In retrospect, I am so glad I went. The keynote speaker was a young man, Chris McNulty, a social justice activist with an M.A. under the mentorship of Dr. Brian Swimme, well-known in "new cosmology" circles. Chris explained many terms I was not familiar with or only vaguely so, such as "hetero-normativity," "cis-normativity," and "gender-binarism." The latter refers to the idea that we are born into a society in which we are assigned one of two specific, distinct and opposite genders ("It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!") We are also expected to evolve into either a clearly masculine or feminine form of gender expression (the way we dress, speak, or act), and a "hetero" form of sexuality. "Cisgender" people are those who have accepted and feel comfortable operating out of the gender we were assigned at birth. "Transgender" people are those who do not feel this comfort and who attempt to live in the way they feel God has made them, or even as they have come to feel later in life. Chris contrasted the "born this way" understanding of gayness or transgender feelings as reinforcing a binary approach and excluding those who come to experience a change in their sexuality or gender, or come to feel that neither gender fits them. The concept of gender and sexual "fluidity" goes against that of gender essentialism, the idea that men and women have inherent, unique, and natural attributes that qualify them as their separate genders (clearly the position of Catholic theology).
Chris then took us through the history of gay rights, starting in 1973 when the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality's designation as a mental disorder. However, in 1986 the Supreme Court ruled that anti-sodomy laws were constitutional; not until 2003 after a long grass-roots campaign did it reverse itself. In 2010, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was repealed as military policy, and just last year, after polls showing that 50% of all in the U.S. and 78% of those 18-29 supported marriage equality, it became the law of the land. One has to wonder, given the parallels to the long roads and great resistance to abolition and women's rights, and the Church itself's having to evolve in its own understanding of those issues, whether we are not entering a time in which the Church and its members must ask whether advocates of LGBT rights are merely misguided souls, or prophets of human dignity and love.
Chris also talked about the "social analysis" of gay rights, and whether the fight for marriage inequality wasn't more in service of those who wanted to assimilate into society as it is while failing to address the more serious problems faced by lower-income and young LGBT persons. He spoke of the "intersectionality" of the LGBT rights movement with other movements, such as peace/de-militarization, ending the prison-industrial system, economic justice, and the "de-privileging" of marriage (e.g. when partner aren't allowed to visit sick loved ones in the hospital).
After the break, a three person panel shared their own stories of growing up Catholic and "queer" (another term that can mean gay or sexually fluid; not following the "straight" path). Chantal Dealcuaz holds a Masters in Theology from Notre Dame and has worked as a high school campus minister and Catholic Worker. She spoke of the conflict between wanting to be "good" and "saved" as their Church defined it and being true to herself. She said that she'd been been hurt many times because of people's reactions to her, but never by someone who had a relationship with her. Lydia Gajdel is a Masters of Divinity Student at the University of Chicago. At 13, she started having many feelings and questions about her own body that no one in the Church would address, but then in college she discovered Catholic social teaching, Dorothy Day and a queer people of faith. She identifies first and foremost as a child of God, but because she "presents" in a more masculine fashion, people treat her differently, and many can't accept her as a chaplain. Pat Curran graduated from Georgetown with a Master's in Social Work. He spoke of the "invisibility" he's felt in the Church most of his life. All three of these beautiful young people found no support in the Church (though they all had it from their parents) until they reached college. Two are still Catholic but still struggle with the Church beyond their local communities, while Lydia has left and is now working toward ordination in the Episcopal Church.
All responded to what the Church had to do to be fully embracing of the LGBTQ community. None were sure that it could or would, but all have a hope that it will eventually. Chantal said she wants to hear the Church say, not "gay people have dignity," but "we were wrong; there's nothing wrong with being gay and we're sorry." Lydia loved our liturgy but had to leave to follow her call to preside at it. Pat just wants to be seen as who he is and accepted.
I would be very interested to hear readers' comments on this topic. Where do the Priests of the Sacred Heart stand on this issue?