Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride

I spent most of last weekend helping staff the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) booth at the Twin Cities LGBT Pride Festival in Minneapolis’ Loring Park.

As in previous years, the CPCSM booth also played host to both the Catholic Rainbow Parents and the Progressive Catholic Voice. Two other Catholic organizations had booths this year at Pride, though they were located in another part of the park from us; and at least three parishes had literature displayed at various booths – including ours – letting visitors know that they are welcoming of all.

This year we opted for a banner that simply read: “Catholics for LGBT Equality.” This seemed especially appropriate given the current movement in society toward “marriage equality” for same-gender couples. Also, I’ve discovered over the years that displaying a banner that reads “Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities” often elicits negative responses from some festival attendees. Why? Because it sounds so official! More than once in the past, we’ve had people assume that we were from the Archdiocese and pushing the “official” line on homosexuality!

Mind you, I think it’s safe to say that any display of the word “Catholic” at a Gay Pride event will invariably be viewed with suspicion and even hostility by some. I use to take offense at this. I mean, I’d think to myself: Hey, I’ve worked through the whole Catholic and gay thing, why can’t you?

But then I realized just how deeply wounded many LGBT people have been by the church’s uninformed and insensitive teaching on sexuality. And I remind myself that not only have I been able to study theology and gain the ability to challenge in an informed and (hopefully) articulate way the teachings of the church on homosexuality, but I’ve also had the opportunity to immerse myself in numerous Catholic communities that have lovingly supported and affirmed me as a gay man. Not everyone has experienced such affirmation – either as a gay Catholic or from individuals, parishes, or organizations that are Catholic.

Having said all of this, I should also say that those of us who staff the CPCSM booth also encounter many people who express heartfelt gratitude that we, as Catholics, are present at Gay Pride. One woman even came up to me and offered the following words of encouragement: “There are more Catholics supporting you [as an out gay person] than not. You know that, don’t you?” It was a touching and affirming moment.

We definitely had a lot more young people come and visit our booth this year than in previous years - something that I find to be quite hopeful. A number of these young visitors were on summer break from college. The two young men pictured above, for instance, were home in the Twin Cities from studying at the University of Notre Dame.

They, like most of the younger visitors, were very happy to find a Catholic presence at Pride and especially excited to see the information we had about the Catholic Rainbow Parents. It’s clear that these young Catholics are looking for alternative theological thinking on the issue of homosexuality than that offered by the Vatican - thinking that actually reflects and is informed by the lived experience of LGBT people. They are also looking for positive information and insights on the issue that they can pass on to their parents – some of whom continue to struggle with the news of their child’s “coming out” as gay. Not surprisingly, the Catholic Rainbow Parents’
2005 Declaration remains a source of great hope and inspiration for many.

This post’s opening image shows a Catholic mother and her gay son at the CPCSM booth. They told me that up until the recent arrival of a new conservative young priest, their parish had been welcoming and accepting. Now, however, they’re both looking for a new faith community – one that, as they said, “focuses more on the love modeled by Jesus than on the rules of the institutional church.”

Of course, this disconnect between institutional policies/practices and the gospel message of love is what has compelled a number of local Catholics, myself included, to form the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and begin planning a “Synod of the Baptized” for September 2010.

Another visitor also noted how, with the arrival of a new priest, his parish had also become less welcoming of all. “Our numbers are down,” he said. “Young people especially have stopped coming. It’s sad.”

It was a comment we heard many times as visitor after visitor lamented the “chilling effect” taking place throughout the Archdiocese – even within those parishes that had once been openly welcoming of LGBT people and vocal about advocating for their full inclusion into the life of the church.

Another individual expressed concern at how limited and narrow the content of the official newspaper of the Archdiocese, the Catholic Spirit, had become. “It used to have much more of a range of views and perspectives,” he said. “Not anymore.” We suggested he check out the Progressive Catholic Voice as a good counter balance.

A frequently asked question – by both the young and the not-so-young – is whether or not we had any information about Catholic parishes that are truly welcoming of all. Sadly, the number of such parishes is diminishing every year. But there are still some, and we were happy to inform people of them, along with a number of Catholic communities beyond Rome, for example Cornerstone Old Catholic Community and Spirit of Hope Catholic Community.

One woman commented that the Roman expression of Catholicism has become “so far-right that it’s a detriment to the faith.” While another visitor shared the view that the Vatican’s teaching on homosexuality is “very unChristlike.”

