Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Catholics create a welcoming and enduring community
Founded in December, 1972 at a gay bar in Randolph, MA, Dignity/Boston, a community of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) Catholics and allies, marked 40 years as a faith community committed to justice in the church and society with an anniversary liturgy on Sunday, December 2 in Boston.
“Gay and Catholic” or “lesbian and Catholic” were rarely spoken out loud in 1972 because the combination of those two identities produced puzzlement, laughter, discomfort or an outright rejection that a person could be gay or lesbian and Catholic because of official church teaching on homosexuality and society’s lack of acceptance. Now, “gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Catholic” in the Boston area means a person has probably crossed the threshold of a Dignity/Boston liturgy or event, cheered the group at Pride or written a check in support during the past 40 years.
Since its founding, Dignity/Boston has offered a weekly liturgy, social activities and volunteer and advocacy opportunities to anyone who wished to affiliate with the group, which currently meets in an Episcopal church on Beacon Hill, the Church of St. John the Evangelist.
“Our doors are open to everyone – those who wish to bring their entire selves to worship in the Catholic tradition, those who are grappling with faith and sexuality, and family members and allies of GLBT persons who reject the homophobia of the institutional church,” explains Peggy Burns, chapter president.
Dignity/Boston meets 52 Sundays each year for liturgy and additional services for Holy Week in the Catholic tradition. Liturgies are planned by a lay-led Liturgy Committee and are led by a combination of ordained Catholic priests and lay leaders of worship, featuring inclusive language and a weekly gathering around the altar for the Eucharistic Rite. Dignity/Boston welcomes persons of all faith traditions.
In her 1999 book entitled “Catholic Identity – Balancing Reason, Faith and Power” University of New Hampshire sociology professor Michele Dillon described it this way, “….for gay and lesbian Catholics in Dignity/Boston, the salience of their Catholic heritage cannot be split from other aspects of their personal biographies. For them, Catholicism is important precisely because it integrates them with a larger communal tradition, one whose collective historical memory is inscribed in their personal memories.”
Independent of the Institutional Church
Dignity/Boston has endured for four decades as an all-volunteer non-profit faith community without recognition from its denomination, occasionally withstanding condemnation from area Catholic Church leaders.
“We are guests wherever we worship or gather – we don’t own anything that wouldn’t fit into a few boxes. Sometimes it seems that all we have is our faith and the truth of our lives, but that is what has sustained us all these years,” commented Lourdes Rodriguez-Nogues, a member of Dignity/Boston since 1977 and now serving as president of DignityUSA. “We have created a community of faith – we celebrate the joys of the lives of our members – weddings and baptisms-- we gather to mourn at the funerals of our members, and we pray and work together every week. In this way, I believe we have something to share with the greater church – that living the truth of our lives connects us more deeply to our faith and one another.”
The Dignity/Boston community advocates for justice from a faith perspective, with many years of active involvement in addressing the AIDS crisis, working for marriage equality, calling the Catholic Church to humility and reform in light of revelations of sexual abuse of children by priests, and working for respect and protection of transgender persons in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Living Catholic Social Justice Teaching
The members of Dignity/Boston seek to live Catholic social justice teaching through commitment to a number of projects serving the greater community, chief among them, Dignity/Boston’s co-founding and joint operation of the Friday Night Supper Program, founded in 1984. The Friday Night Supper Program serves a hot meal to guests every week at the Arlington Street Church in Boston, and has not missed a Friday meal in 28 years. Dignity/Boston members have served as board members, stalwart volunteers, fundraisers and advocates for the program and its guests.
Dignity/Boston also devotes its energy to Harbor to the Bay, an annual fundraising bicycle ride from Boston to Provincetown, supporting AIDS advocacy, research and care organizations, with a cycling and volunteer team. Each month for decades Dignity/Boston has “passed the basket” in a second collection to support efforts reflective of the community’s values. Recipients of these funds range from a theater program for GLBT youth, the Lazarus project which provides burial for indigent persons and the restoration of the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill. Through these collections, Dignity/Boston has donated over $250,000 to community organizations since its founding.
Dignity/Boston is a progressive and inclusive Catholic community for people of sexual orientations, genders and gender identities, especially gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics, our families, friends and allies. It is one of the largest and oldest chapters of DignityUSA, the national movement of GLBT Catholics. We meet every Sunday at 5:30 p.m. for a liturgy and social at St. John the Evangelist (Episcopal) Church at 35 Bowdoin Street, Beacon Hill, Boston. For more information, please visit www.dignityboston.org