DignityUSA Celebrates World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly
Earlier this year, Pope Francis announced a new annual celebration for Catholic around the world. The fourth Sunday of July, July 25th this year, will mark the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, falling near the feast of Jesus' grandparents, Saint Joachim and Saint Anne. While Scripture doesn't describe the relationship between these two and their grandchild, it is likely that Jesus knew them well. In the culture of Jesus' time, extended family visits, where living apsace and daily life were shared, were common.
From LGBTQI grandparents involved with DignityUSA, we hear a diversity of stories. Their life experiences are varied, textured, and worthy of recognition. As Catholics across the world turn their attention to the Grandparents and Elders in their families, homes, and communities, we want to take time to honor our LGBTQI elders as well.
We asked the LGBTQI grandparents and elders of DignityUSA to share their experiences at the intersection of their identity, faith, and place in their family. Additionally, we asked our younger members to share what role elder have played in their life, how their presence has shaped who they are, and the gifts their grandparents and elder have given them.
These stories and others were featured in an article on National Catholic Reporter by Kathleen Kane and Honour Maddock, "On World Day for Grandparents, let's remember LGBTQ grandparents, too."
Pride month 2021 makes us reflect on our incredible journey from when we dared to fall in love forty years ago to where we are today and how our family has evolved.
We met and fell in love in the 1980s. At the time, I, Kathy, was a mother of three children. Honour was a single woman with no children. Our worlds were so incredibly different, and we knew merging them would not be easy, but we could not deny what we felt.
Introducing our love to my kids and gaining acceptance was no easy feat. Like many families in similar situations, ours has faced several challenges and it’s amazing to think of how far we’ve come. The evolution of our family amazes us when we reflect on our experiences with our five wonderful grandchildren, who range in age from 8 months old to 33 years!
In 1987, my daughter was part of a cult-like church that believed lesbians were evil and should therefore be treated like outcasts. This is when our first granddaughter came into the world. We were eager to be a part of her life and help my daughter, a single mom, but we were kept away emotionally and physically. My daughter moved from NY to California and our exposure to our beautiful granddaughter was quite limited. We sent birthday gifts that were returned and she was kept in a protective bubble far from us.
Six years later, in 1993, our second granddaughter came into the world and the protective bubble was still in effect, but we did visit. We were allowed to have limited interaction with our young granddaughters, but they were never left alone with us. We were viewed as sinners who were not to be trusted and we were never comfortable or welcome in our beautiful granddaughters’ world.
Eventually, when the girls were about 2 and 8, my daughter ended up meeting a caring gay couple. The couple and my daughter became friends, and over time, the couple’s kindness and helpfulness gradually helped my daughter rethink who we were and her treatment of us. This important connection sparked the gradual changes that led to us becoming more involved in our granddaughters’ lives.
My daughter began to regret her exclusion of us from her and her daughters’ lives, and today she is accepting and appreciative of us. Her daughters grew to love us too, and at age 17, our eldest granddaughter moved in with us to attend college in NY. She currently lives near us, is happy to be a part of our lives, and is an advocate for our love.
The shift in our family’s acceptance also grew stronger as our grandsons came into a more evolved and loving world. In 2001, my son had his first son and our experience was a stark contrast to our experience with our granddaughters. My son insisted that he would not have his son baptized Catholic because he did not want to be a part of any church that refused to accept us.
We were always welcomed into and involved in our grandson’s daily life. In 2008, when everyone was talking about Ellen DeGeneres and Portia getting married, our seven-year-old grandson’s response was, “People should be able to marry whoever they want, enough already!” When New York state passed same sex marriage and our wedding picture appeared in the newspaper, our grandson’s baseball team saw the photo and had a surprise celebration for us after a game with cake and champagne to toast our union.
Five years later, in 2013, my son’s second son was born. We retired the same year which meant we had more time to bond with him and be an integral part of his life. This grandson knows nothing about the oppression we’ve endured or the intolerance we’ve faced and it’s truly wonderful. He has a neighborhood friend who recently proclaimed, “She has two grandmas that are married too!” It’s amazing to see the two of them express joy and pride for what once was a hidden secret, a source of shame for our family.