Perhaps the most interesting visitor was a man who had attended the local chapter of Courage for a number of months last year. As most readers of The Wild Reed would know, Courage is an official apostolate of the Roman Catholic Church that purports to help people move beyond “same-sex attraction” by encouraging a life of “interior chastity in union with Christ.” The movement labels itself a “pro-chastity ministry” and equates chastity with celibacy. Although Courage acknowledges that the “inclination” of “homosexual attractions” is “psychologically understandable,” such attractions are nevertheless considered “objectively disordered” – a view that, though promulgated by the Vatican as church teaching, is widely questioned throughout the Church as the people of God.

I’ve long wanted to learn more about how this particular (and very secretive) apostolate operates locally. How many people actually attend? Where and how often do they meet? What is the focus of their meetings? Where do its leaders really stand on so-called “reparative therapy”? The former Courage guy, who is now happily accepting of himself as a gay man and in a relationship, was happy to answer my questions, and did so – to an extent. There is, after all, only so much one can discuss while staffing a booth at a busy Pride festival. He has agreed to meet with me for coffee and further conversation. I look forward to writing something about his experiences at Courage in a future Wild Reed post.

Another observation: It was great to see so many straight couples and families strolling happily around the festival – right there alongside the many gay couples walking together, hand-in-hand.

In conclusion, I have to admit that staffing a booth for two days at Gay Pride and constantly interacting and engaging with people – some of whom are hurt and/or dismissive – is very draining. (In addition, I continue to find the overt consumerism and corporate pandering of the festival to be both disturbing and discouraging.)

Yet the awareness that many gay Catholics and their allies are being encouraged, educated, and/or helped by the resources we offer – and by just our presence as self-identifying Catholics – is, in its own way, inspiring and energizing. Preparing for and being present at Gay Pride is always a lot of work, but all of us at CPCSM are adamant that it’s definitely worth it.


Following are some more images
from the 2009 Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival

CPCSM co-founder David McCaffrey (left) with CPCSM treasurer Rick Notch and longtime CPCSM supporter Paul Fleege.

Above: Friends of CPCSM, Rob and Chris.

Above: Local artist Jane Evershed at work on one of her beautiful paintings.

Above: A group of young men - out and proud!

Above: The annual Gay Pride Festival in Minneapolis’ Loring Park is always popular with dog owners! All manner of breeds can be seen - from Great Danes to Chihuahuas. My favorite is the Italian Greyhound. That’s one of them pictured below with Todd.

Above and below: It’s not only dogs that you’ll see - but parrots and even pythons!

Above: Yes, it’s Adam, Steve, and Eve . . . along with that pesky serpent.

Above: There’s always plenty of music to be enjoyed at Gay Pride.

Above: Local television personality Jason Matheson and friend.

Above: A cute guy sporting a cute t-shirt!

Above: This year the CPCSM booth was situated beside Loring Lake. Accordingly, we had this beautiful view of reeds behind our booth, a view that – for obvious reasons – brought a smile to my face. (For more images of the reeds of Loring Lake, click here.)

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Dan Furmansky: “Why We Have Pride”
Gay Pride as a Christian Event
Worldwide Gay Pride (2009)
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride (2008)
Worldwide Gay Pride (2008)
Inclusive Catholics Celebrate Gay Pride (2007)
Worldwide Gay Pride (2007)
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”
A Catholic Rebellion?
The Pope’s “Scandalous” Stance on Homosexuality
How Times Have Changed
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men: A Discussion Guide
Song of Songs: The Bible’s Gay Love Poem
Beyond Courage
The Journal of James Curtis
A Catholic Bibliography on Gay Issues

1 comment:

Phillip Clark said...

This year I went to my first Pride! Unfortunately, although I was not "officially" in a relationship, I experienced along ith this joy for the first time the pain and abandonment that can be felt from a guy who has shown you an abundant amount of love but, for whatever reason, has chosen to no longer be a part of your life.

Even though my first Pride was a bit OVERWHELMING because I didn't really know where to begin it did make me feel a bit more at home to see many Christian organizations present at Baltimore's celebration. I don't recall seeing any Catholic tables there, but I did pick up a pamphlet from the local Metropolitan Community Church here in Baltimore and plan on paying them a visit as soon as I can!

The brief friendship that I had which gave me my first glimpse into what love could be like showed me that love is indeed capable of conquering many things, but not necessarily ALL things. Unfortunately, the mere mention of religion within the gay community brings with it an of disdain, distrust, and repugnance. I can understand all of this impulsive emotions emitted from some individuals but I am one who thinks INDIVIDUALS within religions are responsibile for giving relations with the gay community a bad name rather than the religions themselves. So along with educating our straight allies we can educate our fellow LGBT friends in how the Vatican's interpretation of homosexuality is by no means the final, definitive nail in the coffin on how most Catholics feel regarding homosexuality.

Hopefully, someday, I can help contribute to this cause myself! Keep doing what you're doing Michael, Jesus is proud of you!