Despite protest characterized by a “queer poetry” reading in the lobby of McKenna Hall, National Catholic Register columnist Melinda Selmys gave a presentation on the correlation between identity and sexuality at this year’s Edith Stein Conference. Ms. Selmys, who has authored a book entitled Sexual Authenticity, described herself as a former “secular lesbian.” She spoke about her struggles with the issues of homosexuality and identity, and her later conversion to Catholicism and abandonment of homosexual activity. Selmys shared her experience in order to testify to the highly individual nature of homosexuality. Selmys began her presentation by addressing a hand-out declaration which the protesters distributed. . The hand-out raised issues which, according to Selmys, exist “at the heart of a culture war.” Selmys sought to address such issues in her presentation, including the foundations of homosexuality and misconceptions about the lifestyles of members of the homosexual community.  

In the hand-out, the protesters labeled Selmys an “ex-gay.” She rejected their description, observing that such a phrase leads one to believe “that homosexuality is a curable condition.”

At a fairly young age, Selmys realized her own attraction to women. She tried to date boys until she realized that she felt no sexual attraction towards men. She then began a lesbian relationship with a friend of hers, which lasted for seven years before she “came out” to her family. Her family was supportive to the point of being excited for her. Selmys attributed their attitude to the atmosphere of her native city, Toronto. Thus, she surprised her family and herself when she became Catholic about three months after she told them of her relationship.

Selmys’ conversion process began when she opened herself to the possibility of God’s existence. Her decision concluded a long period during which she held no particular religious beliefs. As her understanding of God developed, she was drawn to the Catholic faith.

As Selmys moved toward Catholicism, she realized that as a person with same-sex attractions she would need to accept celibacy. After she entered the Church, her growth in faith helped her to develop a Catholic identity. During this time period, she met the man who is now her husband, with whom she has five children.       

Selmys used her story to demonstrate that she is “not talking from an Ivory Tower,” but rather trying to understand her own experience, which she acknowledges is “not universal” for persons with homosexual tendencies. She then expressed her belief that as a Catholic community, we need to understand sexuality and the complications it can present for individuals. This does not include using “ex-gay therapies” like electroshock, or trying to “pray the gay away.” Instead, she suggests, we need to move beyond the culture war mentality, a mentality which turns other people into combatants, and leads people to reach out to the other side “out of disgust” rather than “Christian love.”

 As a part of her suggested approach, Selmys pointed to humans’ profound desire for relationships with others. According to Selmys, Catholics need to keep this desire in mind when they speak with homosexual persons who are considering entering the Church. In explaining the Church’s teachings on sexuality, Catholics must present a natural law argument against homosexual activity as a supplement to their personal experience of Christ.

Selmys explained that people with homosexual tendencies often look for others’ acceptance of their same-sex attractions because they feel such attractions are tied to their identity. Homosexual persons need to see the welcoming side of the Church, especially since the homosexual community is frequently a large and accepting one.

 Selmys’ presentation was followed by a panel discussion, during which she reiterated what was perhaps the focal point of her talk. Selmys explained that her approach to forming community is best served when Catholics can love others as individuals. She asserted that people with homosexual tendencies ought to be loved as distinct and unique persons, rather than as members of a large abstract group. She expressed her hope that the Notre Dame community would be able to reach out to homosexual persons individually rather than take a more impersonal approach by addressing such persons as a group. It is important, she said, to “show that the identity of a human is not founded in sexual choices.” Instead, it is “founded in who we are as creations of a loving and providential God.”