How L.G.B.T Catholics are celebrating Pride Month
Dozens of Catholics are expected to gather for an outdoor Mass on June 27, just steps from the Stonewall Inn, the New York City gay bar that is considered the home of the modern L.G.B.T. rights movement because of an uprising against police brutality there 50 years ago this month. In some circumstances, a group of Catholics meeting near a celebrated gay bar could cause anxiety or puzzlement for L.G.B.T. people, but this group plans to mark Pride by meeting for worship and then moving to Stonewall or another nearby gay bar for fellowship. They plan to offer thanks that they have been able to embrace their sexual identities while remaining part of the church.
“We very much feel like our queer identity is linked to our Catholic identity,” said Xorje Olivares, a member of Out at Saint Paul, the L.G.B.T. ministry of the Paulist-run St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York, which plans the Mass. Mr. Olivares, who hosts a weekly radio show on Sirius XM, said it is important for Catholics like him to show people that they can be members of both the church and the L.G.B.T. community.
“We very much feel like our queer identity is linked to our Catholic identity.”
“Despite what others might think, our spirituality and our sexuality” are not contradictory, he said. “We don’t feel like we have to jeopardize one in order to help the other.”
The Mass near Stonewall is one of many events and initiatives for L.G.B.T. Catholics and their allies in June, or Pride Month, when they celebrate advances in the struggle for civil rights and presses society to go further.
Some Catholics say this June has been particularly fraught for L.G.B.T. members of the church, with one bishop tweeting that Pride Month events are harmful for children and the Vatican releasing a document that criticized the very notion of transgender identity. While some Catholics agree with those sentiments, some members of the L.G.B.T. Catholic community say that for them, June is a month during which they can celebrate two parts of their identities that have not always coexisted peacefully.
Take Hilary Howes, the founder of TransCatholic and an advocate for making the church more welcoming to transgender people.
“It's sometimes as tough to be Catholic within a queer community as it is tough to be queer within a Catholic community,” Ms. Howes said. “When I’m at a Pride event, I wear my Catholicism on my sleeve so people know there are Catholics who support them.” The D.C.-area resident added that during Pride she offers to tell her own stories of transitioning and then converting to Catholicism, to show there is already great diversity within the church.
“When I’m at a Pride event, I wear my Catholicism on my sleeve so people know there are Catholics who support them.”
There is also Patrick Gothman, 32, who spent many years figuring out how to reconcile his sexuality with his Catholic faith. (Mr. Gothman has written about the challenges of being a gay Catholic for America and has been a guest on our Jesuitical podcast.)
A few months ago, Mr. Gothman connected with Patrick Weston, and together they launched Vine & Fig, “a space online where Queer Catholics could have our lives affirmed as true, holy, and beautiful,” according to the group’s website. They produce videos and articles and also run a channel on Slack, an instant messaging app, for about 150 L.G.B.T. Catholics to share their stories in a moderated environment.
The project is mostly self-funded, though the pair manage a donation page to help offset the costs. They have met a few times in person, mostly when Mr. Gothman, a flight attendant based in Austin, Tex., flies through Columbus, Ohio, where Mr. Weston resides. But most of the time, they communicate via text messages and video calls.
“We wanted a space online where people could meet other queer Catholics and talk about what’s hard, and what’s beautiful, about being Catholic,” Mr. Gothman said. One discussion on Slack asks members to share their “desolations” and “consolations,” Ignatian terms for exploring when God was present or absent in one’s life.
“There were a lot of Protestant resources out there, things that were really helpful, but they lacked the Catholic perspective I was looking for,” said Mr. Weston, 26, of his search for material that helped him reconcile his faith with his sexuality. “I felt like I couldn’t change the fact I am gay and I couldn’t change the fact I was Catholic.”
“I felt like I couldn’t change the fact I am gay and I couldn’t change the fact I was Catholic.”
He feels today that he does not need to change either, though he admits, “Being a queer Catholic requires living in a sort of gray space.“
Both Mr. Weston and Mr. Gothman said June presents an opportunity to connect with other L.G.B.T. Catholics to remind them they are welcome in the church. Vine & Fig released a video on June 10 in which they called on L.G.B.T. Catholics to be proud of their dual identities.
“You will see so much joy and so much love” during Pride events, Mr. Gothman said. “If the church looked a little more like that, we would all enjoy going to church on Sundays a lot more.”
“If the church looked a little more like that, we would all enjoy going to church on Sundays a lot more.”
Leaders from other Christian denominations issued statements in support of Pride, but U.S. Catholics may have difficulty finding the same. (Some U.S. bishops have expressed support for the L.G.B.T. community in recent years, such as when Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin told NBC News in April that he found the church’s language on homosexuality to be “very unfortunate.”) Still, a number of affirming resources do exist.
The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas are publishing a series of reflections on its website about L.G.B.T. issues. Pride with Mercy is published in English and Spanish and it includes essays on the meaning of the rainbow flag that is associated with pride, the power of marching in a Pride parade and the challenges facing L.G.B.T. youth.
“How can we, in Mercy, assist LGBTQ+ youth who may not have access to anti-trafficking services because they are unaware of services in their area, the community lacks resources (e.g., bed space, funding) or they are concerned that providers are not L.G.B.T.Q+ friendly,” asked Sister Jeanne Christensen, writing in her blog post that L.G.B.T. youth are disproportionately represented among the homeless population. “How do we assist these youths, alleviate their isolation, fear or loneliness?”
The Catholic social justice advocacy group Network published an essay highlighting the economic challenges facing the L.G.B.T. community, writing, “This Pride Month, we continue to work toward federal policies that bring justice and equality for the L.G.B.T.Q+ community in the United States.”
During this year’s Pride Month, Catholic groups are also participating in parades, holding special prayer services and hosting educational forums. For example, Saint Francis Xavier Church and Fordham University will facilitate a conversation about Catholicism and global L.G.B.T. activism on June 26, with speakers from Mexico, the Philippines and Uganda.
Mr. Olivares said that Pride is an opportunity to let other L.G.B.T. Catholics know they have a home in the church, a message he hopes is conveyed by the rainbow flags that will fly during the Mass near the Stonewall Inn.
“No matter where you come from, no matter how deep in your Catholic faith you may be, at least there’s one place where you can have a home at, and there’s one place that celebrates you for who you are,” he said.
This story was updated on June 20 to note that Saint Francis Xavier Church is a sponsor of the June 26 event at Fordham University.