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Forced venue change for LGBTQ+ Catholic students’ summit highlights need for support, says organizer

The Summit was scheduled to take place Saturday at Christ The King Catholic Church in South Minneapolis, but over the weekend students were told they’d have to move the event.

Parker Breza: "I’m gay, and I’ve gone to Catholic school my whole life, and I’ve been raised Catholic, so I know how hard it is to have to turn on some parts of your identity and not, depending on which space you’re in."
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

In February, Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School senior Parker Breza helped organize the area’s first-ever LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition as a way to “create genuine, open conversation about LGBTQ+ issues at Catholic schools for faculty, staff, administrators, and students in Minnesota.” The group’s biggest event so far will be this Saturday’s LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition Summit, an all-day event featuring workshops, a Mass, and a keynote speech from former Totino Grace teacher Kristen Ostendorf, who was fired from the school in 2013 when she came out as gay to colleagues.  

The Summit was originally scheduled to take place Saturday at Christ The King Catholic Church in South Minneapolis, but over the weekend, Breza and crew were forced to move the event to the Edina Community Lutheran Church upon orders from the Chancery of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul, which is led by Archbishop John Nienstedt.

On a day when news broke of a new survey concluding that Americans are leaving Christianity in record numbers, Breza sat down with MinnPost at the offices of Outfront Minnesota, which has assisted him throughout the creation of the coalition, to talk about his faith and sexuality. 

MinnPost: What is your background and how long has the group existed out of Benilde?

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Parker Breza: It was myself and a few other students from Benilde and a couple other students from Catholic high schools in the area, as well as some students who identify as Catholic but go to public schools, who got together and had this idea of creating this coalition and hosting this summit.

It’s been a great experience. It’s pretty challenging being high school students and forming a group and putting on a summit. We’ve gotten some really awesome support from Outfront Minnesota and the staff here as well as well as from the justice office of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and associates. We’re really fortunate to have them to help us along with their wisdom and support, but they both really want this to be a youth-led event.

MP: What happened with Christ The King?

PB: We had been confirmed at Christ The King for maybe two months, and this past Sunday we got a call from Christ The King saying that they were no longer able to host the event due to an order from the chancery. I don’t know the exact wording, but the chancery said that Christ The King was not able to support this event.

MP: Do you get the sense that the reason has anything to do with anything other than a pure disagreement in beliefs about homosexuality and gay marriage and everything else that the Catholic Church is in great conversation and turmoil about?

PB: The most disappointing thing for me is that this event is really to bridge the gap between LGBTQ and Catholics, and to create the space for LGBTQ Catholics, and to create a safe, supportive, welcoming environment for those individuals who want to identify as both. I’m gay, and I’ve gone to Catholic school my whole life, and I’ve been raised Catholic, so I know how hard it is to have to turn on some parts of your identity and not, depending on which space you’re in. So that was the goal of the event, and it was really disheartening to me when the chancery would not allow us to be at Christ The King, because it was very important to us to hold it in a Catholic space, because it’s a Catholic event. I do think it’s a little bit curious that just six days before the event, they pull the plug on us. We’ve been advertising for well over a month now about this event.

MP: How does that make you feel – as a Jesus-loving gay young man?

PB: It’s hard, because it’s really one of those things where you hear that the media constantly wants to talk about this battle between LGBTQ and Catholic communities and what not and how the rift is so big, and so it’s hard when that narrative does play out in some respects. It’s challenging, as someone who really does really want to create this safe space, knowing how hard it is to not be able to live into your full and complete identity in every space that you’re in – especially in spaces that mean so much to you, like a faith community does for so many people.

I do think it’s also completely fair to acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do in the LGBTQ community to be more supportive of people of faith who choose to identify as LGBTQ and of out people of faith in general. There’s a lot of work on both sides to be done.

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MP: Have you ruminated at all on the irony of the Lutheran church embracing the event?

PB: We were very, very happy that Edina Community Lutheran Church was so quick to welcome us with open arms. They were extremely, extremely supportive and thought that it was terrible that we had been ordered out of Christ The King. They’ve been amazing.

MP: Knowing what you know, what does Jesus say about all of this?

PB: Well, from what I’ve been taught through my Catholic education, Jesus loved those who are marginalized by society, he was constantly working for those who were not accepted by the majority, and so I think he would want this event to happen. He wanted to provoke dialogue and to have conversations that people weren’t willing to have, based on what was considered OK at the time. So I really do think if Jesus was around today, he would want this event to be at Christ The King and he would be there.

The location change and the order from the chancery really just highlights the need for this kind of event, just because essentially how that makes me feel is that they don’t think this conversation should be happening, and they don’t think it should be happening in a Catholic space. I think, actually, that the inverse is true. Not only does this conversation need to be happening, but it needs to be happening in the places that are most affected, which are our Catholic churches. I know there are LGBTQ people in our Catholic churches right now who don’t feel safe, supported, and accepted, and I really want to have these conversations so we can work towards a change to make better Catholic communities and to be more like Jesus would want them to be.