A new column in OutSports reveals the silver lining in one nun’s homophobic remarks, as well as the contrasts that remain in Catholic education when it comes to LGBT issues.
In the column, Connor Griffin explained his coming out during as a high school junior. His personal process was sparked by a homophobic lecture, given by Dominican Sister Jane Dominic Laurel at Charlotte Catholic High School, North Carolina. Sr. Laurel’s talk, which you can read about here, relied upon pseudo-science and prejudice. It understandably drew strong protests from the school community; nearly 1,000 parents attended a town hall to discuss the incident. The nun is a member of the Nashville Dominicans, a community of traditionalist members.
For Griffin, the talk had a personal effect. He said that it forced him “to realize things about myself I was not ready to accept.” Griffin’s attention drifted during the lecture, but when he listened, what he heard was cruel:
Distressed, Griffin recalled thinking “Could I be gay?” and realized:
“Yes. Yes, I could. It was in that moment, sitting in that assembly listening to that speaker, that I realized my own truth. I quietly got up from my seat, not to draw any attention, and walked out of the gym. I felt a rush of emotions hit me as if the gym was suffocating me.
“I erupted in tears. What made me cry that day I still don’t know. Maybe it was the fact that I believed what this woman was saying, or maybe it could have been the fear that I had after finally realizing that I am gay.”
The following days were, in Griffin’s word, the toughest of his life as he came out to friends and family while “not yet ready to accept being gay.” Eventually, he wrote:
” It became so empowering to share my truth with people in my life. I felt I was caged for so long, and every time I told someone I felt as if I was breaking a link in the chain that was holding me down.”
Griffin, then on his high school’s swim team, decided to remain closeted to his team and even considered not swimming in college. But after visiting New York’s Fordham University, Griffin found a campus – and a swim team – that not only welcomed him but respected and support him. He even cited a recent comment by University President, Fr. Joseph McShane, in the Outsports essay:
” ‘I make no apologies for…homophobia, nor indeed any kind of bigotry nor act that devalues another person or group.’ “
Charlotte Catholic High School officials–and indeed all Catholic school administrators–should take follow Fr. McShane’s lead.
Thankfully, Connor Griffin has now found a Catholic campus that welcomes him as a gay student and athlete. He is no longer subjected to homophobia sanctioned by administrators, but many students in Catholic high schools still suffer. It should be a baseline principle in Catholic education that every student at every school feel safe and respected concerning their sexual and/or gender identity. While there is now a silver lining to celebrate regarding Sr. Laurel’s anti-gay address, the reality is it should have never happened in the first place.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry