out life as a soldier and a gambler. He later repented and devoted his life to caring for the sick. After being denied entry to the Capuchin order thanks to a leg injury, he established the Order of Clerics Regular, Ministers to the Sick. They specialised in assisting injured soldiers on the battlefield. A large red cross was a symbol of the Order – centuries before the Red Cross was formed.

Many were so struck by his charity that they thought it must have left an imprint on his heart. So after he died, his heart was removed and preserved with salt. This religious relic is definitely more weird than wonderful. It’s now kept in a gold and glass container and it even went on tour. It visited Thailand, Ireland and the Phillippines.

The hand of St Teresa de Avila


St Teresa de Avila reformed the Carmelite Order, and after she died, her remains were found to be incorrupt. Her left hand became a relic, but it was seized by General Franco in 1937. St Teresa had once been a contender for Spain’s national saint, and Franco used her during the Spanish Civil War as an ideal of traditional Spain.

According to legend, he kept the hand by his bedside until he died in 1975 – allegedly while holding the mummified hand. It now rests at the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced in Ronda, Andalusia.

The Tongue and Jaw of St Anthony


At the age of 35, St Anthony of Padua succumbed to ergot poisoning – also known as St Anthony’s Fire. He sealed himself in a small cell under a walnut tree and waited to die. He actually died on the way back to Padua where he was buried in 1231.

32 years later, his followers pried open his vault. Most of his body had turned to dust, but his tongue was strangely still fresh. Many believe this is a testament to the power of his words while alive.

St Bonaventure had St Anthony’s tongue, lower jaw and vocal chords mounted in a metal shrine. His tongue even went on a tour of UK churches in 2013.

8 Missing Religious Relics That Have Never Been Found

Throughout Christian history there has been devotion to many relics. These are objects that are either the blood and bones of religious figures, or items that these figures have touched or been associated with. During the Middle Ages, these relics increased in popularity to the point where each altar was expected to possess at least one. A good relic could increase the economy of a town, as pilgrims would travel to come and see the sacred relic of a treasured saint.

This led to many fake relics and the stealing of relics, such as the body of Saint Nicholas. Strangely enough, the thefts were always admitted in order to verify the authenticity of the relic. Countless relics were destroyed during the reformation, and those that survive today are often called into question. Here are just a few relics from medieval and ancient history that are missing today. Some are rumored to have been destroyed, while others are believed to be hidden, their locations a mystery.

A piece of flesh believed to be the holy foreskin of Jesus.

The Holy Foreskin

Jesus was circumcised as an infant and it was believed by many that the skin cut from the infant was preserved. There was some reference to the foreskin being preserved by an old Hebrew woman in an alabaster box of old oil of spikenard. However, the foreskin largely disappeared after that, with no real mention of it again until the Middle Ages.

On December 25, 800, Charlemagne was purported to have given it to Pope Leo III in gratitude for crowning him Emperor. When asked where he got the holy foreskin, Charlemagne responded that it had been brought to him by an angel as he was praying at the Holy Sepulchre. Another report claims that it was given to him as a wedding present by Empress Irene. Pope Leo III then took the foreskin and placed it Sancta Sanctorum and there it remained until Rome was sacked in 1527.

A German soldier stole the foreskin during the attack and took it to Calcata where he was captured. The soldier managed to hide the relic in his cell and there it stayed until it was found in 1557. From then on, the foreskin remained in Calcata and had several miracles attributed to it. The story and the miracles were enough to have the Catholic Church approve the authenticity of the skin in Calcata over the numerous other claims of holy foreskin.

In 1900, the Church grew tired of the celebration of the foreskin. So the Vatican issued a warning that anyone who so much as talked about the Holy Prepuce would be excommunicated. This did little to deter the people of Calcata ,who were proud of their sacred relic and would march it through the streets every year on the Feast of the Circumcision. However, the practice stopped when the relic was stolen in 1983. Some believe that it was stolen by or sold to the Vatican in order to get people to stop talking about the foreskin. It has not been seen since.

Stained glass of Edward the Confessor and his ring.

Ring of Saint Edward

Saint Edward the Confessor was born in 1005 as the son of King Elthelred the Unready and his Norman Queen Emma. In 1042 he ascended to the throne. Edward was seen by many of his proponents as a deeply religious leader who removed unjust taxes, healed the sick and took a vow of chastity in order to remain devoted to his people and his religion. He built a cathedral to replace the Saxon church at Westminister in replace of the vow. The church then became known as Westminister Abbey.

There is one miracle that is attributed to Edward known as the miracle of the ring. It was said that while riding he was approached by a beggar who asked for alms. As Edward had no money on him, he took off his ring and gave it to the beggar. Years later, two pilgrims became stranded in the Holy Land.

There they were saved by St. John the Evangelist. With him, he carried the ring that Edward had given the beggar. He asked that when the pilgrims returned home to England that they give it to Edward with the message that he would be dead in six months.

The ring was one of many sacred relics that were kept from Edward the Confessor and were highly prized after he was made a saint 100 years after his death. The ring was kept at Westminister Abbey with other sacred relics. However, all the relics disappeared after the dissolution of the monastery in 1540. While the ring is lost, the sapphire that was in the ring is believed to be the center jewel on the cross atop the Imperial State Crown.

