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Today the leaders of several lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) student groups based on Catholic college campuses sent a joint letter to the Catholic world announcing the founding of CASE, the Catholic Association of Students for Equality. CASE is a national network for all of our groups to share resources and to trade experiences. CASE’s central goal, however, is to raise awareness of the positive impact that recognition and empowerment of the LGBT community has had on our campuses. Our experiences reveal a pro-LGBT rights position grounded in Catholic values. In other words, we hope to “out” a uniquely Catholic argument for LGBT inclusion.
We chose Oct. 11 as the launch day because it is the 25th annual “National Coming Out Day.” It is a day when we, in the LGBT community, both celebrate public identification with queer identities and encourage those in “the closet” to “come out” and join us. Coming out stories are as diverse as the community to which we belong. That said, there is one thing that all stories share in common, the profound pain that one experiences while in the closet. It is a condition where you deny who you are; it is a state of constant fear and doubt; it is a place where you are alone and in turmoil.
I was lucky to have had enough love and support to come out years ago. However, despite being out and proud, nationally I feel that as a gay Catholic my views are “in the closet” because they are absent from the Catholic conversation. My Irish and Italian (and predictably, very Catholic) parents not only accepted my sexual orientation, but came to love the role it has played in my life. I attend Georgetown University, a place where I have helped organize “Drag Balls” and later conversed about these spectacles with the priest who lived on my floor. In these environments, I rarely felt like my Catholic and gay identities were necessarily at odds. If anything, I felt that they complemented one another.
As a practicing Catholic, someone who delivers a rehearsed response to “What’s that black stuff on your forehead?” every Lenten season, I was raised surrounded by Catholic social teaching. I value the life and dignity of every human person, and I believe their dignity comes from “the persons they are” (Centesimus annus., #11). I know that we are called to stand in solidarity with those who are suffering (Corinthians 12:12-26). And finally, I believe that we have a duty to love, and that it is the “fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” (Catechism 2392).
These building blocks of Catholic social teaching are integral parts of how I have engaged my LGBT identity. Identifying as gay first required me to reflect on who I truly was. It helps me stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed, as I have faced threats in the street, and taunts from schoolmates. And one day, I will be able to love someone because I have acknowledged who it is I can really fall in love with.
On campus, GU Pride (Georgetown’s LGBT student group) has provided forums for others to explore their identities in the same way I have, whether they be Muslim, Buddhist or atheist. But the effects of recognition go even further. Five years ago, some LGBT students were beaten, and others verbally assaulted, all on the campus they had learned to call home. However, GU Pride (which had been a recognized student group since 1988 as the result of a Supreme Court decision, Gay Rights Coalition v. Georgetown University), along with other student groups, protested the status of campus culture, and as a result the university opened an LGBTQ resource center. Since then, anti-LGBT violence has declined drastically, which is emblematic of how campus culture has been transformed.
Today, Georgetown along with the other colleges that recognize their LGBT groups, including Loyola University Maryland, DePaul University and Loyola Marymount are in a privileged position. We live on campuses that acknowledge the value in exploring the intersection of LGBT and Catholic identities. We have a duty to “out” all the good that we have done in order to change the national conversation. We need to change the minds of those in the church who would argue that LGBT groups have no place on Catholic campuses and to encourage those in schools affected by this position to “come out” and to start forming their own LGBT network on campus. We can help promote the respect you deserve, we will stand in solidarity with you, and want to help people understand our love. That is why we formed CASE.
Thomas A. Lloyd, CASE founder, is a Georgetown University student, class of 2015.