Dignity Members Lead Workshop on Courageous Conversations

By Tierra Ortiz-Rodriguez, Dignity/Houston President 

So many themes emerged from the Creating Change conference hosted in Houston this year, and powerful words like “intersectional justice,” “vulnerability,” and “preferred pronouns” became the common tongue for over 4,000 attendees. The theme of our Dignity-sponsored workshop was about having “compassionate, courageous, and respectful conversations” with others, especially those among our fellow Catholics who are ambivalent about marriage equality for a variety of reasons. Joining me were Patrick Gordon, a young adult from Dignity/Twin Cities, and Jim Smith, Dignity/Twin Cities and Associate Director of DignityUSA.

Just as the LGBT community has empowered itself by reclaiming terms like “queer,” our workshop members worked to reclaim and even re-imagine Catholic notions like procreation, fidelity, complementarity, and natural law—principles often used to speak against same-sex relationships by many of our faith leaders, family, and friends. As attendees introduced themselves at the beginning of the workshop, it became clear how intimate and challenging these conversations can go: a gay son wishing to talk with a father who is discerning a vocation as a deacon, a member of the Asian American Pacific Islander community wishing to initiate a conversation with traditional family members, a Dignity chapter wishing to engage its conservative bishop in dialogue, an ally wishing to speak out for equality, and many people with painful experiences of rejection desiring to equip themselves with tools to be more assertive advocates.

Collectively we identified the reasons that motivate our willingness to take these interpersonal risks, and we acknowledged the vulnerability we open ourselves up to by sharing our stories and humanity, regardless of the outcome. Some of the building blocks we came up with for inviting these kinds of conversations included trying to understand where the other person is coming from, illustrating our ideas with real stories, using deep breathing to facilitate listening and managing stress, remembering our common humanity, using “I” statements, detaching from the outcome, not taking it personally, using humor and positive emotions, and practicing self-care.
Using these foundational principles, Patrick and I role-played a conversation between an ally sister speaking with her father on behalf of her brother who is gay. The father expressed love for his son but voiced a common concern: not wanting to go against church teaching on marriage as defined between man and woman. Tierra affirmed her father’s love for his son, and using common language shared with her father that the church hierarchy supports the view that we are all created with inherent dignity, deserving to be treated with equal respect. Tierra worked to reclaim the understanding of “the Church” as the People of God, reminding that it is important to listen to the bishops but also to the theologians and laity. Finally Tierra shared her optimism that church leaders are shifting their pastoral approach to LGBT Catholics, especially with Pope Francis’ recent message of “Who am I to judge?” When it became clear that the father was not ready to hear these words and recon- sider his position, Tierra took a deep breath and invited her father to speak to a Catholic couple from their parish church who recently experienced the coming out of their son. End scene.

It was inspiring to be among a room full of “risk takers, justice makers” gathering for the express purpose of learning how to “be the change” and start and continue the conversation about social justice for LGBT Catholics with faith leaders, family, and friends. We learned that each of us, in the spirit of compassion, courage, and respect, can create the fertile ground in which the seeds of equality can take root.