Solidarity Sunday, observed every year on the Sunday before October 11 (which is Coming Out Day), is a faith-based anti-violence initiative. Because we understood that, contrary to popular belief, most Catholics are appalled by anti-gay attacks, DignityUSA initiated Solidarity Sunday in 1995 as a way of making our opposition to anti-gay violence visible. It is a very simple program. People are asked to do three things:
Solidarity Sunday caught on big the first year, and has been growing e ver since. In 1997, approximately 100,000 people-most of them non-gay- participated in the program. We hear from lots of people who choose to be part of Solidarity Sunday because they know someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and because they care about what happens to this person. Participants tell us that it can sometimes be hard to answer questions about why they are wearing the ribbon, but that they find it a step that helps them learn a little about being gay in today's society and today's Church.
People from many different denominations and organizations have participated in the program. However, Solidarity Sunday has its roots in the Catholic Church, and that's where we focus much of our outreach to build the program from year to year. More parishes, colleges, religious orders and small faith communities are getting involved each year!
It's very easy to participate. You have to make the cards and ribbons available at your church on the Sundays leading up to Solidarity Sunday. Some communities take additional steps, like focusing that Sunday's homily on a theme related to Solidarity Sunday, or holding an educational forum on anti-gay violence, or issues faced by Catholic gay people. If you would like to do something like that, we'd be happy to help you organize it. The important thing is to get involved!
As an anti-violence initiative, this program is entirely consistent with Church teaching. In fact, some parishes see it as a way to begin implementing the American bishops' recent pastoral letter Always our Children. Imagine how supported a mother who has been silent about her child's homosexuality would feel, sitting in Church the morning of Solidarity Sunday surrounded by fellow parishioners wearing rainbow ribbons. Wouldn't that sense of isolation she's felt be lifted, allowing her to be a more alive member of the parish?
The answer is an emphatic yes. In Maine, after the repeal of civil rights protections for gays and lesbians, there was a highly publicized incident in which a gay man was brutally beaten. Throughout New England, incidences of anti-gay violence climbed 40% in 1997. Clearly, people of faith need to lead the way in saying, "No more!"
Concern for oppressed people is part of the very fabric of our Church. Therefore, Solidarity Sunday can easily fit in with other things going on. One pastor in southern Maine wove the fact that Solidarity Sunday and Pro-Life Sunday occurred on the same day into his homily by remarking that the rainbow ribbons were a good reminder of the sanctity of all life. At a Catholic college in Colorado, Solidarity Sunday was celebrated during Parents' Weekend. The student-planned Mass included prayers for people who are victims of anti- gay and other kinds of violence, and a ribbon was pinned to the altar cloth during the Offertory. With some creativity, you can weave this theme into whatever else is going on that day.