Nearly 40,000 people attend the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress each year, and this year two transgender Catholics were among those attending after being invited to share their stories. Crux reported:
“. . . [E]vent organizers this year took a cue from popular culture and included a new session, one that attracted a standing room only crowd of 750 people, nearly all of whom jumped to their feet for a sustained round of applause after talks from two young, committed Catholics.”
The two Catholics who spoke during the workshop, titled “Transgender in the Church: One Bread, One Body,” were Matteo Williamson and Anna Patti.
Williamson, 24, spoke about being raised Catholic and the mixed experiences he has had in the church. But under Pope Francis’ leadership, Williamson believes “there’s been a change among people in general to understand something that they maybe haven’t encountered before.”
Patti, 23, spoke too about being trans and Catholic, too. You can read a transcript of her remarks by clicking here. She told Crux afterwards:
” ‘Catholic spirituality and the Catholic tradition can provide more nourishment, and also more sense into the trans experience, than anything else I’ve encountered.’ “
The problem, in her estimation, is that the church in the U.S. is too invested in politics, specifically anti-LGBT work, which turns an ideal setting “into the worst place imaginable.” Too many LGBT people have been hurt by the church or understand it to be a transphobic institution, so they refuse to explore faith. But the session at the L.A. Congress was an “unexpectedly affirming experience” for Patti, who told Crux:
” ‘I hadn’t realized how silenced I felt within the Church. . .At Mass I always sit in the back row in the back corner, making myself as visibly small as possible. Here was the opposite, where people wanted to learn about an issue that is so often immediately condemned.’ “
Explaining the decision to host a session on gender identity, Fr. Christopher Bazyouros who directs the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ office of religious education, which is the sponsor of the Congress, said:
” ‘There aren’t many places for Catholics to discuss these things that are thoughtful, intentional, and that gathers people who have had this experience. . .Many Catholics want information about this topic, they want things to help them understand this situation.’ “
Bazyouros also cited Pope Francis’ desire for people to encounter one another, saying conversations begin more easily from the sharing of personal stories. Based on responses, it seems the session received widespread approve. Laura Wagner, who works at a Catholic high school, said she attended to learn more, and the session gave her “a lot of hope for the future of the Church.” Kevin Stockbridge, a graduate student, said it was good for trans Catholics to speak out because too often the issue is silenced.
Williamson and Patti were clear that, moving forward, no one is expecting that people become experts on gender identity. Instead, they called for a focus on acceptance and love, with Patti saying that “it comes down to, are you willing to accept another human being, a child of God?”
As the church grapples with gender identity issues in their many facets, this conversation at the L.A. Congress is a major step forward towards building up faith communities inclusive of people of all genders.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry