Queer women are part of the church, too

Views Grace Doerfler / February 9, 2023 Print this:
(Photo courtesy of Unsplash/Ben White)

During a feminist theologies class I took while a student at Notre Dame, my professor shared an image of women in church history, depicted as a tapestry. Some had names and stories that are included in Scripture, like Hagar, Ruth and Mary. Countless more were anonymous, forgotten or erased. But woven together over the centuries, all of them were essential to creating the faith we share. 

Queer women are part of that tapestry, too—long present in the life of our church, however quietly. Imagine what it would be like for the church to recognize those names and stories, for the first time, as fully part of our common story.  

I love Catholicism: for its messiness and beauty and for the way it draws believers into longing for God and a more compassionate world. Having chosen to stay Catholic, I hope never to give it up.

But as a woman and as a lesbian who refuses to go back into the closet, that love loses a measure of its sweetness when I consider how the church fails to show much love to queer women in return. Nor does the church’s attitude towards queer women mirror the way that God knows and loves us. More often, we’re the disregarded women in the tapestry.

In the world outside the church, queer women are fairly invisible much of the time. There’s a dearth of realistic representation of lesbians’ lives, loves and concerns in media and pop culture, even if you go looking for it. It’s no wonder, then, that we’re still less common as a topic of conversation in Catholic and even LGBTQ Catholic spaces.

In Catholicism, most people don’t feel comfortable talking about sexuality at all, let alone homosexuality. And in a religion that typically centers on men’s voices, homilies and magisterial language rarely capture women’s lives accurately. As for queer women, it’s pretty much radio silence. I suspect that, most of the time, church leaders simply don’t consider that we’re present in the pews. 

I love Catholicism: for its messiness and beauty, and for the way it draws believers into longing for God and a more compassionate world.

But women form the majority of Catholics globally and LGBTQ people have been present throughout the church’s history—even if they have rarely been out. It’s past time to normalize the reality that queer women are part of the Body of Christ. We have been for generations and we have many gifts to offer the church.

At this moment in history, there are almost no places where queer women can be wholly visible or audible in the church. But visibility can help all kinds of people stay in the church: gay and straight women, young people, trans people, queer people of all genders—all those who are not granted full inclusion in Catholicism. 

Perhaps other lesbian Catholics can relate to the work that goes into separating our value in God’s eyes from our lesser status in the church’s eyes. There is always an ache of being ineligible for multiple sacraments, of never being able to speak in church, of never celebrating a church marriage or receiving so much as a blessing. It’s a process akin to grief. No matter how wholeheartedly we choose Catholicism, the ache persists.

If you haven’t considered the impact of this ache, consider how queer women’s exclusion from full belonging affects the vitality of the church, especially the vast exodus of young people. Among queer women my age, I know very few who are Catholic or religious. By contrast, I know many who were raised Catholic but saw no reason to fight uphill in a church that expressed no interest in helping them stay—and which often made it very easy to leave. 

I’m lucky to have gay Catholic role models now, but I’ve found them only since coming out. I had more support than a lot of people, but even so, it felt like a largely uncharted path, figuring out faith and identity as a woman in an androcentric church. I don’t want it to be that way for gay girls growing up Catholic now.

Imagine how much more welcoming the church would feel to a closeted teenager if they saw openly queer women in leadership positions in parishes, in ministry roles, in Catholic schools. Imagine how much less lonely it would feel to be a young LGBTQ Catholic if there were a culture of openness and visibility in the church. 

In LGBTQ ministries too, most of the voices are male. If you’re a priest or a leader in a parish or campus ministry, consider how you might include more female voices, including in any LGBTQ ministries you have. (If you don’t yet have an LGBTQ ministry, maybe now is the moment to start one.) Consider that a lay woman can lead the group.

In a religion that typically centers men’s voices, homilies and magisterial language rarely capture women’s lives accurately.

More broadly, ensure that your community doesn’t just avoid saying homophobic things, but actively welcomes LGBTQ people, especially trans people and women. Make an effort to welcome LGBTQ people into liturgical ministry, social justice outreach and retreats. The church will be richer for enabling queer women to be visible and flourish.

I hope that the more the church sees us, the more that hearts will change on LGBTQ issues and gender issues in the church. God is extravagant in loving and welcoming all of God’s people. Catholics should aspire to the same extravagance in the welcome we extend to one another. 

I hope and I pray that men in the church are able to listen to lesbians, bisexual and queer women and see us for who we are: their sisters and siblings, loved by God and equal in baptism. And I hope that someday the church will include us fully, no longer letting our stories be anonymous or erased, celebrating the perspectives that we bring to Catholicism’s diverse spiritual tapestry. 

Grace Doerfler

Grace Doerfler is a graduate journalism student at Stanford University. She has written for America Media and New Ways Ministry. Follow her on Twitter @gfdoerfler

All articles by Grace Doerfler

Outreach is part of America Media. To support Outreach you can make a donation or subscribe to America.

  1. Qu**r is not a trendy, cute, fun word. It is a slur. It is hate speech. To use it so casually & flippantly is a slap in the face to all LGBT people who have endured it past and present.

  2. The Catholic Church needs to be more inclusive to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The church does nothing to be welcoming towards them.
    We should all be able to worship as we choose.
    I’ve been a devout Catholic my entire life. When my child came out, our church made them feel uncomfortable and not accepted.
    If they can’t accept my child, they do not deserve my financial support.
    You can still be spiritual and not belong to the Catholic Church.