It's been just over a month since I came out as a gay catholic priest with the launching of the second edition of my book, Hidden Voices: Reflections of a Gay Catholic Priest, and a new website dedicated to the Rising Voices of Faith who support and love all people regardless of who they love. The initial media storm has finally died down but the conversation about Catholicism and homosexuality continues via emails, phone calls, articles and face book. I have conversations on a regular basis with gay and straight Catholics who struggle with the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality. It has been a privilege to communicate with so many. Having said that, one consistent theme keeps emerging from these conversations, and that is, the culture of silence and shame that we have created in our church regarding homosexuality is bigger and stronger than I could have imagined.
I believe the Church's teaching on homosexuality has caused and continues to cause harm to many gay men and women, young and old, who are looking for acceptance and love but instead find silence and shame. And it's not just the gay population who suffers; it's all of those who have accepted a member of their family and all of those who have allied as friends. They too have been silenced and shamed, ostracized by a Church teaching and hierarchal positioning that will not allow us to support, love, nurture and foster positive gay relationships in our Church.
The slogan "loud and proud" is often used in the gay community in an effort to counteract the oppression of others including the oppression of the Church. Might we as a Church come to support that culture, the culture of loud and proud over silence and shame?
In 2011, I attended my first Pride Fest, and if I had to sum up my experience in two words they would be: loud and proud. It was an amazing experience to witness, tens of thousands of gays and lesbians and their supporters being precisely that. Having lived for so long in a hierarchical atmosphere of silence and shame, it was liberating to be loud and proud -- albeit only for a moment and in another city to avoid being recognized.
There has always been a part of me that has wanted to attend a Pride Fest, but to be honest, there's also been a part of me that hasn't. Before attending, like so many others, my only impression of Pride Fest had been from reports on the news. These reports always seemed to depict the pride parade in a way that seemed weird, crazy and far out. Images of cross dressers, dykes, transvestites, and men wearing hardly anything fill the airwaves in a thirty second television blast. Pride has always been portrayed as something radical and controversial, something best to avoid, particularly given my identity as a Catholic priest. After all -- priest are not allowed to "promote the gay agenda." While it could certainly be argued that merely attending a Pride Fest is not supporting the gay agenda per say, a news clip of a Catholic priest watching the parade go by (and cheering) would be controversial to say the least. To avoid the controversy and to remain a priest, I had never attended a Pride Fest, before 2011. That year was different; that year I wanted to see for myself, and in some small way, participate in the movement. With that goal in mind, a friend of mine and I attended Gay Pride in New York City.
The day before the main event, my friend and I were walking down 6th Avenue when we noticed what appeared to be a parade of some sort, so we decided to investigate. When we got close enough to see what was happening, we discovered it was a "Dyke Parade." There were thousands of lesbian women marching down the streets of New York chanting and celebrating. There were also lots of supporters lining the streets passing out literature. I stopped one of them to ask if she knew when the main Pride parade was going to be and where. She briefly gave me the information and told me to enjoy myself. And then I said, "I will, but I'm a little bit nervous, I've never been to a Pride Fest before."
"Oh, my gosh," she said, "You'll love it. It's such a celebration of diversity and unity. There's nothing to be nervous about, just enjoy it."
Her enthusiastic description of Pride Fest as a celebration of diversity and unity really struck me. I couldn't help but think that when we as a Church are at our best, we too are a celebration of diversity in unity. When we as a Church are living the Gospel message, we celebrate diversity and unity.
The next day at the parade, I was surprised and pleased to see that the overwhelming majority of those attending the event were "normal." Having nothing but the images from the news media to go off of, my assumption and fear was that I would stand out, that everyone would be radically dressed or wearing nothing at all. That was not the reality. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of wild and crazy outfits, but the overwhelming majority of those in attendance and in the parade were "normal." They were ordinary people belonging to ordinary groups like the firefighters, police, lawyers, volleyball teams, religious organizations, etc.; almost every conceivable group was represented. They're the person next door. They're the person you pass on the street every day. I can remember an overwhelming feeling of normalization as the day went by. It was liberating and refreshing to be in an environment that treats homosexuality not as a disorder but as normal, healthy and even sacred. As I look back on my first experience with Pride, it was indeed a celebration of unity and diversity, and for me personally, it was very freeing to move from an environment of silence and shame to loud and proud -- albeit only for a day.
That was in 2011 -- but things are different now that I have broken the silence that has been part of my life for so long. With that in mind, I have decided to march in this year's Pride Parade in NYC with the hopes that this experience will allow me to continue to move from a culture of silence and shame to loud and proud.