A shrine is an area set aside for display and veneration of sacred objects, people, spirits, and events. In Gay culture, shrines can be private spaces within the home, permanent public spaces often associated with Gay pilgrimage and tourism, temporary spaces that mark the murder of an LGBTQ person, or a portion of a larger non-Gay shrine that is dedicated to the LGBTQ community.
Whereas religious shrines hold cult iconography such as statues, photos of holy people, or human remains, Gay shrines may hold humorous camp iconography as well as deeply personal items and spiritual symbols. For example, a Gay shrine might hold photographs of movie stars and popular singers, mementos from friends, erotic photography, Lesbian/Gay male pulp novel covers, ashes of deceased pets, or cast-off items used by Gay icons. Camp (hilarious performance of irony and absurdity) shrines are generally created out of affection for a pop icon or loved one rather than as an actual site of religious devotion, but home shrines can also be deeply spiritual. For example, LGBTQ people may keep shrines for certain Gay-friendly orixás (West African Yoruba gods) or an image of the Wiccan Goddess.
Some shrines may be formal monuments or memorials dedicated to Gay people, such as the Gay Liberation statues in Sheridan Square and the Stonewall Inn in New York City, the Rabbit God Temple in Taiwan, the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, or the Homomonument in Amsterdam. Shrines for Gay pilgrimage include the graves of Jane Addams, Oscar Wilde, and Michel Foucault. They may also be temporary monuments at memorial sites, such as the fence where Matthew Shepard was bound after being beaten; the bus stop in Newark, New Jersey where Sakia Gunn was stabbed; and a footbridge dedicated to slain South African athlete Eudy Similane. A mobile shrine called Gay American Heroes is designed to move from city to city to honor LGBTQ people (and Straight people mistaken for Gay people) who were murdered.
Sometimes the sites may be of significance to non-Gays and Gays alike, such as the home of the Ladies of Llangollen in Wales, the tombs of Oscar Wilde, Collette, and Toklas-Stein in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, the gravesite of ally Dan Inouye in Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu (he said he planned to be buried next to a Gay soldier in Arlington Cemetery who was the bravest man he knew, but that did not come to pass), Nazi concentration camps where Gays were exterminated alongside other despised groups during World War II, and the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, which has an exhibit dedicated to homosexual people who suffered in the concentration camps.
Shrines and Pilgrimage
Visiting shrines is a form of Gay pilgrimage. Just as religious pilgrims may travel great distances to visit sites of great spiritual importance to their community, Gay people also travel with the specific purpose of visiting a site that has spiritual or historical importance to them, such as the Castro Theatre in San Francisco and the Island of Lesbos in Greece. Some shrines are special to specific LGBTQ groups, such as the grave of San Francisco’s legendary nineteenth-century Emperor Norton (Joshua Norton, an eccentric folk hero) that was visited annually by Gay activist icon José Sarria and his Imperial Court (dressed in black, Sarria took on the persona of Norton’s widow).
Hijras (a South Asian identity of males who live as women) make an annual pilgrimage to Koothandavar Temple in the state of Tamil Nadu, India to take part in a festival in which they are married to Aravan, a hero who sacrificed his life to defeat evil, and are then collectively widowed.
Mobile and Virtual Shrines
One of the most important shrines for the LGBTQ community is the mobile display of the AIDS Quilt, so massive that only a portion of the quilts can be shown at a time in one place. People can also visit the Quilt in its warehouse in Atlanta, or view color images of the Quilt on its website (www.aidsquilt.org), which could be considered a virtual shrine. Important Gay icons such as Foucault and Gloria Anzaldúa (www.michel-foucault.com, http://gloria.chicanas.com) have virtual shrines as well.
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Waitt, Gordon, and Kevin Markwell. Gay Tourism: Culture and Context. New York: Haworth, 2006.