Thoughts from a gay teacher in a Catholic school
A junior high teacher yearns to be a positive gay role model in her Catholic school. But she wonders, "Does the church love me as much as I love it?"
I am stuck. I am thinking about my lesson plans for tomorrow's junior high religion class. We have been covering the church's position on controversial topics, and so far it has gone well. But the knots in my stomach tell me how I feel about tomorrow's topic. It is about homosexuality. I don't know what to tell the students.
You see, I am gay, and I am a Catholic school teacher.
You never know what to expect when it comes to junior high kids, but the class today asked many questions about capital punishment, test-tube babies, and abortion. Their questions showed much thought, and it is days like today that reinforce why I have stayed in Catholic schools for two decades. I love the freedom that comes with teaching in a private school. But what do I tell them tomorrow?
Kids need a lot of guidance when it comes to values, and I have the opportunity to play a small role in that. But I am worried about those sitting in my room or those who have sat in my room for the past two decades or those who will sit there next year and the year after that. They might have feelings that were similar to mine many years ago. I do not want to confuse them. I could help by acknowledging who I am to them so they know they are not alone.
My upbringing and church have had a hold on me for much of my life. When you are raised in a two-parent conservative Catholic family where your mom stayed home, the channel is changed on the TV when a couple starts kissing, and the word sex was never uttered out loud, the word gay meant happy but nothing else.
I did not want to buck the system. I was taught that premarital sex and divorce were wrong and to pray for those who followed such sinful ways. Homosexuality? Come on. There was no way I was going there. Whatever feelings I had personally, I figured a lot of people had then and did not talk about them.
But the truth has a way of emerging despite many odds. For me, it could not be stifled any longer when I was in my late 30s. I tried, but a marriage and a beautiful child could not change who I was. Many boyfriends could not change that. My upbringing and Catholic education could not change that. I recognized the truth about myself and did not want to hide any longer.
As other people do not choose to be heterosexual, I do not choose to be gay. This is who I am. After my divorce and after meeting what would have been a wonderful second husband, I reflected on my life and what God had in store for me. I prayed hard one night, and for the first time in my life, I asked for a mate--a soulmate. I prayed harder that night than I ever had before. The next day, I met the person with whom I am currently sharing my life and plan to share the rest of my days. I know God brought us together.
Why would I choose a life that is fraught with difficulty, rejection, and so many challenges? I want to be accepted and for people to be happy for me. I want my church to accept that I am one of God's children and a good person. And I desperately want to teach that to my students.
People have told me I am a positive role model for the students, and I take a lot of pride in that. I'd like to think that I am a kind person with a lot of compassion and energy for today's youth. I have coached many teams, sponsored many activities, and given myself to Catholic schools my entire adult life.
Some of my friends think I'm a little crazy to stay in a religion that does not outwardly accept gays. That is my greatest struggle. I do not want to leave my school. I think I have a lot to offer. I turned down an offer to teach in a public school where the pay is better and a pension exists. People tell me to think of the future. I guess something inside me says everything will be all right. I believe in what I am doing and that God will provide the rest.
I remain in the Catholic Church because I love its compassion for the poor, its sense of social justice, and its sense of community. Some of the man-made rules seem a bit stringent, but I see much good in the church's mission. I enjoy sitting in church and feeling God's love surround me. The church guides me and keeps me on the right path. It centers me and reminds me about what is important in life. I admire and read about the saints and leaders who sacrificed their lives for their beliefs. I am proud of how many Catholic organizations help educate, feed, and clothe all races of people around the globe. I am proud to say I am a product of Catholic education, too.
A generation ago, the Catholic Church excommunicated everyone who divorced and remarried. It is a testament to the church that it can change, albeit slowly. As it strives to live out Jesus' message, the church recognizes what an important element divorced people bring and how healing can take place with the help of the church. The church has made mistakes. Pope John Paul II has made sincere attempts to apologize to people throughout the world for the grievous mistakes the church has made throughout its history.
I can forgive it those mistakes, but I am not sure how long I can wait. I long for and pray for the day when psychology and religion agree that homosexuality is not a choice. It is genetic. It happens to be who I am. Does the church love me as much as I love it?
We will have religion class tomorrow. As a teacher, I am required to teach the doctrine of my religion. I have always honored that, but it is getting more difficult because I want to assure those in my classrooms who have gay dads or moms or uncles or sisters that it is OK. They are not strange or weird or in need of conversion. These people are part of God's family, too. I want to walk with my head up and shoulders back and hear people say I am a positive role model for all students and know the truth about me at the same time. It is time to put a face on the positive gay role models in our society. I want to do that.
The religion book has the following to say about this issue: "The church recognizes that homosexual persons, like all persons, have been created in God's image and have dignity. However, it condemns homosexual acts and considers them to be destructive of the family structure in society." Statements that contain words like condemn and destructive do not celebrate dignity. How can it also say we are created in God's image when such a negative spin is put on it? Who, given such a message at a young age, would want to celebrate their uniqueness?
We will have that lesson tomorrow, but it will be modified. It will be about love and acceptance. Isn't that what Jesus taught us? Everyone knows this lesson. It is from the Book of Matthew and comes from Jesus' lips. It is the greatest Commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself and love the Lord your God with your whole heart." I want to teach my students to be sensitive, understanding, and tolerant. I want to show them they do not have to be afraid. I want to help them understand that all of us are a great gift from God, who judges us by our actions and how we treat others.
"Love your neighbor as yourself." It cannot be said enough.
I am a Catholic school teacher. I am gay. I am proud to be both.
This article appeared in the January 2002 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 67, No. 1, page 38).