Patricia wanted to go to church. The moment she read the bulletin post from the priest at St. Gregory’s church in Picton her response was disbelief and then anger then action. That was the way people like her faced this sort of opposition, through action and protest.
A self-described old-school butch, she was born and baptized a Catholic in the Ottawa Valley. She has been a lesbian since 1972. She knew long before there was a demonstration planned that she needed to go, she needed to commit to her own form of peaceful protest. Her plan all along was to walk through the doors and sit through Mass and look at the man who denigrated her and her peers as he served her communion. This was personal for her. Catholic to Catholic she wanted to add a personal touch as she faced the parishioners face to face. She hadn’t planned on what actually transpired that day.
Patricia arrived at the demonstration outside the church on Father’s Day 2019 and mingled with all of the other “many wonderful people there– queers, allies and children”. She felt compelled to go and stand on the steps of the church and greet people as they arrived for church. In her words, it was peaceful and non-confrontational. She had every intention of walking through the double doors that were designed to keep her out and receive communion as is her right based on the teachings of the Catholic church.
Soon after she had stepped onto the landing leading into the church, two agents from within came outside and asked her to leave. She continued to stand and greet the congregants walking up toward the doors, much to the chagrin of the church representatives who were insistent she leave. One of the church representatives grabbed a police officer to come and help resolve the dispute, as he felt she was trespassing and “inciting antagonistic responses from the protesters”. He insisted she be removed from the property, but the police officer had no issue with Patiricia’s conduct as it was peaceful and quiet. When Patricia indicated to the church representatives she had every intention of attending mass, the gentleman became incensed and began to challenge Patricia as to why she was there, questioning her motivation. All she wanted to do was attend service.
The scene became rather tense as she was surrounded by church members and police, and she was beginning to feel very alone until a 20-something young butch woman came and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her in silent support. She was so touched that she could have cried on the spot. Together they continued to welcome church members as they arrived and waited to be allowed to walk through the doors. The church representative was still insisting she leave but the female officer simply stated that Patricia was well within her rights to attend church and there was nothing she could do. If he simply waited until 10am, the crowd would disperse and all would be over. He was clearly not pleased. Patricia and “Baby Butch” continued with their “mission to spread peace and love”.
At 10am she opened the door to the church and the crowd behind her erupted into cheers and applause. She walked in and stood politely at the back. She was still surrounded by representatives of the church. As she stood watching the procession to the altar she started to weep and Baby Butch put her arms around her and told her how proud she was of her for what she did and to be able to share this moment with her. And still she wept. She wept because of so much hate. She wept because the Church is supposed to be a place of sanctuary. She wept for all of the ones who fought so long and hard to just be loved and accepted. Then she took a seat and participated in Mass.
Patricia has deep scars. She was a “toughie” as she describes herself, so she was spared the beatings that others received. She would instead protect the others around her who couldn’t protect themselves, a characteristic she learned from her father. But she was always a little different than everyone else, never really fit in and definitely not like the other girls. She never felt a feeling of being welcome or being cherished.
When she met the love of her life, she never could have dreamed of having someone make her feel so complete. She says “The Butch/Femme dynamic…is a speacial bond. When you walk the earth looking like us, being treated as we are, there comes a time in your life when you find that special someone who gets you, adores you for who you are and cherishes you for all that you are, a strong woman.” They were together for 19 years, finally able to get married in 2010. When gay marriage was legalized they each struggled with the issue of whether it meant anything, they had already been together for so long. In the end Toni agreed because Patricia wanted it. At their wedding, Patricia spoke about how in her wildest dreams she didn’t think this would be a reality for them. It was a fight they were fighting for their children. She said, “…standing before family and friends and declaring our love and being recognized by law was never going to be our story, and then it was!”
But the road to this point wasn’t easy. Patricia told me she knew people who had received electroshock therapy, forced upon them by their parents, because they were queer. They were denied housing if a landlord suspected they were lesbians. They faced employment discrimination, they could be fired without cause and without recourse. Their children could be taken from them just because they were gay. Children would only be given to blood mother’s parents, and not her partner in the event of something happening to the mother. They were denied access to their loved ones in the event of hospitalization. And pension and medical benefits were denied for each other because their union was not legitimate according to the government. These are rights that Patricia and Toni fought for together on Parliament Hill, and on October 10, 2010 (10-10-10) it felt a little like a victory when they said their “I do’s” together.
But then 6 months after their ceremony, Toni was diagnosed with Endometrial Cancer. She died four years later in 2014. Patricia is thankful that when her wife got sick they were protected under the law. But all of that pales in comparison to how much she misses her wife terribly. She was her anchor. Patricia says she feels vulnerable in a way she had forgotten while sheltered in her wife’s love for 19 years. Being amongst the crowd on Sunday was comforting in a way she didn’t even know she needed. She says she is thankful for the gay and queer youth of today, and that they never have to guard against the oppression in the same way she did. She celebrates them. It’s what she and Toni fought so hard for, the right to equality for all.
She says she received so much love on Sunday from everyone in the crowd. People cried with her when she had shared what it was like living with the kind of hatred she has witnessed every day of her life. She challenges everyone to keep up the good fight because the work is not done. Rev. Robert Chisholm displayed that for everyone this week.
She is dismayed that the church tried to have police remove her rather than welcome her into their service. She is also happy that the police officer understood and supported her. It wasn’t always this way.
She wishes that Rev. Chisholm had the courage of conviction to apologize sincerely, rather than read a printed statement from the pulpit with little enthusiasm, written by his superiors. But she has seen it before, “he has his supporters [who will stand by him] but the old guard will simply move him to another parish as they have done forever. But Picton will not forgive him for his sin of hatred and the misuse of his pulpit to spread his message in their sanctuary.”
If Sunday was any indication, she isn’t wrong about that.
*This story was written from the perspective of Patricia, People of PEC has not attempted to make contact with St. Gregory’s in Picton, the Archdiocese of Kingston or Rev. Robert Chisholm directly. They are welcome to comment or contact People of PEC at any time and we will happily sit down to tell their story. This is Patricia’s.