Eastern Mennonite University will host author, activist, public historian and Roanoke College professor Gregory Samantha Rosenthal for “Living Queer History: A Conversation Celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month” Thursday, Oct. 28, from 4-6 p.m. EST.

EMU to host inaugural LGBTQ+ History Month event on Virginia queer history

Eastern Mennonite University will host “Living Queer History: A Conversation Celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month” Thursday, Oct. 28, from 4-6 p.m. EST.

The event features author, activist, and public historian Gregory Samantha Rosenthal, PhD, speaking on their forthcoming book “Living Queer History: Remembrance and Belonging in a Southern City” (University of North Carolina Press, December 2021).

LGBTQ+ History Month began in 1994 in the United States to celebrate the history and achievements of the LGBTQ+ community. Traditionally celebrated in October in the US, the month is celebrated in different countries at different times of the year. 

The lecture is sponsored by EMU’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Safe Space.

“At EMU, we journey with our painful history toward LGBTQ+ people. Before 2015, openly LGBTQ+ people were not permitted to work here on campus,” said Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Jacqueline N. Font-Guzmán. “This LGBTQ+ History Month Lecture represents the first time we are publicly acknowledging and celebrating LGBTQ+ history. We invite our community to learn alongside us in this time of reckoning and healing as we strive to build a community of learners where everyone is heard, affirmed, valued, and respected.” 

Register for the webinar to participate in the Q and A session afterwards, or find the livestream of the event on EMU’s Facebook page. (You do not need a Facebook account or page to access Facebook Live, nor does clicking on the link obligate you in any way to Facebook.)

Introductions and grounding will precede the main event, with Rosenthal speaking from 4:30-5:30 p.m., followed by time for questions from the audience. 

“Living Queer History” is described as “an interweaving of historical analysis, theory and memoir,” according to the UNC Press website. Rosenthal, a professor of public history at Roanoke College in Roanoke, Virginia, tells the story of coming out and transitioning as a transgender woman while working on the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, a community-based history project that documented a multigenerational southern LGBTQ community. Rosenthal is a co-founder and project leader. Founded in September 2015, the group has collected physical archives and oral histories, hosts a podcast, and guides walking tours of Roanoke neighborhoods, among other initiatives and activities. Members and visitors are welcome at monthly meetings.

“Queer history is a living practice,” Rosenthal writes. “LGBTQ+ people today will not agree on what story should be told. Many people desire to celebrate the past by erecting plaques and painting rainbow crosswalks, but queer and trans people in the twenty-first century need more than just symbols —they need access to power, justice for marginalized people, spaces of belonging. Approaching the past through a lens of queer and trans survival and world-building transforms history itself into a tool for imagining and realizing a better future.”

The project has won the 2019 Unsung Hero Award from the Roanoke City Office of Neighborhood Services; the 2018 Heritage Education Award from the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation; and Honorable Mention for the 2018 Allan Bérubé Prize from the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender History. 

Bach Festival hosts Oct. 31 performance

SVBF will celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month with a special performance by NYC-based cellist Andrew Yee (they/them). Andrew will present their project “Halfie” for solo cello, exploring identity through the lens of classical and contemporary music. The event is 5 p.m., Oct. 31, 2021 at Common Grounds at Eastern Mennonite University. Visit the Bach Festival website for more information.

Join the Discussion on “EMU to host inaugural LGBTQ+ History Month event on Virginia queer history

  1. Disgusting. Another “church” institution adopting secularism as religion….not of the world. Every knee will bend…. Yes we are not to judge but we also commanded to call out sin amongst us.

    1. I don’t think I’d say that celebrating the beautiful diversity among us, created by God, is secular. We are trying to practice love as Jesus taught.

      1. No, Jesus didn’t.
        -Jn. 17:9 – “I do not pray for the world.”
        -Rev. 2:6 – “But this you have: You hate the works of the [promiscuous] Nicolaitans WHICH I ALSO HATE.” (See the rest of the chapter for how He also hates Jezebel, promotrix of sexual immorality amongst Christians.)

  2. What a sad day for EMU and the future of the University. When events such as this are promoted it is as if we are placing ourselves above the motto of EMU which is “Thy Word is Truth”. I can’t promote EMU or support financially an institution that mocks the God who created us and redeems us.

    1. Yikes David. The motto is “lead together”. Sounds like emu is starting to lead the church against hate and discrimination 😬

    2. Couldn’t God have created 🏳️‍🌈 people too? We are all each other’s neighbors and called to love, not exclude. Affirmation of value and belonging is a big part of love.

