"Call us to hear the voices that challenge, deep in the hearts of all people! By serving your world as lovers and dreamers, we become voices that challenge, for we are the voice of God!"
With that ending refrain from the song, "Voices That Challenge," those gathered for Mass at the DignityUSA regional meeting in Dayton, Ohio, July 31 - August 1, 2004, understood their mandate and the mission of our national organization.
The regional membership meetings are designed to allow the staff and board members of DignityUSA to report on the progress of the organization, what they are doing on our behalf, and to hear from the membership. As with other such meetings, the people gathered in Ohio got the chance to connect deeply with others who have shared their struggles to remain in the church and receive support in their witness to others about why it's important to stay in the church and become Voices that challenge church leaders and their dangerous doctrines of exclusivity.
Throughout the lively membership meeting discussions, one point came up again and again. As an organization, we are attempting to change the true core of the church – its members, rather than change the minds of bishops, cardinals and a pope. Through this grass roots approach, we will create a critical mass of understanding, compassion, and transformation in the hearts of Catholics and our friends. We do this through DignityUSA's impassioned, timely responses to the media when The Vatican and church hierarchy speak against us. For example, we developed an ad campaign focused on showing the world that "love makes a family." The staff and board of DignityUSA speak widely on our behalf to bring understanding and reason to the national debate on issues facing Catholic gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) persons.
Other organizations attempt to achieve this same goal, but with a different approach. DignityUSA supports their efforts, while remaining focused on the tactics that work for our organization. Other organizations seek change in the Church on issues important also to DignityUSA and its members, such as women's ordination. We support their efforts yet remain focused specifically on providing a unique Voice on issues affecting GLBT Catholics. We need all these organizations since there is much to be changed in our church. We need DignityUSA to remain as the singular Voice for GLBT Catholics.
Our new membership system helps us achieve this. Now that DignityUSA no longer has a minimum dues requirement, anyone can join DignityUSA if they believe in our work and want to support us. You can join by giving nothing but your name and address, or you can give $5, $100, $500 or whatever is the right gift for you. What is important, is to join. Invite ANYONE who loves and/or is friendly towards you to join as well. Invite anyone - G, L, B, T, Q, Catholic, or none of these - who believes there needs to be a truth-telling, counterbalancing Voice to the Vatican, church hierarchy and bishops of the United States .
We must tell our stories to our GLBT and straight Catholic and non-Catholic friends, family members, co-workers, and any strangers we might meet. We have to tell them of our struggles in this church, how DignityUSA gave us hope when we were hopeless, and how DignityUSA continues to fight on our behalf. Invite people to join! Make a list of 10 people you could invite to join Dignity. Say something like, "Would you join Dignity as a way to show your support for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics hurt by their church?" Membership applications may be found at the DignityUSA website to join or donate online.
The Ohio conference closed with brunch on Sunday and a speech by the Rev. Phil Hart, Executive Director of Sanctorum in Columbus Ohio - a group addressing the spiritual needs of the GLBT community and their families, and the first Methodist minister defrocked for coming out. As he related his experiences of growing up as a little boy perfectly in tune with God until he began to understand the worldly hatred of homosexuals, every person in the room related to the struggles of all people of faith to overcome the pain and damage a metaphor of abomination can create. He told of his pain in accepting his orientation as an adult and the unimaginable joy of coming out of the closet and replacing the metaphor of abomination with one of divine purpose of being created exactly the way we were meant to be. Our call is to be prophets to all we meet, by telling our own stories, in our own words. By becoming Voices that challenge, we bring transformation to God's people and God's church.