One of the largest purported pieces of the True Cross rests at Santo Toribio de Liébana in Spain. Wikipedia

The True Cross

There are many churches claiming to have fragments of the True Cross. It is believed that the cross was lost until Constantine’s mother Empress Helena traveled to the Holy Land in search of religious relics in 326-328. She traveled to the place where Jesus was said to have been crucified to discover that a temple had been built over it. Helena ordered that the temple be destroyed and the dirt beneath the temple removed.

Beneath the temple three crosses were found, the crosses were believed to be those that crucified Jesus and two thieves, St. Dismas, and Gestas. In order to discover which cross was the True Cross, a lady of rank that had long been suffering from disease was called to touch the crosses. The instant the woman touched one of the crosses, her disease disappeared and she was healed. Thus, Helena believed that she had found the True Cross and the Holy nails.

The Holy Nails were sent to Constantinople where they were added to Emperor Constantine’s helmet and the bridle of his horse. Part of the cross was also sent to Constantinople, while the rest was covered in silver and then given to the bishop of the city whom was asked to care for it carefully. The cross was cared for and taken out periodically for ceremonies until the fall of Jerusalem in 614.

The pieces of the cross in Jerusalem and in Constantinople were largely broken apart as both regions were conquered. Claims of splinters of the cross were found all over the world and men would wear small splinters in golden reliquaries around their necks. There are few who believe that most of these fragments are real, or that the story of Helena finding the cross is true. There is no definitive proof that the True Cross was ever really found, or that it survived at all.

Picture of Joan of Arc from a 1505 manuscript. Wikimedia

Relics of Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc was nothing more than a peasant girl until she rose to fame as leader of the medieval French forces. Joan was found guilty of heresy and witchcraft and burned at the stake in 1431 at the mere age of 19. It was said that her heart and intestines would not burn in the flames and therefore it was ordered that all of the ashes and remains of the body be thrown into the Seine River.

For this reason, there are no verified first class relics of Saint Joan of Arc. There is a jar of remains at the Chinon Castle Museum that is said to have been taken from the ashes at the stake of Joan of Arc, but it cannot be proven.

There are some other relics from Joan that survived for a time. There was a wax seal to one of Joan’s letters that she had placed one of her hairs. The hair disappeared during the second half the 19th century and no one knows where it is now. There was also a grey hat that was owned by Joan and given to Charlotte Boucher. It was given to the Oratorian Order of Priests in the 1600s where it stayed until it was taken by revolutionaries and purportedly burned in 1792.

There was also a sword that belonged to Joan and was kept by the descendants of her brother Pierre until it was lost during the chaos of the revolutionary period in France. It was also during the height of the French Revolution that Joan’s standard was believed to be burned and destroyed. Joan also kept a ring that was described during her trial. This relic is claimed to have been found and now in the possession of a private collector but the ring does not match the description given by Joan at her trial.

King David bearing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. Getty Images

The Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant is one of the most famous relics of the Christian and Jewish faiths. The Ark of the Covenant was built by Moses according to a pattern provided to him by God. The Book of Exodus tells that the Ark was built while Moses was on Mount Sinai. The Ark was created to hold the Ten Commandments and was connected to numerous miracles, including clearing obstacles from their path and stopping the flow of the Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross.

In 597 and 586 BC, the Babylonian Empire conquered the Israelites. The Ark at the time was said to be housed in the temple of Jerusalem. After the Temple fell to the Babylonians, the Ark disappeared. There is no evidence as to whether the ark was destroyed, was hidden by the Israelites, or was stolen by the Babylonians.

There are several theories as to the fate of the Ark, and a few people have claimed to have found it. One theory is that the Ark was smuggled away to Ethiopia before the Babylonians reached Jerusalem. It is now believed by some to be at the St. Mary of Zion cathedral in Askum. Church authorities have only permitted one man, the guardian of the ark, to see it and have never allowed it to be studied for authenticity.

There was another theory that said that the Ark was hidden beneath the First Temple in Jerusalem before it was destroyed in 586 BC. The site is home to the Dome of the Rock shrine, and is sacred in Islam and therefore no digging to find the Ark is allowed. In 1982, Ron Wyatt claimed to find the Ark beneath the hill on which Christ had been crucified. The Ark was never seen again and Ron Wyatt was known for dubious archaeological finds.

Statue of Saint Christopher with missing relic.

Relic of Saint Christopher

The missing relic of Saint Christopher is particularly interesting because there are some who claim that he never existed. Some people debate whether or not he was a real person or if the term “Christopher” or “Christ-bearer” was a general title that was given to several people. The story for which he is most known was that he carried a child across a river before the child was later discovered to be Christ.

Saint Christopher was later said to have visited Lycia where he tried to comfort the Christians who were being martyred. The local king attempted to get Christopher to make a sacrifice to pagan gods but he refused. Then the king tried to tempt him with women and riches, but instead he converted the women to Christianity. The king then ordered that Christopher be killed, and the Saint was beheaded.

