The Sheil Catholic Center will have the first meeting of Joseph’s Coat, a student–led LGBTQ support group, on Thursday. The group, headed by McCormick junior Bryan Matias, is the first of its kind for the center.
Matias, a transgender practicing Catholic, spoke with North By Northwestern about his vision for Joseph’s Coat.
How did you get the idea to start this group?
Being Catholic and being part of the queer community are both huge parts of my life and they’re both very important. And a lot of times, people can see them as conflicting, but really I don’t believe they are. I think that they can co–exist and I think there’s a lot of people out there who think they’re the only person who believes that. It’s a really hard path to go on your own. So just coming up with a place where people who have these same struggles can talk about them will just help everyone so much.
Where does the name Joseph’s Coat come from?
There’s kind of two levels of reasons. There’s kind of the obvious one, that is the rainbow coat. The traditional symbol for LGBTQ is the rainbow. But also, if you go a little deeper into the meaning, if you think about it, Joseph was a biblical figure who was loved by his father but he had some issues with his brothers. They end up casting him aside and he used the struggles that he had in the community, with the help of God, to go on to save all of Egypt, including his brothers. And then he was welcomed back home and he became a better person because of that experience. So we’re kind of taking that as an inspirational story to say that sometimes things are hard and there are misunderstandings, but with God’s grace we can go on to do great things.
Young Catholics have an array of views on LGBTQ issues. How does church doctrine influence how the meetings will be held?
I don’t know that saying that it’s completely approached from church doctrine is the best way to describe it. It’s more that people are welcome to have any sort of view, but when we are talking about doctrine, I’m not going to misrepresent it. I’m not even going to say that all of my beliefs align exactly with doctrine. We just don’t want to give anyone the wrong information. All these points are welcome and respected, but the facts in doctrine are the facts. We’re not going to lie about those.
These aren’t issues that cropped up for Catholics overnight. Why do you think a group like this is starting now?
I know that people have expressed interest in this for a long time, but it takes a lot of putting yourself out there to start it, more than just being in it. Because not necessarily everyone who is in the LGBT community is out, like when they go to church. I know that was one of the things I struggled with personally is it meant outing myself to everyone.
Joseph’s Coat is student–led, having no interaction with lay adults or clergy members. Why did you decide to not include any Sheil staff members in the meetings?
I think that not having a Sheil staff member involved with it gives us more freedom. If we were associated with staff members, they have a responsibility to represent the views of the church. I don’t have a responsibility to represent the views of the church. I’m not on the payroll. I can say whatever I want. I can support people through things that the church would disagree with. And I think that that openness is going to make a lot of people feel more comfortable.