By Henry Huot, Dignity/Washington Board Member
On Saturday, November 21, and again on Sunday, December 13, Dignity/Washington hosted two more presenters in its 2015-2016 Guest Speaker Series: Eve Tushnet and Leah Libresco.
Eve Tushnet spoke on her conversion journey and on her book, Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith. She recalled that shortly after she became Catholic while an undergrad student at Yale University, she wished that she had known how to give and receive love as a gay person. She came to realize that a fruitful life was possible through friendship and service as found in Catholic tradition. Today she finds common ground with Dignity/Washington in fighting the stigmatization of gay people and offering guidance in finding and giving love, especially to “kin.” For Eve the concept of kinship is broader than just monogamous couples or romantic partners. She cautioned against viewing gay marriage with bourgeois respectability and allowing it to eclipse one’s call to a broader kinship in giving love to, andreceiving love from, all.
Regardless of her puzzling choice of chastity at a time when most LGBT Catholic activists are advocating for Vatican recognition of same-sex marriages, attendees found that Eve Tushnet speaks for her individual choice and her spiritual journey, and does not intend to represent the views of any group.
Leah Libresco spoke on handling difficult conversations productively. Often labeled “a geeky convert picking fights in good faith,” she is a writer and school systems analyst based in Washington, D.C. A former atheist blogger and writer for the Huffington Post, she stunned her readers in the summer 2012 when she announced that she was converting to Catholicism. Raised in a Jewish household on Long Island, she graduated from Yale University in 2011 with a B.A. in Political Science. She now writes about her conversion and her newfound Catholic faith in the Unequally Yoked blog at the Patheos Catholic portal. A frequent commentator on Catholic issues, she has appeared on CNN and other national media outlets to discuss her conversion from rationalist atheism to Catholicism. Her writing has also appeared in First Things magazine and the American Conservative. Her first book, Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers that Even I Can Offer, was published by Ave Maria Press in May 2015. Leah Libresco’s talk showcased a brilliant mind, sharing her seasoned debate techniques honed in academically sound searches for philosophical and theological truths. Nonetheless, it left some attendees with a sense of disconnect between her polished and evident Yale Philosophy Club debating skills, and their possible applicability in high stakes dialogues with unresponsive, obedience-enforcing authoritarian institutions like the Vatican.
With the publicity preceding Eve Tushnet’s talk some D/Washington members objected to her appearance. Her public embrace of the Vatican doctrine on chastity outside of heterosexual marriage, and her association with political figures hostile to same-sex marriage equality, made her invitation a controversial one. Discussions on the nature of the Guest Speaker Series and its desired aperture led Dignity/Washington to clarify that the Guest Speaker Series would clearly not invite LGBT-hostile speakers. However, it would continue to invite LGBT -friendly speakers holding contrasting viewpoints. An agreement was reached that guest speakers will be invited to inform or enlighten, and/or to start amicable dialogues and discussions on controversial issues. Online and print clarifying disclaimer statements are posted that now explicitly state that an invitation to D/Washington’s Guest Speaker Series does not indicate D/ Washington's endorsement of any position or doctrine held by the guest speaker.