our neighborly work in action
Reflecting on a Whirlwind Month of Advocacy Work for the Cleveland LGBTQ+ Community
October 2nd, 2023 | By: Matthew Graves, Director of Development & Communication
Sitting at my desk at 10:45 in the morning here at The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, I am reflecting on a September that has rushed by like one of those loud sport motorcycles screaming down I-480 in the middle of the night. The last few weeks have been filled with an overwhelming outpouring of reaffirming support from our Greater Cleveland community, but at times it has felt bittersweet because it’s in reaction to a painful confirmation. This confirmation feels personal, that the religion I was born and raised in – at least in our region – has taken a stance that will essentially breed a culture of hatred and repressiveness for as long as their newly instituted policies stand.
On a Thursday afternoon early in September 2023, I received a message from a media partner at Ideastream asking for comment on a newly instituted policy from the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. This policy greatly hindered progress made in many of our local parochial schools towards the acceptance of LGBTQ+ students.
When I read through the document, a rush of guilt-ridden nostalgia washed over me. I felt like that student in grade school learning that being gay was a sin and anyone who expressed their authentic queer self would be sent straight to hell.
I could sit here and easily detail my life as a part of the Roman Catholic church – the schooling, the service hours, mission trips – that would seemingly all add up to one good person’s ticket to an afterlife beyond the pearly gates. But instead I want to take time and reflect on the work that has been done this past month from one small, but mighty group of individuals who, when faced with this adverse change in our community’s social climate, was ready to take up the challenge of responding. And respond we have.
When Ideastream reached out for comment, I put together a statement immediately.
The Diocese policy had apparently been buried deep within their site, making it hard to find even for those well-acquainted with the site. The then-weeks-old release that coincided with the start of the new school year was not as well published or known by much of the general public. By Monday, Ideastream released the article. By Tuesday, Cleveland was ablaze with outrage.
Here at The Center, we continued to receive requests from media in the days following the article’s release. We also received calls to our main line from community members who were confused, hurt and frightened - wondering what this all meant for themselves and their families.
Our team then began to look for opportunities to channel all that hurt and frustration that our community was expressing into pointed advocacy and support for the Northeast Ohio LGBTQ+ community. Our work in September shifted as we stood by our community - creating a petition, sending out letters to leadership, posting a call to action directly asking the Diocese to reverse the policy – making our proud community more visible and active in creating change.
I won’t lie, this work is draining and sometimes taxes our ability to remain positive. But there have also been moments of light, which I truly see as the indelible and true spirit of what makes Cleveland a place where we strive to create an inclusive, diverse community.
In the weeks following that initial article from Ideastream, we have received an outpouring of support from various members from within the Catholic faith – spiritual leaders messaging their disdain for the church’s decision, official statements from various schools and religious communities, including St. Joseph’s Academy, Community of St. Peter, and Magnificat High School. Non-profits, like our friends at Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), have publicly posted their disapproval. Even our city’s mayor spoke out against these policies, voicing his disappointment in this new direction of the Catholic Diocese.
Writing this piece the day after our community gathered for a forum discussion, LGBTQ+ Identities in Religious Spaces, it struck me again that our Cleveland community is one with a deep-rooted concern for the care of all our neighbors. The Center was packed with folks hoping to gain insight into what to make of the recent policies and to hear from a Catholic theologian who works directly with LGBTQ+ individuals. But above all, the forum gave many the opportunity to share in community.
In the height of all that was happening this month, The Center received a timely and tangible indication that the faith communities have not abandoned the LGBTQ+ community. For decades, Trinity Lutheran Church served the near west side of Cleveland and its neighboring city of Lakewood. They provided an open and affirming space for all members of the LGBTQ+ community. “Trinity is a Reconciling of Christ Congregation,” says their website, “and as such, we value the lives of our LGBTQIA+ friends.”
And indeed, their congregation helped many in our community continue to find a space where they could practice their faith.
Earlier this year, we met with members of the Trinity Lutheran Church who in their planning to dissolve the congregation began to discuss their wish to support local organizations doing Christ’s work throughout the Cleveland community.
In our conversation, we saw how much our missions of caring for all our neighbors aligned. For over two decades, I had been tainted by extreme Catholic ideologies that repressed my authentic self. In our meeting with Trinity, I witnessed the true care for community that goes on in many faith-based organizations. Here were the most devout members and leaders of a church that would soon dissolve, still reaching out to support a community that - let’s be honest - is not always shown to be welcome at the altar.
In the midst of all that has gone on this past month – religious turmoil, the questioning of Catholic upbringing (or even just faith in general) – there came a moment where many of us felt deflated from shouldering this frontline response and advocacy. As we continued to push forward in this heavy work, we received a incredible act of philanthropy from Trinity Lutheran Church.
According to their website:
Our congregation had financial hardships for many years, but somehow the Spirit kept us moving forward. Through prayerful discernment, we realized it was better to spend our remaining dollars furthering God’s kin-dom instead of keeping our own doors open. As a congregation, we chose to honor our missions and endow our remaining funds to the organizations that most represent our core values.
The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland was one such organization that received a significant contribution of just over $47,000. To say we are incredibly thankful to all within this historic congregation is a vast understatement.
This gesture, along with so many others, add up to a month that has proven difficult to process. For some it reopened wounds caused by a faith upbringing and brought about intense feelings of isolation and hurt. But through communal forums, receiving affirming words from many in the faith community as well as many of our civic leaders, our team felt heard, understood and welcomed despite a policy that made us feel otherwise. I am proud of the work that was done by all staff here and our ability to provide a space and platform for the voices of so many in our community.
While we have yet to see any movement on any reversal or modification of policies set forth by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, I know that The Center will continue to help drive conversations that will challenge these decisions. And I know we will not be doing it alone.