    3. This is the reason why I no longer support my alma mater and ceased to support it when it started providing benefits for homosexual partners…NOT my money. Yes, we are all sinners, but for a “christian”? university to promote this behavior is an abomination. The founding fathers would be turning over in their graves as well as plenty of other supporters. How can a Christian be a part of this university in ANY way??? EMU should drop the motto “Thy Word is Truth” since it appears they no longer believe the words of the Bible.
      Love the sinner, NOT the sin.

  3. This is an incredibly important moment for EMU. I’m honored to be a part of this time for our institution: when we can take responsibility for our history, vision together who we want to be, and witness with our neighbors that love always wins.

  4. I am so thankful for the loving care and courageous tenacity of queer colleagues at EMU in the face of exclusion and threats and more. I am looking forward to this and other chances to face history and weave a deeply loving future together

  5. As a social work professor at EMU I am so grateful for being able to hear history and stories and share space with my students in preparation for their professional lives. Our Code of Ethics requires that we not only be able to work with but also care for all persons in our diverse community, country and world. Having guests on campus is a great facilitator of learning. Thank you Dr. Rosenthal for your important work!

  6. This is an important step forward for EMU in equality of all peoples. I affirm Jackie Font Guzman’s statement that we need “to strive to build a community of learners where everyone is heard, affirmed, valued, and respected.”

    I am also saddened to see so many negative comments. Sadly, if I were to look back over the decades, I am sure I would see similar comments about EMU’s decent into hell when they admitted or hired a non-white person, a non-Christian person, or a non-male. And those comments did not stop the institution either. Keep moving forward EMU!

  7. Thank you, EMU, for your important acknowledgment of past harms and this invitation to learn together as a community. That lament and celebration seems a fitting fulfillment of your Vision to “bear witness to truth” and to “walk boldly in the way of nonviolence and peace.” Keep on walking!

  8. As an alum, I’m so excited to see that this event is happening! I’m glad to see that EMU is striving towards a vision of community where all are embraced, seen, heard, and past harms are being acknowledged. There is so much work to do, and this is an impactful step. It will be an honor to witness this event.

  9. Thank you SafeSpace and EMU’s ODEI for providing a opportunity to celebrate and learn about LGBTQIA+ history. Looking forward to more opportunities to extending the table to all.

  10. As an openly gay alum who attended EMU when faculty and staff could be fired for who they love I’m so proud to see EMU living into our call to love our neighbors and taking time to discuss the harm exclusion and marginalization of LGBTQ+ folks does to our community and to celebrate the gifts and talents that my fellow LGBTQ+ siblings bring to this University and the broader community.

    1. So proud to know you & call you my friend. I wish our community would have had our act together back when we were students but better late then never.

  11. Proud to be part of a Christian university that understands we are all made in the image of God. I know this is a hard journey for many who have heard otherwise all their lives. I invite them to listen deeply and with compassion and openness to the spirit.

  12. How heartening to see EMU making a shift toward the gospel that is actually good news for everyone. Cis-hetero white supremacy is soaked in sin and death. Cheers to liberation and thriving for all of creation!

  13. As a community member in Harrisonburg, a professor at JMU, and a student in the summer peace building institute at CJP, I am so pleased how EMU has taken to heart their commitment to deliberative and equitable approaches to holding community as a holistic concept and creating space at the table for all. By presenting this program, EMU is demonstrating its willingness to be both brave and courageous in fulfilling its core values, even when not popular with everybody. I wish that more institutions and organizations could demonstrate such authentic behavior. I challenge those who are upset by this program to sit with these values and reflect upon their meaning in action. Brava, EMU!

  14. As a student, I feel affirmed and supported by this choice of guest speaker. Being queer on campus can feel lonely and unsafe at times, but I am eternally grateful for the LGBTQ+ affirming and celebrating staff members, students, and professors who fiercely fight for accurate representation and appropriate resources. They have provided me a community where I can learn and thrive.

    I am super excited for this speaker!

  15. As a queer student on campus, it has been so energizing to see fellow LGBTQ+ students making brave and vulnerable strides over the years. Its long been time for more direct and public support from the university, so I am so excited to see EMU finally begin to voice support and affirmation more boldly at an institutional level for LGBTQ+ people. It’s affirming and healing, and it’s a good vocal step forward. I’m so excited to hear this incredible speaker!

