Gay and Catholic: Bridging a Divide

Holy Family Church. Photo by Nancy Lem

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge? We shouldn’t marginalize people for this.’’
— Pope Francis

I SAT last week and listened to 22 people, most of whom have felt marginalized — either by their family or by their church.
But the members of LGBTQ+ Outreach gather every week in the shelter of Holy Family Catholic Church to join with others they have gotten to know as family. The group invited me to join with them for an evening, and I am using first names only at their request.

The abbreviation LGBTQ+ was adopted by the group and means lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-, queer, with the “+” to refer to other sexual and gender preferences.

“This group embodies what is central to Christianity — fellowship and love,” Gillian said.

“This group has taught me how to be gay and to be Catholic,’’ said Michael, one of the four original members and a co-facilitator of the group.

The same Catholic religion that has scorned them in some cases and places is now offering them a welcoming place at Holy Family. Monsignor Clement Connolly, then pastor, and Cambria Tortorelli, parish life director, provided support at the outset, and they continue to visit and provide encouragement to the group, which is one of the ministries at Holy Family.

“The purpose of the group is to find cohesion between being gay and being Catholic. You can find that at Holy Family,” said Dr. Elizabeth Taylor, a psychologist and parish member who helped start the group in 2009.

Holy Family is not the only Catholic parish supporting an LGBTQ+ group, but Taylor said that most others meet monthly, and they are more socially oriented.

This group has grown to 45 members, with some people driving from all over the Los Angeles area for meetings. Most of the members are in fact from outside the parish, and some are atheist or agnostic. One has left the Catholic church. Participants range in age from 23 to 75.

Taylor originally started the project with separate meetings for LGBTQ+ members and another for parents. But she realized that the two groups could learn from one another, and they were merged within a year.

Even the location of the meetings can and has caused some tension. People interested have to call to find out when and where the meetings are held. There were a few people who, early on, were determined to make participants feel guilty.
Taylor said that even some of those who express interest are sometimes hesitant to come.

“Some people said that they came three times and turned around and came home because they were afraid to come in,’’ she said.

Jackie asked her ex-husband to accompany her and her partner because they were afraid the program might be conversion therapy to try and make them “straight.’’ Now Jackie, her wife and the ex-husband are all members of the group.

Taylor recalled a 95-year-old mother who told her daughter and her partner to provide the address because she too was afraid this was some sort of conversion therapy.

As they began the program, Taylor got frequent calls from parents who were struggling to understand and help their LGBTQ+ children.

One of the mothers was sitting next to her daughter. “When she told me that she wanted to become a female, there were a lot

of things that I didn’t understand,’’ the mother told me. “I felt bad that I didn’t know.

“She was struggling and the group helped me take those little steps for her. We came here and it was a big eye-opener. My daughter agreed to come and now she has bloomed. I’m blessed that this group is around.’’

Taylor explained that she often gives participants articles to discuss.

One participant told me the group doesn’t call them meetings. They call the gatherings “class, because we learn so much.’’

One things we (meaning me, too) need to learn is the effect harassment can have.

The Trevor Project is a non-profit organization that offers suicide prevention for the LGBTQ+ community. Some of the statistics it presents about suicide rates provide ample reason for us to ponder. Taylor said that there have been no suicides among members of the group.

The statistics include that each episode of LGBTQ+ victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.

LGBTQ+ youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGBTQ+ peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Taylor said that group participants — despite all the attempts to victimize them — know about their faith. The group also welcomes and has members who are agnostics or atheists.

“One thing that amazes me is how much the group members love their church and how much they have to deal with from people who don’t love them,’’ Taylor said.

“Their knowledge of their faith is amazing. They can go toe-to-toe with any priest who comes to speak.’’
Monica and her daughter live with her parents, who told her to take her son to conversion therapy when they found out he was gay.

“They think he can change. We can’t even discuss the choice he made,” said Monica, who comes to the sessions with her daughter.

Kyle had a similar situation when he came out to his parents. He described himself as a “cradle Catholic,’’ and his parents wanted him to go to conversion therapy, too.

“This group affirmed my theology,’’ he said. “If my high-school self said Catholics could be like this, I don’t think I could have believed it.’’

The group begins each meeting with hugs and a prayer. It ends with a group reading, and then people linger to talk like the family they have become.

That family was sitting in the front rows of Holy Family when a Pride Mass was said in their honor last June.

And when the Mass was over, group members hosted a reception for the congregation.

Andy Lippman’s “Spiritually Speaking” column runs monthly in the Review.