As I celebrate Black History Month I’d like to recognize one of my indigenous West African ancestral religions that's not homophobic—even if some of the practitioners are.
To the disbelief of many—it's Vodun.
Haitian Vodou is an ancestral folk religion whose tenets have always been queer-friendly, accepting people of all sexual orientations and gender expressions.
It’s just one of the religions brought to the New World by the African Diaspora, but there is no religion that frightens and fascinates the world over as much as Vodou.
Misconstrued by racist images of zombies rising from graves, jungle drums, cannibalism, orgiastic ceremonies ritualizing malevolent powers of black magic, and by today’s popular culture images courtesy of Hollywood’s and New Orleans’ tourism industry, Vodou is a persecuted and misunderstood religion. The Catholic Church demonized Vodou during slavery, but also by Haiti’s political ruling elite who feared its revolutionary potential.
As a monotheistic religion, Vodou believes in one God, and that individual behavior is guided by spirits called "loas" or "lwas." The spirits derive from the belief traditions of the African people of the former kingdom of Dahomey, now Togo and Benin.
These spirits are lesbian, gay,bisexual,transgender and queer (LGBTQ) as well as gender-fluid, from being androgynous to dual-gendered.
Gay males in Haitian Vodou embrace the divine protection of Erzulie Freda, the feminine spirit of love and sexuality. Gay males are allowed to imitate and worship her. Lesbians are under the patronage of Erzulie Dantor, a fierce protector of women and children experiencing domestic violence. Erzulie Dantor is bisexual and prefers the company women. Labalèn is a gynandrous or intersexual spirit. And LaSirèn who is the Vodou analogue of Yemayá, a maternal spirit, is a revered transgender.
But let's not be fooled. Openly gay Haitian men in Haiti are ostracized. For example, the 2002 documentary “Des Hommes et Dieux (Of Men and Gods)” by anthropologist Anne Lescot exposed the daily struggles of Haitian transwomen. Blondine in the film said, “When people insult me because I wear a dress I am not ashamed of how I am. Masisis (gay males) can’t walk down the street in a wig and dress.”
Gay men are also ostracized anywhere the Haitian Diaspora resides, included the queer-friendly state of Massachusetts. In 2008, a 22 year old Haitian gay male committed suicide because of his sexual orientation.