2022-2023 Chloe Foor

About Queerness and Spirituality at UW

This project was inspired by my own history of growing up in a religious household while queer. While growing up, I moved around a lot due to my dad’s job. I ended up attending 8 total schools from age 5 to 18, and 7 of those schools were Catholic. When I was in middle school, I realized I was queer. It was incredibly isolating to attend school every day where I thought I was the only queer person. I didn’t tell anyone about my identity until high school, and eventually, I found out that some others at my school were also queer. I found a community there, but the relationship between queerness and religion shaped much of my teenage experience.

When I applied for the Student Historian position, I knew that I wanted my research project to center around the impact of religion on queer students here at UW. My first step was exploring this topic in the archives, but everything I found was only tangentially related to the topic, such as the activism of local churches during the AIDS crisis or documents on the Madison Alliance for Homosexual Equality, which met in the basement of St. Francis House, a campus church. There was next to nothing about the actual experiences of queer students and their relationship with religion. This is why I chose to conduct oral history interviews with both current and past students of UW. It has allowed me to get a more personal and human-centered approach to my research question. Over the course of four months, I conducted oral history interviews with seven individuals. After these interviews, I transcribed, created an index, and created an abstract for every single one in order for them to be digitally housed in the UW Archives.

I hope that this project reaches queer individuals who have struggled to reconcile their queer identity with a spiritual identity. I want them to know that no matter how that reconciliation works, whether it’s continuing to practice the same spirituality they were raised in, finding a new spirituality, or rejecting spirituality altogether, that their identity is valid and that others have gone through that same struggle. I want to thank the UW Archives for giving me the opportunity to pursue this research project, and am incredibly excited to share my work!

Oral Histories

For this project, I conducted oral history interviews with both past and present residents of Madison who have had to reconcile a spiritual identity with an LGBTQ+ identity. Most of these people attended or are currently attending UW-Madison. From these interviews, I have been able to collect accounts of events and emotions that have long gone unrecorded in the archives. I hope these accounts will help future students who feel alone in their struggle to understand a religious identity alongside a queer identity! These oral histories are currently being processed by the Archives and we hope will be ready to listen to by the Fall of 2024.

Becca Bedell

Becca was instrumental in forming Queerly Beloved, a student group affiliated with PresHouse for “all of those who are LGBTQ people of faith and/or questioning one or both of those identities.”

Rich Fluechtling

Rich is a long-time resident of Madison who helped the United Congregation of Christ Church develop its “Open and Affirming” policy.

Keva Schulz

Keva attended both undergrad and grad school a UW-Madison. Her spiritual identity grew alongside her gender identity.

Ken Scott

Ken is a UW graduate who was involved in Integrity/Divinity, a group for gay Christians.


Jae Weller

Jae is currently a queer Ph.D. student in linguistics at UW-Madison. They were raised in Islam and Christianity and currently identify as Muslim.

Oral history available on request

Katie White

Katie is a senior graduating with a degree in Chemical Engineering. They grew up in a strict religion and have since found a community by founding the Queer and Trans Engineers group on campus.

Other Research

Archival Research

To begin my Student Historian journey, I spent time exploring the University Archives in order to see what documents already existed on my research topic. Most of my time was spent looking at Daily Cardinal newspapers from the beginning of the LGBTQ+ rights movement in Madison. I also spent some time listening to existing oral histories housed in the LGBT Oral History Project to get inspiration for my own interviews.

Daily Cardinal

The Daily Cardinal is a newspaper written by UW students for UW students. In the late 1960s/early 1970s, the first appearances of the LGBTQ+ community appeared in the Daily Cardinal. Here are a few of the highlights:

First Mentions

The first mention of homosexuals: February 20, 1969
An open letter to homosexuals — November 8, 1969
Early article about MAHE’s goals to create equality — February 20, 1970

“Campus News Briefs”

The first time the “Homophyle Leage” (soon to become the Madison Alliance for Homosexual Equality) appeared in a Campus News Brief — November 25, 1969
MAHE feature in the February 19, 1970 edition of the Daily Cardinal
MAHE starts announcing itself to “male or female, straight or gay, university or non-university” — June 24, 1970
MAHE starts going by the “Gay Liberation Front” — October 15, 1970

MAHE Events

The first event that MAHE planned: a dance at the Union — March 13, 1970
Advertisement announcing “MAHE Day” — April 9, 1970
Another announcement for the MAHE Day Teach-In — April 22, 1970
MAHE Day Schedule – May 1, 1970

Miscellaneous Articles

Article about the gender disparities in MAHE — April 25, 1970
Article on sex change operations in the 1970s — August 6, 1971
Poem entitled “Lesbians” — October 18, 1971
“Comment on the Gay Lib Issue” which contains only Romans 1:16-32 from the Bible — November 18, 1971

Gay Liberation Issue

On November 15, 1971, the Daily Cardinal issued the “Gay Liberation Issue.” You can read it here.

