Friday, Oct. 19 is a big day for Catholics, especially for Jesuits and their colleagues. It is the Feast of the North American Martyrs, which commemorates such spiritual giants as St. Isaac Jogues, St. Jean de Brébeuf and their brother Jesuits, all of whom worked with the Native peoples in "New France." (They are special heroes of mine.) The day promises to be an especially memorable feast, because just two days later, Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk woman who was received into the Church by Jesuit missionaries, will be canonized in a grand ceremony by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. (Along with Kateri will be canonized Marianne Cope, a Sister of St. Francis worked with the sick in Molokai, and Fr. Jacques Berthieu, a Jesuit missionary who was martyred in Madagascar.)
Friday marks another commemoration as well, which many Catholics might not know about. It's called "Spirit Day," an invitation to stand against bullying and violence targeting gay and lesbian students in American schools. This should be a no-brainer for Catholics, who are called by Christ to support those who suffer or struggle in any way, particularly those on the margins. According to the Trevor Project, which helps LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) youths, gay and lesbian teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. And youth coming from "highly rejecting families" are up to eight times as likely to attempted suicide as their gay and lesbian peers who report no or low levels family rejection. Bullying is also on the rise, according to U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez. "The bullying of kids who are LBGT is probably the largest growth area in our docket," he said in Sept. 2011.
This is an especially relevant issue for Catholics who support traditional families, particularly during this period in our nation's, and our church's, history. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that gays and lesbians should be treated with "respect, compassion and sensitivity," and that "every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (That's under the section in the Catechism entitled "You Shall Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.") For supporters of traditional marriage, here is a simple way to show people that even those who do not support same-sex marriage deplore the bullying of, and violence against, gays and lesbian youth. For Catholics overall it is an opportunity to demonstrate their "respect, compassion and sensitivity" for their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and thus heed the call of the Catechism. (There's even a site for Catholics supporting the initiative.) And when we're talking about suicide, we're talking about a "life issue."
Some may object to some of the organizations who are sponsoring the day, which may take positions at odds with official Catholic teaching. (There are a lot of groups supporting the venture, and I'm sure that there are some with whose positions I disagree -- even strongly.) But that doesn't mean that Spirit Day, or standing up against bullying and discrimination, is any less worthwhile. If you wait to work for a cause until you're working with people who agree with you on everything, you'll wait forever, and the injustice will continue.
Many gay and lesbian Catholics have told me (in person, in e-mails, in notes and letters and in Facebook messages) how alienated they have felt from the church lately. Perhaps as a result of some of the rhetoric that has been used recently, an increasing number of gay and lesbian Catholics, and gay and lesbian youth in particular, feel marginalized from the church in which they were baptized. Such alienation is a source of great spiritual pain for them.
So why not do something simple to show compassion for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, especially those who are bullied or who have even attempted suicide? Purple is a penitential color, the color of remorse, and so it is particularly appropriate as a sign of remorse over any LBGT hate speech. Why do something small to show your love of neighbor? For you shall love your LGBT neighbor as yourself.
This column appeared originally in American Magazine.