There is one relic that is said to be the gold plated head of Saint Christopher that is kept at the Museum of Sacred Art at Saint Justine’s Church in Croatia. The head is rarely seen but church tradition tells the story of when the bishop showed the relics in 1075 in order to convince the Italo-Norman army to stop the siege on the city. That is the only recorded relic of the Saint, but a statue at the Metropolitan museum suggests that there have been more.

This elegant statue beautifully depicts Saint Christopher with Christ upon his shoulder. The statue also features the staff which was said to bring the miracle of Christ for when Christopher planted the staff in the ground, it bore leaves and fruit the following morning. At the base of the statue is the spot where a now missing relic once resided. The relic would have been placed in a small box of crystal so that the relic could be seen.

Painting depicting Veronica holding her veil. Wikipedia

Veil of Veronica

The story of the Veil of Veronica was not recorded in its present form until the Middle Ages. The stories of Veronica and her veil began appearing in different forms in the 11th century, and the final Western version tells of a meeting between Saint Veronica and Jesus. Saint Veronica encountered Jesus along the Via Dolorosa and stopped to wipe the blood and sweat from his brow with her veil. When she did so his image was transferred onto the veil.

The veil was then believed to have mythical powers including heading the Roman Emperor Tiberius. It was said that it could quench thirst, allow the blind to see and even raise people from the dead. The veil then became a venerated symbol of the Church. There is written evidence that the Veil of Victoria was displayed through the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries.

The fate of the veil became shrouded in mystery following the Sack of Rome in 1527. Some writers said that the veil was destroyed. Others say that it continued to be a presence in the Vatican and a witness to the sacking recounted that the veil was not found. Still another account tells that the veil was stolen and made its way through the taverns of Rome.

The mystery over whether or not the veil survived led to numerous people making replicas and copies which were passed around. In 1616, Pope Paul V prohibited the creation of copies of the veil, and in 1629 Pope Urban VIII ordered that all copies of the veil be destroyed. Anyone who refused to have their copy brought to the church to be destroyed faced excommunication. The fate of the veil has not been mentioned since.

Painting depicting the Holy Grail.

Holy Grail

Few religious relics are as recognizable or as idolized as the Holy Grail. The cup is believed to have untold power and be the cup that caught the blood of Christ at the crucifixion. The Holy Grail was also the cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper and as such there are few religious artifacts with as much history to them. But there is no evidence the cup really existed.

The Holy Grail first started to be mentioned around the 12th century when it was presented as a divine object in “Perceval.” The poem “Joseph d’Arimathie” by Robert de Boron spoke of the grail being at the Last Supper and the death of Christ, which only added to the religious significance of the cup. After the cup grew in prominence, Knights such as Sir Galahad in the 13th century would set off in search of the relic. It was believed that anyone with a charitable spirit could set off in search of the Grail and have a chance at finding it.

There is no solid evidence that the grail was ever held in anyone’s possession. There are only written literary accounts of the grail and depictions of the grail in paintings and artwork. The mythology surrounding the grail and whether or not it ever truly existed have led numerous historians on a quest to find it.

There are some who believe the story of the grail emerged from Celtic mythology. Others attribute the grail to the sacrament of the Eucharist the medieval period believing that the story of the Grail might have been an attempt to renew the traditional sacrament.  The story of the grail continues to be retold to this day and there are many who believe that the grail existed and is out there somewhere.


The Tolpuddle Martyrs

Throughout history, tales of brave, courageous people being executed for their beliefs, usually religious ones, are well known but the men who became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs were not persecuted for their religion.

Tolpuddle is a village near Dorchester in Dorset, where in the years 1833 and 1834 a great wave of trade union activity took place and a lodge of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers was established. Entry into the union involved payment of a shilling (5p) and swearing before a picture of a skeleton never to tell anyone the union’s secrets.

Lord Melbourne was Prime Minister at this time and he was bitterly opposed to the Trade Union Movement, so when six English farm labourers were sentenced in March 1834 to 7 years transportation to a penal colony in Australia for trade union activities, Lord Melbourne did not dispute the sentence.

The labourers were arrested ostensibly for administrating unlawful oaths, but the real reason was because they were trying to protest at their already pitiful wages. The labourers at Tolpuddle lived in meagre poverty on just 7 shillings a week and wanted an increase to 10 shillings, but instead their wages were cut to 6 shillings a week.

The Whig government had become alarmed at the working class discontent in the country at this time. The government and the landowners, led by James Frampton, were determined to squash the union and to control increasing outbreaks of dissent.

Six of the Tolpuddle labourers were arrested: George and James Loveless, James Brine, James Hammett, Thomas Stansfield and his son John. It was George Loveless who had established the Friendly Society of Agricultural Workers in Tolpuddle.

At their trial, the judge and jury were hostile and the six were sentenced to 7 years transportation to Australia. After the trial many public protest meetings were held and there was uproar throughout the country at this sentence, so the prisoners were hastily transported to Australia without delay.

The people were incensed at this treatment and after 250,000 people signed a petition and a procession of 30,000 people marched down Whitehall in support of the labourers, the sentences were remitted. After some delay, the the six were given a free passage home from Australia.