That feeling of amazement continues with our new eight-month-old grandson. His parents are my youngest daughter and son in law who live in Austin, but we connect daily through FaceTime. Our biggest challenges with this grandson are missing him and figuring out what names he will call us, not his acceptance of us. This is a drastic change from our concerns when our first grandchild was born!
It didn’t happen overnight, but today we are the matriarchs of our family, and we are very involved in the lives of each of our children and grandchildren. We went from being a secret hidden in the background to being a source of pride and joy, in our families and in this new improved world. This remarkable change didn’t come easy, but our faith helped us remain strong through all the challenges we faced.
Despite all the conservative Catholic hierarchy rhetoric we encountered over the years, our strong faith made us intuitively know that our love was not wrong. We firmly believed only God could have brought us together. Then we found Dignity and Father John McNeil and our beliefs were confirmed. More justice is still needed in many areas of the LGBTQ community, but we never thought we would live in a world where when dancing together to a love song at a straight friend’s wedding, a young man would come over and comment, “You look so good together! God bless you!” I smiled and answered, "Thanks, we still love dancing together after 40 glorious years.” -Kathleen Kane and Honour Maddock
Growing up Catholic in Glenside, PA, meant there were siblings to the left of me, cousins to the right of me, relatives wherever I looked. There was never a shortage of playmates right in my own family. I recall especially vividly posing with my paternal grandparents in the hall of Holy Child church on Philadelphia’s Broad Street at the celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary: Two from one generation, ten from the next, and 25 from mine. And everyone named for a saint.
That was then, long before I realized I am gay. Now I am at the other end of the grandparent/grandchild spectrum. My son Sean and daughter Rachel, as well, of course, as their spouses, Hilli and Mickey, have given me four beautiful granddaughters, ages three to ten. Their names, Eva, Anya, Brielle and Lyla, are lovely, but not a saint’s name among them. These four, instead, are named for angels; no, archangels.
I have never felt that being gay and Catholic constituted a conflict. As I have aged, thankfully, my new community includes not only the dozens of cousins, siblings, nieces, nephews, in-laws and friends from my days at St. Luke, Glenside, but a broad cross section of gay Catholics introduced to me through my involvement in Dignity.
I am at an age now that carries with it a greater awareness of the end of life that sometimes seems to be roaring down the track toward me like a runaway train. My older brother is the only one of my six siblings who has died, but five cousins are gone and three cousins-in-law. Sadly, no one in the generation before me is still alive.
I am thankful that my life as a single gay man is enriched as it is, not only by connections with friends and relatives but by the practice of my faith. The Dignity Washington chapter has gone back to in-person liturgy, so the feeling of isolation that would descend on us in spite of best Zoom efforts has dissipated.
My disconnect with my grandchildren and children remains to be remedied, however. They all live in New York and Connecticut. I regret that I have not managed to get together with them since the pandemic lockdowns began nearly a year and a half ago. I look forward with pleasure to the trip up there one day soon. -Mark Clark
My two most cherished titles are “mom” and “grandma”.
Ever since childhood, the one thing that I have known in my heart is that I wanted to be a mom. In the ‘70s, especially if you were a Catholic, you had to find a perspective spouse and get married. I did and within three years my daughter Becky was born. I loved being her mom. After her birth and before getting pregnant with my boy-girl twins, I really struggled with my sexuality. It was harder and harder to grit my teeth and tough it out. Jenny and Josh were born and I was now mother to three under the age of 3½. As you can imagine, it took all I had to do for them. Becky was almost five and Jen and Josh were 16 months old when I came out. I could no longer bear the burden of trying to be who I wasn’t.
