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We remember, we celebrate, we believe
by Christopher Pett

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There is a lot of remembering, celebrating and believing going on right now.

The "uprising" at the Stonewall Inn 50 years ago represents a significant turning point in an emerging yet powerful movement; the merging of individual voices and experiences into one larger, clearer, more defiant and more authentic voice demanding respect and inclusion.

Among those many voices were those who were also brought their spiritual woundedness, a longing of both body and spirit to be free in an identity that expresses itself as both queer and as believer.

As we celebrate Stonewall, the convergence of a movement, we also celebrate the contributions and life-force brought to this justice work by communities of faith.

There are only two currently existing LGBTQ faith-based organizations that pre-date Stonewall: the Metropolitan Community Churches ( MCC ) and DignityUSA.

These two faith-based organizations have survived, thrived and helped propel the LGBTQI-justice movement over 50 years in recognition of a core yearning and need that brought small communities together all over this country beginning in 1969 to claim and integrate peoples' sexual and spiritual identities. "Yes, you can be both gay and spiritual" was the rallying cry.

DignityUSA, as a Catholic LGBTQI organization, brings its unique voice and presence to the party; emerging then maturing and now fully engaged and amplified.

While the broader movement worked for societal equality and claimed its political power, small communities of queer and supportive Catholics across America came together, driven and energized by the need for safety; a place to come out in sexual and gender identity and integrate our spirituality. These communities gradually evolved into the national voice and movement, DignityUSA

On July 5-7, the larger DignityUSA community, including Dignity/Chicago, will come together for our 50th-Anniversary National Conference here in the heartland. This will be a time for remembering, celebrating and believing. We will honor our past achievements and our prophets. We'll solemnly recognize those who have transitioned to eternity, including Jim Bussen who was a courageous mover of LGBTQ rights and dignity here in Chicago. And we will celebrate; we're still here, we're still queer and we're not going away.

Also, emerging global LGBTQ organization the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics is convening its third biennial Assembly here in Chicago on July 1-3. DignityUSA will be hosting this unique gathering and the delegates will have the experience of touring the Center on Halsted and the Legacy Walk, and learn about the growth and maturing of the LGBTQI community here in Chicago. Hopefully, these delegates, some of whom come from countries where homosexuality is still criminalized, will be inspired and enriched in their own efforts. The LGBTQI community of Chicago has a lot to be proud of.

The celebration of MCC and DignityUSA during this Stonewall remembrance is a reminder of the many diverse yet united voices and lived experiences that have brought us to where we are today as an extended LGBTQI community and movement. These groups' tenacious insistence that LGBTQI people have the inherent right to be full, equal, affirmed members of their faith communities has helped transform millions of people of faith—straight and queer—into supporters and passionate advocates for equality and justice.

Over the five decades of DignityUSA and MCC's ministry and witness, these two groups and LGBTQI movements within many other denominations have greatly improved the situation for queer people of many faiths. We have drastically reduced the likelihood that being gay or transgender people will be condemned during sermons, seen more denominations open ordination to LGBTQI people, and have prompted countless faith leaders to take public stands on our behalf. While there are clearly still powerful religious voices raised in condemnation, more and more they are the "noisy gong" of our sacred scriptures, loud but ultimately insignificant.

As ever-growing numbers of believers come to believe that being LGBTQI people are as morally good as everyone else, embrace us within our faith communities, and support civil protections, the "God vs. gay" narrative is fading into history. As our current political climate reminds us, however, we must persist in telling our stories and claiming our places within communities of faith so that the gains we have seen do not slip away.

As DignityUSA continues to demand respect and inclusion in the Catholic Church, we also join with others in the demand for racial, economic and gender justice. We stand with immigrants and refugees who are seeking the same freedom and safety that brought our small faith-based communities together 50 years ago.

As we remember and celebrate, those of us who claim our spirituality also believe. We believe in a larger life-force and sacred Spirit who represents pure and radical love to be shared with all creation. And we join in partnership with all the other voices and efforts towards justice to ensure the work continues, and the goal of equality and respect is reached for all. We have done this for 50 years, and will be faithful to this goal for as long as it takes to achieve.

Christopher Pett is a member of Dignity/Chicago and President of DignityUSA, the world's oldest organization of Catholics working for justice, equality and full inclusion of LGBTQI people in the church and society.

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