When finally home and free, some of the ‘martyrs’ settled on farms in England and four emigrated to Canada.

The tree under which the ‘martyrs’ met is now very old and reduced to a stump, but it has become a place of pilgrimage in Tolpuddle, where it is known as the ‘Martyrs Tree’. A commemorative seat and shelter was erected in 1934 on the green by the wealthy London draper Sir Ernest Debenham.

The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs is perhaps the best known case in the early history of the Trade Union Movement.


‘Dream Daddy’ Is A Surprisingly Earnest Dating Simulator Where You Can Date Gay Dads


“Dream Daddy” is a brand-new dating simulator in which you play a dad trying to romance other hot dads, and I’m pleased to report it’s much more charming, earnest and goofy than I expected it to be.

My main source of apprehension stemmed from the fact that “Dream Daddy” was produced by Game Grumps, a “Let’s Play”-style YouTube channel with 3.9 million subscribers. It’s run by Arin Hanson and Dan Avidan, both of whom are known for their over-the-top, juvenile, shock-based senses of humor. For example, their most recent “best of” video features a clip where one of the two asks the other if he thought he could “stuff tits into [his] asshole.”

So, to say that I was fearful about whether this game would treat its same-sex romances with respect is an understatement. However, I’m happy to report that after playing “Dream Daddy” for a couple of hours, my fears were (mostly) unfounded.

Wait, back up. What’s a dating simulator? How do you play “Dream Daddy”?

If the dating simulator genre is a totally foreign concept, here’s how it works: They’re essentially video game versions of those choose-your-own-adventure books.

In “Dream Daddy,” you design your own character — which, notably, include “binder” body options for trans characters — and help shape their story with the decisions you make.

If you’re having a conversation with another character, you’ll sometimes have to choose between one of several responses. Sometimes, these responses will affect another character’s perception of you, which is indicated by an explosion of hearts (good) or a murky, black ink cloud (bad). Other times, these options simply alter the way a conversation unfolds, but there isn’t a tangible, numbers-based outcome.

Ultimately, your goal is to pursue one — or several, if you’re feeling frisky — romances with another character. But if you choose the wrong responses in conversation, they might not return your affection. Kinda like real life, really.

The sweetest relationship in “Dream Daddy” isn’t with another dad

“Dream Daddy” is, of course, about romancing hunky men, but there’s actually a different relationship at the heart of the story: The one between your character and his daughter, Amanda.

The whole conceit of the story is that you’re a single dad who’s moving to a new neighborhood with Amanda — and, in the process of getting to know the new digs, meet a bunch of hot dads. It’s implied that you’re downsizing because your character’s spouse died in the somewhat recent past. Also, Amanda is in her senior year of high school and will be going off to college soon.

Amanda is the main vector by which the story moves forward, and it works surprisingly well. She’s the one pushing you to get to know the people in your new neighborhood — spoiler alert: They’re all dads — and she’s a nice, familiar face that helps ground everything in between all the flirtation.

In the opening minutes of the game, I was already getting choked up over the pair’s conversation about my character’s late husband, which is not what I was expecting out of a game called “Dream Daddy.” You can choose whether your spouse was a man or a woman, but this game is about romancing dudes, so, the choice was pretty clear.

I’ve also been surprised at how invested I am in her own narrative about troubles in school. I haven’t delved too deeply into her story yet, but I’m intrigued to see where it goes.

So, who can you date in “Dream Daddy”?

All right, enough about Amanda. What you’re really here for is hot dads. I get it.

I’ve met all the dads so far, and my current favorite is Craig, a sporty, reformed frat bro who’s settling into his new role as a divorced, mature(ish) dad. He regularly pantomimes a voice for River, the wide-eyed tot strapped to his chest. He also works out a lot. I’m not down with his fratty masculinity — he’s bound to have “masc4masc” in his Grindr profile, right? — but for now, he seems like a good option.

At first, I was partial to Hugo, a charming English teacher at Amanda’s school, but then I found out he had a son named Ernest Hemingway Vega. That’s simply too much.

I’m only a couple of hours into my first playthrough, so we’ll see how things go. Overall, I’m genuinely surprised at how much I’m enjoying it, but I do have some qualms with the way the writing fails to engage with gay culture in a meaningful way, despite relying entirely on the idea of gayness for its success.

But that’s a topic for another day. I’ll have more thoughts on “Dream Daddy” soon.


Buddhism 101: The Buddhist Pure Lands

Amitabha Buddha in the Pure Land of Suvakti. Rubin Museum of Art

The “pure lands” of Buddhism can sound a little like heaven; places where “good” people go when they die. But that’s not what they are. There are, however, many different ways to understand them.

A “pure land” often is understood to be a place where dharma teachings are everywhere and enlightenment is easily obtained. This “place” may be a state of mind rather than a physical place, however. If it is a physical place, it may or may not be physically separate from the mundane world.

However one enters a pure land, it is not an everlasting reward. Although there are many kinds of pure lands, for the unenlightened they are best thought of as a place where one may dwell only for a time.

Although pure lands are mostly associated with the Pure Land traditions, such as Jodo Shinshu, you can find references to pure lands in commentaries by teachers of many Mahayana schools. Pure lands also are mentioned in many Mahayana sutras.

Origins of Pure Lands

The concept of a pure land appears to have originated in early India. If enlightened beings choose to not enter Nirvana until all beings are enlightened, it was thought, then these purified beings must live in a purified place. Such a purified place was called a Buddha-ksetra, or Buddha-field.

Many different views of pure lands arose. The Vimalakirti Sutra (ca. 1st century CE), for example, teaches that enlightened beings perceive the essential purity of the world, and thus dwell in purity — a “pure land.” Beings whose minds are muddled by defilement perceive a world of defilement.

Others thought of pure lands as distinctive realms, although these realms were not separate from samsara. In time a kind of mystical cosmos of pure lands emerged in Mahayana teaching, and each pure land became associated with a particular Buddha.

The Pure Land school, which emerged in 5th century China, popularized the idea that some of these Buddhas could bring unenlightened beings into their pure lands. Within the pure land, enlightenment could easily be realized. A being who did not achieve Buddhahood eventually might be reborn elsewhere in the Six Realms, however.

There is no fixed number of pure lands, but there are just a few widely known by name. The three you will most commonly find referenced in commentaries and sutras are Sukhavati, Abhirati, and Vaiduryanirbhasa. Note that directions associated with particular pure lands are iconographical, not geographical.

Sukhavati, the Western Pure Land

Sukhavati the “realm of bliss,” is ruled by Amitabha Buddha. Most of the time, when Buddhists talk about THE Pure Land, they are talking about Sukhavati. Devotion to Amitabha and faith in Amitabha’s power to bring the faithful into Sukhavati is central to Pure Land Buddhism.

Sutras of the Pure Land school describe Sukhavati as a place filled with gentle light, the music of birdsong and the fragrance of flowers. Trees are adorned with jewels and golden bells. Amitabha is attended by the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta, and he presides over all sitting on a lotus throne.

Abhirati, the Eastern Pure Land

Abhirati, the “realm of joy,” is thought to be the purest of all pure lands. It is ruled by Akshobhya Buddha. There was once a tradition of devotion to Akshobhya in order to be reborn in Abhirati, but in recent centuries this was eclipsed by devotion to the Medicine Buddha.

Vaiduryanirbhasa, the Other Eastern Pure Land

The name Vaiduryanirbhasa means “pure lapis lazuli.” This pure land is ruled by the Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru, who is often depicted in iconography holding a lapis blue jar or bowl containing medicine. Medicine Buddha mantras often are chanted on behalf of the sick. In many Mahayana temples, you will find altars to both Amitabha and Bhaisajyaguru.

Yes, there is a Southern Pure Land, Shrimat, ruled by Ratnasambhava Buddha and a Northern Pure Land, Prakuta, ruled by Amoghasiddhi Buddha, but these are far less prominent.


  • O’Brien, Barbara. “The Buddhist Pure Lands.” Learn Religions, Feb. 11, 2020,

Gay History: Martyrs Among Us: Deifying Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk + more


When news broke that Matthew Shepard’s remains were finally buried at the National Cathedral some 20 years after his death, we were reminded of the collective grief the nation felt after the brutal, senseless murder of the waiflike 21-year-old. In the intervening years since he happened into a bar where he met up with two men who lured him into their truck, robbed him, and drove him to a desolate stretch of highway outside Laramie, Wyoming where they pistol-whipped him, tied him to a wooden fence and left him for dead in the cold night air, Shepard had become more than an emblem of the senseless hate crimes perpetrated against the gay community, he had become a martyr.

Matthew Shepard was an openly gay student at the University of Wyoming who was brutally attacked in a hate crime at the age of 21.

Shepard’s place among sacrificial victims was solidified when more than 5,000 people gathered on the steps of the Capitol to mourn his death and cemented when Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which broadened existing law to include crimes triggered by sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, race and disability. Byrd was an African American man murdered by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas. On June 7, 1998, they dragged his body for three miles behind their pickup truck. Although Byrd wasn’t gay, his inhumane murder serves to remind us of the hate that permeates society.

In his book, Dying to Be Normal: Gay Martyrs and the Transformation of Sexual Politics, author Brett Krutszch theorizes that LGBTQ activists are using religion to make the argument that gays are essentially the same as straights and deserve the same equal rights. He points to the veneration of Shepard, Harvey Milk and other high profile gay victims, as well as campaigns like the It Gets Better Project, which he believes promotes the notion that “like Christ’s suffering on the cross, one’s trials today can lead to a better tomorrow.” Krutszch says that national tragedies like Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting show how activists use headline-grabbing deaths to gain acceptance, shape the debate over LGBTQ rights and foster assimilation.

Krutszch maintains that Mr. Shepard’s 1998 murder is steeped in religious imagery. Just the thought of the all-American boy-next-door tied to a fence conjures up images of the crucifixion. He concludes that Matthew Shepard’s resulting canonization is due to the interplay of religion, death and LGBTQ politics and that “martyrs as emblems can be changed into more respectable figures than they were in their lifetime.” We may never know if Mr. Shepard was the innocent victim most people believe he was, or as The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard indicates, he was a meth dealer who not only knew his killers, but was sexually involved with one and that his death was the result of a drug robbery gone bad.

