A news story about a cake shop got me thinking this past weekend about intersectionality, the Catholic Church, and Christian love. On July 19, April Anderson, a Black lesbian woman and co-owner of Good Cakes and Bakes in Detroit, received an online order for a cake. The order contained the following request: “I am ordering this cake to celebrate and have PRIDE in true Christian marriage. I’d like you to write on the cake, in icing, ‘Homosexual acts are gravely evil. (Catholic Catechism 2357’).”
April, who owns the bakery with her wife, Michelle, was unsure at first what to do with the order. She eventually decided to make the cake but without the message on it, in accordance with the bakery’s policy excluding online orders for specially-decorated cakes. The man did not pick up his cake, and he told local media that the bakery’s refusal to fulfill his special request meant he was being discriminated against because of his religious beliefs.
April and Michelle were not terribly bothered by the situation. “We are so used to being Black lesbian women,” April said. “You are used to people discriminating against you and saying mean things to you.” As Black lesbian women, April and Michelle face racism, misogyny, and anti-LGBTQIA+ oppression in society. This recognition of the ways in which systems of oppression overlap in the lives of real people is part of a type of social analysis called intersectionality, a term coined in 1989 by Black scholar and lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw.
Despite the challenge of living in a society that systemically oppresses Black lesbian women, April and Michelle have worked hard to help transform society with goodness and love. They have supported many good works through Good Cakes and Bakes. Through their business, they have raised money for at-risk girls in Detroit and for families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. They use locally-grown and organic ingredients whenever possible. They intentionally hire and train formerly incarcerated people, and they look for employees who will be “passionate about the power of hospitality.” They are clearly trying to use their business to help make Detroit and the world a better place. It is no surprise that the community was so supportive of them after this episode, even setting up a GoFundMe page to support the bakery.
The man who ordered the cake works for Church Militant, a right-wing media group that has been disavowed by the Archdiocese of Detroit where it is based. Media reports have made it clear that this group does not authentically represent the Catholic Church, and I suspect most Catholics would agree that this man’s actions violated the Catechism’s insistence that people like April and Michelle “be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358). I do not know what faith community April and Michelle belong to, but it is safe to say the treatment they received was not authentically just, loving, or Catholic.
That being said, such an assertion should not be an excuse for Catholics to simply dismiss this man and move on. Using intersectional analysis, we can ask: if Black lesbian women like April and Michelle were to consider joining the Catholic Church today, what might they encounter? Perhaps they would read The History of Black Catholics by Fr. Cyprian Davis, OSB, or Fr. Bryan Massingale’s Racial Justice and the Catholic Church and learn about the triumphs of Black Catholics as well as the painful racism they have faced (and continue to face) in their own church. Perhaps they would learn about affirming LGBTQIA+ Catholic groups and LGBTQIA+ friendly parishes and Catholic colleges and universities. They might also learn about the Archdiocese of Detroit banning LGBTQIA+ Catholic groups from the archdiocese. They might come upon the work of the esteemed and brilliant Black theologian M. Shawn Copeland, and yet hear that one of her guest lectures was cancelled at a Catholic university in the same archdiocese due to some of her affirming statements about LGBTQIA+ people. And of course, they would encounter a church that proclaims the dignity of all people and the beauty of love, yet also one that institutionally forbids them from sacramental ordination due to their gender, and that refuses to fully recognize the goodness of the love they might experience with anyone other than cisgender men.
I hope they would also hear some of the most important stories of all: stories of queer Black Catholic women who have come before them, such as the great entertainer, member of the French Resistance, and civil rights activist Josephine Baker (1906-1975). The lives of queer Black Catholic women—lives of faithfulness to Christ and resistance to oppression—are lives that did matter and still do matter. I wish I knew more of their stories—those from the past as well as from the present.
Today, though, I am blessed by the story of April and Michelle. Despite the many challenges they face in our world, they have chosen Christian love in a multitude of ways. The two women decided to write a letter to the man to go along with his cake, offering him their love and denouncing judgmentalism and hate. “We will stay our minds on the message Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13,” they wrote, referring to the Apostle’s great meditation on love as patient, kind, and selfless (1 Cor 13:4-5).
I am grateful to God for these women and for their presence in this world. They embody a kind of love and service that I want to emulate as an ordained minister in the church. And, if I happen to make it to Detroit any time soon, I know where I’ll be going for dessert.
—Chris Kellerman, SJ, August 19, 2020