Last May I was privileged to co-facilitate a retreat “I Am Who I Am by God’s Grace” with Father Jim Schnexnayder, Executive Director of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (calgm.org).
Growing up in the 1940s and 50s, like many of my Roman Catholic contemporaries, naiveté was the operative word about gay and lesbian relationships. Total ignorance is a better descriptor.
When I married in the late 1970s I guessed one of my brother-in-laws was gay. Secrecy prevailed in the family. He had “come out” at our wedding reception after we left to honeymoon. No one mentioned this fact to my husband and me.
In the 1980s I learned Milton Bennett’s model of Multi-Cultural Sensitivity. It was applied to different ethnic cultures and to the “isms”—sexism, racism, ageism, etc. A new word for me was “heterosexism.” It enabled me to confront directly my attitudes, beliefs and values around the Gay Lesbian Bi-Sexual and Transgender (GLBT) community.
Two workshops I offered using the model in the 1990s added to my own sensitivity. At one, a theologian anthropologist was dumbfounded I was using culture to explore my own beliefs about homosexuality. I knew it was the right decision, however, when one of the founding members of the group “came out” to us. She declared it was finally safe enough to reveal her long relationship with a heroine of the organization.
Another opportunity came when I offered a workshop explicitly on homophobia to my colleagues in the organizational development field. My gay brother-in-law teamed with me. Again, there was an amazing change at the end.
Two African-American women, diversity specialists, spoke of their transformation. “Why have we believed the statements about homosexuality in the Book of Leviticus when we don’t believe the negative things the Bible says about being black?” I was reminded of their words when I read a column by Bill Maxwell with St. Petersburg Times called, “Homophobia: It’s a Black Thing.” It is not just a “black” thing; it’s a Roman Catholic thing and a Christian thing as well!
I will again co-facilitate with Father Jim a retreat for the Gay and Lesbian community, What Does It Mean to Be Gay or Lesbian and Christian? at the Franciscan Center from Friday, July 22 – Sunday, July 24. The night before pastors, pastoral workers, families and friends of the GLBT community are invited. Father Jim will present his new book: Setting the Table: Preparing Catholic Parishes to Welcome Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, And Transgender People and Their Families.
I am challenged once again to face the remnants of my own beliefs about homosexuality. I hope the results are as transformative for me and others as my previous experiences have been!