As someone who is both queer and Catholic, I’ve noticed something that bothers me about the way the Catholics I have known either talk about or interact with the queer community. Before I get into it, let me just say this: I believe, teach, and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and professes. I agree with the Church’s account of human nature, the human person, human sexuality and marriage. What I want to get into isn’t about the moral or legal issue of marriage . It isn’t about challenging the Church’s teachings; it isn’t about challenging doctrine. This is about loving people; it’s about challenging those who call themselves Catholic to do a better job of being loving with particular regard to the queer community.
I’ll start off by sharing a bit about my own struggle with my sexuality. I usually call myself bisexual, just because it’s the closest to what I am. You might think that being bisexual means I’m attracted to the same sex 50% of the time, and the opposite sex 50% of the time, but that isn’t how it is with me. I’d say about 30% of the time I’m attracted to the same sex, and 70% of the time I’m attracted to the opposite sex. I’ve known since elementary school - I would get crushes on the guys and the girls in my class. As I grew older though, I knew being queer wasn’t a very safe thing to be. I also didn’t really know how to handle it, how to talk about it, and I was afraid that being queer meant that there was something dark in me, something that made me unlovable. So I just pretended to be straight; it was simpler that way and it was easy enough to hide being bisexual. I spent so long pretending to be straight that I actually started to believe my own ruse.
Fast forward to my senior year of college; I had really grown into myself and was starting to get a handle on who I was. It was at this point that the issue of my sexuality surged forward into my prayer life. Try as I might, I couldn’t pretend to be straight when I was praying because I couldn’t be anything other than honest with God. I wanted to be honest in my prayer, but I was scared that if I told God the truth, He wouldn’t love me as much. I remember one day I was so distraught that I ran to the Cathedral and sat down in front of the tabernacle. I told God that if He wanted to give up on me, if this was the final straw, if I was just so beyond saving - He could walk away from me, He could leave me, and I wouldn’t blame Him. In that moment He said the sweetest, most gentle, most heartbreakingly loving thing anyone could have said. He told me that He already knew about my sexuality (He does kind of know everything) and that He wanted me all the same. He wanted me just as I was, He loved me exactly as He had made me. I felt that this thing made me so ugly and repulsive to Him, but He told me He thought I was beautiful. He was sort of gently furious with me - upset and angry that I thought so little of myself, but determined to pour kindness into me until I loved myself as He loved me. I walked away from that moment with Him, and told three of my friends that I was bisexual. It was the first time in my life I said it out loud to anyone and they reacted perfectly, with all the love and understanding I could have asked for.
This brings me up to the point I want to make. There are certain people I am friends with, faithful Catholics, who I do not feel safe sharing my sexuality with. Why? Because one of them made a disgusted face and noise when they saw a gay couple kiss on TV, and had to look away from the screen. Because some of my Catholic friends talk about how whiny or childish the LGBT community is, not realizing that the fact there is a queer community helps me know I’m not alone. Because when they find out someone isn’t straight, they don’t know what to do with that information. They either ignore the person’s sexuality or focus on it entirely, neither of which actually allows them to love that person as a whole.
Mother Teresa once said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” The Catholic Church is meant to fight this kind of poverty by being a place where everyone can come and find their home. Yes, the Church has moral standards - which, for the record, not even all of the saints followed perfectly (St. Augustine or St. Francis come to mind). You can’t come to the Church and do whatever you want and expect it to be acceptable. But as someone who does adhere to the Church’s teachings, I find it surprising how often I bite my tongue and remain silent, not telling people in the Church that I’m queer, because I don’t know if I would be welcomed. And maybe some part of that is on me; maybe I should be more trusting and give other Catholics a chance - they could end up proving me wrong. But some part of this is on the shoulders of individual Catholics in the Church who speak or act in ways that communicate to queer people that they are not welcome because they are not straight. I’m not convinced that this is some kind of deep prejudice in the Church; honestly I think the Catholics I have known simply don’t realize they’re doing it. Maybe if they did they would want to treat queer people differently, and to ensure that queer people know they have a place in the Church.
So what does that look like? How can we as Catholics communicate to non-heterosexual people that they are wanted and loved? This may be a bit cliché, but try to imagine what it would be like if you were Catholic and weren’t straight. Imagine trying to tell people, to be honest with the people you love. It’s scary, and you feel alone and you’re worried that this could be a reason people stop loving you, or at the very least think less of you. What kind of person would you trust with this information? The attributes I think of are gentle, kind, patient, open, selfless, and unconditionally loving - I look for signs in people that they exercise these virtues, and there are so many different ways these virtues can manifest in someone. The first three friends I told were good listeners, they were careful with other people’s emotions, and they all made a point to tell their friends that they would love them no matter what - these were the things that made me feel that it was safe to tell these friends the truth.
Mother Teresa once said, “Intense love does not measure, it just gives.” This is the kind of love LGBT people need from the people in the Church. Many of us have been looked down on and have looked down on ourselves, wrestling with our self-worth because of our sexuality. We need the Church to help us love ourselves so that we don’t fall into sin or despair. We need to know that the Church, our brothers and sisters in Christ, will love us - even if we aren’t straight.