I write this at the beginning of June.
It is a month that for me, as a gay Catholic, has been a source of great hope, but also disappointment and bewilderment. The sweet month dedicated by the Church to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and recognized by many as the month of LGBTQ pride: Pride Month.
But why does this month in particular pull me in polar directions? From hope to disappointment? It took God himself to draw me to himself, for me to get to this place of awareness.
“The first thing that's taken away from us as LGBTQ people, from everybody, is our spirituality, is God: 'God hates fags.’—No, He doesn't. Stop it. I can't do it and I won't do it anymore.”
These words from Billy Porter, star of the TV show “Pose”, speak volumes to the struggle that is God’s relentless pursuit of me in spite of what seemed like the whole world attempting to snatch away my faith.
I was raised in a loving Baptist Christian family, rooted in the Black Christian tradition and community. I cannot remember a time where the sounds of praise and adoration of Jesus did not fill my home, my church, and my entire cultural vocabulary. It was so simple to me: Jesus loves me and I love Jesus. I should be like him and follow his commandments.
But what if somehow along the line, I’d been taught having a wife was one of those commandments? What if I’d been taught that it is a sin to simply be gay, that it required deep prayer to be “delivered” from? That every glance, every emotion, every passion in regard to individuals of the same sex was suspect and/or a sign of the enemy’s influence, or of a lack of faith?
My heart was filled with the love of Jesus and a profound spirituality, but I’d been set up for the soon-to-be-realized failure of a belief that salvation required my sexual orientation to be changed. This translates into a wider belief among some Christians that there are no “saved” people who are still gay, and that if someone genuinely believed in Jesus and was still gay, they needed to spend the rest of their days praying to be changed—because God would want nothing less than a church free of gays.
Yet somehow, God pulled me all the way through that world, and it was not painless. And what an excruciating pain it was, day in and day out, to be so in love with Jesus, knowing no other name under heaven so deeply, only to be convinced that I must be a terrible person. Terrible on an especially personal level.
Not because of me being a redeemed terrible sinner like everyone else in need of grace, but because of the “sin” of having an orientation almost universally seen in my own community as shameful, a choice, an abomination, and unmentionable. What more of a tragic thing would it be, and a shame on my whole family or the “fault” of my parents, to have a gay son? Why did this happen to me and what could I do about it?
In desperation, my own spirituality sought to explain everything away into manageable quick fixes. What could I, a high schooler at the time, come up with?
“Oh, it’s gotta be that the human body itself is just totally depraved and it’s my body and the material world that was defective, not my spirit.”—a sort of anti-material Gnosticism in hatred of my own body (which, for the record, is actually sacred and made in the image and likeness of God just as much as the spirit).
Or more hilarious explanations, in retrospect, like: “Ah, it was ‘the White man’ who taught me to be gay; we didn’t have gay folks in Africa!”
That was the road I set myself down, and it led to more pain. I was determined to become more harsh in my own religion to somehow atone for being gay, or just flat-out deny having any orientation like this so as to not “claim it” upon myself. But the desperate prayers, sleepless nights, utter terror of the world to come, and bitter loneliness caught up to me. I had nowhere else to escape, my life truly was on the brink of the grave, and I wished every day would quickly become the next.
God, however, stepped into the depths right at this moment, and brought me to my knees to open the Bible in my room and read these words:
“He placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.’”
I owe this passage my very life.
Jesus himself, in this passage, set the tone for the rest of my life and filled me with a faith that no one could take away from me. I was given a faith that let me see with my own eyes how God loved me so much deeper than I could fathom. I couldn’t be without the Lord, and I laid my life in his hands.
I devoured Sacred Scripture, was inspired by the Fathers, Mothers, and Prophets, the Gospels and the faith of the Apostles, which eventually culminated in my entrance into the Catholic Church. Nothing but Grace.
This was a story of love. A love so precious that it did not stop at the mere intellectual acceptance of an idea or of history. It is a love that centered on the complete gift of one man to me, and to all his beloved—who in fact are the whole world whom he loved so dearly.
“Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony and his Passion, and gave himself up for each one of us: ‘The Son of God... loved me and gave himself for me.’ He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, ’is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that. . . love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings without exception.”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church #478)
Are LGBTQ Catholics not human beings for whom the Sacred Heart of Jesus beats in the glories of heaven? In every tabernacle in every Catholic Church? At every single Mass said in every corner of the earth, in every age?
As Saint John the beloved Apostle rested in the bosom of Jesus at the Last Supper, the Divine and Sacred Heart of Jesus beat for Beloved John and the entirety of humanity—and yes, that means even queer humanity.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus beats for every LGBTQ person from the moment of our conception and doesn’t stop at that: Jesus even pours out his entire self in love of each of us as He gives us his living Flesh and Blood to eat and drink. Knowing the Bread from Heaven is a living man, Jesus Christ—who loves me dearly and who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is closer to me than anyone else—is such good news.
What a disappointment it is, then, that this good news is often weaponized in contrast to the struggles of God’s beloved LGBTQ family for whom he died and gives eternal life. Remember, it was at the close of the month of June that the revolutionary spark of Stonewall laid the groundwork for June to be globally recognized as Pride Month. It was also in this month just 5 years ago that 49 children of God were murdered in a mass shooting of LGBTQ persons and allies in Orlando.
The pride I have is that I am not ashamed to be a gay man. This pride is a celebration that I stand here unashamedly loved by God. I stand here living and breathing, which means I perpetually die to the shame and hostility that is so often hurled against me and my community. I come out in liberation from a world where being gay is unmentionable and shameful, and because of coming out, I see chains are broken.
I also remember the fear of losing a future vocation if I was honest about being gay. What other evidence is there of the hold of the Enemy than to see vocations purposefully strangled and fought against should there be a revelation of an orientation that isn’t even a sin?
So I push back against the voices who conflate my just pride with grave sin. I push back against the voices who reduce gay issues to issues of chastity—as if holiness isn’t incumbent on everyone without regard for orientation, gender, marital status, or state in life.
I push back against the spectre of “conversion therapy” (which, though not taught by the Church, was once recommended to me by a priest in confession). I push back against “culture warriors” who fight wars that don’t exist apart from their own minds and for the sake of drama, division, and unnecessary strife. Finally, I push back against the culture of secrecy and silence that wishes to retain the status quo: the unmentionability of queerness, especially among clergy and consecrated religious.
There are too many people walking behind me who are not safe in their own homes, their churches and communities, for me to not speak truth and life. It was the words of other gay Catholics who shared their lives with the world that inspired me to also raise my voice.
The month of June doesn’t need to be “reclaimed” for the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart of Jesus beats for all of humanity, for every LGBTQ person, with a love that will never cease.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, aflame with love for us and well-spring of all virtue, have mercy on us!
Stephen Staten is a co-founder and writer for BCM. A Black Catholic in the San Francisco Bay Area and a Knight of Peter Claver, Stephen is active in music ministry and in local Catholic action for racial justice. He is also Claudio Monteverdi's #1 fan.