By Mike Hogan, Dignity/Chicago
On the weekend of September 11-13, four members of Dignity/Chicago traveled down to Peoria, Illinois for a first-ever Pride event. The group included Ramon Rodriguez, chapter president, board member Andy Masterson, his partner Ed, and me. There were 45 booths set up in an exhibition hall representing businesses, social service agencies, corporations, and there was even a family section with games and entertainment for children. Dignity/Chicago was the only religious group present. We had no idea what to expect. What happened over the next four hours were some of the most powerful experiences that I have had in my thirty years with Dignity. The other members of the team felt the same. It is so easy to forget what life is like in a mid-sized city in Central Illinois for LGBTQI people.
There were a number of young people there and as they came to our table there were tears in their eyes. Dignity's message of inclusivity and God's love for all was a message that they had never heard. One young girl exclaimed, "You mean I am not going to hell!" She hugged her girlfriend and then asked to hug us. It was a transformative moment. They loved wearing the buttons with the rainbow colors around it that said "I Am Equally Blessed." Those buttons and stickers were popular with all that day.
A straight woman who had not been to church in years was excited about our chapter and its commitment to celebrating the gifts of women and the fact that some of our presiders are female. She soon will be moving to Chicago to go to school and said that she looks forward to visiting our chapter and getting involved. Another interesting encounter with a straight ally occurred when a man approached our table and told us that he worked for Caterpillar. This is the number one employer in Peoria. He works on diversity issues for the company. He was so happy to hear some answers for all the religious arguments against LGBTQI people and their rights. He knew that he had no religious background at all when those types of questions arose. He said that now he has some resources at hand through his contact with Dignity. Finally, a middle-aged lesbian couple approached our table wearing Notre Dame sweatshirts with big smiles on their faces. They thanked us for being there and then one picked up the pamphlet entitled "Catholicism Homosexuality and DignityUSA," and declared, "I cannot wait to take this home and show it to my father . . . He has been bugging us for years about Catholic Church teaching and our lifestyle!"
We added some names to our mailing list and Ramon had his tablet, so we added some notes about each person who shared their emails with us. Then I sent an email on behalf of the chapter to each one and thanked them for stopping by and referenced what they talked with us about to make it more personal. We have already heard back from some of them. The whole experience showed us the power of presence and how much our messages of inclusivity and God's love for all resonate with people even in a conservative Midwestern city.