New Show, “The Real O’Neals,” Features Gay Child in Catholic Family

BEBE WOOD, MATT SHIVELY, NOAH GALVIN, JAY R. FERGUSON, MARTHA PLIMPTON
The cast of “The Real O’Neals”

“The Real O’Neals,” ABC’s latest comedy series which premiered last week, features a gay child coming of age in a Catholic family as a prominent storyline.

Entertainment Weekly called the show, which airs Tuesday nights, “a sometimes sentimental, sometimes silly half-hour about a family trying out honesty — and, as a result, acceptance” by . It features an Irish Catholic family in Chicago that is seemingly perfect, but struggles imperfectly with life’s realities like the parents’ impending divorce.

“The Real O’Neals” is loosely based upon the adolescence of columnist and LGBT advocate Dan Savage, who serves as an executive producer for the show. The foremost plot line is the coming out of youngest son Kenny and his pious mother’s ambivalent reaction, reported the Chicago Sun Times. Martha Plimpton, who plays mother Eileen, commented on the particular storyline:

” ‘One of my favorite things about our writers is how they are exploring this boy’s coming-out and experiences as a young gay man. It is all about how universal they are. The experience of puberty, or falling in love for the first time, or finding a date for the prom, or knowing what you like, or knowing who strikes your fancy. . .The fact that he’s a young gay kid experiencing all these normal rites of passage really delights me.’ “

Plimpton expressed hope that the show can use humor to address challenging contemporary issues such as LGBT family members, providing a forum for discussion of topics that may be uncomfortable for some. She highlighted the tragic reality that many LGBT youth are still rejected by their families and far too many to experience homelessness as a result, concluding:

” ‘We have a responsibility — as citizens, but also as people making this show — to respect that reality and offer people a way to talk about this and acknowledge their fears and weaknesses in a way that is loving.’ “

Plimpton’s character, though, is not necessarily an affirming figure for her gay son, paralleling Savage’s own mother with whom he was close but who struggled with his coming out “because of her faith and her fear for the fate of his immortal soul.” Plimpton told Bustle that rather than mocking Catholicism, the show laughs at failures and weaknesses as a way to advance love and acceptance.She said religious parents’ resistance can be “buffered by the love of your child.”  It is worth noting that four of the show’s eight writers are Catholic.

Conservative groups failed in an attempt to have the show cancelled when its broadcast was announced last spring. What may sink the show are critics’ mixed reviews, which have suggested that the show’s treatment of homosexuality is dated. For instance, The New York Times’ review stated:

“[The show] wants desperately to be the brash new sitcom that talks forthrightly about subjects that had been taboo. And a decade or two ago it might have been. Now, though, it’s just the guest who arrives late to the party, blundering in loudly and clumsily. . .Yes, there are still plenty of closeted teenagers and plenty of parents as clueless as the two O’Neals, but in 2016 that no longer seems like an occasion for lowbrow laughs.”

More positively, Slate’s review lauded “The Real O’Neals” for advancing representations of gay people on television and explained:

“If you want to measure how far TV representations of queer people have come since Will & Grace’s attractive gay leads spent entire seasons without any romantic action, please note that on ABC’s new sitcom The Real O’Neals, only six episodes elapse between 16-year-old Kenny O’Neal’s coming out and his first gay date. . .And before the season is over, Kenny will have his first gay kiss and go to prom with a boy.”

The Atlantic’s review was hopeful, too, that this comedy, which deals with darker issues in a sitcom’s typical “bouncy, upbeat style,” would fulfill its potential. The Washington Post said Catholicism is not the “butt of the joke,” but a device to reveal “an endearing story about a family that loves and supports one another.”

I watched the first two episodes, and from those shows, I think that charges that “The Real O’Neals” is anti-Catholic are unsubstantiated. There were jokes about bingo nights and contraception, but these came across less as offensive and more as just tired.

There is potential for the show to engage Kenny’s sexual identity in meaningful ways. It has not happened yet as the show’s treatment of this issue is too exaggerated and not clever.

The realities of Catholic families with LGBT members are sacred and complex, and there is certainly humor to be found in the struggles and in the celebrations such families experience. Whether “The Real O’Neals” can capture these realities or will stick to tired stereotypes remains to be seen.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

DignityUSA Calls for “Sacramental Equality” at National Convention

DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT and Ally Catholics, held their biennial convention in Seattle this past weekend, where they unanimously passed a resolution calling for “sacramental equality” in the Catholic Church.

The resolution states:

“DignityUSA and its members call on the leaders and members of our Roman Catholic Church to ensure that all of the sacraments of our Church be administered regardless of the gender identity, sexual orientation, or relational status of the person(s) seeking the sacrament.”

In a press statement accompanying the resolution DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke explained the need for such a resolution:

“We [LGBT Catholics] can’t be fully equal if we are barred from any of our Church’s sacraments.

“Right now, we are officially banned from marriage and ordination, and often denied other sacraments, as well.

“We hear stories all the time of people told they cannot have Communion because they are gay, in a same-sex relationship, or civilly married. Many priests refuse to baptize the children of same-sex couples. A gay man in Washington, DC was denied ’last rites’ after suffering a heart attack. These incidents cause pain and alienation for us, and for our families, and create division within our Church.”

Duddy-Burke acknowledged that the hope for sacramental equality may take a while and a lot of effort to achieve.  She stated:

“We know that it is going to take a lot of work, and probably many years, to achieve this goal. But having gained civil marriage equality in the US, we know that the miraculous is possible. We believe that rethinking how sacraments are administered will be good for everyone in the Catholic Church, because it will help us to live our belief in the intrinsic dignity and equality of every person as created and loved by God.  This broadened understanding of the sacraments would apply not just to LGBT people, but to everyone, including women and married men and women seeking ordination, for example.”

The Dignity convention in Seattle, which had as its theme “God’s Love: Enduring as the Mountains, Endless as the Sea,” took place July 2-5, 2015, and attracted members and supporters from across the nation. Convention participants listened to plenary talks from Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, executive director of NETWORK and the organizer of “Nuns on the Bus” campaigns; Paul Coutinho, a scholar and international speaker on spirituality; and Dan Savage, nationally syndicated sex advice columnist and author.

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick participated in the convention as a breakout session leader, discussing the topic “Loving Our Opponents Without Losing Our Ground.”  She also hosted a caucus session on current events in the Catholic LGBT world, and a small reception for convention participants who had been past pilgrims on New Ways Ministry’s LGBT-friendly Catholic pilgrimages around the globe.

The next Dignity convention will take place July 6-9, 2017, in Boston, under the theme “A Place at the Table.”

New Ways Ministry heartily supports DignityUSA’s quest for sacramental equality, and we will continue working to help make that dream a reality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry