SouthJersey DignityUSA is the local chapter of DignityUSA, a group that strives to make peaceful, welcoming space in the Catholic Church for the LGBT community. Jay Lassiter, a culture warrior and LGBT activist, invited me to brunch at his house in order to announce the official establishment of the South Jersey chapter, and I’m glad that I went. Lassiter has co-created the chapter with his friend, Kim Otto.
As a child of the millennial generation, I see that a lot is changing for the better; slowly but surely. However, the need for SouthJersey Dignity is not often acknowledged in this busy section of the country, especially among heterosexual residents like myself.
The need for this group stems from a difficult mix in South Jersey, between tradition and false tradition. Regular tradition is what I call a Sunday morning stop at Chick’s Deli during football season. False tradition is keeping with the status quo, and not making space for new needs and ideals. Straight South Jerseyans need to keep having this conversation that the Pope has started. “Who are we to judge?”, when in the end, we are all the same human race?
Gay, transgender, or straight, who cares when we all believe in the same God? Who cares when we all just want to love one another? Just because some may feel uncomfortable does not deem it appropriate to exclude God’s children from God’s house.
How is this group important for Camden?
Well, I’m glad I asked, because the answer is complicated. Specifically speaking from experience by meeting and mentoring some young residents, there needs to be a Camden conversation about accepting the LGBT community into Church life. Camden can be a very religious city, as well as traditional. The many hispanic neighborhoods bring out the potentially oppressive notion of machismo, and the need to obtain street credentials is real.
Often times, many young people are not allowed to be who they really are because of the tough societal expectations that surround their life in Camden. Machismo and street credentials are tough concepts for suburban residents to comprehend, but I’ll tell you they are very demanding. This is where SouthJersey dignity needs to step in for these young people. If home life cannot be changed, there still needs to be an outlet for them to go to;somewhere they can feel welcome.
Camden needs SouthJersey Dignity in a very unique way, but let’s not for any moment forget that all of New Jersey needs it, too.