  16. Wow! This is good news! As an EMU alum, resident in Roanoke, and parent of a Roanoke College alum, I am grateful for the progress all three entities are making toward recognizing, supporting, loving, and celebrating LBGTQ+ members in our communities. That’s Christianity! Thank you EMU….I’m looking forward to this event!

  17. As a bisexual alumni of EMUs peace building program, I’m really proud to see EMU taking strides to publicly host an affirming event that sounds like it will address the real structural injustices LGBQ-TGI+ folks experience and talk about the importance of not only love and acceptance but rectifying power imbalances. This event wouldn’t have happened 2007-2011 when I attended EMU. If it had maybe I would have come to understand my own sexuality sooner. Maybe the trauma of espousing purity culture and all the shame and violence it creates for women and queer folks would have been mitigated. I’m so glad EMU is doing this. So glad queer students on campus can hopefully feel more seen and safe than they were when I was on campus. (Shout out to Darian and Brent who had to be so brave and take on so much justifying of themselves at a time in their young lives when they should have been supported by the institution and community, not constantly having to educate them and us!!)

    It is long past time to problematize the sexual ethic which has harmed not only queer folks but everyone on campus, and to wholeheartedly embrace and talk about why discussing sex through the lens of religious or spiritual purity is contrary to a vision of radical love, care and liberation.

  18. This event is so important. As a queer alum, I am grateful to finally see support of the LGBTQ+ community from the institution and acknowledgment of harm. I’m grateful for everyone who over their time at EMU has shown love and worked towards collective liberation.

  19. As an alum of EMS and having lived through the era of silencing and fear of being ousted for living my authentic God-given identity, I am proud of EMU for hosting this important event.

  20. As an alum and ally, I’m glad to see how this is framed to acknowledge EMU’s history of harm and LGBTQ+ erasure!

  21. I’ve been invited by my colleagues at EMU who planned this event to learn along with them. As someone who prides herself in being a lifelong learner, I plan to seize the day and take them up on it!

  22. Thank you EMU and all the students and staff who have pushed for this! It took a lot of work I’m sure. This is so important and good.

  23. I’m so deeply happy to see EMU embracing the diversity in their community. I’m thankful EMU was a space where I found deeper meaning in my spirituality through my queer identities, and I’d like to encourage those of you reacting negatively to consider keeping harmful things to yourself instead. All students at EMU, and anywhere, deserve to be loved for how God created them. The support I received there saved my life and my soul, so perhaps we should ask questions and celebrate that, instead of being afraid of things different than us.

  24. God made a diverse and beautiful world and I’m so grateful for EMU’s superior theological and Biblical grounding to invite Gregory Samantha Rosenthal. Christians should understand that Jesus taught us to love everyone, and listen and learn when we feel the urge to judge. All are welcome at God’s table – even the people here offering judgment and sinning by thinking they are superior to other human beings.

  25. Sin is sin. You can’t wrap a royal blue blanket around it or escape it with words like forbearance. You can not erase the sin of a sibling, child, grandchild, friend… because it is too painful or difficult.

    Perhaps your bible is like Thomas Jefferson’s and you cut out the parts you don’t like. If you’ve not done this literally, you’ve done it in your hearts and minds.

    Maybe we should dance around an Asherah tree at the solstice. God created the tree so how could this be a problem. Should we not celebrate this and listen with love and understanding to the dancers that slash their wrists.

    The church has become corrupt and rotten at its core including the leadership and those charged with educating our youth. The church is of the world and being influence and controlled by false prophets including arrogant leaders who can interrupt the Word better since their eyes are opened but their eyes are covered with scales. How are y’all so much more woke and enlightened than your grandparents, great grandparents…. They got it wrong but you are smarter and more informed.

    Whoa to EMU.

  26. For five decades I held very conservative views on this. While attending a conference in 2013 I had the opportunity to talk with several LGBTQIA people. I was stunned by their deep, deep faith. Not their beliefs/rules but their deep, unwavering faith in Jesus. They told of very hurtful and traumatic things that had been done to them by their congregations yet their faith and devotion to the One that these churches represent was solid. It was at that point that I had to look into what I believed about sexuality. Learning that one’s sexual identity is not a choice was key for me. (If you think one’s sexuality is a choice, ask yourself when you made that choice. If it is a choice, we all had to make it.)
    My biggest fear in reexamining the scriptures was that if I changed my views and I was wrong, I could lead people down the wrong path. When I studied the scriptures I learned a lot. I started with the Sodom and Gomorrah story. I discovered that this story is about a lack of hospitality, not about homosexuality. And Lot was considered a good person even though he offered his virgin daughters to the mob so they could have sex with his daughters?? And why wasn’t that part of the story ever addressed in sermons??
    I spend a lot of time reading and learning and studying scripture. There is too much for me to share here but it changed me. My hope for us all is that we would strive for unity and not for being right. To do this we have to listen to each other. At MCUSA conventions the conservative views are expressed by those who hold them. Not once have we listened to LGBTQIA persons in delegate sessions. We talk about them, but not with them. If “community is the center of our lives,” then we must work together. “If you have to choose between love and what you think is right, choose LOVE because love is always right.” God is love. Choose love.

