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LGBTQ Catholics recall moments of faith, joy and pride

NewsViews Michael J. O’Loughlin / June 25, 2024 Print this:
Photo courtesy of iStock/Natalia De La Rubia

Earlier this month, Outreach asked LGBTQ Catholics to share 100-word essays about a moment when they felt proud to be part of the church. While LGBTQ Catholics sometimes face challenges in reconciling who they are with the faith they love, or struggle in finding welcoming spiritual communities, I hoped that we would be able to offer glimmers of hope during this Pride month. And our community responded thoughtfully. Several themes emerged: kind invitations to folks looking for welcoming churches, gentle words of encouragement after coming out and simple but powerful affirmations that God loves every human being. 

I’ve been blessed to have experienced many such moments of grace, instances when my life as a gay Catholic seemed not to be a burden, but a gift. 

Following a recent talk, at a parish outside of Albany, N.Y., a student from a nearby university approached me. She said that she had attended a similar presentation I gave months earlier. She told me that I had been the first openly LGBTQ person to talk about their Catholic faith she had ever encountered and that she was so hungry for these kinds of stories, that she returned for a second go—perhaps unaware she’d be subjected to the same corny jokes as before. But as a self-described queer Catholic in her 20s, she longed for positive examples of LGBTQ Catholic life, in order to make her own journey a little easier. I was grateful to offer her some of those examples during the talk and I remain hopeful she’ll continue to find her faith a source of consolation. 

In some Catholic circles, Pride is condemned as a celebration at odds with church teaching on human sexuality. But LGBTQ Catholics, and their family and friends, know that Pride serves many purposes. For people of faith, one of the reasons Pride resonates is because it is an opportunity to revel in the truth that God indeed is love. 

Below are stories of those quiet moments when this truth has felt especially strong.

Pride is an opportunity to revel in the truth that God indeed is love. 

One day at sixth-grade recess at my Catholic school, my friends Janet and Lois were disagreeing over the meaning of “homosexual.” I had no clue. We approached Mrs. Melcher, our fifth-grade teacher, on that day’s yard duty. “A boy who loves a boy or a girl who loves a girl,” Mrs. Melcher answered matter-of-factly. “Like me,” I thought. When I later struggled, I remembered her reaction, and it provided me confirmation that I am who God made me. Decades later, our shared alma mater published her contact information, and I thanked her.
Teresa Kosinski, Alameda, Calif.

One day I was looking through my office window and noticed a beautiful church right next to the building. Suddenly, I had an urge to confess. I can’t explain why. I then went to the church and confessed to the priest that I was weary of approaching the Eucharist due to my “condition” as a gay man. The priest told me that I was a true and beloved son of God, and that I not only could, but should, participate in the Eucharist. Never have I been so welcomed. Since then, I have never moved away from the Eucharist again and have begun to go to Mass almost every day. It changed my life as a Catholic.
Sergio Coelho, São Paulo, Brazil

As a sophomore, I was asked to share my story of being transgender at a Catholic university during a student orientation. Despite initially hesitating, I decided to share my story, which has made a profound difference. This experience has not only made me proud of my LGBTQ identity within the Catholic community, but also has shown other students that, despite challenges, LGBTQ individuals can find a welcoming space within Catholic universities.
Grayson Slentz, San Diego, Calif.

Growing up in a loving Irish and Italian Catholic home in Philadelphia, I always felt “accepted.” I came out in college at the University of Pennsylvania and I attended Mass every Sunday. It wasn’t until I moved to DC for law school that I started attending a church with people who looked and, even more so, “acted” like me. It was very comforting to find a “home.” Still, I always find solace in the fact that during most of his public ministry, Jesus never really had a home. He was a nomad who professed love, acceptance and kindness. So, whenever I struggle as an LGBT Catholic, I look to Him because if He could do it, why can’t I?
Chris Carroll, New Haven, Conn.

I have been a Catholic all my life. But I was hesitant to engage with the spiritual side of the faith. My prayers were short. I felt that dwelling too much on myself spiritually was like inching toward a black hole. In my mid 20s I realized, I am a woman. Accepting myself as a transwoman lit a fire within my Catholic faith like nothing else in my life had. I used to think that gender was something purely performative, but when I realized I was trans, I understood how gender is a fundamental aspect of my soul.
Michele Louis, Chicago

My spiritual director and I met over Zoom in the fall of 2020. He knew that I had been discerning a vocation to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, so when I told him that I was ready to go through RCIA, he was shocked. “Why did you decide to end your discernment?” That was a loaded question. “I realized that God was calling me to become Catholic and the only thing I thought was preventing me was my sexuality,” I responded. “How do you feel about what the church teaches?” he asked. Another loaded question. “I’ve reconciled my sexuality and faith,” I responded. With a smile, the Abbot said “Then that’s all I need to know.”
Anthony Ray, Salt Lake City, Utah

I am a transgender man and teacher at the Catholic secondary school I attended as a child. For a while, upon my return as a member of staff, I did not talk openly about my transition. During the pandemic, I started to feel that this was a disservice to myself and the pupils I teach. Without coming out and talking about difference, it was hard to help people recognise the dignity of all humans. I wore a rainbow face mask one day. A child I never taught, stopped me and thanked me. They said, “this is the first time I have ever felt seen or heard at school.” Simple visibility and dignity affirmed.
George White, Leicester, England

Because there was silence on LGBTQ issues in my own parish, I searched for inclusive Catholic churches with an LGBTQ ministry, and I eventually stumbled upon one. As soon as I went inside, I felt the Holy Spirit welcome me with open arms. During the petitions, without hesitation, I prayed out loud that all LGBTQ people be welcome in the Catholic Church. In the congregation, I saw many nods acknowledging the Church’s homophobic past. After liturgy, I had people come up to me and invite me to participate in the church’s LGBTQ group. That simple act of invitation made me feel fully welcome.
Thomas Pollack, St. Paul, Minn.

I felt truly happy to be a gay catholic when my boyfriend offered to go to Mass with me. I didn’t ask for that, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that, and I was scared of the looks and muttering I expected to follow us into the church. But he asked to do it, and continues to do so, and I feel so overwhelmed with love and faith when he comes and tries to learn, sing, pray, listen and is simply present there with me.
Fer Vázquez, Zapopan, Mexico

In college, I had the opportunity to help organize and attend an LGBTQ affirming retreat hosted by campus ministry. On this retreat, I felt safe, heard, and loved fully as a LGBTQ Catholic for one of the first times in my life. At the end of the day, we received a surprise gift. Each member of the retreat was given a packet that included affirming statements written to retreat attendees from at least 60 members of the campus community. These statements were an expression of just how loved we were because of our identities in our community. I am so thankful for everyone who took the time to write something for that retreat.
Bernie Donlon, St. Cloud, Minn.

One of the ways I have found peace with my identity as a Catholic and a gay man is through reading about the life of the medieval mystic Margery Kempe and learning how she balanced her conflicting identities of wife, mother, mystic and pilgrim, even at the expense of transgressing social norms. Reading her biography was especially comforting in seeing someone who also strived to live authentically and to be who they were called to be by God.
Hunter Olson, Valparaiso, Ind.

I didn’t want to be gay and always had a strong desire to be a dad. A Jesuit parish in Washington, D.C., helped me realize that God loved me just as I am and that I didn’t need to change. Love is a gift. I have been with my husband for 20 years (happily married for 10) and we have two children. I wouldn’t have been able to accept my path in life if it weren’t for the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and support from good friends and family despite some painful experiences. Like me, the church isn’t perfect, but I put my faith in the Spirit that is.
Jeff Babich, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Being a theology professor and campus minister at a Catholic university, I feel the most proud when LGBT students feel safe and free to talk with me about their faith journey. It’s in those moments that I know God has a plan for me—and that part of that plan is me being an openly proud Catholic and LGBT person.
Aaron Bianco, Morristown, N.J.

One confession on a rainy day in 2021 changed the trajectory of my life. I was terrified to go to confession. I told my parish priest, “I am queer, and the world believes I am sin, and who I love is sin.” My priest heard my story, got up from his chair, and asked if he could hug me. We both cried and shared a warm embrace. It was the start of healing from the religious trauma I endured. My drive home, I saw a bold rainbow. The Holy Spirit was present and I felt proud to be a faithful LGBTQ Catholic.
Sonia Natalia Mendoza, Fresno, Calif.

Michael J. O’Loughlin

Michael J. O’Loughlin is the executive director of Outreach and the author of "Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear." Previously, he was the national correspondent for America. Twitter: @mikeoloughlin

All articles by Michael J. O’Loughlin

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