Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride

By Michael J. Bayly

Gay Pride was celebrated this past weekend in the Twin Cities, and, as in past years, I helped staff an informational booth for the organization that I serve as executive coordinator for, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM).

Above right: Standing second from right with (from left) Paul, Stephanie, and Tom - Saturday, June 26, 2010.

Along with information about CPCSM, we also shared at our booth information about The Progressive Catholic Voice online journal, Catholic Rainbow Parents, and the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, of which CPCSM is a founding member organization.

We don't actually have a CPCSM banner. One reason for this is that "the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities" sounds so official! And we're mindful of not wanting to give the impression that we're in any way endorsed by the official clerical leadership of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis - especially given this leadership's limited and, in large measure, uninformed stance on LGBT issues. And so we opt for the banner at above left - one that succinctly sums up a big part of what CPCSM is all about and what we seek to honor and work to see realized in both the church and society, i.e., compassion and equality for LGBT individuals, couples, and families.

Our banner was very popular with many attendees of Pride. A number of folks wanted to photograph it and its message - one which, let's face it, you don't see everyday! The overwhelming sentiment expressed by those who stopped by our booth was one of gratitude. People were heartened by our presence. And even folks who believe that the situation in the Church for LGBT people is completely hopeless, nevertheless told us that they appreciated and supported our efforts of reform.

Occasionally, of course, one is confronted by an individual who has been so hurt by the insensitive and erroneous words and actions of the official church on the issue of homosexuality that they are hostile toward those of us who, in any way, align ourselves with Catholicism. It's always very difficult encountering and engaging that type of hostile energy, that type of deep woundedness. I simply do my best to empathize with their feelings of hurt, and to support their decision to find spiritual nurturance beyond Roman Catholicism. Yet I also gently maintain that there can be a place for reform from within the church, and that I and many others find it helpful to remember that, as Rosemary Radford Ruether says, "Catholic does not equal the Vatican."

Held amidst the peaceful greenery of Loring Park, on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, Twin Cities Pride is the third largest Gay Pride festival in the United States - after San Francisco and New York.

In the photo above, the Roman Catholic Basilica of St. Mary can be seen looming over the rainbow-hued proceedings in Loring Park. It's an image that makes me smile, as it brings to mind Rev. Irene Monroe's recent article in which she makes the case for the Catholic Church being a gay institution - something that she insists is a good thing.

Left: Tom and Gretchen Murr (co-founders of Catholic Rainbow Parents) and their daughter chat with my friend and CPCSM supporter Paula Ruddy at the CPCSM booth - Saturday, June 26, 2010.

In 2003, Tom, Gretchen, and their gay son David were part of a CPCSM-sponsored "alternative forum" - one that challenged the discredited science and narrow theology of the Courage movement.

Above: CPCSM supporter Mary Jean.

Above: More CPCSM friends: Neil (right), his partner Rick, and the couple's friend Tam.

A popular flyer that we distribute each year at Pride contains a list of local Catholic parishes in which LGBT people have told us they experience hospitality. It's actually quite a long list - and one that many people are always grateful to find.

Above and below: Many young people where drawn to the CPCSM booth, happy and hope-filled at seeing the words "Catholic" and "gay" together. In our main informational flyer that we distribute each year at Pride, we acknowledge that for some people seeing these two words together may seem incongruent, especially given the Church's official condemnatory stance on "homosexual activity." Yet as we go on to explain that:

The Vatican may think this way but we do not believe that being Catholic means unquestioning obedience to every utterance of the Vatican. There's so much more to being a Catholic than that. And the Catholic Church is so much bigger than simply "the Vatican." We understand the Church, not as an exclusive club, but primarily as the People of God. . . . As the Church we are continually living and growing in our understanding of God's presence within and among us. Like many Catholics we therefore believe that hallmark of our Catholic faith is a trusting openness and response to the presence and action of God within all creation and thus the vast and diverse arena of human life and relationships.

One young woman (pictured above center) recognized me from when I spoke four years ago at her Catholic high school. She was pleased to see that the book I had been working on at that time had been published in 2007 as Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective. I had copies of the book, along with this review, at our booth.

One young man was over the moon to be given a copy of the Catholic Rainbow Parents' 2005 Declaration of support for LGBT lives and relationships. He couldn't wait to share this Declaration with his parents who are struggling to reconcile their Catholic faith with their son's sexual orientation. I hope it's of help to them.

I posted the photo above on my blog The Wild Reed on Saturday as my "Photo of the Day." It shows an associate of "Christian missionary" John Chisham preaching an anti-gay message - one that's being met with loving opposition by a gay male couple.

Chisham and his small group of supporters positioned themselves opposite the CPCSM booth on Saturday afternoon, although I doubt their proximity to us was intentional. Rather, the location they chose afforded a convenient open space. The Star Tribune reports, that Chisham's presence and message ensured a volatile situation:

Another protester at Saturday's event, John Chisham of Marshall, Minn., attracted far more attention than the [Bible distributing] Brian Johnson as he stood on a box with a sign that read "You are an abomination to God, You justify the wicked," preaching to a jeering crowd. Chisham attracted shouts of disapproval and arguments from passersby. Eventually, Pride attendees stood in front of him with signs that read, "Standing on the Side of Love."

And then the gay male couple did their thing!

I saw them starting to kiss and immediately knew this would be a photo opportunity too good to miss. In terms of composition, I think the photo I took works very well. I also like what this image conveys symbolically. I mean, one of Chisham's crew is ranting, another is standing isolated and somewhat forlorn. Both are behind the bars of a fence, sectioned off from the love being expressed outside their prison of ignorance and fear! In the distance, beyond the ranting man, rises a church tower. Visually, it's quite powerful, though ironically the tower belongs to St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral - one of the most gay-friendly churches in the Twin Cities!

And in contrast to these two figures are the two men in the foreground. It seems to me that all else fades into insignificance at the authenticity and power conveyed by their loving embrace and passionate kiss. And I love the splash of color provided by the flower in the headband of the guy on the left, and the rainbow colors on this same man's right wrist. On so may levels, this photo just works.

Above: Chris and Steve.

Above: Members and friends of Dignity Twin Cities.

On Thursday, June 24, CPCSM co-sponsored with Dignity a "Catholic Mass in Celebration of Our LGBT Brothers and Sisters." For images and commentary on this Mass, click here.

For more images of Pride 2010, click here to see the original version of this article posted at The Wild Reed.

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