Whatever the motive for his murder, Shepard has become a shining symbol in the pantheon of almost exclusively white gay martyrs. The group dates back to the 4th century when Sergius and Bacchus, two Roman Christian soldiers who happened to be lovers, took part in a rite called adelphopoiesis (the ancient equivalent of same sex marriage) and refused to attend sacrifices for Zeus, thereby revealing their Christianity. The pair was paraded through what is now Syria. They were dressed in women’s clothing and tortured to death. They lived on through fervent followers and the churches that were dedicated to them throughout The Byzantine Empire.

Any conversation about modern-day martyrs would not be complete without mentioning Harvey Milk. He was the first openly gay elected official in California. Krutszch described Milk as “a secular Jewish, Yiddish-speaking, anti-monogamist” who was transformed by activists who “downplayed his Jewishness, depicted him as committed to fidelity and presented him as someone whose death, like Christ’s crucifixion, transformed the world.” One can argue the validity of that characterization, but it is hard to deny the contributions Milk made as San Francisco’s District 5 Supervisor. Those included defeating Proposition 6 that would have banned lesbian and gay educators from teaching in California public schools, and his efforts to pass legislation that prohibited discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation.

Harvey Milk

Tyler Clemente may be less well known than Milk and Shepard, but like their deaths, his was another flashpoint. You may remember reading about his suicide in 2010. Clemente was an 18-year-old Rutgers University student who jumped from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man. The video was posted on Twitter.

Most homosexual martyrs are white, but they are not all men. Brandon Teena, born Teena Renae Brandon, became famous when Hilary Swank played him in Boys Don’t Cry. The 21-year-old Teena was living a quiet transgender life in Humboldt, Nebraska, dating 18-year-old Lana Tisdel and hanging out with two ex-convicts John Lotter and Marvin Thomas “Tom” Nissen. Everything was fine until December 19, 1993, when Teena was arrested for forging checks. He used his one phone call to call Tisdel. She got the surprise of her life when she came to bail him out and was directed to the women’s prison where Teena was being held.

Brandon Teena

At a Christmas Eve party a few weeks later, Lotter and Nissen forced Teena to remove his pants, proving to Tisdale that he was a woman. Later that night, Lotter and Nissen forced Teena into a car, drove him to a deserted area, attacked and gang-raped him. Fearful that Brandon would file a police complaint, the pair murdered him on New Year’s Eve. While his family buried him as a female (his tombstone reads “Teena R. Brandon, Daughter, Sister and Friend”), the death of Brandon Teena is credited with raising awareness of transgender issues in the same way that Matthew Shepard’s became a clarion call for injustices directed toward gay men.

Teen Lana Tisdale

While real-life suffering seems like a necessary prerequisite for martyrdom, some fictional characters like Brokeback Mountain’s Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar have transcended fictional status to take their place in the cultural zeitgeist. Brokeback author, Annie Proulx, said the characters Jack and Ennis were her first two that felt “really damned real” and “got a life of their own.” She also said, “Unfortunately, they got a life of their own for too many other people, too … the audience that Brokeback reached most strongly have powerful fantasy lives. They can’t bear the way it ends. So they invent all kinds of boyfriends and new lovers and so forth after Jack is killed. They can’t understand that the story isn’t about Jack and Ennis, it’s about homophobia.”

Gay martyrs like Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, Brandon Teena and even Brokeback’s fictional characters are often a byproduct of homophobia, when people who find themselves outside the mainstream and are struggling to just be who they are.


Gay History: Paul Lynde 1926–1982

American comedian, character actor, and Hollywood center square. He began his career doing stand-up before moving into theater, where he got his biggest break playing the father in the musical Bye Bye Birdie. He reprised the role in the film adaptation to great success. From there, he was sought after to make appearances on television and variety shows including The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, and most notably in the role of Uncle Arthur on Bewitched. In 1966, Lynde made his first appearance on the new gameshow Hollywood Squares. His snarky one-liners were so popular, he became the regular center square for most of the show’s run. Throughout his career, Lynde’s humor was built on camp and a flamboyant persona; during Hollywood Squares, his jokes were often thinly veiled references to his own homosexuality. But although he made subversive gay humor palatable for American homes, he never actually came out, except to close friends. He sometimes blamed his sexuality for keeping him from better roles, but it also may have been his reputation as a mean and occasionally violent alcoholic. He managed to quit drinking at the age of 53, but died of a heart attack two years later.

Real People: The “Openly Closeted” Paul Lynde

Despite the entertainment industry being hindered for years in portraying explicitly homosexual characters, those “in the know” were well aware of how this restriction was subverted by the very presence of certain actors and celebrities whose outrageous, decidedly “unmanly” personas could be interpreted as covertly gay. The movies had such jittery, effete ninnies like Edward Everett Horton and Franklin Pangborn, while television offered the likes of glittery, flamboyantly attired Liberace, who rocked the boat in the staid ‘50s by pushing his camp mannerisms to the limit; the mincingly nervous Charles Nelson Riley; and perhaps the most hilariously “sissified” of the bunch, the exasperated, acid-tongued Paul Lynde. 

