Skip to Main Content

Queer Theologies

What is queer theology?

Queer theology encompasses the following:

  • Theology sourced by, with, and for LGBTQIA+ individuals.

  • Theology that purposefully opposes the rigidity of social and cultural norms regarding gender and sexuality. It seeks to bring equitable value to marginalized voices, experiences, and perspectives that affirm theology in queer people.

  • Theology that challenges and deconstructs harmful and historically imposed boundaries, particularly with respect to sexual and gender identity.

In a nutshell, queer theology is inclusive to individuals' sexual and gender identity and allows the LGBTQ+ community to reclaim what they see as their rightful space in Christianity as well as other religions and faith traditions. Furthermore, Queer theology posits the assumption that gender variance and queer desire have always been present in human history, including faith traditions and their sacred texts such as the Jewish scriptures and the Bible.

Discerning exactly what the term "queer" currently means is key to understanding queer theologies. First, queer is generally used as an umbrella term that refers collectively to the LBGTQIA+ community. Second, the term is transgressive - which seeks to reclaim the word that previously held negative connotations for the LBGTQIA+ community. Third, the expression "queer" is based on queer theory, which challenges the "traditional" notion that gender and gender identity are a fixed binary of "homosexual" and "heterosexual" or "male" or "female." Additionally, queer theory assumes that traditional gender and gender identity catagories are social constructs.

-- Description based on Radical Love: Introduction to Queer Theology by Patrick S. Cheng.

Key terms and identitities

  • Gender: Broadly, gender is a set of socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate.

  • Gender dysphoria:  The distress caused when a person's assigned sex at birth and assumed gender is not the same as the one with which they identify. According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term " intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults. *Note: not all transgender people experience gender dysphoria.

  • Gender Identity: A person’s deeply held core sense of self in relation to gender. Gender identity does not always correspond to biological sex. People become aware of their gender identity at many different stages of life, from as early as 18 months and into adulthood. According to Gender Spectrum, one study showed that “...the average age of self-realization for the child that they were transgender or non-binary was 7.9 years old, but the average age when they disclosed their understanding of their gender was 15.5 years old.” Gender identity is a separate concept from sexuality and gender expression.

  • Genderqueer: Refers to individuals who blur preconceived boundaries of gender in relation to the gender binary; they can also reject commonly held ideas of static gender identities. Sometimes used as an umbrella term in much the same way that the term queer is used, but only refers to gender, and thus should only be used when self-identifying or quoting an individual who uses the term genderqueer for themselves.

  • Nonbinary: Refers to people who do not subscribe to the gender binary. They might exist between or beyond the man-woman binary. Some use the term exclusively, while others may use it interchangeably with terms like genderqueer, genderfluid, gender non-conforming, gender diverse, or gender expansive. It can also be combined with other descriptors e.g. nonbinary woman or transmasc nonbinary. Language is imperfect, so it’s important to trust and respect the words that nonbinary people use to describe their genders and experiences. Nonbinary people may understand their identity as falling under the transgender umbrella, and may thus identify as transgender. Sometimes abbreviated as NB or Enby, the term NB has been used historically to mean non-Black, so those referring to nonbinary people should avoid using NB.

  • Cisgender: (pronounced sis-gender): A term used to refer to an individual whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth. The prefix cis- comes from the Latin word for “on the same side as.” People who are both cisgender and heterosexual are sometimes referred to as cishet (pronounced “sis-het”) individuals. The term cisgender is not a slur. People who are not trans should avoid calling themselves “normal” and instead refer to themselves as cisgender or cis.

  • Neo Pronouns: Pronouns are the words used to refer to a person other than their name. Common pronouns are they/them, he/him, and she/her. Neopronouns are pronouns created to be specifically gender neutral, including they/them, xe/xem, ze/zir, and fae/faer. Pronouns are sometimes called Personal Gender Pronouns, or PGPs. For those who use pronouns--and not all people do--they are not preferred, they are essential.

  • Queer: See the description above, incorporated in the general discussion of queer theology.
  • Sexual Orientation: The sexual attraction toward other people or no people. While sexual activity involves the choices one makes regarding behavior, one’s sexual activity does not define one’s sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is part of the human condition, and all people have one. Typically, it is attraction that helps determine orientation.

  • Transgender: Often shortened to trans, from the Latin prefix for “on a different side as.” A term describing a person’s gender identity that does not necessarily match their assigned sex at birth. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically to match their gender identity. This word is also used as an umbrella term to describe groups of people who transcend conventional expectations of gender identity or expression--such groups include, but are not limited to, people who identify as transsexual, genderqueer, gender variant, gender diverse, and androgynous. See above for common acronyms and terms including female to male (or FTM), male to female (or MTF), assigned male at birth (or AMAB), assigned female at birth (or AFAB), nonbinary, and gender-expansive. “Trans” is often considered more inclusive than transgender because it includes transgender, transsexual, transmasc, transfem, and those who simply use the word trans.

For a comprehensive list of terms, please see PFLAG's Glossary

Term descriptions are based on the PFLAG Glossary.

Notable Theologians

Patrick Cheng: The Rev. Dr. Patrick S. Cheng is an Episcopal priest, attorney, and theologian. He is known for his works Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology (2011), From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ (2012) and Rainbow Theology: Bridging Race, Sexuality, and Spirit (2013). Cheng has also contributed to a number of other works including The Queer Bible Commentary (2006), Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection, Second Edition (2010), and The Oxford Handbook of Theology, Sexuality, and Gender (2014).

Pamela Lightsey: The Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey is the first out Black lesbian elder in The United Methodist Church. From her position in academia, Lightsey has become a prominent activist, educator, author and blogger on a range of social justice issues. Lightsey has advocated within the LGBTQ community for the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy and to ensure marriage equality. As a board member of the Reconciling Ministries Network she has critiqued Christian churches for their homophobic policies and practices. Among other activist work, she traveled to the 2012 and 2016 United Methodist General Conferences to speak out strongly for justice for LGBTQ persons.

Marcella Althaus-Reid: Known for her work in liberation, feminist, and queer theology, bi-sexual Argentinian theologian. Her book, The Queer God, aims to liberate God from the closet of sex-negative Christian thought and embraces God’s role in the lives of LGBTQIA+ people. She argued that an embodied spirituality must also be sexual and pushed people of faith to honor their sexuality as a path to holiness.

John J. McNeill: Father John McNeill was an openly gay Roman Catholic priest whose scholarly writings helped galvanize Catholic LGBTQIA+ folks. He devoted his life to spreading the good news of God’s deep abiding love for gay and lesbian Christians. The public nature of his work brought chastisement from the Vatican and he was expelled from the Jesuit order in 1987 for challenging the church’s teachings on queer Christians, gender identity, and sexuality. He carried on a psychotherapy practice and taught extensively on the connections between mental health and spirituality. He was awarded the National Human Rights Award in 1984 for his contributions to lesbian and gay rights.

Yvette Flunder: Bishop Yvette Flunder is an American womanist, preacher, pastor, activist, and singer from San Francisco, CA. She is the senior pastor of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Oakland, California and Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries.Her writings explore radical inclusivity, leading from the margins, and centering those typically excluded from society.

Kelly Brown Douglas: The Very Reverend Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas is an African-American Episcopal priest, womanist theologian, and the inaugural Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary. She is also the Canon Theologian at the Washington National Cathedral. She has written five books, including The Black Christ (1994), Black Bodies and Black Church: A Blues Slant (2012) and Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (2015). Her book Sexuality in the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective was groundbreaking for openly addressing homophobia within the black church.

Sourced and quoted from Queer theologians to know for Pride Month,