February 15th was the ancient Roman Feast of Lupercalia when young boys and girls (who tended to be kept strictly separate) were allowed to explore their sexuality. Each young man would draw a girl’s name from the jar and they would then be partners for the duration of the festival. Sometimes the pairing of the children lasted an entire year, and often, they would fall in love and would later marry.
Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II, Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. Claudius the Cruel was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Believing Roman men did not want to leave their loved ones, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome.
Claudius had also ordered all Romans to worship the state religion’s idols, and he had made it a crime punishable by death to associate with Christians. But Valentine, a Christian who objected to the power of the state over love, secretly married couples, and for these kind deeds, Valentine was apprehended and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. He suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February, in either 269 or 270.
The modern battle
The battle for marriage equality in the 21st century reminds us that the power of the state to legalize or restrict love will always involve courageous people who find creative ways to object to this abuse of power. Love always finds a way even though throughout history, many have been condemned by the church, the authorities and the state for simply doing the right thing and blessing the love that flows from God.
This year, Valentine’s Day is a perfect day to remember same-gender couples who are being persecuted by the state and religious authorities in 76 countries where it remains illegal to be LGBT, and those who support them. Many of these secret supporters, like Valentine, share the stigma and the violence that is often directed toward them.
Last month, we heard about a five-year sentence handed down to Jean Claude Roger Mbede from Cameroon merely for texting a message that he loved someone!
Let’s make a difference
Who would have ever imagined a sweet Valentine’s Day card could be used as evidence against you as a criminal? But this is the reality for millions of LGBT people who will celebrate Valentine’s Day under cover. Another Cameroon couple were recently released from jail where they served one of a five-year sentence. They were criminalized merely as “looking gay” because they were drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream!
On Valentine’s Day, San Diego-based St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation is inviting communities to honor local allies and couples, singles and LGBT people everywhere who are fighting to legalize love for everyone. Send them a Valentine’s Day card or an email, or have a public demonstration of our gratitude to them for the important sacrificial work they do, so others may simply and freely love.
In San Diego, we will be honoring two leaders, one from the legal profession who has volunteered endless hours volunteering to write amicus briefs and fight the legal battle for LGBT marriage equality locally in California, Eric Isaacson [ pictured at top left ]. We will also honor the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, who is an openly gay pastor with the United Church of Christ and has served for 25 years fighting as a religious leader for LGBT rights locally and internationally.
Schuenemeyer recently helped me raise $13,000 to house 26 individuals who came from these illegal countries to attend the International AIDS Conference last summer. He is a tireless advocate for HIV-related services for LGBT people globally and is a wonderful example of what religious leaders can do when they fight to legalize love for everyone.
Ceremony at Heat
The awards presentation will be made at San Diego’s sizzling new restaurant, Heat. Situated near the intersection of Park Boulevard and University Avenue, Heat has just opened with rave reviews of both its décor and California fusion cuisine. My good friend Pascal Courtin, who was the personal chef to Sidney Frank -- the man who invented Grey Goose Vodka -- and his partner Sam Khorish have lovingly created one of San Diego’s hot spots for cutting edge culinary delights. Their design has created an intimate and inspirational ambiance.
Sam and Pascal are a key part of San Diego’s LGBT international community and many of us are fortunate to escape from homophobic situations around the world to flourish in a more tolerant environment like San Diego. Heat is just one example of what this LGBT international exile community can do when our God-given love and talents can grow in a supportive and loving environment. Sam and Pascal were delighted to be asked to host our first “Legalize Love for Everyone” honor parties on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, from 6.30 pm.
“I want to create a special cocktail for the evening,” Pascal said, “and the menu will be out of this world! Sam and I are honored to welcome our friends and lovers who believe as we do that LGBT criminalization everywhere needs to stop. We love the work of the St. Paul’s Foundation and what Eric and Mike have achieved for couples like us, so it will be a memorable evening for all of us, gay and straight, single or coupled. What could mean more than celebrating St. Valentine’s Day with an open and loving heart. It is our love that changes everything.”
There are only 80 places available at this special Valentine’s Day celebration and it will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets begin at $100 with all drinks and food included and all profit goes to support the global equality work of the St Paul’s Foundation. For more information and tickets, please visit our website HERE. So forget the hassle of trying to book a table on one of San Diego’s busiest nights to eat out. Intimacy, amazing food, free drinks and a great cause! Come with the one you love or maybe meet them here? Lupercalia, here we come!
RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.