  27. Paul, which parts of the Bible have you cut out? Remember Jesus talking about the speck and the log? Rather than being so angry and hostile toward this event, a better use of your time might be to examine the log in your own eye? Perhaps it is your own arrogance that is clouding your vision, assuming that you have the right to be the judge. Breathe Paul. The Spirit is moving in a new way; don’t miss it.

  28. The Spirit is moving in a new way? The way you want or God wants? God’s word and the Spirit haven’t changed. What has is the church being corrupted by the world and the ruler of this world.

    I’m always amazed at the peace and love perspective and no acknowledgement of sin and wages of sin.

    And Jesus said.

    34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

    “‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
    a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
    36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[c]
    37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me

    Do you love those of flesh more than God?

    1. Paul, as we read in Revelations, we should not be surprised at what is happening at EMU… this corruption is happening, just as we read that it will happen.

    2. This is not about God changing, but rather our capacity to hear what God is saying. When I read the Bible, I see God consistently opening new revelations for those who have ears to hear (i.e., Peter’s vision in Acts 10); whereas those who are more concerned with maintaining their version of God’s revelation are the ones who consistently miss that new thing that God is doing (Isaiah 43; Isaiah 61; Luke 4). The Spirit is always moving us towards greater freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).

      1. Our God is a LOVING God, not a vindictive God. I am so thrilled to see this program at EMU and have forwarded it to family members so they can participate. EMU is moving in the right direction and we need to continue on this path. All should be welcome here and feel comfortable here. Learning some LGBTQ+ history is a step in the right direction.

        As the Bible states, “…and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10).
        LOVE WINS!

  29. It’s good to see more walls coming down at EMU, helping us to understand, love, and care for all of God’s creation..

  30. I applaud Safe Space and the new Office of DEI for putting LGBTQ+ History Month on EMU’s calendar with this inaugural event. I’m looking forward to learning more about Virginia Queer history from Rosenthal.

  31. I am so glad to see that EMU is celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month, and publicly inviting our community to join in the celebration. I am the mother of a gay son who attended EMC in the 1980’s, and received hurtful discrimination when he came out as gay. Fortunately his supportive friends and profs in Peace Studies stood by him, and helped him through this traumatic experience, but the scars remain.
    Because of my son’s experience, I have become a gay rights activist, and have been involved in EMU’s journey toward inclusion. I am grateful for those who have planned this celebration, and for faculty and staff who have led the way to where we are today.

    1. Maybe EMU should have a representative from NAMBLA give the next speech.

      I think it might be good to be open to their perspective and celebrate their inclusion and contribution to God’s rainbow.

      After all … Love is Love.

      The church and the people supporting the homosexual lifestyle choice on this discussion can not even identify and label sin (which is separate from judgement) so how are you any different the secular society; there are lots of groups that love, promote peace and do good works. Some are even cults like JWs or LDSs. Is there anything that you even consider sin or is the Bible just an antiquated relic written by old white men to suppress God’s true intentions and you are so intellectually superior with the help of discernment and the clairvoyance revealed to you ….or at least how you would like they world to be.

      Sometimes God asks for obedience without your earthly mind and desires clouding the issue. It’s called faith.

      I also notice that everyone posting in support of this assembly is gay or has a close association with a gay person.

      1. This is telling: “I also notice that everyone posting in support of this assembly is gay or has a close association with a gay person.”

        Exactly – when you know someone personally, it’s more difficult to assign stereotypes and judgments. Perhaps you might consider having a conversation with someone who is gay or transgender before you judge them. Besides, it’s really not your job. Jesus was particularly clear about who gets to judge others and who doesn’t.

  32. It’s important to listen and actually hear different points of view, even if you don’t agree. As the first comment read, “I’m so glad to see this event happening at my alma mater. Openness to and acceptance of LGTBQIA people has been long in arriving, but I congratulate EMU on making strides forward”.

