Obituaries: Randy P. Conner

  • Wednesday August 3, 2022
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Randy Conner in his goddess drag taken in 1981. Photo: Gloria Anzaldúa
Randy Conner in his goddess drag taken in 1981. Photo: Gloria Anzaldúa

1952 — 2022

Randy P. Conner, Ph.D., (1952 —2022) went to ride with Charon to the Otherworld on May 5, 2022 — Cinco de Mayo. He passed through the Veil in the night at home in the arms of David Hatfield Sparks, his longtime companion and husband of 43 years, with his Bast (ancient Egyptian cat god) kitty at his side guarding him.

Conner was a gay spiritual seeker, activist, author, artist, and teacher. He received his B.A. and M.A. in English literature/composition from the University of Texas at Austin, where he also taught in the 1970s the first gay and lesbian workshop at the Student Union. He received his doctorate in humanities and religion in 2007 from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, where he also taught courses in LGBTQ+ and women's spirituality.

He 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. He taught humanities and LGBTQ+ studies at several other colleges including Florida State University, Austin Community College in Texas, Los Medanos College, and the College of Alameda in the Bay Area. He was most recently associate professor of multicultural humanities at Moraine Valley Community College near Chicago, where he created a very successful LGBTQ+ humanities course. In honor of Conner, a scholarship has been created in his name to support LGBTQ+ students studying in the fine and performing arts program by the Moraine Valley Community College Foundation. To donate, click here.

As an activist for LGBTQ+ rights, he 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's spiritual path was focused on LGBTQ+ spirit and people found since antiquity and across cultures, especially as related to European Neo-Pagan, Indigenous, and African Diasporic traditions. Conner was an initiate and practitioner of both Jaitian vodou and Regla de Ocho (Santería), studying primarily with Mama Lola, a well-known Haitian American Manbo/priestess. He received his "elekes" (spiritual beads) as a Santero in Cuba, later earning the title of Oungan. Also a practitioner of Neopaganism, he studied metaphysics and psychic arts with Tamara Diaghilev, and Wicca/witchcraft with Bay Area ecofeminism 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.

These interests, projects, and publications he shared with Sparks and their daughter Mariah, a Bay Area librarian and community theater artist. He is survived by Mariah, her husband, Prado Gomez, director of operations at the Shanti Project in San Francisco, and many other chosen/extended family. Among his many essays, articles, books, speeches, presentations, workshops, and other publications, several were nominated for Lambda Literary Awards, including "Blossom of Bone: Reclaiming the Connections Between Homoeroticism and the Sacred," (Harper San Francisco, 1993), "Encyclopedia of Queer Myth," (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 the Present," (Mandrake Press, Oxford).

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