By Jason Tseng
This Pride Month, LGBTQIA Americans once again find themselves the targets of a coordinated culture war instigated by Far-Right extremists. In light of the national campaign of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation across the nation, the Queer Saints Project shines as a beacon of celebration and affirmation for the LGBTQIA+ community by countering the weaponization of faith through venerating queer ancestors. Originating from a collaboration between artist Jason Tseng and Judson Memorial Church, this innovative project aimed to honor the divinity within LGBTQIA+ ancestors and reclaim them as queer saints. What started as an art commission in 2018 has since blossomed into a vibrant movement, with the project’s iconic images inspiring solidarity and liberation.
Judson Memorial Church, a historic institution nestled in the heart of New York City’s West Village, provided the initial platform for the Queer Saints Project. Fueled by a desire to commemorate the contributions of LGBTQIA+ individuals throughout history, the church sought Tseng’s artistic talent to create icons that would amplify their stories and significance. Together, they envisioned a powerful way to pay tribute to these unsung heroes, while also raising awareness and funds for the LGBTQIA+ community.
The first batch of queer saints were created to adorn protest signs carried by Judson’s contingent in the Queer Liberation March in New York City. Tseng employed digital collage and photo manipulation techniques, blending elements of nature, Christian sacred iconography, and historical photography. In subsequent years, Tseng began rendering full digital illustrations of the queer saints, adorning each icon with symbols and imagery inspired by research on each saint’s biography. The Project is careful not to make any claims on the lived experiences or beliefs of the individuals being venerated in the project. “We believe that no matter what your belief system, these heroes in our collective queer history serve as a reminder that we have always been here. We have always been leaders, teachers, rebels, healers, and a million other things.” These amalgamations gave birth to a collection of transcendent images that merged spirituality and queerness, emphasizing the inherent divinity within LGBTQIA+ identities.
Beyond the realm of art, the Queer Saints Project has become a rallying point for the LGBTQIA+ community. These icons are not confined to gallery walls; they actively participate in protests, memorials, and community celebrations. Year after year, more queer saints emerge, joining the ranks of those who march proudly for queer liberation. Their images evoke a sense of shared history, reminding us of the struggles and triumphs that have shaped the community’s journey.
As the Queer Saints Project continues to flourish, its impact on the LGBTQIA+ community resonates far beyond its artistic origins. With each queer saint canonized, a new chapter in the struggle for liberation is written. These icons stand as testament to the profound beauty and strength that emerges from embracing ones authentic self. The Queer Saints Project has given voice to the silent heroes of the LGBTQIA+ community, reminding us that their stories are not only worth telling but also worth celebrating.