Today is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion when LGBT customers of the Stonewall Inn gay bar in New York City resisted arrest during a raid and began four days of very public demonstrations for equality in the streets of Greenwich Village. While there had been a number of heroic demonstrations by brave LGBT advocates before this event, Stonewall was a catalyst moment, kicking off a new era of Pride and a new willingness to be public about calling for an end to hate and discrimination, and to promote civil rights and equal treatment in law and society.
The tremors that continued from the earthquake that was Stonewall reverberated through the Catholic Church as well. In the U.S., and in many nations, Catholics were just beginning to put into practice the teachings of the Second Vatican Council which had ended just a few years earlier. Among those teachings was the call to engage with the contemporary issues of the day, to promote human rights, and to work to protect justice and human dignity for all. The Catholic LGBT organization, Dignity, began in California in 1969, the result of a priest, Fr. Pat Nidorf, gathering lesbian and gay Catholics together for conversation. Two years later, Sister Jeannine Gramick began meeting with lesbian and gay Catholics in Philadelphia and started providing ministerial experiences for them. Father Robert Nugent would soon join her in the work, and a few years later, the two would found New Ways Ministry as an educational and advocacy ministry in the church to help build bridges of dialogue, reconciliation, and justice. In 1976, Jesuit Father John McNeill published The Church and the Homosexual, the first comprehensive critique of the Catholic Church’s disapproval of the sexual partnerships of lesbian and gay people. Throughout the U.S. and around the globe, dozens of Catholics began other initiatives to do outreach to the LGBT community, a group too often forgotten or despised by Catholics.
Fifty years later, the work for justice that blossomed from those early initiatives continues. There have been many setbacks and successes along the way, but Catholic LGBTQ people and allies continue their work, as much for LGBTQ people as for the good of the entire Church. In working for LGBTQ equality, Catholics help a community marginalized by discrimination, but they also help the Church live up to its best ideals of justice, respect, equality, human dignity, as well as compassion, mercy, and love.
Next week, DignityUSA will be celebrating their 50th jubilee at a conference in Chicago. In the same city, immediately preceding the Dignity event, the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC), a world-wide coalition, will be holding its Third Assembly, bringing together Catholic LGBTQ leaders from a diversity of countries to support one another in the common work for justice. GNRC and Dignity will be hosting a joint event between the two meetings: a forum on the international state of Catholic LGBTQ issues, featuring theologians Miguel Diaz, Mary Hunt, and Fr. Bryan Massingale.
In other areas, the Catholic LGBTQ movement continues to grow. New Ways Ministry continues the initial vision and dream of Sister Jeannine and Father Bob by providing information, perspectives, and spiritual resources through this blog, Bondings 2.0, as well as through in-person educational workshops, retreats, and online resources for Catholic ministers and LGBTQ people. New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBTQ-Friendly Parishes and Faith Communities, as well its its list of LGBTQ-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities continue to grow each month, a testimony to the fact that the seeds planted in the wake of Stonewall continue to grow.
The spread of all these ministries and initiative over the past five decades is a result of both the spirit of Stonewall and the Spirit of God. While Stonewall showed the world the injustices and indignities that LGBT had been enduring, it was the Spirit of God moving in the church that inspired individuals and groups to speak out in love and to call our Church welcome, affirm, and work for justice for LGBT people.
Catholics, and all people of faith, can mark the Stonewall anniversary as a holy day because the resistance of a small band of LGBT people on June 28th, 1969, inspired a generation of Catholics to begin speaking out and working to respect and protect the people they had come to recognize, through the power of the Spirit, as their sisters, brothers, siblings. The Spirit has not, and will not, be stopped, as long a Catholics continue to respond to Her call to work for justice in any way, small or large.
Beginning today and throughout this weekend, there will be many joyously raucous celebrations of Stonewall’s jubilee, and it is good for our individual spirits to share that happiness and liberation with others in the streets of our cities and towns. As Catholics, we need to bring our own traditions to this momentous milestone. In the midst of all the events, take a few moments to be quiet and pray in thanksgiving for all who have gone before us and paved the way for where we are now. Pray that we may have the courage to follow in their footsteps and act boldly in our present world situation. Pray that the future will continue to unfold with greater liberation and freedom for LGBTQ people.
Pray quietly, yes. But also take these prayers to church this weekend. Wear a rainbow ribbon. Add a spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving for LGBTQ equality at the prayers of the faithful (or call your parish now and make sure that one is formally included). Tell others why you are so filled with the Spirit this weekend. Tell them you are celebrating the continuing action of our gracious God who loves all, and that we, as a Church, still need to continue to reflect that love to others.
It’s great to celebrate. But there’s still much work to be done. Let the Stonewall jubilee be a time when we recommit ourselves to making our church a place where all are truly welcome!
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 28, 2019