My father always told me that the main reason he wanted my siblings and I to grow up in the Catholic faith was because he wanted us to have a solid value system. In his eyes, if we understood the fundamental difference between right and wrong and knew that for every action there is a reaction, then as long as we were upright, honest people, good things would come our way.
Growing up as an overachiever and classic “good kid,” all of these things made complete sense to me. I had no problem with going to Catholic school and attending church every Sunday, other than maybe waking up early. As far as I was concerned, the church was a place where love and peace were valued above all else, and our relationship with God only secured that.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for all 14 years of my experience in Catholic school. When I hit middle school, the narratives that I was being taught in my religion classes began to resonate differently. In eighth grade, we were taught about sexuality, which the Catholic faith sees as a gift given to us by God and to be reserved for marriage between a man and a woman in order to reproduce and bring more children of God into the world.
“But what about gay people?” a classmate asked in earnest, even though most of us, who had been in Catholic school for the majority of our lives, already knew the answer.
My teacher pursed her lips, undoubtedly expecting this question and knowing there was a script that she had to abide to. When she finally opened her mouth to speak, she explained that homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of God.
My heart seemed to break on impact after hearing these words come from one of my favorite teachers, especially since I wasn’t even sure she truly believed them. While I wouldn’t come out to myself for another year as a bisexual woman, many of the people that I loved identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community. I couldn’t understand then and still grapple with the question now: If God is love, how could a relationship between two consenting people ever be evil?
This past week, I learned that the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, feels similarly. In a 2019 interview with Mexican broadcaster Televisa, the Argentinian-born pontiff spoke out against the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church. In the new documentary “Francesco,” the 83-year-old went on record saying he believes that gay people are “children of God and have a right to a family.”
“Homosexuals have a right to be part of the family,” Francis said. “Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it.”
This was a powerful statement for the Papa to make — not only as the head of the Catholic church, but as an Argentinian man. Many queer Latinx folks, including myself, grew up in fear of the very culture in which we inhabited. Latinx culture, many times by virtue of influence from the Catholic church, emboldens toxic homophobic and transphobic ideologies that can result in violence against our own family members. Children and teenagers are kicked out of their homes, family members are exiled, and parents blame themselves for not raising their children “the right way.” Many of us grow up believing that to exist outside a gender or sexual binary is a disease associated with whiteness, something that does not exist within our blood.
Due to these commonly held preconceptions in the Church and in my culture, I felt like my queerness was unnatural and had to be suppressed. Instead, I tried to be the perfect child with good grades who was well-behaved and high achieving in order to overcompensate for who I truly was. While there was an instance in my life when I tried to “pray the gay away,” I knew that wasn’t the solution. It wasn’t until I went to college, far away from my parents and church, that I finally felt free enough to come out and let my family into who I was without shame or guilt.
Throughout my upbringing and coming-out experience, I had many difficult conversations with my parents about the micro- and macro-aggressions that they committed against queer and trans folks. Many of these prejudices included them viewing gender and sexual identities as “a choice.” While I didn’t blame them for the misinformation that they held about sexuality and gender identity, I held them to a higher standard of learning and understanding. If we are truly called to love others as God loves us, then that requires us to give people the same grace that we are given. I’m grateful to say they have been receptive to all of these conversations and have grown immensely in their understanding and acceptance in the past 20 years.
Many of us grow up believing that to exist outside a gender or sexual binary is a disease associated with whiteness, something that does not exist within our blood.
While I still identify as a proud queer woman, I have been in a straight-passing relationship for the past two and a half years. I also don’t identify as religious anymore, and I haven’t for quite some time. After graduating high school, I made the decision that the Catholic church wasn’t somewhere I felt welcome due to its homophobic teachings, history of colonizing and murdering native people, rampant corruption, and more. Instead, I have a strong moral compass and my own deeply rooted ideas of the differences between right and wrong, just as my father always wanted me to have. This isn’t to say that I don’t believe in a higher power. I still pray pretty regularly, radiating positive energy out to my loved ones, colleagues, and strangers. I even still call the entity I pray to God. But religion, for right now, just doesn’t serve me the same way that it used to.
While it’s not for me, I still understand that it’s an important intersecting identity for many Latinx folks. According to a Pew Research Center Study, 83% of Latinx people claim a religious affiliation, with 62% of them identifying as Catholic. I was proud to see that this same study showed that nearly 60% believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society. And here’s the thing: We need that 60% to be more vocal in their communities and truly serve as allies for us in the church.
Many archbishops from cities around the world have already spoken out against Pope Francis, saying that what he said is an “opinion” and not in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church. But the church is so much more than people like Pope Francis, the archbishops, or anyone else who has authority in the religion. Church is also about the people you see every week that you serve and pray in community with. These are the people we need to be in conversation with in order to create environments where pro-LGBTQ+ parishes can thrive. This can be done by engaging your priest and clergy about the importance of taking an openly anti-homophobic and anti-transphobic stance in homilies and in ministry groups. It’s about doing service projects with pro-LGBTQ+ causes. The church needs to be reminded that doing relief work with LGBTQ+ people isn’t just a community service effort; it’s a penance for the evil atrocities that the church has perpetuated against these people who are also children of God.
I’m proud to say that St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, the very church I grew up in, now has a Gay Straight Catholic Alliance. It formed in 2012, the year after I graduated from high school and stopped attending church regularly. While it’s no longer a space that I regularly visit, I am proud to say that whenever I pass by the building and see the church’s rainbow-hued logo gleaming back at me, I’m met with a familiar and peaceful sentiment in my heart: faith.