Quakers and Queers
The relationship of the Society of Friends (Quakers) to its members and others who identify as GLBTQ has been an active concern for more than fifty years. Friends are not a monolithic body, and each member’s voice and concerns have weight. This means in many meetings that for meetings to come to unity on such basic issues often requires years of discussion.
Compared to other religious organizations, some Quaker groups have been extremely progressive in their understanding of homosexuality. Towards a Quaker View of Sex, written by a committee of British Friends in 1963, had a considerable impact on British and American Quakers and others by its forthright acceptance of homosexuality as natural. In the early 1970s, committees on homosexual concerns were formed within New York Yearly Meeting and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to address questions within the Society of Friends and to advocate more broadly for LGBTQ civil rights. (The yearly meeting, covering a broad geographic area, is the highest level of organization and source of authority in the Society of Friends.)
As of 2015, most of the “unprogrammed” meetings in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom welcome openly gay members and approve of gay marriage. However, some of the Evangelical Friends churches, particularly in the Midwest and Far West, continue to view homosexuality as wrong. Disagreements continue.
Same-Sex Marriage in the Society of Friends
34 years before the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry in the US, the first same-sex “Celebration of Commitment” in the Society of Friends was held at University Friends Meeting in Seattle, Washington. However, it wasn’t until May of 1987 that the first union to be called “marriage” was solemnized in a meeting for worship in New York at Morningside.
Bruce Grimes and Geoffrey Kaiser were married under the care of Unami Monthly Meeting in the meeting house at Gwynedd on May 2, 1987, making theirs one of the first marriages formally recognized by a Friends Meeting. Their unique Quaker certificate was signed by the assembled witnesses. Learn more about the Bruce Grimes and Geoffrey Kaiser Journal Collection at the Friends Historical Library.
Same-sex marriage has caused rifts in some branches of the Society of Friends. Many Evangelical Friends – like a number of other Evangelical Protestant groups in the United States – still believe that homosexuality is sinful.
Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns
Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC) is a Quaker-affiliated group of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and sympathetic others in North America. It was initially organized as an independent “Committee of Concern” in 1971. Primary organizers of the group were Ron Mattson, Larry S. Butler, Gary Miller, Geoffrey Kaiser, and other Friends, who met regularly during sessions of Friends General Conference.
The first Quaker Lesbian Conference, an East Coast gathering, was held in June 1977. In the late 1990s, the topic of including transgender women in the QLC retreats was a subject of increasing concern for the planning group. Beginning in 2003, the conference began alternating years of conferences of born-female only gatherings with conferences that included transgender women. Soon after, the conferences merged into the national organization, Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC).
Additional Friends Historical Library resources for studying queer history in the Society of Friends are listed in the research guide.