Randy P. Conner, Ph.D. (1952-2022) was a gay spiritual seeker, activist, author, artist, and teacher. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in English literature/composition from the University of Texas at Austin. In the 1970s he taught the first gay and lesbian workshop at the Student Union there. His studies concentrated on the intersections of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and pursuit of the sacred. Conner received his doctorate in humanities and religion in 2007 from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. He taught at several colleges including Florida State University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the California Institute of Integral Studies. He was most recently Associate Professor of World Humanities at Moraine Valley Community College near Chicago where he created a successful state- and college-approved LGBTQ+ humanities course.
Conner’s spiritual path was focused on LGBTQ+ spirit in history and culture, especially as related to European Neo-Pagan, Indigenous Native American and African Diasporic traditions. Conner was an initiate and practitioner of both Haitian Vodou and Reglade Ocho (Santeria), studying primarily with Mama Lola, a well-known practitioner of these African Diasporic traditions. He received his “Elekes” (spiritual beads for the orishas/deities) as a Santero in Cuba, later earning the title of Oungan. Also a practitioner of Neopaganism and Wicca, he studied metaphysics and psychic arts with Tama Diaghilev, and Wicca/Witchcraft with ecofeminist leader Starhawk. Conner also studied Tarot and mystical symbology with spiritual teacher and scholar Angeles Arrien. He became a Radical Faery in the 1980s and attended many gatherings over the years.
As an activist for LGBTQ+ rights, Conner testified in the mid-1970s at the Texas State Legislature for inclusion of gay and lesbian student organizations on campuses for which he was fired from his graduate teaching position. After moving to the Bay Area in 1978, he became a member of Bay Area Gay Liberation, campaigned against the Proposition 6 Briggs initiative, and for social/political justice for the queer and people of color communities. He also co-curated with Sparks the El Mundo Surdo poetry series at Small Press Traffic in Noe Valley, created by Gloria Anzaldúa, his "hermana espiritual," and participated in Mainstream Exiles organized by San Francisco trans-activist Tede Mathews.
Conner was a contributor to several LGBTQ+ publications including the Advocate and the old San Francisco Sentinel. He also served as fiction editor for RFD magazine and taught a course in gay spirit at the Harvey Milk Institute in the mid-1990s. Among his many essays, articles, books, speeches, presentations, and other publications, several were nominated for Lambda Literary Awards, including: Blossom of Bone: Reclaiming Connections between Homoeroticism and the Sacred (Harper San Francisco 1993); Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit (Cassell 1997) and Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Participation in African-Inspired Traditions in the Americas (Routledge 2004). In 2019, Conner published his five-volume study, The Pagan Heart of the West: Embodying Ancient Beliefs and Practices from Antiquity to Present (Oxford). An expanded, revised edition of the Encyclopedia, re-titled The LGBTQ+ Companion to Symbol, Mythology, Folklore, and Spirituality, is forthcoming from Equinox Publications (London).
These many interests and projects he shared with his long-time companion/husband of forty-three years, David Hatfield Sparks. Conner went to ride with Charon to the Otherworld on May 5, 2022. He is also survived by their daughter Mariah.
(This biographical profile was written by Mark Bowman from information provided by David Hatfield Sparks and the obituary in the Bay Area Reporter.)
Biography Date: August 2022
Author/editor | Neo-Pagan/New Age Movements/Occultism/Spirituality | Radical Faeries | WICCAN | San Francisco | California | Gay Spirituality | Native American Spirituality | Gay Liberation Movement
“Randy Conner | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed November 30, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/randy-conner.
“Dr. Conner was an amazing professor for me at Moraine that was a major factor in finishing my degree (fall 2017 to spring 2019). My dad was sick with cancer and he was the only professor to not make that semester harder on me. He didn't ding me for attendance when I needed to take my dad for appointments. I appreciated his support so much and took his LGBTQ, mythology, and feminism courses at Moraine. My life could have been incredibly different without his support.”
– as remembered by Martin Chappetto on September 14, 2023
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