Cole Fox is a senior at Don Bosco Catholic High School in Gilbertville, Iowa, where until recently he wrestled successfully for one of the state’s top programs.
He is also an openly gay Catholic whose coming out and commitment to building bridges are inspirations for all who seek to advance LGBT justice.
Until last year, Fox had been relatively private about his sexual orientation, although if asked he would acknowledge being gay. He told close friends and his mother, who told Fox she already knew, but avoided telling his father who “always made homophobic comments” and also happened to be the school’s assistant wrestling coach.
This all changed last March when Fox decided to tell his dad in a handwritten note, which said, in part, according to OutSports:
“Any anger, humiliation, sadness, happiness or whatever you’re feeling is completely valid. As far as I know, you have no ties to anyone LGBTQ. I just want you to know that it took me nearly 17 years to accept me. I’m going to give you time and space. You don’t have to talk about it. You can bring it up as much as you wish. You can talk to mom or April. You can completely disregard this letter. I will still love you regardless of what you think or what you do.”
His father, Ray, replied in a text,”You are still a great son and I am proud of you.” His father also expressed sadness that he created a hostile environment for his son, saying he loved him no less than before — and that Fox should do the dishes.
Fox displays the same compassion for the Catholic Church that he expressed for his father in the note. OutSports reports:
“Most important to him is his hope of bringing together his beloved Catholic Church and the LGBT community. While he personally understands the decades of torment the Catholic Church has pushed on gay people, Cole sees hope in Pope Francis and a new direction for the Church. He says more and more Catholics are opening their hearts to LGBT people as a result. For years he bought into the damaging messages of some in the Catholic Church, but it was on a church retreat last July that he found Catholic Social Teaching.
” ‘Catholic Social Teaching is the Church’s teachings of human dignity. We believe that all humans are granted with God-given dignity and there is nothing that can shatter that dignity. It also has a lot to do with where Catholicism stands with social justice and charity in the world. Pope Francis has been very actively demonstrating Catholic Social Teaching and it is awesome.’ “
In a positive step for the church already, Don Bosco High School will recognize Fox for receiving the Matthew Shepard Scholarship to aid his upcoming studies at the University of Northern Iowa, A decade ago the school denied any public acknowledgement to a student who won the same award, according to KWWL 7.
Fox, who hopes to be a teacher someday, is joining the rapidly growing ranks of high school students taking responsibility for justice at their Catholic institutions. In nearby Des Moines, hundreds of such students rallied and prayed earlier this week to protest a gay man being denied a teaching position. A similar movement exploded in Omaha this week, as well, after a gay teacher’s contract was not renewed.
In Fox’s story, a high school student’s actions reveal yet again the hopeful future for our church when it comes to LGBT justice. His words in The Des Moines Register speak to this as a most fitting conclusion:
” ‘I go to Mass a lot during the week. I never hear anything tormenting LGBT people. I hear fundamentals of love and dignity toward all people. I hear about loving people as Christ loves them…This is my chance to show what the Catholic Church means…
” ‘As Catholics, I know we are split. There are those that think one way and others who think another…But we are the church. Just because we are younger doesn’t mean we aren’t valid…
” ‘I want people to know you don’t have to hide anymore. People need to know they are accepted…You are not alone.’ “
For more information on students’ flourishing actions for LGBT justice in Catholic communities, check out Bondings 2.0‘s “Schools & Youth” and “Campus Chronicles” categories in the right-hand column of this page.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry