A few years down the road, I spoke to a priest who was also a family friend. When he asked me what I was doing there, I simply said, “I need you to tell me that I'm okay.” I will always remember his response: “You have every right to attend the communion table as anyone else.” This opened up a whole new perspective for me, and I was able to return to the church with a whole heart.
It was the very same priest who first shared information about YES Institute with me. After I became involved with YES Institute as a volunteer, and later as the Chair of the Board of Directors, I knew I wanted to bring our work to the Catholic Church. I didn't know how I was going to make that happen, but I knew I was committed to finding a way.
The seed of opportunity was planted towards the end of 2013 when YES Institute was invited to a health fair at St. John Neumann. I asked my father Efrain, and sister Cristy, to volunteer at the YES Institute booth as they’re both avid supporters and investors in the work of YES Institute. My father, a preacher for several years, was approached by a colleague he knew from Christ the King Catholic Church. After sharing about YES Institute, we were invited to facilitate a community dialogue on bullying, gender and orientation with the High School Youth Group at Christ the King.
The youth leader began the meeting with a beautiful reflection about being open minded and the importance of “rethinking” topics we sometimes avoid or resist. Brittney, YES Institute’s Program Manager, created a space for open and authentic communication and sharing among the youth, families and church members present for the dialogue. I also had the incredible opportunity to share about my journey reconciling my orientation and my relationship with the church.
After I shared, it became very clear that these topics deeply impacted everyone in the room. The students candidly shared about gender based bullying masked as gay slurs, seen at school every day. Parents expressed helplessness at not knowing how to create safer homes and classrooms. Many shares were about close family members who struggle to accept their own orientation.
The evening was a truly magical experience for me. Ripple effects are happening with more requests coming from other communities of faith. One of the participants expressed an interest in inviting YES Institute to speak at her Religious Studies class at St. Thomas University. Also, Christ the King's Youth Leader is connecting YES Institute with a nearby Catholic church to bring this conversation to their youth group.
This one evening reignited my passion and commitment to creating communities of faith where EVERYONE feels accepted, safe and loved. I am so thankful to have been a part of it, and I cannot wait to see where YES Institute will go next!