In an open letter from Switzerland, Catholic theologian Susanne Birke shared her experience as a “woman-loving female” for Lesbian Visibility Day, which took place on April 26th. Birke published her letter on the website of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.
In 2013, Birke came out publicly in the Diocese of Basel, where she serves as a theologian. Her peers and colleagues at the grassroots level were supportive, even though the institutional church continues to be oppressive. She wrote:
“So yes, in a way it feels crazy, working for a Church, who not only discriminates against me because of my genitals, but also because of whom I love. But I love my church too much to leave it in the hands of those who would rather see people like me gone. I met many wonderful human beings all around the world, doing great work in many ways. This means more to me than the discrimination I experience. And last, but not least: no matter, what will happen, I will remain part of the «resurrection movement» that started 2000 years ago.”
Birke wrote that she often endured and witnessed this sexism and homophobia in the church at a structural level. She noticed that Catholic men “felt they had a right to tell [her] what to do.” Eventually she learned that working to gain acceptance “as a woman by a male-dominated upper level is not easy.” In the LGBT community, lesbian issues are often not recognized and are usually underfunded, she said.
Birke has been part of the Diocese of Basel’s Rainbow Ministry. Throughout her years of LGBT work, she has noticed a shift towards inclusion. She commented that,
“The [church] reform movement in Switzerland is extraordinarily strong and there are strong women’s organisations and networks too. The Swiss Catholic Women’s League is the biggest Roman Catholic organisation here and supports marriage equality.”
Birke’s personal testimony reminds us that lesbian women are still treated with systemic prejudice and inequality, especially within the church at large. Despite the injustice, she expressed strong words of hope we can all take to heart: “Do not let anybody stop you from combining something in the core of your being, because others think it is impossible. You might be here to open new doors!”
—Emily Win, May 7, 2020