Despite his initial efforts to be taken seriously as an actor, Lynde realized early on that his exaggerated vocal inflections and stinging way of delivering a line got him easy laughs, so he accepted comedy as his future. He first gained attention on the Broadway stage as one of the comedic highlights of the revue New Faces of 1952, doing a version of his “African Hunter” monologue that had gained him a New York nightclub following. From this more specialized universe he leaped into the big time with his performance as the uptight dad in the hit musical Bye Bye Birdie (introducing the hit song “Kids”), a role he was asked to repeat on the big screen in 1963. Lynde was soon being hired both for film and television to deliver his patented acerbic remarks, often done with a shake of the head, a nasally snarl, and a drip of prissy sarcasm, certain words emphasized with campy relish for added impact. Fellow gays cherished Lynde for honing to perfection what could only be described as “the bitchy queen,” lobbing a withering retort at straight-laced America, who laughed as well at what they perceived to be nothing more than a “quirky” comedian, since there was no thought of casting Lynde in roles that were deliberately gay.

While fans fondly remembered him for playing prankster warlock Uncle Arthur on Bewitched or as the host of one of the kitschiest of all ‘70s variety offerings, The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, it was being added to the cast of the daytime game show The Hollywood Squares that brought him his greatest fame. Positioned in the “center square,” he became the go-to favorite among the celebrity guests, being fed questions that ensured a tart, often surprisingly risqué reply, some of his answers clearly suggesting a coded, campy gay sensibility: i.e., the question “Why do Hells Angels wear leather?” received the reply, “Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.” During his eleven-year run as a series regular (1968–79), Lynde became revered as one of show business’s great “put down” comics. To most of America he was just a “smart ass” who talked kind of funny, but to the gay community his unapologetic, scalding manner was something to which they responded, perhaps interpreting the Lynde wit as a defense mechanism against an intolerant world.


Gay History:The Briggs Initiative: Remembering a Crucial Moment in Gay History

Homophobe John Briggs promoting his initiative

A lot of people are saying this year’s midterm election is the most crucial of our lifetime. It may well be, given the need to elect officials who will fight Donald Trump’s loathsome agenda. But another midterm election, 40 years ago, was one of the most crucial as well, at least in California.

In 1978, State Sen. John Briggs put an initiative on the ballot that would have mandated the firing of any gay or lesbian teacher in California public schools, or any teacher who supported gay rights (the term LGBT wasn’t used back then). Thanks to a Herculean effort by California grassroots activists — Harvey Milk, Cleve Jones, Sally Miller Gearhart, hundreds of others — Briggs’s Proposition 6, popularly known as the Briggs Initiative, was resoundingly defeated, by more than a million votes. It was the first time voters had rejected an antigay measure.

To mark the 40th anniversary of this milestone, the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco is mounting an exhibition called “The Briggs Initiative: A Scary Proposition,” recounting the story of the initiative and how it was turned back. It opens September 14.

“This exhibition will bring a scary time for LGBTQ people zinging back for those of us who were there, reminding us that we can fight the forces of anti-LGBTQ discrimination and win even against long odds,” said co-curator Sue Englander, a veteran of the anti-Briggs Initiative effort, in a press release. “And if you weren’t here 40 years ago, the story will sear itself into your consciousness. The differences between 1978 and today aren’t as big as they may look.”

Indeed, there are similarities between 1978 and today. The gay rights movement jump-started by the Stonewall riots and other events of the 1960s had made some gains in the 1970s. Gays and lesbians were getting elected to state- or city-level public office, or coming out and getting reelected — Elaine Noble in Massachusetts, Allan Spear in Minnesota, Harvey Milk in San Francisco. Many cities and counties, including San Francisco and Miami-Dade County, were adopting ordinances banning antigay discrimination. Major cities across the nation were holding Pride parades, usually around the anniversary of Stonewall in late June. The American Psychiatric Association announced it no longer considered homosexuality a mental illness.

This amount of progress pales in comparison with that of the 21st century, which brought nationwide marriage equality, many more antidiscrimination laws, and, for a time, a president who wholeheartedly supported LGBTQ equality. But just as the Trump administration and other anti-LGBTQ forces are trying to undo civil rights progress today, homophobes came out of the woodwork to try to strip away the advances of the 1970s. The Briggs Initiative was part of this backlash, as was Anita Bryant’s campaign to repeal the Miami-Dade County gay rights law. But where she succeeded, Briggs would fail.

Briggs was a far-right Republican from a district in Orange County, a conservative enclave between Los Angeles and San Diego. In a state that makes greater use of the citizen initiative process than almost any other that has it, he hoped Prop. 6 would boost his political career. Specifically, he aspired to become California’s governor.

But one of the forces who helped persuade voters to reject the initiative was a former governor — Ronald Reagan. When he became president a few years later, Reagan didn’t build a gay-friendly record — he courted the religious right and notoriously ignored the AIDS crisis. But in 1978, he announced his opposition to the Briggs Initiative in an informal letter and in responses to reporters’ questions, and on November 1, six days before the election, he published a commentary in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner denouncing the measure.

“Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles,” he wrote. “Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual’s sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child’s teachers do not really influence this.” That language may sound pretty tepid now, but at the time it was a significant statement. Then-President Jimmy Carter and his predecessor, Gerald Ford, also opposed the initiative.

Opponents meet: John Briggs and Harvey Milk

But the credit for defeating the Briggs Initiative really should go not to high-profile politicians but to the many grassroots activists who worked against it. The opposition started with gay and lesbian advocates and the women’s movement, but they formed alliances with organized labor, progressive religious groups, and community organizations representing a variety of populations. Milk and Gearheart famously debated John Briggs, as chronicled in the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk and the narrative film Milk (although the latter left out Gearheart). They made mincemeat out of Briggs’s arguments, particularly about his initiative being a way to combat child molestation; Gearheart cited government data showing that this is overwhelmingly committed by straight men.

But most important, gay people came out. “We can defeat the Briggs Initiative if all the gay people come out to your family, your friends — if indeed they are your friends, your coworkers, your neighbors,” Milk said at the time. “You will hurt them if you come out, but think of how they will hurt you if they vote for Briggs. If they don’t come out, then it will be a very tight race.”

Indeed, gay people and their allies managed to flip the script on the initiative, as Ramy K. Khalil noted in his Western Washington University master’s thesis on the campaign. In August, just three months before the election, opinion polls showed support for the measure at 61 percent, opposition at 31 percent. By September, the polls showed a toss-up. And on November 7, voters delivered a resounding defeat, with the proposition losing by a margin of 58.4 percent to 41.6 percent, and not even carrying Briggs’s home county.

“One decisive factor was the mistake by Briggs himself of over-reaching — of promoting an initiative that was more extreme than the anti-gay ballot initiatives in other states,” Khalil wrote. “Proposition 6 required school districts to terminate employment of LGBT or straight people who expressed any sympathy toward homosexuality, on or off the job, whereas the ballot initiatives in other states merely repealed special protections against discrimination for gays or lesbians. Most importantly, though, Proposition 6 was defeated by LGBT people, labor unions, feminists, and other allies who organized a powerful grassroots movement involving highly visible protests and actions that successfully confronted the homophobic arguments behind Proposition 6.”

One of the posters to be featured in the exhibit
“Never Again! Fight Back!” (San Francisco: Too Much Graphics, 1978); silk-screened poster sold as a fundraiser for the No on Six campaign, GLBT Historical Society.
“No on 6” bumper sticker (San Francisco: Bay Area Committee Against the Briggs Initiative, 1978). Collection of the GLBT Historical Society.


Further to the last blog post “Behind the Weird Internet Scheme to Associate Pedophiles with the LGBTQ+ Community”

There was a reference made to a MAP (Minor Attracted Persons) Pride flag in the article. This is not a legitimate or recognised Pride flag, and here is the information about it.


Groups of pedophiles are attempting to be part of the LGBTI community.

A group known as MAPs (or Minor Attracted Persons, not to be confused with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) has been circulating its own version of the Pride flag.

Another term for ‘pedophile’

MAPs attempts to soften the idea of pedophilia by insisting it’s not wrong if there is no contact.

‘”John” was suicidal. He had been bullied by trolls on social media for most of his life for being different. The bullies were primarily people who claimed, based on their religious beliefs, that “John” was going to hell and deserved to die. They described how they would kill him on his twitter page and people supported their hate. Desperate for help, John sought treatment for his shame, depression, and suicidality. Although he was scared to share about himself with a stranger, he felt desperate for help as he had NO desire to harm anyone, ever. Once he shared about his attraction to children, his therapist told him, “I don’t treat sex offenders,”’ a passage on The Prevention Project about MAPs reads.

‘First, let’s be clear. “John” is not a child molester nor is he a sex offender. He has an attraction to children. He is also fervent about helping prevent child sexual abuse by speaking out against it and by showing his support of global child sexual abuse prevention programs on his social media. “John” deserves support as do others who have a minor attraction. After all, isolation and depression are known to increase one’s risk of doing something they might regret.

By the way, we have talked to “Janes” who are women who identify as anti-contact, non-offending pedophiles and like “John”, they have no desire to sexually harm children.’

Considering the long-standing trope that LGBTI people are rapists and/or child molesters, the fact those who actually have attraction to children are attempting to co-opt LGBTI spaces is disturbing.

Social media reactions

Many on social media are warning LGBTI people and allies to be wary of the MAPs flag during Pride season. Additionally, many also called out the problematic nature of using a term like ‘minor attracted persons’ to normalize pedophilia.

Offline and in the real world

This isn’t just happening online, either. A photo of drag kid Desmond Napoles was recently used on a flyer in Oregon, promoting a fake Pride event for pedophiles. The posters were allegedly distributed by a group called the National Association of Man-Boy Love (NAMBLA).

When Napoles and his family learned about his picture being featured on the flyer, they took to Instagram to urge people in Oregon to ‘tear them down immediately.’

UPDATE 28 July: Fact-checking website Snopes has concluded that this flag was a hoax. Not officially associated with MAPs or NAMBLA, it seems to have originated on Tumblr. It is unclear what the motivations behind the hoax were.