A little over eight years ago, I came out as a gay man to my family and friends. Amid this revelation, I continued to practice my faith as a Roman Catholic. It was at this time in my life that I came to witness the overwhelming support that Catholics have for LGBT people. In my role as a religion teacher, a priest once informed me that a parent had expressed concern over having a gay man teach religious education. The priest called a meeting of the parish on a weeknight and asked that anyone who had concerns related to my teaching should speak up publicly. The night of the meeting, I entered a packed Church and slowly made my way to a pew where I sat next to my father. As the meeting began, one-by-one congregants rose and expressed their real concern: why this was even an issue. The reality is that my experience from nearly a decade ago is representative of the vast majority of Roman Catholics. We live in a Church that is called to welcome and affirm people's humanity and identity without exception. It was in reflecting on this faith experience that I had such a difficult time reconciling Cardinal Dolan's comments with the Catholic faith that I live and experience every day.
The past two weeks have been filled with an outpouring of support that I could never have expected when I resigned from the Junior Board of Catholic Charities. In writing a letter to the organization's leadership, I sought to articulate my concerns regarding Cardinal Dolan's positions on issues affecting the lives of LGBT people. I am particularly concerned by the hurtful language used by some of the Church's hierarchy when speaking about the LGBT community. As a Catholic, I feel strongly that statements made by the Cardinal and some in the Church's hierarchy regarding LGBT people are not only out of touch with the lived experience of many Catholics, gay and straight, but that they also violate Gospel values of inclusion. It further saddens me to think that the voices of some bishops are seen as representative of all Catholic people when in reality the vast majority of Catholics support their LGBT brothers and sisters, as evidenced by a growing number of studies. A recent study released by GLAAD showed more than 50 percent of Catholic voices presented in the media offer a negative view on LGBT issues when in reality a majority of American Catholics support LGBT equality.
Studies aside, the lived experiences of most Catholics serves as a testament to the stark disparity between some Catholics in positions of power and everyday Church-going Catholics on these issues. The notion that Cardinal Dolan would avoid responding to a plea for help for homeless LGBT youth is a deviation from Catholic social teaching. In 1997 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) refused to be silent in the face of an injustice with their pastoral message "Always Our Children." In this statement, they recognized the link between homelessness and LGBT youth, writing:
"A shocking number of homosexual youth end up on the streets because of rejection by their families. This, and other external pressures, can place young people at a greater risk for self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse and suicide."
The fact that those in positions of power in the Catholic Church have ignored the document's teaching is alarming and a reminder that Catholics in the pews and clergy who are allies must stand and be a voice for the most vulnerable among us. Last week, two Catholic parishes in Seattle, Wash., demonstrated great courage when they refused to allow their parishes participate in a signature drive being organized by the National Organization for Marriage, a leading anti-LGBT group. By this act, these two priests -- along with many other pastors, deacons, sisters, brothers and many who work in the church -- demonstrated that Catholic social teaching calls us to witness the beauty and diversity of God's creation in a way that respects what makes each of us unique in the eyes of God as beautifully articulated in "Always Our Children":
"God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps to define the unique persons we are, and one component of our sexual identity is sexual orientation. Thus, our total personhood is more encompassing than sexual orientation. Human beings see the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart" (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).
As Catholics and others listen to the messages coming from those in positions of power in the Church, I hope they will realize that the heavy-handed approach to LGBT issues is not shared by all Catholics. Although those in the hierarchy may have the pulpit, there are far more pews than there will ever be pulpits. As Catholics speak out and call upon the Church to live out its call to be a beacon of social justice and love, those in the hierarchy will begin to see another way in which Christ has risen -- he has risen from the silence and has cried out for equality. We can only hope that those in the Church leadership will turn and listen to our voices, so as to see that our prophetic witness is merely asking them to look into our hearts and see the people God has created us to be.
For this reason I have decided to launch a petition on Change.org to be presented to Cardinal Timothy Dolan to let him know that Catholics stand in solidarity with the homeless LGBT youth of the Ali Forney Center and all LGBT youth in need. Through this Change.org action, the voices of gay and straight Catholics will unite, will break through the silence, and will call upon those in positions of power in the Church to see that the people of God will not allow the cries for help of God's children to go unheard and unanswered. So please join me in signing this petition, so that we might invite Cardinal Dolan into a dialogue about this important issue that faces us all.
Let your voice be heard, sign the petition and call the Church to live the Gospel message of inclusion.