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We Are Catholic, We Are Inclusive, We Are Church. 40 Years and Still Faith-filled

By Barbara Zeman

Celebrating our 40th anniversary as an Inclusive, Roman Catholic faith community, Dignity/Chicago stepped out in style as we led the religious organizations in the Chicago Pride Parade on June 24th, 2012.

We are proud to be Church. For over 40 years we have prayed together, played together and been family for one other. Delivering the homily at our 40th Anniversary Mass on May 20th , Dignity/USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said, "We became the first large Catholic group ever, not to surrender to hierarchical bullying. When the official Church did not respond in love, we ministered to one other.”

Remarked Chris Pett, Dignity/Chicago President, “During these forty years we have journeyed from being one of the few places where LGBT folks could gather for spiritual and social support, to one of many religious communities where LGBT people fully integrate their spirituality and sexuality. I could not have been more proud to see us and the other religious organizations take such a prominent role in the Parade."

As President of Dignity/Chicago, Chris worked for months behind the scenes with the Lakeview Clergy Association and Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches (CCWC) to organize around a request for Dignity/Chicago and all the affirming congregations in Lakeview and throughout Chicago to march together at the head of the 2012 Pride Parade. In his words, “We wanted to demonstrate our solidarity in the face of anti-LGBT voices, in our Church and others, to give witness to our contributions to achieve a more just, tolerant, and inclusive community as people of faith.”

The Parade meant a lot to our chapter. We are Catholic, we are LGBT, we are proud, and we were marching! Another best day for Dignity/Chicago! In fact, Chris got his wish. We lead the CCWC right behind the governor, the mayor, city council members (including Dignity member James Cappleman) and other politicians. This witness made an impact on the Parade crowd and in the media. It was just what we wanted to have happen.

In 2011, Dignity/Chicago made a clear-cut choice to welcome women priests to preside, and now we are blessed with two: Rev. Barbara Zeman and Rev. Mary Ramsden. Barbara marched in clerical garb and was a hit along the Parade route. “Dignity/Chicago fills my Spirit with hope for the future of our Church,” explained Rev. Barbara Zeman, Chicago’s first Roman Catholic Womanpriest. “We are thoughtful, prayerful, resilient Catholics who practice our faith in the work we do, the company we keep, and the family we hold dear.”

We are there for one other and we open our doors to all who feel marginalized by the Roman Catholic Church in any way. Dignity/Chicago has 40 years of wisdom and experience to share with those who are struggling now. We’ve paved the way and made a path for others to follow, to be free, not just for a fortnight, but always.

“As LGBT people, we know that the family we choose can be as important as the one we are born into,” said Ramon Rodriguez, former DignityUSA board member and Chicago past-President. “As family, we celebrate the sacred and the light-hearted, the big milestones and the small victories, the day-to-day and the ever-after.”

Proud to be Church for 40 years, Dignity/Chicago will continue our year-long celebration with two more special historical events, still in the planning stages. Stay tuned at www.dignity-chicago.org.