An old stereotype about LGBT people, one especially strong in the Catholic community, is that they are weak, sad, fragile people who need compassion showed to them. A Catholic gay couple in Kentucky have dispelled that myth once again by showing how LGBT people are not only helping their own, but are also building up the Church.
Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon, who were among the plaintiffs in the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case Obergefell vs. Hodges that legalized marriage equality, have established a scholarship for Catholic students or graduates of Catholic high schools who are LGBT. Bourke explained the rationale in a university press release:
“This scholarship is so unique, if not one-of-a-kind because it is both administered by a university foundation and also affirms LGBT Catholics so as to not force them to separate those identities. LGBT Catholic youth need to be supported and nurtured in their faith. Our hope is that this scholarship will, in a small way, encourage LGBT Catholics to remain faithful and work to eliminate all discrimination and inequality in the Catholic Church. I believe that is our call as Christians: to help build up God’s kingdom.”
America magazine’s Michael O’Loughlin interviewed the couple to learn more about their motivation and learned that the couple want to encourage LGBT Catholic youth to stay a part of their church:
“ ‘We think that L.G.B.T.Q. young people today don’t get enough encouragement to stay in the faith,’ said Mr. Bourke, a 1979 graduate of the University of Louisville. ‘They get too easily discouraged when they read about the discrimination that’s taking place.’ “
DeLeon added his perspective on the situation of LGBT Catholic youth:
“So many L.G.B.T.Q. people feel that their faith and their sexuality is an ‘either/or’ situation. We feel that even though the Catholic Church does not make it easy, young people need to be encouraged to keep the faith in which they have grown up and hopefully love.”
“Greg and I often say, ‘If we leave, they win.’ We feel we can change things by practicing the faith we love and by helping others do the same.”
Bourke said that he hopes the scholarship will aid the progress he has seen in the church since he was young:
“When I was younger, being L.G.B.T.Q. was something that was certainly just not ever discussed. There’s more of a discussion now and there are more places for L.G.B.T.Q. people to find acceptance and to find homes in the church.”
Parishioners at the couple’s parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, Louisville, have contributed to the scholarship endowment. If you would like to contribute to the scholarship, contact the University of Louisville’s Senior Director of Development, Denise Bohn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 502-852-8824.
If you would like to apply for the scholarship, click here.
The Bourke-DeLeon family, which includes two adopted teens, have made Catholic LGBTQ news before, and not just for being among the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court marriage equality case. That same year, The National Catholic Reporter named the couple “Persons of the Year” for their role in the landmark court decision. In 2012, Bourke had been dismissed as a Boy Scout troop leader at his Catholic parish after disclosing to national Scout leaders that he is gay. The couple were part of a 2016 Pilgrimage of Mercy organized by LGBT University of Notre Dame alumni. In the same year, the Archdiocese of Louisville Cemetery Office rejected the design for their headstone which included an image of the U.S. Supreme Court.
When Bourke was rejected again as a parish Scout leader when he re-applied for the position after the Boy Scouts lifted the ban on gay leaders, he and his family remained loyal members of their parish. Their willingness to continue in the struggle, to not give up their faith despite bigotry, and their eagerness to help LGBT! youth and their church by establishing the scholarship fund, all show that they are determined to maintain their place at the table. All Catholics should applaud their witness and their generosity.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 28, 2019