Earlier this week, an unexpected message in my emailbox:
“Dear President McGuire, I am an alum from Class of 1983 – and am writing you on the occasion of my 25th anniversary. I met my life partner while attending Trinity… and she is also an alum from the Class of 1983. We returned to Washington this past weekend to celebrate the place where we met and fell in love, and would have liked to visit Trinity, since it is the place where came to know each other.”
Lisa M. Polyak went on to say that she and Gita Deane now live in Baltimore and have two young daughters, “the joy of our lives.” She wrote about feelings of sadness with the conflicts she has experienced with the Catholic Church; Lisa and Gita are the lead plaintiffs in the Maryland same-sex marriage litigation.
Her message then challenged me:
“As I read Trinity newsletters, and alumnae publications, I wonder if there will ever be any room in Trinity’s history to acknowledge the lesbians who have served (and continue to serve) in the faculty, staff and student populations. Women who have served with conscience and competence, but mostly in silence….”
I knew I could not simply file this message away and move on to other topics. I know too many alumnae who might pose the same question; too many women of Trinity who think that they might not be welcome at their own alma mater.
My message back to Lisa was plain: thanks for writing, please come to visit Trinity when you are in town, you are welcome here, we’d love to see you and share the good news about what’s happening at Trinity today.
Thank you for the quick and welcoming response. You cannot begin to know the trepidation with which I wrote that email. If I had known that such a response was possible, I wouldn’t have waited 25 years to write you !
There was quite a bit more than pleasantries in our exchange, of course. But at the most fundamental, most human level, the idea that any alumna would feel unwelcome here for so long struck me as utterly incompatible with our mission, our values, our faith.
Faith, of course, is the paradox and painful subtext in this story. As I wrote further in my message to Lisa, in fidelity to our essential Catholic identity at Trinity, we cannot endorse or advocate for any issue that is in conflict with the teachings of our Church, and this includes the issues surrounding sexual orientation and same-sex marriage. But we certainly can be pastoral and respectful in extending our welcome to our alumnae sisters. Even as I thought about this, I learned that the U.S. Catholic Bishops are planning to issue another policy statement on this at their November meeting, continuing to attempt to strike a balance between pastoral care of individuals and clarity about the Church’s moral teachings.
Upholding the Church’s moral teachings does not mean that alma mater must shun her own daughters. All alumnae are welcome at Trinity, always.
Lisa replied with understanding and a reflection on why she and Gita became plaintiffs in this complicated case: “The politics not withstanding — the reason that we were finally able to be out to our families, friends, employers and communities, and the ultimately reason for our participation in the Maryland marriage litigation, is our obligation as parents to make a safe and healthy life for our children. What we could not do for ourselves (be out, ask for recognition) we feel compelled to do for our children. We knew that we could not expect our children to carry the burden of shame or dissemble about their parents’identity, and so we began the process of coming out (after 15 years together !). After the children arrived, we were constantly taken aback at the protections we could not provide for our children because we are legal strangers to them in many ways – and so we agreed to be plaintiffs in the litigation.”
Of course, there’s a lot more to Lisa and Gita’s story, and a lot more to discuss about these difficult issues that challenge so many families and people of faith. How might these discussions occur at Trinity? What wisdom can help us to illuminate the right responses? I’d like to hear from you. Please click on the envelope below, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org Please indicate if I can quote from your comments in my blog. Thanks.