Rather than leave the Catholic Church for a more liberal spiritual home, Cathy Gonzalez chose to stay and fight to make the church more accepting for her lesbian daughter and other LGBT people
Renee Baker | Contributing Writer
Cathy Gonzalez is not shy about speaking up to the Catholic Church on LGBT equality and justice — two words that have deeply personal meaning for her and her family.
When her own daughter came out as a lesbian 10 years ago, Gonzalez listened and she got involved. Though it wasn’t easy at first, her journey toward understanding her daughter and her subsequent activism in the church has been worth it.
And she wants parents of other children coming out to also listen, to recognize they won’t have all the answers at first and to still “love their children as they did before they came out.”
Born in post-Nazi Germany in 1952, and now a Little Elm resident, Gonzalez comes from a devout Catholic family. But her Christian family did not come through the World War II Holocaust unscathed. Gonzalez’ mother was sent to a concentration camp for being sympathetic to Jewish families — helping the local priest provide desperately needed food and clothing. Unfortunately, her less-than sympathetic husband, an SS officer, reported the activist mother as well as Gonzalez’ aunt to the authorities.
Gonzalez’ aunt, an outspoken woman, was shot in the head by a camp guard for “demanding rights as German citizens.” Seeing her sister’s execution first hand, Gonzalez said her mother “shut down, emotionally and verbally” and ultimately was not able to raise all of her nine children. Eight were given up for adoption, and the ninth “was really more of a mother than my mother was,” Gonzalez said.
Naturally, the family was no longer intact and this had great “mental health ramifications” for everyone, she said.
Gonzalez said, “Knowing the details of my birth mother being sent to a concentration camp was one of two things that were pivotal for me. I first developed a strong sense of the horrors of segregation and racial profiling.”
“Secondly,” she continued, “I witnessed the racial strife growing up in Texas — separate bathrooms and water fountains, cousins talking disrespectfully to their black housekeeper, and the infamous race riots.”
All of these unjust events served to only steady Gonzalez’s “moral compass,” knowing as she already did that “the injustices went against the teachings that I was learning at church, that Jesus loves everyone.”
And Gonzalez knew that this included her lesbian daughter, too, even if the Catholic Church doctrine had dissenting views on same-sex behavior. She said her daughter, who chose not to be included in this article, was at first upset with her for choosing to stay with the Catholic Church. Today, the church still holds that while same-sex desire is not a sin, acting upon it is.
Gonzalez, who now attends the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco said, “I felt I had two choices. Either I could leave the church and go somewhere more liberal, or stay in my Catholic Church and affect change.”
She chose the latter, and is optimistic about church growth.
“With Pope Francis publicly stating ‘Who am I to judge?’ when it comes to gay matters,” Gonzalez said, “I am continuing to see small changes being made within the church.” She said she considers the new pope to be a true humanitarian.
Gonzalez, who is working on her doctoral degree in Christian counseling, said she finds that many parents of LGBT children are afraid of losing their church families and afraid their children will lose their souls.
“Family members are worried about rejection from their spiritual family if they love their [LGBT] child,” she said. And as such, she said she “most definitely finds families do reject their children on this basis to stay in church.”
The 62-year old-mother and ecumenical singer said these are mistaken theological beliefs. To try and help families understand that their children are always “children of God” and “still part of the church family,” she has given numerous talks on the subject.
To further her work, Gonzalez is focusing her doctoral dissertation on opening up diverse boundaries in the church promoting inclusivity. She is also currently developing an LGBT education curriculum, focused on bullying in schools, that she hopes will be approved for teaching ’tweens and teens in Catholic schools.
Gonzalez’ activism has taken her beyond the church, too. Known by many in the Metroplex LGBT community, Gonzalez has served as co-chair of the former board of directors at Youth First Texas and is a former director of the Ally Program at the University of North Texas in Denton.
When Gonzalez first reached out after her daughter came out, she turned to the Dallas chapter of PFLAG — Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The local chapter was able to provide her with a vast array of resources to help her come to terms.
Of the spiritual teachers she found helpful, she singles out the books of the late Harvard theologian the Rev. Peter Gomes, especially The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart. Gonzales said Gomes’ teachings shed new light on LGBT matters. (Gomes was declared “an accidental gay advocate” by the Huffington Post after being targeted and harassed by homophobic Harvard students that tried to remove him as university minister for being gay, even though he was celibate.)
Today, Gonzalez said, she actively prays “for the safety of all LGBT people and for change in the doctrine of the Catholic Church.” She said she hopes that “priests will adapt and share the correct [LGBT teachings] on Catholic theology with their congregations.”
Until the church comes around, Gonzalez said, children remain at risk.
“Many LGBT youth today lose their primary support systems due to rejection and that is heartbreaking to me,” Gonzalez said.
Still, she remains optimistic, hoping that others will come forth and become allies, to humble themselves, and to work with youth, to lend their voices to the political processes and to speak out in their spiritual community.
Gonzalez said she never really knew her German-speaking birth mother because she was adopted by American parents. But she did briefly meet and hug her birth mother when she was 80 years old, not long before she died. In a similar spirit to that of her mother’s desire to help others, even in the face of adversity, Gonzalez continues the quest for equality and justice.
She does so, she said, “because it is the right thing to do.”
Renee Baker is a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern and can be reached at www.Renee-Baker.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 19, 2014.