by Thomas Lloyd
The last few months have been a whirlwind for the LGBTQ community at Georgetown.
We elected our first openly gay student body president and had our LGBTQ history pushed in to the spotlight by outlets like The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and my personal favorite, The Cardinal Newman Society Blog. Those who oppose our advance deride our community as Catholics and Catholic institutions abandoning their values.
I’ve had to answer the same question in dozens of conversations: how has this change come about despite Catholic doctrine?
Having been at Georgetown for over two years now, and having been a gay Catholic my whole life, my answer is simple: It doesn’t. Advancement of LGBTQ issues is critical to the fulfillment of the Catholic mission. These changes are necessary because of Catholic doctrine.
I’ve made this argument before, citing Catholic social teaching, the catechism of the Church, and (unsurprisingly) the Jesuit concept of Cura Peronalis.
But to be honest, I formulated those arguments well after I had made up my mind on how Catholic doctrine fits in with the LGBTQ rights movement. The real game changer for me is my experience. In a way, this is the ultimate form of Catholic argument. As the Universal Church, Catholicism is ultimately about its people and their stories. So for this Coming Out Week, rather than rehash theological arguments I’ve made here and here, I’m going to out myself again, but by sharing my personal faith journey.
Growing up, before I knew that my limp wrist and love of offering my aunt fashion advice meant that I’d be labeled “gay” or “homosexual” (or anything “sexual” for that matter), I never thought that what made me “different” would somehow negatively affect my relationship with God or with the Church. My high voice and flair for the dramatics actually made me an asset at many a church basement musical production of Jesus Christ: A Life (no Jesus since has been able to give Judas the appropriate one-eyebrow raise during the last supper scene).
The Church was the way I connected to my neighborhood. I never went to school near my house. So I made local friends through Sunday school. I joined our boy scouts chapter (however briefly) and taught Sunday school for years. My supervisor, a nun who I affectionately referred to as Sister Gene the Dancing Machine (in a reference to the campy 80’s Gong Show) seemingly embraced my “unconventional” personality.
It wasn’t until I was at the most vulnerable moment in my life that the Church became an “obstacle” to be “overcome”. In high school, my gay mental dam of cognitive dissonance began to break down. My heterosexual identity, built up by years of bullying and abuse from other students, was crumbling under the weight of my real sexual orientation. I starting to think that I might just be “gay,” or that thing that I’d denied being for years because people laughed at me, excluded me, and fought with me.
These conversations with myself about my identity were conducted in the deepest segments of my person. I could feel them as series of tugs in my chest, right next to where I had (usually joyful and joking) conversations with God. There, in my most private and sacred space, I never felt a tension from God related to my identity. If anything, God was a central player in that discussion. I remember the first night that I asked God to change me, to hide the thing that made me a target. I lay awake and silently begged as my eyes burned up. But I never thought God disapproved, just that a bunch of assholes did. God was on my side, right?
Unfortunately, at the same time that I grew increasingly conscious of my sexuality, I also grew increasingly aware of the American political attitudes towards gay people. The debates over LGBT issues were, and still are, imbued with religious arguments against the acceptance or inclusion of gays and lesbians, with almost no religious (let alone Catholic) voices on the other side. Even more unfortunately, the increasingly insecure and paranoid closeted me was very prone to internalize those voices. These included voices of my family members, whose political discussions I began to understand more. I let them pollute my personal and longstanding relationship with my faith.
I would go through what was a painful coming out process, thinking that I couldn’t lean on the support system that had given me community, confidence, and meaning. Further, I was afraid to engage some individuals closest to me because of their association with that same community. At first, this just made me anti-social. But becoming more and more alone in ever-more profound ways led me to moments where I considered and planned suicide.
It was with the support of very loving (and sometimes pushy) friends and teachers that I emerged from my coming out process unscathed. By the time I felt comfortable to come out to my parents and school, I had all but given up on trying to bring together my LGBTQ and Catholic identities. In the same way that I lived with a mental wall between my “heterosexual identity” and obvious homosexual orientation, I erected a new wall between my values and my private life. For some, this could prove dangerous. (un)Luckily for me, I was high school debater with acne, so this didn’t become a concern.
I would go on for years with a simple answer to “How can you be gay and Catholic?” I would answer with a pithy cop-out, “The Church is about more than sexual orientation.”
At Georgetown, the Jesuit education lived up to its reputation and called me out on my bullshit. My (at the time) conservative roommate lived up to his political affiliation, ordering me to tear down the wall between my identities and engage the questions I had effectively been postponing. There was no getting around the fact that if I wanted to keep identifying as Catholic, I had better get a damn good reason. After all, I would be engaging my orientation (and others’ orientations…) with an octogenarian Priest down the hall.
My reason came as I started to re-understand Catholicism in the way I had as a child: as a sum of individuals from all backgrounds, working together to achieve spiritual fulfillment and salvation by living a life of service, advocacy, and love, just as Christ did. I was a part of that equation, as are a whole host of queers, commies, radicals, republicans, democrats, feminists, NRA members, whatever, even if I had been told for years that we all fell on opposing “sides.”
How did I come back to this understanding? Simply by engaging all of those people that truly make the Catholic Church Universal. Was the Jesuit who told me masturbation made one not a virgin more Catholic than the one who affectionately nicknamed me “a wonderfully irksome shit” because of my work with Pride? Are the ministers behind Love Saxa more Catholic than those who show up at the LGBTQ Resource Center open house or who run the LGBTQ prayer group? Who is anyone, any human being, to answer these questions?
When one lives in a Universal Church, it becomes impossible to view someone’s unchangeable and loving identity as disordered. It’s impossible to think that there is one ideal Catholic, or any set of absolutes that can apply to a universal institution. Its impossible to do anything but CELEBRATE the fact that such diversity exists.
To those that disagree, say an alum who graduated 10, 20, 30 or more years ago (Hi, William Blatty, Class of 1950!), I have this to say:
Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because gay students no longer live in the same fear of being the victims of hate crimes when walking to their dorms.
Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because gay students needn’t feel like their faith tradition is against them.
Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because through being more welcoming, our community saves more students from self-harm.
Georgetown is a more Catholic place today than ever before because we are finally “universal” enough to encourage multiple trans* students to make themselves visible.
Georgetown is more Catholic today than ever before because LGBTQ students, with or without faith traditions, have made this university truer to its Jesuit commitment to community in diversity, to social justice, and to Universality.
In the same way that I stopped letting those who didn’t understand the LGBTQ experience pollute my relationship with God, I refuse to let similarly antiquated beliefs taint the conversation of what makes us a Catholic University.
I am gay and I am Catholic. Accepting my identity enabled me to be more Catholic. My University is Catholic, and it is only becoming more LGBTQ-friendly, making it all the more Catholic. This is more than acceptable—this is our motto: Utraque Unum.