  33. Age takes its toll but does give perspective. In hindsight, I’ve recognized my home was one characterized by acceptance, security, opportunity, love, encouragement and privilege. Today EMU challenges me to grow in grace, mercy, generosity, justice, service, humility and sometimes to be still and listen.

  34. I’m so grateful to see EMU finally taking the courageous steps to host an event like this, acknowledging and celebrating the rainbow of identities present at EMU and beyond. It’s been a long time in coming! Thank you to the work of space space and other orgs who made this happen!

  35. Just months after I arrived at EMU twenty years ago, one of my colleagues was immediately terminated simply because she loved another woman. Unsure if I could work at an institution that did such things, I spoke with many of my mentors–many of them deeply devout people who spent careers working to help the church and religious institutions become more open to all of God’s children. They encouraged me to stay and work for change instead of leaving. At moments like this I’m so grateful I did. EMU has and will continue to struggle with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but it is making strides forward. As someone who works every day with the hundreds of amazingly diverse, energetic, loving, hopeful, struggling, and questioning young people here, I’m grateful that we’re working to support them all. It’s not easy, but it is amazing work. Thanks, EMU for celebrating LGBTQ+ month and bringing in this important speaker.

    1. Professors should be encouraging the students to find find truth and comfort in the truth of Jesus death and resurrection. My personal feelings and experience was professors encouraged students to find truth and comfort in being the most woke. The irony being we didn’t become more inclusive we just redirected the pendulum to one not focused on the one and only true purpose of leading everyone to the truth of salvation. That’s the mission let’s never forget that while we pat. ourselves and others on the back.


  37. Yes!! So proud to be a part of EMU!! Thank you for continuing to grow in love and affirmation for ALL people of God!

  38. After working for eight years on EMU’s Residence Life team, one of my greatest honors was being trusted to walk with some students who were grappling with their gender and sexual identities. Not for one second is it lost on me that there were & are so many others who are processing these questions and keeping it to themselves. I am proud to be a part of EMU at a time when we continue to grow and affirm everyone as people of God and making our community a safer place to live truly into who each person has been made to be.

  39. As a queer alum, I am really surprised and excited for EMU’s steps forward. It makes me feel safer knowing organizational changes are happening from within. When I was in the program in 2003, one of my professors (a fav of mine) was fired for being gay and living with his longtime partner. It appalled everyone in our program and made the LGBTQ+ classmates feel very unsafe on campus. Now 18 yrs later to see EMU hosting this event is both exciting and shocking. I am glad people are doing the work to understand the real truth of love and acceptance and not some mistranslated Bible passages.
    It is disheartening but also not surprising to see so many negative and hateful comments. As someone who was excommunicated after coming out, I have learned that “christians” are the most judgmental and hateful of all of the people I have encountered. Thankfully I have other, unconditionally loving Christian voice ls surrounding me now.
    Cheers to the future of EMU and being more unconditionally loving to everyone!

  40. As an alum, current student, and employee at EMU, I am so excited for this step in our journey. It is a deep privilege to work in a space striving to be a “community of learners where everyone is heard, affirmed, valued, and respected.” EMU allowed me to learn that, as a follower of Jesus, I will strive to embody Jesus’ radical love rather than turning the story on its head toward exclusion. Jesus disrupted systems and power centered on hate, destruction, and oppression; therefore, we are called to do the same. This event makes me proud, humbled, and inspired, especially knowing where EMU has come from — may we continue to this work for liberation, justice, and healing.

  41. I am deeply grateful that EMU had the courage to embrace and promote this event. It gives me continued hope for institutions such as EMU in their willingness to take the words that they are saying and make them concrete in actions. Thank you, Jackie, for your leadership and vision, and thanks so much Gregory Samantha Rosenthal for your wonderful presentation!
    There is always the fear of fallout among constituents, of course. But what is sometimes overlooked is that crowd of prospective constituents who are waiting in the wings, and who are eager to support this kind of courage and direction. Following Jesus is not a popularity contest. Nor is it a soapbox that allows us to quickly categorize into pure and impure, righteous and sinner. Ironically, that behavior is precisely what Jesus set himself up against, embracing instead a posture of unflinching support for those who find themselves in the cross-hairs of that which purports to be from God. If we claim to follow, then we must deliberately set ourselves about the tasks that do the same, working tirelessly against all forms of oppression and domination, embracing love, denouncing hate, and living more fully toward the just and compassionate future that Jesus invited us all to work for.

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