Today’s post is from an anonymous guest blogger who is a campus minister at a U.S. Catholic university.
Last year, I sat as a queer campus minister in a breakout session at a conference for LGBTQ students from Catholic universities, and I marveled at the strength, courage, and grace these students display in their daily lives. One student posed a question along these lines: “Where are all the queer campus ministers? Why aren’t they standing up to administration when queer students are targeted or excluded?”
I shrunk into my chair, fidgeting. My knee began bouncing up and down involuntarily as it always does when I’m anxious. I looked around the room at my colleagues from other schools–some of whom I knew to be allies, others I knew to be “family.” The room sat quietly for a minute, as shame and indignation simultaneously washed over me–and very likely many of my colleagues.
The awkward silence was broken by a brave participant who invited the workshop members to think more justly about the situation. The reality is that queer campus ministers are often themselves targeted, excluded, and marginalized. We often walk on eggshells, carefully calculating with whom we can be honest, what we say in public, and how we interact with students–especially LGBTQ students.
Students at the conference assumed that because they attend schools where justice and inclusion are central to the educational mission, that campus ministers should be free to live their lives openly and courageously. My colleague explained that because of our roles in direct ministry in Catholic institutions, that is not the case. While we wholeheartedly support LGBTQ students’ struggle for full inclusion, safe space, and affirmation of their identity, full-throated support would call attention to us, leaving us exposed and vulnerable to the power brokers at universities: donors, some clergy, bishops, and even external community members who feel it is their duty to police Catholic spaces. And these figures often do not want us in active ministry.
I have replayed that conference interaction–both the student’s disappointment and my colleague’s careful, raw response–as I read about LGBTQ employees losing their jobs at Catholic schools, including a campus minister forced to resign from a Jesuit university. I experience that internal struggle between wanting to stand up and scream my support for my queer colleagues and students, on the one hand, and sinking into my chair, wishing to toe the line and blend in with my straight colleagues, on the other..
That internal grappling has brought to the surface a few things I wish I could tell my students.
To my LGBTQ students who are courageous enough to live openly and honestly about their identities and who participate in Campus Ministry activities, I see you, I support you, and I very truly love you. To those of you who have found your place in the world and on campus, your courage and your hunger for justice inspire me. When I think back to my college days and remember the scared, closeted, angry person I was, I am amazed at the grace with which you all move through life. Every one of you offers a beautiful light to this campus, and even in the darker moments living in the shadows here, I, too, carry that light. You are my hope for a future in which the Church lives up to its mission as the Body of Christ by welcoming, accepting, loving, and offering the fullness of life to every person.
To those LGBTQ students who are skeptical of Campus Ministry, I see you, too. I love you, too. And, truly, I get it. Though our offices proudly display “safe space” decals, talk and symbols are cheap. That decal does not erase the Church’s history of oppression of our community. Please know that no one in Campus Ministry would be anything but affirming and supportive of you. Our primary responsibility as employees of the university is to support you, and we are happy to fulfill that duty. I promise to continue to hold myself and my colleagues accountable to the hurt and exclusion perpetuated in the past, and work ever harder to ensure all are welcome in our physical and spiritual space.
To those who are not ready to come out (like I was in college), or who can only come out to the safest of people, know that there are allies all around our Catholic campus. Queer faculty and staff inhabit many academic and administrative departments, and they are ready to be mentors and role models. And there are allies, too. In my own journey, finding a straight professor and a straight campus minister who were allies were a huge part of my coming out process. Even though queer campus ministers aren’t able to advertise our mentorship, we are here to support you the best we can.
To the LGBTQ students who, like the student at the conference, are disappointed by my silence, I hear you, too. Please know how much it truly pains me to have to keep myself quiet and go back into the closet to stay employed. But also know that as part of living my vocation, I am trying to shift the paradigm and to challenge the system in subtle ways. And please know that my fear about being out at work is not imagined or delusional. Even as closeted as I am at work, I have been called homophobic slurs by students, coworkers, and supervisors. I have been targeted and even threatened by supervisors and administrators because of my sexuality. At the same time, I have been excluded from queer spaces and shamed by LGBTQ coworkers for not being out. Living as a queer Catholic Campus Minister, but not being fully accepted in either space, is not easy.
Finally, to the students who out of fear, ignorance, upbringing, or outside pressure do not believe I belong in ministry or that your LGBTQ peers do not belong in the Church: Please know that my life is not a difference of opinion or theological ambiguity. I belong here. We belong here. I invite you to listen to LGBTQ Catholics to hear how they feel, what they’ve experienced, how they have felt the same unconditional love of God in their lives that you have felt, and how hurtful homophobic rhetoric in the Church can feel. Know that the lives of LGBTQ people everywhere, including those in the Church, are not a thought experiment for you to theorize about or debate. Christ’s commandment to love one another as you love yourself is neither a theory nor open to interpretation. Love your LGBTQ brothers and sisters as you love yourself. If you need to learn how to love yourself first, we in Campus Ministry are here to love and support you through that journey. And yes, just as I have learned to love myself, I love you, too.
In ministry, I have had the gift of getting to know countless young Catholics (and people of many beliefs) who take their faith seriously. These young people have displayed sincere understanding of our Catholic fundamentals: to love unconditionally as Jesus loved, to show preference to the poor and marginalized as God does, and to courageously follow their consciences in pursuit of this mission as our ancestors have done. Most of the students I have met recognize that discrimination LGBTQ Catholics face is unjust, and they do not stand for it. Their allyship, combined with the fearlessness of LGBTQ Catholics who refuse to be excluded from their spiritual home, will mean a different future for the Church–one in which all are welcome. Until that time, I will continue to share the same message to all students I have shared throughout my career: God loves you and so do I.
—Anonymous, April 27, 2020