Trans Jesus play sparks death threats in Brazil

The Brazilian production of The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, starring Renata Carvalho

The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, a play which stars a trans Jesus, has been targeted with “horrible death threats” while being performed in Brazil.

The one-woman play, which was created by trans playwright Jo Clifford and features Jesus returning to Earth as a trans woman, has also been met with ultimately unsuccessful attempts from the church to block it in court, according to Jezebel.

Clifford, who first performed the production in 2009, told BBC Scotland that everyone working on the show had “really suffered,” adding that “they’ve all received horrible death threats.”

The 68-year-old Scot continued: “The last festival they did it at armed police turned up and started to dismantle the theatre while the show was still going on and someone threw a smoke bomb into the auditorium.”

Trans Jesus play attracts passionate following

Clifford said that despite the backlash, the trans Jesus play—which has been performed 140 times to audiences all over Brazil—also inspired many in the country’s trans community. 2017 was the deadliest year on record for trans people in Brazil.

“Every time I go to Brazil I meet people, particularly trans people, who tell me with tears in their eyes that this show has really changed their lives,” said Clifford.

“The play is an act of homage to Jesus.”

— Jo Clifford

“It has changed the way they think about themselves.”

She said that the play about trans Jesus, which has been met with protesters in Britain and Brazil and was criticised by Church of England bishops when it was put on in Manchester in 2016, produced “extraordinary violence and hatred but at the same time very intense love” wherever it went.

Jo Clifford explains why she wrote a play about trans Jesus

The playwright said she created the production as “an act of homage” to Jesus, not to offend or make fun of Christians.

Clifford explained that the play’s message—that “we need to learn to try to love each other and not to judge or condemn”—was born out of her experiences as a trans woman in late-2000s Scotland.

“I had just started to live as a woman,” she explained, “and every time I went out in the street people yelled abuse at me or laughed in my face or threatened me with violence or in many ways were just horrible to me.

“I could not understand why and I thought: ‘Where does all this hostility come from?'”

After being turned away by local churches, she sought out reasons for this discrimination in religious texts, but found none.

Jo Clifford performing as trans Jesus in The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven

Jo Clifford explained that she wrote a play as “an act of homage” to Jesus (The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven)

“When I read the Gospels there was no justification for this kind of behaviour,” she recalled.

“It was absolutely clear to me that Jesus was someone who welcomed everybody, particularly those who were suffering from prejudice or rejection from the society around them.

“I was deeply moved by what I read. I was very surprised.”

Jo Clifford praises Scottish progress on trans rights

Fortunately, Clifford said that Scotland has moved on in the past decade.

“In those years I think I was the only ‘out’ trans performer there was,” she said.

“There are loads of us now doing wonderful work. That’s a big difference.

“Scotland is very much in the lead in respect for trans rights. It makes me very proud to be [Scottish] and be performing this play in Scotland.”