DignityUSA is the world’s oldest Catholic organization for LGBTQIA+ ministry and advocacy. Founded by Augustinian priest Father Patrick Nidorf in 1969, Dignity became a lay-led group when a bishop ordered Fr. Pat to stop his ministry just two years later. Spreading quickly around the US and Canada through the 1970s and 1980s, Dignity also helped LGBTQIA+ people and allies in numerous countries start similar groups.

Since the publication of a Vatican document in 1986 that banned Dignity from meeting in Catholic spaces, chapters of DignityUSA have held their worship services, socials, and community service programs in other churches and community centers. The group has continued to support LGBTQIA+ Catholics and families to reconcile their faith and identities and has worked in both the church and on public policy to advance equality and justice for our community.

DignityUSA has also continued to help nurture Catholic LGBTQIA+ communities around the world, and in 2015 helped found the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.

A History of DignityUSA: Advocating for LGBTQIA+ Catholics and Allies

DignityUSA has been a cornerstone of the LGBTQIA+ Catholic community/justice movement for over five decades, championing equality, acceptance, and dignity within the Catholic Church. Established in 1969, against a backdrop of social and cultural change, DignityUSA emerged as a beacon of hope for LGBTQIA+ individuals seeking affirmation and spiritual belonging within their faith tradition.

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Founding Years

“The Catholic gay people whom I had met were frequently bothered by ethical problems and identity with the Church. It seemed obvious that the Church wasn't meeting the needs of the gay community. In counseling gay Catholics, there always seemed to be an excessive and unreal problem of guilt that was sometimes reinforced in the confessional instead of being resolved. With these ideas rattling around in my brain, I wrote a paper on a proposed group for Catholic gays and presented it to our members at a Provincial meeting. Most of the priests seemed to favor the idea of forming such a group and I did."

– Patrick X. Nidorf, O.S.A.

The roots of DignityUSA trace back to the tumultuous late 1960s, a period marked by the Civil Rights Movement, anti-war protests, and the emergence of LGBTQIA+ activism. In response to the lack of acceptance and support for LGBTQIA+ Catholics—and with the assistance of Augustinian priest Patrick X. Nidorf—a group of courageous individuals in San Diego and Los Angeles founded Dignity, the precursor to DignityUSA. Quickly spreading around the country and attracting inquiries from other countries, this grassroots movement aimed to provide a safe space for LGBTQIA+ Catholics, supportive family members and friends to worship, commune, and engage in dialogue about their experiences within the Church. In 1973, Dignity held its first national convention in Los Angeles. In 1979, DignityUSA achieved official incorporation, securing its nonprofit legal status and enhancing its organizational structure.

Growth and Challenges

During the 1980s and 1990s, DignityUSA experienced both significant growth and formidable challenges. As LGBTQIA+ rights gained momentum worldwide, DignityUSA expanded its reach, establishing chapters across the United States and fostering a sense of community among LGBTQIA+ Catholics. However, this period also saw intensified opposition from within the Catholic hierarchy, as conservative elements sought to suppress LGBTQIA+ advocacy within the Church. In 1986, the Vatican issued the controversial "Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" in response to Dignity's advocacy, which resulted in many DignityUSA chapters being expelled from their home parishes.

The organization also experienced tremendous suffering, illness, and death as the HIV/AIDS epidemic took the lives of many members and leaders, and as Dignity Chapters and members became frontline workers and advocates, providing care and advocacy for those impacted and their families. Despite these obstacles, DignityUSA remained steadfast in its mission, advocating for inclusivity, justice, and equality within Catholicism.

Advocacy and Resilience

In the 21st century, DignityUSA continued to evolve as a leading voice for LGBTQIA+ Catholics, navigating complex social, political, and theological landscapes. The organization intensified its advocacy efforts, calling for recognition of LGBTQIA+ rights within the Church, including the affirmation of same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQIA+ individuals. In 2019, DignityUSA celebrated its 50th anniversary with the theme " True to Ourselves, True to the Spirit," honoring its rich history, and its integrity in the ongoing mission to promote equality and justice within the Catholic community.

Speaking Up and Speaking Out

As marriage equality became a flashpoint across the United States, DignityUSA and many Chapters took on pivotal roles in expressing Catholic support. We helped found the Equally Blessed coalition which brought together pro-equality Catholic groups to help amplify the voice of Catholics who saw LGBTQIA+ equality as a justice issue. DignityUSA passed a motion calling for marriage equality both civilly and sacramentally and was part of the U.S. Supreme Court case that ultimately decided that same-sex couples had a right to legal marriage everywhere in the country.  

Marriage equality triggered numerous firings of gay and transgender employees at Catholic schools, parishes, and social service agencies, and protests in dozens of these incidents where Catholics turned out in large numbers to support the terminated individuals. LGBTQIA+ issues also became more visible in the church after Pope Francis replied “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests in the early days of his papacy. When President Obama invited Pope Francis to the White House, DignityUSA representatives attended the event. DignityUSA also helped to found the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics in 2015, and hosted the third international assembly in 2019.  

The concerns of transgender people also became more visible in both the ecclesial and civil arenas during this period. Church officials began attacking “gender ideology,” and numerous state and federal bills sought to limit civil rights of transgender people. DignityUSA submitted testimony against many of these laws, published stories of transgender Catholics and family members, and protested bans against supporting social and medical transitions imposed by bishops around the country. Eventually, we launched Beloved by God – A Catholic Commitment to Trans-Affirmation. 

DignityUSA marked its 50th anniversary in 2019 with a celebratory conference in Chicago, Illinois. In a years-long process called “Forward from Fifty” the entire organization engaged in a review of its history and goal-setting for the future. Priorities included committing to the development of visionary leaders who could carry the mission of DignityUSA into the future, ensuring the organization's financial stability, embracing global leadership, and making the organization more accessible to a broader audience.  

When the global church began a Synod in 2021, DignityUSA committed to ensuring that the voices of LGBTQIA+ Catholics and Allies were heard. We have submitted reports based on the input of our members in both consultative phases of the process, offered our experience of being a synodal Catholic organization, pushed for openly LGBTQIA+ representation among Synod delegates, and had a visible presence in Rome during the Synod Assembly. During the first Assembly, DignityUSA’s Executive Director met with Pope Francis in an historic encounter.

The Importance of DignityUSA’s Mission

Throughout its history, DignityUSA has achieved numerous milestones in the pursuit of LGBTQIA+ equality and acceptance within Catholicism. These include the establishment of support networks for LGBTQIA+ Catholics and their families, the promotion of LGBTQIA+-inclusive liturgy and theology, and participation in broader social justice movements. DignityUSA's unwavering dedication to its principles has helped shape the conversation around LGBTQIA+ issues within the Catholic Church and beyond.

Looking Towards the Future:

DignityUSA’s mission remains as vital as ever. In an era marked by increasing divisiveness over LGBTQIA+ rights and recognition in both the Catholic church and society, DignityUSA continues to advocate for full inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQIA+ individuals within Catholicism. Through education, outreach, and grassroots organizing, DignityUSA strives to create a more welcoming and affirming church where all members, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, can fully participate and contribute to the faith community.

For over five decades, DignityUSA has been a trailblazer in the movement for LGBTQIA+ equality and acceptance within the Catholic Church. From its humble beginnings as a local support group to its current status as a national advocacy organization with global impact, DignityUSA has remained steadfast in its commitment to promoting dignity, justice, and loving community for all LGBTQIA+ Catholics and allies. As the journey continues, DignityUSA stands as a beacon of hope and resilience, inspiring individuals and communities to strive for a more inclusive and compassionate Church for generations to come.