Because of the teachings of the church, I lost the majority of my family and some friends for 14 years. In addition to losing my family, I was no longer welcome in the church I had grown up in and where I sought comfort for most of my life. Fortunately, in 1984 I found Dignity/Boston. I have a special memory of Christmas Eve that year. I took the kids with me to mass and they were included in the homily. I was so proud to be a mom and recognized as such by a Catholic priest. This liturgy was the beginning of the healing of my soul… I was beginning to realize that I was not a sinner in the eyes of God. Thank God for Dignity/Boston which set me on the path of restoring my faith. I have never left a Dignity liturgy feeling unfed.
As you can tell by the title, I am very fortunate to also be a grandma. I have two wonderful grandsons, Max (8) and Ben (almost 5). It’s true what people say about being a grandparent. I get to enjoy Max and Ben in ways that weren’t possible when I was a parent 40+ years ago. I can draw on the wisdom of those years which includes having made peace with my sexuality and the church’s view of it. Dignity/Boston helped me to reconnect with Christ’s teachings and to see them as they should be seen…through the filter of love, not judgement. With all that I have learned over time, being Max and Ben’s grandma brings great unfiltered joy and I am very grateful to have them in my life. - (Robin Eriksen, Dignity/Boston)
Frances and I have been grandparents for 25 years. We have eight grandchildren. I had once grandchild before we got together, but from age 3 Frances was involved in Lonnie’s life. She is his Godmother and taught him many life skills as well as helped him build his race car for the derby when he was in Cub Scouts.
Out first grandchild, Tony, now 23 was born at Ft. Bliss, TX. As soon as their Dad called that Merilyn was in labor. We jumped into our car and made it to see her be only a few hours old.
The Twins are now 22. Our daughter in law, Holly, asked I be in the delivery room and Frances sat with her parents while they were being born. When they were teenagers and we married, we sat with them to explain our name change and asked their input. Sydney said, “Its always been you and Frances. This doesn’t change anything.” Josh said, “I just want you to be happy.” During this months Pride they all wished us Happy Pride, sent emojis and Josh wrote: “Y a’ll mean the world to Tori (His girlfriend), me and our family. Y’all are truly examples of how faith and perseverance can conquer anything. Thank you both for being so strong and taking the leap for generations to come. “
And then their was born two more boys and one girl. Our son “adopted” a son and the story goes on.
Thru the years, especially during the last ten when we moved back to San Antonio, we have been Blessed to be involved in their lives. We had a second car with 55,000 miles on it all from attending soccer games, track and field, basketball and attending their First communions, Confirmations. -Sharon Guild-Stitt
My name is Joseph Gentilini and I am a 73 old gay Catholic man who has been in a relationship with another man for 40 years (Leo Radel). In my nuclear family, I was the peacemaker, even though for many years, my mother rejected me for being gay. Leo is 71 years old, was married and had three children; we are now grandparents to six grandchildren. Our grandchildren love their Pappaw and Pa Joe, having grown up with us in their lives. We are helping them to see that being gay is God-given and they rejoice in our lives. They also are not Catholic because they only see that the Church does not fully accept us, their grandparents. I am still a practicing Catholic and value my spirituality. My hope is that the Church will finally accept our lives as gifts of God to the Church and our relationship honored. Obviously, I worry about the time when we might need to go to a nursing home. Unfortunately, the only Catholic nursing home here would not allow us to be together as a couple. This is sad and unfortunate. The Church could change this if it wanted. -Joseph Gentilini
When I came out to my Grandparents as a transgender woman the first words they said was "Maddie this is great news!" Later in the conversation, my Grandfather who taught me math in highschool and a large reason I went on to study mathematics in college, said "The math side of me has always wanted an equal number of granddaughters and grandsons and now I know I have four and four, that makes me happy." Since coming out, my relationship with my grandparents has only gotten stronger. They continue to advocate on my behalf to my less accepting family members especially to the ones that are not willing to talk to me. My grandparents have been the greatest model of how you can be a Catholic Ally going as far as helping guide their local Pastor on how to be an Ally. I am so thankful and blessed to have these Grandparents, my hope is that if I get married they can walk me down the aisle because their relationship overflows with love, touching all that are lucky enough to be around them. -Maddie Marlett.