In a parish session regarding social justice, Cathy shares her experience of being an active gay ally and a practicing Catholic.
I am honored to speak with you tonight and discuss the importance of our faith community being a body of believers who welcome all persons to fellowship in Christ. My husband and I became members of this parish several years ago. As a child, I was raised a Presbyterian and converted to Catholicism in my early twenties. I love this faith community and am repeatedly blessed by the unselfish devotion of our priests, deacons, our parish staff and ministries. The woman you see standing before you tonight is simply another member of this parish – I am a wife, mother, and daughter. My children are grown and I work for the University of North Texas in the field of information business systems. I currently co-chair the board of directors for one of the largest non-profits in the United States that serves primarily gay youth from the ages of 14 to 23 years of age. Previously, I volunteered as director of the Ally education program held each semester for faculty, staff, and students at UNT. I do not consider myself to be a gay activist but I am an active gay ally. An ally is an individual who works to end oppression personally and professionally through support and advocacy of an oppressed population. Seven years ago God called me to serve Him as an ally for gay and lesbian persons when someone with whom I have a close relationship revealed to me that they were gay.
Tonight we have heard the stories of two wonderful families that I am blessed to call my friends. The first time I heard these stories, I was struck not by our differences but by the similarities we share. When I am with gay couples who share my faith, I only see loving life partners desiring to worship together and raise their children with the support and love of the Catholic Church. For me personally, my interactions with my gay friends and family are no different than with those who are straight. We are all people simply trying to live the best we can out of love and concern for each other.
When I began my educational process about gay persons, I felt very conflicted and confused. In particular I had a hard time reconciling what I believed the Bible had to say about homosexuality. In my heart I believed that everyone was a child of God and loved by Him. My intellect told me, however, that gay persons and families were not part of God’s original plan. I rationalized that these were good people who had suffered some kind of abusive trauma which made them incapable of having a normal relationship with someone of the opposite sex. I thought they were people who needed pity and love to be healed, and that if they could not be healed, we should at least care for them in their damaged state.
A very wise colleague at the University spent time talking with me and giving me resources to research as I tried to resolve this incongruence between what I intellectualized to be true versus what my heart was telling me. Thoughts I had were “What will other people think if I accept gays?” and “Am I condoning a state of sinfulness?” The most disturbing question was “Will Christ condemn me for accepting homosexuality as a human state rather than a choice?” The more I studied and prayed about these thoughts, God revealed to me a profound truth. My inner conflict stemmed from worrying about what other people would think of me and also what the Church would say about my moral character. By studying approved writings of the Church, I was amazed at the truths I found. The Church supported my desire to reach out and be of service to gay youth rather than condemning me for it. It became clear that my purpose was to serve Christ by demonstrating through my thoughts and actions that all human life has great value in God’s eyes. Mother Theresa of Calcutta is very important to me as a role model. She did not do what was popular and often was criticized. Being a faithful bride of Christ, she was prayerful, sought to be in accordance with God’s word and that of her spiritual leaders, and then rolled up her sleeves and did the work in front of her. When I started studying her life and trying to follow her example (though I pale in comparison to her life), my confusion and doubts dimmed. With a clarity that I had not thought possible, my heart and thoughts could be directed with unflinching resolve in ministry to gay youth who had been labeled by their families, schools, and faith communities as untouchables. My choice to volunteer as a gay ally has not always been easy or popular with every one of my family members or friends. I believe, though, that when I stand before the throne of Heaven some day, I will be asked to account for what I did for the lonely and unwanted rather than what my children or neighbors did for them.
Shortly after becoming a committed Ally, I met a young man who was a freshman at the University of North Texas. He came to UNT Ally training and shared that he was gay. He was a nice looking boy, just your average 18 year old. He listened intently during the training and I learned later he was an excellent student. He showed an interest in leadership opportunities on campus and often spoke of his love for his parents and siblings. He was trying very hard not to get caught up in the party scene and was looking for morally healthy social activities and relationships. At that time my husband and I were not members of this parish. It broke my heart when the young man said to me “I want to go to church and I want to show Jesus’ love to others through service in the church. Do you know of any church that will take someone like me?” The only church I could tell him about was 50 miles away. He had no car to drive so that was out of the question. I believe that day the angels in heaven wept along with Jesus as this dear young person with so much of life ahead of him hung his head and walked away.
Many of the gay youth that I interact with through my volunteer work have been told to leave their homes the moment they come out as gay. All too often the youth’s parents demand they quit being “that way” as the most common reason. They are told “they should have never been born” or “are not a member of the family, they are dead to their parents” or that they are “an abomination in the eyes of God.” In the document “Always Our Children” which is a Statement of the Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family, our bishops tell us that “Generally, homosexual orientation is experienced as a given, not as something freely chosen.” With no familial support, the youth turn to their schools and spiritual communities. Sadly the rejection is amplified by homophobic remarks made by school mates, teachers, and administration. One youth I know was daily put into a dumpster at his school for nearly six months and teachers did nothing about it until he finally quit school. The reason he was given was that his place was with the rest of the trash. Unfortunately, many church communities react in similar ways by rejecting gay persons who come to worship and participate. Rarely do church youth groups welcome openly gay teens. Gay youth are at extremely high risk for being attacked or forced to do unspeakable things on the streets just to live from one day to the next. They survive but at great risk to themselves and their mortal souls.
One of my favorite Bible stories is the Sermon on the Mount. I picture Jesus sitting high on a hill as His voice carries His father’s words to the hundreds of people who have come to listen to Him. I think there is great significance that Jesus was speaking in a setting with no physical boundaries. There was no guard at a gate censoring who was welcome to draw close to him. No check point had to be cleared where citizenship, ethnicity, church affiliation, or gender preference was verified as acceptable. This is the vision of our church that I dream of. It is a welcoming community for families very much like the ones we have heard about tonight. They are human beings who want to participate fully in worship and fellowship. Like many other couples, the desire for children comes naturally as part of a committed, life-long relationship. They want and need the support and mentorship provided by being a member of this faith community. A great majority of the time, the only children gay couples are allowed to adopt are the ones who have little to no chance of being adopted. Biracial children or ones with significant health challenges are usually the only ones within reach. The miracle for these children comes when gay couples want so badly to love and raise a child that these are not obstacles for them. They spend thousands of dollars and hours, and travel for days to reach these children where they open their hearts and lives to welcome these blessings from heaven. The children are then raised by two loving parents who provide them with structure, good moral principles, and sound spiritual values. I pray that we as a Catholic community walk beside and celebrate milestones with these parents. It is hard to imagine the pain they must feel when they walk into church not knowing if they and their children will meet rejection in the very place they come to find love and acceptance. They need us and we need them.
In the words of Mother Theresa “It is very possible that you will find human beings, surely very near you, needing affection and love. Do not deny them these. Show them, above all, that you sincerely recognize that they are human beings, that they are important to you. Who is that someone? That person is Jesus himself: Jesus who is hidden under the guise of suffering!”
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