Updated: Oct 1, 2021
In an unprecedented move by the Rainbow Catholics India group, a virtual awareness programme was held successfully on Sep 4, 2021 with close to 40 people in attendance. “Not a Phase... Love, Me” was a formidable step forward in the movement for LGBTQ+ persons in the Catholic faith with an amalgam of personal stories, professional insights and clerical support.
The two and a half hour-long session began with an introduction by RCI coordinator, Virginia Saldanha, who laid the premise of the discussion as a safe space for all and the importance of respecting the other's opinion. Four members of RCI went on to share their stories and experiences which truly struck a chord with everyone present. After all, these people were baring their souls in front of strangers with most choosing to reveal their identity and speak with their video on.
Each of the four presented a unique experience and brought varied perspectives to the fore. Lyle Michael began with his experience of being gay in the Catholic church, both in Mumbai and in the US, while emphasizing the need for a strong support system in the Church and in family and friends. Rachael Alphonso, one of the organizers of the event, shared her journey from a homophobe to a strong ally of the LGBTQ+ community today which helped other allies in the audience to relate on a personal level. Next up, Ava Mary Pie touched many hearts with her story of finding peace in her newly adopted Catholic faith after going through a hard ordeal laced with anxiety, depression and rejection while coping with a disability. Andy Stephen Silveira brought up the rear with a tear-jerking narrative of the loss of a loved one to suicide as a result of a conflict between sexuality and faith. He followed this with his own journey in the seminary to finally fighting the system as a gay person on the outside.
The common thread through these experiences was to be true to yourself and be accepting of one another as we are. It is about time the church steps up to the podium!
There was an outpouring of gratitude and praise from those present followed by a presentation on gender and sexuality by Dr Diane Veloso, PhD. Associate Professor and Coordinator of Behavioural Sciences at De Salle University, Philippines. The talk was very enlightening, informative and precise enough to elucidate the roles of gender and sexuality in a short span of time. The points were presented within a societal framework and the importance of understanding the difference between sexuality and sexual behaviour. So effective was the presentation that a Catholic priest by the name of Suren Abreu personally requested a copy before sharing his views on homosexuality in the faith and how he stands as an ally for such individuals. Scripture does have to adapt with its people, he mentioned, and shared how he is constantly creating awareness among the congregation through his sermons and his pastoral work. He even paints his nails for his homilies, he said! It gets the people talking and discourse is half the battle won!
The session was very well-received with a few people from abroad logging in, along with professors, social service workers, professionals in the field of gender studies and human rights, seminarians as well as parents of LGBTQ+ persons from across India. The floor was open to questions which were primarily fielded by Diane and Suren, as well as Virginia. It surely helped solidify the impact that dialogue and discussion can have when conducted in a respectful and safe environment such as this, created by the RCI.
FYI: Rainbow Catholics India is a group of like-minded activists that was formed in Oct 2018 under the leadership of Virginia Saldanha - theologian and women's rights activist – while keeping the vision for 'unconditional, visible inclusion of our LGBTQ+ Catholic faithful in the Catholic Church' intact. Unconditional, and nothing less, for as Pope Francis rightly declared: "Who are we to judge?"
MA Arts Journalism
Ab0ut the Author: 'Never trust a skinny food writer', they say, but Lyle Michael belies that axiom as an accomplished food, wine and travel writer. The MA Arts Journalism grad from Syracuse University, NY, is currently a Features Editor, who pursues his passion for arts and culture, reading and dancing, with a weakness for cherished time with family, friends and furry ones. And a chilled G&T!