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Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

Library exhibit on LGBTQ+ Catholics illuminates an overlooked narrative

In an effort to demonstrate diversity and inclusivity within the Catholic Church, the Boston College Libraries are holding an exhibit in several locations titled “Here All Along, Here to Stay; LGBTQ Catholics in the United States” for the BC community. 

The exhibit was curated by James Redding, a graduate student in Theological Studies, class of 2022. An openly gay man, Redding first approached the Theology and Ministry Library (TML) with the proposal to create an exhibit highlighting the experiences of LGBTQ+ people who also identify as Catholic. In an interview with Redding, he explained how he felt inspired after viewing TML’s current exhibit at the time, blackatbostoncollege, which attempted to illuminate the experiences of Black students on campus. Shortly after, TML agreed to the project, and began planning and developing the installation. The physical installation was then also adopted by O’Neill Library, the Educational Resources Center (ERC), and the Social Work Library (SWL). Additionally, an online version of the exhibit allows for the continuous and constant expansion of Redding’s ideas beyond the physical limitations of the installations. 

One of the most compelling features of this exhibit is its “Story Wall.” This presents responses from students and alumni of the School of Theology and Ministry about how their sexual orientation, gender identity, or queerness exist in the space of the Catholic Church, and what that means to them. Each response felt vulnerable, raw, and honest. They frequently described their experiences of identifying as LGBTQ+ Catholic people as confusing and isolating. Generally, the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t want ties with the Catholic community and vice versa; thus an identity that fits in between these conflicting spaces can make for an alienating existence. The experiences detailed on the “Story Wall” explore that intersection in a poignant way for its audience.  

Among many other anonymous responses on the “Story Wall,” there is one that powerfully discusses the feeling of betrayal from the Catholic Church. It reads, “While perhaps you (who are reading this) and I can make it known in the way that we live, act, and speak that we are a church that welcomes and celebrates queerness, at what point does my involvement in a larger organization betray that trust, boundaries and safety of those of us that the homophobic and transphobic teachings of the Church impact daily? I sit with this question a lot, lately.” 

Another standout section of the exhibit is “Important Figures: Past and Present” in the queer, Catholic community. A section on “Parishes and Organizations: LGBTQ Ministry within the Church and Theories of Ministry” was provided as well as a timeline of queer Catholics in the United States. Another section titled “An Ignatian Foundation for LGBTQ Ministry” presents how Jesuit values align with the acceptance and support of the LGBTQ+ Catholic community, but it is worded in a way that excludes the greater queer community. It states, “Core Jesuit values… constitute a solid foundation for outreach and ministry to LGBTQ Catholics.” One would hope that the Jesuit efforts of justice extend to the greater queer community beyond Catholicism, but this specific wording in the exhibit makes that unclear. 

It seems as though the goal of the exhibit is for people of the Catholic faith to further understand how being queer within that religious identity manifests. Though the intended audience extends to the greater BC Community, Redding explained how the intended audience is “Catholics of all kinds.” Thus the queer narrative presented for Catholics to see will allow the audience to confront any explicit or subtle homophobia or transphobia they have been exposed to within the Catholic experience. Hopefully, that understanding can be used to upend any further expansion of that homophobia or transphobia. 

The exhibit offers both Catholic and queer audiences a reminder of the varying, and often disturbing or traumatizing, degrees of homophobia emitted from the Catholic Church. Still, it is nonetheless comforting and inspiring to hear about the experiences of dualistic LGBTQ+ Catholics and their journeys to come to terms with their identity, identities that are historically and continually in conflict with each other, and are rarely (if ever) aligned. Given BC’s infamous yet unsurprising lack of queer representation on its campus, it is refreshing to see any form of representation, especially one that addresses the queer community’s authentic struggles with identity, rather than one that simply celebrates their existence in a superficial way. With this authenticity presented, it is likely that many LGBTQ+ students who do practice within the Catholic Church will resonate with the experiences included within this exhibit. But how will BC learn from this exhibit and make the university actively support its queer students, not just its Catholic ones, in all spaces?