Photo and story by Savannah Meade / Contributing Writer
Keven Lewis, an MTSU liberal arts master’s student, provided the “Tennovation Keynote” address for the LGBT+ College Conference at the James Union Building Thursday.
The address was based on a paper that Lewis wrote at MTSU, which is titled “Standing on Holy Ground: An Argument for Queer Spaces as Sacred.” Lewis said the idea for the paper came to him right after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in 2016. Seeing arguments about gun control, gay rights and terrorism on both Facebook and in real life inspired him to write a paper about his opinions and back them up with the religious theology and anthropology he has studied and continues to study at MTSU.
During the speech, Lewis challenged the traditional idea of the word “sacred” by outlining what sacred means based on religious theology and real-life examples. His PowerPoint presentation showed the audiences pictures of Jerusalem, a Mormon temple in New York and a mosque in Murfreesboro as obvious examples of sacred spaces. He moved on to museums and memorials, pointing out that, to some, those are sacred as well. The last two photos were of Disneyland and of a gay bar from Lewis’ home in Idaho. He questioned if those would be considered sacred by some.
Specifically, Lewis used the Pulse nightclub in Orlando as his major example of a sacred space. He cited a tweet that followed the tragedy that occurred there. The tweet called the nightclub a sanctuary and a sacred space.
“I propose for the queer community across the country and perhaps around the globe, the attack was more than just a shooting (and) more than just terrorism,” Lewis said. “Perhaps, the Orlando massacre was an act of desecration carried out on sacred ground.”
The first point in his argument that LGBT spaces can be and are sacred spaces was based on the idea that LGBT people are, in a sense, a culture.
“Culture begins and ends with bodies,” Lewis said “To speak of queer bodies is to speak specifically of other, deviant and sexualized bodies. These are bodies that most societies try to get rid of. The queer body is one that most cultures have burned and beaten. The queer body reflects the heterosexual tribe’s fear of being different.”
Instead of shared experiences that generally define a culture, the LGBT community, or the “queer bodies,” has shared memories. From the horrors of the HIV and AIDS crisis to the day to day experiences of being LGBT in the world, the history of the gay rights movement is what can be considered a “shared memory” between the LGBT community. Therefore, these experiences make them a culture, according to Lewis.
Lewis concluded by comparing San Francisco, California, to a homeland of sorts for the LGBT community.
“The creation of San Francisco as a homeland relies on the city’s history, a shared sense of identity among its residents and the practice of tourism, which revises a sense of sameness among residents and visitors,” Lewis said. “This queer homeland is one that is built through the occupation and repurposing of imagined heterosexual spaces … More than simply being a homeland, San Francisco also becomes a site of queer pilgrimage for those who live outside the city.”
Lewis ended his keynote by taking questions from the audience. The final point he made was that, while the physical LGBT sacred spaces are important, it is not so much about the “four walls” of the space.
“Queer bodies, specifically, gathered together in a space, have the ability to transform that space,” Lewis said. “Really, the space isn’t about the walls. The space is about the bodies that occupy those walls.”
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