This is by no means a comprehensive overview of all the mentions of the LGBTQ+ community in the Daily Cardinal. To discover more, do not hesitate to make an appointment at the UW Archives!

LGBT Oral History Project

For a list of all interviews in the LGBT Oral History Project, click here!

These are the oral histories that I specifically listened to. Not all of them talk about the impact of religion on queer people, but they are all great to listen to if you have an hour that’s free!

  • Alnisa Allgood: The founding of the LGBT campus center.
  • Laurie Beauchamp: Experiences as a lesbian who grew up in conservative towns and who found refuge in the UCC church.
  • Lewis Bosworth: Experiences as a gay UW student in the 1960s and 1970s. He was also a pastor at a Lutheran church later in life and he worked on the Wisconsin Conference of Churches Task Force on AIDS.
  • Winton Boyd: Experiences with the LGBTQ+ community through his work as a UCC pastor and brother to three queer siblings.
  • Nick Doe: Experiences of a trans person at UW – Madison.
  • Gabe Javier: Experiences as director of the LGBT Campus Center, navigating race and sexuality, and coming out to a Catholic family.
  • Ron McCrea: Early member of the Madison Alliance for Homosexual Equality and LGBTQ+ activism in Madison.
  • Connor Murphy: Experiences of a bisexual teenager in the Madison area and in the Edgewood Catholic school system.
  • John Quinlan: Son of a Methodist pastor who became a civil rights leader in Madison.
  • Steve Starkey: Leading figure in LGBTQ+ activism in Madison and director of OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center.
  • Dick Wagner: Leader of LGBTQ+ activism and politics in Madison and Wisconsin as a whole.

Religious Research

Before conducting oral history interviews, I spent time researching the views that various religious institutions had toward the LGBTQ+ community. See below for a collection of useful sources that I found!

LGBT and Religion

LGBTQ and Religious Intersections in Madison

  • St Francis House
    • St. Francis House: Who We Are
    • MAHE Meetings at St. Francis House from OurLives, a Wisconsin LGBTQ+ news source
    • The History of St. Francis House
    • MAHE and St. Francis House (starts at page 113)
    • Integrity/Dignity-Madison (used to use St. Francis House as a meeting place)
    • Ron McCrea Collection and the formation of MAHE
    • Wisconsin Historical Society – St. Francis House
    • A conversation with Reverend Bobbi Kraft: In conducting preliminary research about the history of the Madison Alliance for Homosexual Equality, I noticed that one of their first meeting places was St. Francis House. I emailed Rev. Bobbi and asked if we could have a conversation about the history of St. Francis House. This is what I learned.
      • Rev. Bobbi (Mother B.) said that she has been exploring the history of St. Francis House by collecting anecdotes from houseboys, or those who have lived at St. Francis House in the past. From these anecdotes, there is a common theme that St. Francis Hous was a place where it didn’t matter who you were. They were open and affirming during a time when people didn’t have the language for that. The ethos around being a community meeting place was “of course,” so when the Madison Alliance for Homosexual Equality was looking for a meeting space, St. Francis House did not turn them away. Mother B. is well aware of the history that the Christian faith has had with the LGBTQ+ community, and wants to make St. Francis House a place where people can “wrestle” with that history.
      • When I asked why she thinks MAHE chose St. Francis House as a meeting place, Mother B. had an interesting answer. She said that the space itself had some influence; MAHE held meetings in the undercroft of a sanctuary, which had a kitchen, window, and garden. However, some of that choice was also very likely due to necessity. It was most likely very hard in the 1960s to find a place where the LGBTQ+ community could gather; it was also rumored that the chaplin at the time might have had an “affinity” towards the LGBTQ+ community. Overall, though, episcopalians were known for being engaged with social justice, which was probably a benefit to choosing St. Francis House as well.
      • St Francis House flies a tattered and weathered pride flag outside of its second-floor window. Mother B. spoke about a time when she brought up the possibility of replacing it with a new pride flag, but she was surprised at the response that she got from students. They told her that they appreciate the flag being worn since it means that it was there for a while; it wasn’t just the “thing of the month.”
      • St Francis House is also very interactive with the queer community on campus, and it has been through history. Not only was it the original meeting house of MAHE, but it was the first church in the Madison area to be open to the LGBTQ+ community. After being closed for a while due to covid, Mother B. has a strong desire to reengage with the local queer community. for National Coming Out Day in 2022, they brought in a priest from Philadelphia who was ex-Mormon and also gay. That being said, if any queer student groups (or any group in general) have a need for space or an event idea, Mother B. said to contact her!
      • Even though Mother B. was extremely helpful and informative about the history of St. Francis House, she admitted that there was a lot that she did not know. For example, she does not know that much about how St. Francis House interacted with the LGBTQ+ community in the midst of the AIDS crisis. Thus, if you know anything about the history of St. Francis House, please contact Mother B. at chaplain.bobbi@stfrancisuw.org
  • The Crossing
    • Queer Students of Faith Program at The Crossing
    • A Conversation with Karla Schmidt: The Crossing is one of the most prominent LGBTQ+-friendly campus churches in Madison. They hold a group called Queer Students of Faith, where they foster community among students. I met with Karla Schmidt, the Campus Minister at The Crossing, to learn a little more about their history with the queer community in Madison.
    • Karla explained to me that the Crossing is multidenominational, and is made up of the United Methodists, the Baptists, and the United Church of Christ (UCC). The Methodists have more recently become accepting of the queer community, but since it is a worldwide church, it is difficult to designate the entire denomination as Open and Affirming since other places across the globe are not there yet. Some denominations of Baptists are more open than others, and the UCC leaves the designation to the choice of each individual church, but all of the UCC churches in Madison are Open and Affirming.
    • Years ago, the Crossing held a “Gay and Christian” conference. It went on for about four years and was aimed at both students and the general public. Once the Gay and Christian Conference fizzled out, a member of the Crossing staff started Queer Students of Faith. Since then, they have been dedicated to making a safe space for queer and religious students. The biggest hurdle for them is letting students know that they are a resource that exists. They want to let LGBTQ+ students know that they are Open and Affirming.
  • PresHouse
    • Open and Affirming at PresHouse
    • Queer Theology Lectures
    • History of PresHouse
    • A Conversation with Reverend Erica Liu Reverend Erica Liu has been involved with PresHouse since 2004 and is a part of Protestants of USA, which has very similar beliefs to mainline Protestantism. For both of them, there has been a series of shifts over the years, including allowing women to enter the priesthood. In the 1990s marriage was defined as being between a man and a woman, and that was when other people really started advocating for change.
    • PresHouse declared itself as Open and Affirming even before Protestantism as a whole deemed itself Open and Affirming. They hired openly queer staff as early as 2007. Erica says that it is important to have churches be openly Open and Affirming, as some might be led to a church that is not actually LGBTQ+ friendly and feel betrayed when they reveal that they are actually not open. This is an issue because most churches will not say that they’re not affirming, so that is why it is so important to be explicitly open and affirming. Another way to check if a place is open to LGBTQ+ people is to see if queer people are in leadership or if they are empowered.
    • When Erica first came to PresHouse in 2004, the majority of churches in Madison were not Open and Affirming, The Crossing, PresHouse, and the Lutheran Campus Ministry Center were the exceptions.
    • PresHouse has a program called Queerly Beloved for their queer students of faith. The program developed organically, and queer staff help run it. She said that they do not give a justification for why it was created since it needs no justification; it is simply to celebrate queer people. Becca, who I conducted an oral history with, used to run it. It is very important for PresHouse to have staff where being queer is an important part of their identity in charge of Queerly Beloved.
    • Erica says that she is used to picking up the pieces of the damage that other churches have done to their queer members. This often happens when queer people try to go to a church that is not explicitly open and affirming, and they end up with the rug pulled out from under them once they realize that the church has bad opinions on LGBTQ+ people. This often happens already they have already made relationships at the church, which leaves them feeling hurt and lonely. For Erica, being transparent about being open is a matter of life and death.

Blog posts

Follow along on my journey as a student historian by reading my blog posts!

About the Student Historian

Chloe is a junior at UW – Madison majoring in History, Computer Science, and Information Science. Along with being one of the Student Historians, she is also involved in Wisconsin Emerging Scholars in Computer Science as a Peer Mentor, the Nonviolence Project as the Web Designer, Phi Alpha Theta as the Social Event Coordinator, and Euchre Club as the Treasurer. Outside of school, she enjoys reading, collecting records, exploring Madison’s coffee shops, and hanging out with friends.

Here’s a playlist of the songs that kept her company during her year as a Student Historian.