Some LGBTQ Catholics consider church teaching on sexuality and gender issues oppressive. Those employed by church institutions may fear losing their jobs if they identify as LGBTQ publicly. Others become alienated from the church because of negative messages heard in their parishes. As people come out or transition, some leave the Church behind in attempts to liberate themselves from an institution that is often hostile towards the LGBTQ community.
Yet, many also feel the Church has always been their home and struggle to stay. The Church gives these Catholics something can’t find other places. They have found ways to be authentic both in their faith identity and in their LGBTQ identity.
Several Catholics have recently described how they navigate the complexities of these two identities, as well as with other identities, cultures, and life experiences that are part of their lives. The following are summaries of their stories .
A drag comedian in New York who also heads up the LGBT ministry at St. Francis de Sales parish, Manhattan, Jay Malsky doesn’t see an issue with performing while living out his Catholic faith. Instead, he finds performing to be a spiritual experience. He stated in an interview with them magazine:
“I don’t think I would be able to do it if I didn’t believe that it was what God wanted me to do. In every performance as a comedian, especially if it’s a big one, I say a little prayer to myself: ‘Give me the strength to get through this; let me say the words I need to say to connect to [the audience].’ Comedy, specifically, and drag are about connecting to people. That’s what we’re put on this earth to do, and I really find God in those moments.”
Malsky came out at age 15 while attending Catholic school, and he was told by his school chaplain that “God made him gay and loved him regardless.” Such immediate acceptance gave Malsky confidence in both his sexuality and spirituality. In another them article, Malsky encourages those in similar situations to “find a community that will value your authenticity and celebrate it, much like he did… [Malsky] notes, ‘Jesus asked us to live outside the margins, and that’s what we should be doing now.’”
Sydney Magruder is professional ballerina who blogs about mental health and ballet on her site The Black Swan Diaries, She is also deeply Catholic and is married to a woman.
Magruder recently joined a prayer group in New York City called “Blessed Is She” with the hopes of befriending other women who shared her Catholic faith. Becoming a member of the Facebook group, she was quickly met with friendly reminders that the group “upholds Church teaching on many subjects, including sex and sacramental marriage.” In a blog post, Magruder describes some further subtle exclusions she experienced with the group:
“I was participatory, prayerful, positive, and kind. I was regularly the only person of color in attendance – and when I was not, I was one of only two. I was certainly the only gay person in attendance. As such I sometimes provided insight into what it’s like to live as a Black person and as a lesbian in a world that is often unkind to me, and in a Church that doesn’t fully understand or accept me. Sharing in this manner often yielded tight lipped smiles and sympathetic nods, but nothing more.”
As a person of color and a gay woman, Magruder felt she didn’t fit the intended mold of the group:
“For them – these majority straight, White, middle class women – Church teaching is a pair of blinders they put on, enabling them to see their perfect narrow path of following Jesus ahead. But blinders blacken peripheral vision, leaving you vulnerable to oncoming traffic, a woman who’s just fainted behind you, the homeless person at your left elbow.”
Magruder was named one of Essence magazine’s “Woke 100 Women” in 2018 for the awareness she provides surrounding professional dance, mental health issues, the queer community, and Catholicism.
Raised Catholic and Salvadoran, Mauricio Najarro has engaged in “extensive graduate work in theology, philosophy, medical anthropology, and Christian spirituality,” as noted in an interview with them. Coming out at age 16, his faith has remained solid, but the way he practices Catholicism has changed.
Najarro is a recovering addict. He runs faith–based 12-step programs and engages in prison ministry with LGBTQ people at San Quentin State Prison in California. He calls these activities “part of his vocation.” Despite his deep faith in action, Najarro hardly steps foot in a church anymore. He explained:
“Nothing is keeping me from Catholicism. But what’s keeping me from inside of a parish is the fact that I don’t find spiritual nourishment from them. And I’m not going to keep going if it’s not there. I tend to be very careful with my ecclesiology since members of the Church hierarchy are flawed like everyone else. I have my devotions at home, and I genuinely feel like I’m just as Catholic as the little old lady on Sunday morning. Maybe a really good liturgy (which is extremely hard) would bring me back, but I have other things to do on Sunday.”
Coming from a Salvadoran background and raised in California, Najarro says that the values of Americanized Catholicism helped him to come out; such openness was rarer in El Salvador. Catholicism has defined Najarro’s life, especially how it relates to sin and LGBTQ identity. Najarro has found his spirituality through these relationships – particularly now, as he’s in an “open committed polyamorous relationship” – meaning him and his partner aren’t exclusively monogamous, as Catholic tradition might dictate. He explained his spiritual development:
“Being good, being perfect, being without sin (or as close as possible to that) — that was what I thought the Catholic Church told me to do. But later on, I started to have a different relationship to it; it became less about governance and edicts and more about developing an inner spirituality and educating my intuition to live in the world as a strong individual. There’s a part of me that always felt it was better to tell the truth and go to hell than lie and go to heaven.”
To these three Catholics, being in the LGBTQ community only enhances their lived experience of faith and spirituality. By striving to be their truest selves, they are living the gifts that God gave them – which is what God asks of all of us.
May the day come when LGBTQ Catholics feel accepted as they are in all Catholic churches.
—Lindsay Hueston, New Ways Ministry, May 28, 2018