Scope and Content of Collection
This collection comprises records of Dignity/USA and its predecessors, regions, and chapters, from the organization's founding in 1969 until the early 1990s. The materials relating to the organization's national office include correspondence, minutes, motions, and work papers of the organization's Board of Directors and Board of Consultors (later renamed House of Delegates). The records also contain extensive correspondence files of Dignity officers, including James Bussen, Paul Diederich, Robert Fournier, Tom Sena, Frank Scheuren, and Paul Weidig; the files for Joseph Killian (also known as Joe Gilgamesh), the first elected president of Dignity, are particularly extensive. The national office subject files contain correspondence, reports, press releases, notes, copies of magazine and newspaper articles, and other materials relating to Dignity's day-to-day operations, its efforts to obtain validation for gays and lesbians from the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and its relations with similar groups from other religious denominations and with secular groups in search of civil rights for gays and lesbians. Many of the letters in both the correspondence and subject files vividly illustrate the internal conflict many gay and lesbian Roman Catholics suffered, as they searched for a support system to help them to integrate their sexual orientation with being Catholic. The collection contains extensive records, including minutes, motions, information packets, work papers, programs, and publicity, relating to Dignity's biennial National Conventions. Records for the regions and chapters into which Dignity was divided mirror in format, content, and arrangement those of the national office. The materials relating to the Los Angeles chapter, always the largest in the organization, which acted as a de facto headquarters until the creation of the national office, are particularly extensive. The collection also preserves extensive records relating to Dignity's full-page advertisement in Newsweek magazine for April 27, 1987, in response to the Vatican's October 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, including correspondence with both Newsweek and Time (which refused to publish the advertisement), and favorable and unfavorable replies. The newspaper clippings include articles from the mainstream religious and secular press, as well as from the gay media. The materials also include a collection of photographs and slides documenting meetings and conferences of Dignity, as well as officers and other Dignity activists during the period 1970-1985 in particular. The newsletter files include copies of most of the newsletters published by the national office, as well as near-complete runs of many regional and chapter newsletters, and issues of the quarterly Insight, published by Dignity's New York chapter.
- 1956 - 2002
- Majority of material found within 1971 - 1988
- Dignity, Inc (Organization)
The collection is open to researchers. There are no access restrictions.
Researchers wishing to publish materials must obtain permission in writing from ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives as the physical owner. Researchers must also obtain clearance from the holder(s) of any copyrights in the materials. Note that ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives can grant copyright clearance only for those materials for which we hold the copyright. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain copyright clearance for all other materials directly from the copyright holder(s).
Early in 1969, Father Patrick X. Nidorf, an Augustinian priest and psychologist in San Diego, began a ministry for gay and lesbian Roman Catholics as an extension of his professional work. He chose the name "Dignity" to stress his basic goal: to bring dignity into the spiritual and social lives of gay and lesbian Catholics. Word of Nidorf's ministry spread, first by word of mouth, then through advertisements Nidorf placed in the Los Angeles Free Press and (beginning in January 1970) the Advocate. To guard against the possibility of religious fanatics or homophobes disrupting or dominating meetings, Nidorf required the return of a completed application form, and, when in doubt, a personal interview. The monthly gatherings were open only to individuals over 21 years of age, with a membership card issued by Nidorf; annual dues were $5. Nidorf also issued a simple monthly newsletter.
Although the early meetings alternated between San Diego and Los Angeles, Nidorf soon moved all meetings to Los Angeles, where the great majority of participants lived. In May 1970, Nidorf asked Bob Fournier to draw up a constitution-known as the Statement of Position and Purpose-for Dignity, and in June appointed him first General Chairman of the organization. In September, Dignity held its first meeting on church property, in the basement auditorium of St. Brendan's parish in Los Angeles.
The membership became increasingly active and early in 1971, against Nidorf's advice, sought recognition from the diocese of Los Angeles. However, coadjutor archbishop Timothy Manning found Dignity's principles "untenable", and ordered Nidorf to cease his activities with the group. Nidorf therefore resigned, and the leadership of Dignity passed permanently into lay hands. Despite Nidorf's resignation, interest in Dignity continued to grow, and to spread across the country: in November 1971, Dignity/Louisville became the first chapter of Dignity outside Southern California. In February 1972, Dignity held its first annual meeting, electing Joe Killian (known in Dignity as Joe Gilgamesh) president. The organization at the time had 198 members, including 25 priests, four brothers, and two seminarians; 108 members lived in the Los Angeles area, the others in twenty states and the District of Columbia, as well as seven foreign countries. In March 1972, Dignity/Los Angeles (which separated from San Diego and became a separate chapter in the fall of that year) began meeting at the Los Angeles Community College Newman Center. Later in 1972, Gilgamesh formed the Administrative Services Group (ASG) to oversee all aspects of Dignity outside of Los Angeles. Pat Allen was made responsible for overseeing all chapters outside of the Los Angeles area. In September and October Gilgamesh and Allen toured the East Coast in support of Dignity, and by the end of the year the organization had ten chapters, in Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Louisville, Chicago, Washington, DC, New York, and Boston. In 1973, Dignity held its first Biennial Convention in Los Angeles.
Dignity allied itself with clergy and working with the gay and lesbian community, including Sister Jeannine Gramick, and Fathers John McNeill, SJ, Eugene Boyle, and Charles Curran, and with the Salvatorian Order's Gay Ministry Task Force. It also received support from the National Federation of Priests Councils and the National Assembly of Religious Brothers. In 1975, Dignity published Father Robert Nugent's Homosexuality: A Worksheet for Catholics , and Homosexual Catholics: A Primer for Discussion , by Sister Jeannine Gramick and Fathers Robert Nugent and Tom Oddo. In October 1976, Dignity was an official participant in the "Call to Action" U.S. Bishops' Conference, intended to formulate a five-year plan of social action for the nation's bishops. The conference's resolutions that the church actively seek to serve the pastoral needs of homosexuals and that it fight, in society and within its own structures, discrimination based on sexual orientation, were presented to the National Conference of Bishops the following year. In July 1977, in response to the defeat of a gay rights ordinance in Dade County, Florida, Dignity joined with the Metropolitan Community Church, the National Gay Task Force, and the Gay Rights National Lobby, in sponsoring a National Gay leadership Conference in Denver. At the third Biennial Convention held in Chicago in September 1977, Dignity adopted the structure it retains today: a Board of Directors and House of Delegates, with chapters grouped into regions. As the House of Delegates intended that Dignity eventually be a national organization comprised solely of chapters within the United States, the Canadian chapters that constituted Region XI later formed Dignity/Canada/Dignit? as a separate organization. Also in 1977, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent founded new Ways Ministry, a ministry of Reconciliation and Social Justice for Catholic gays and lesbians.
In 1978, in response to Proposition 6, a proposal spearheaded by California State Senator John Briggs to bar homosexuals from teaching in California public schools, Jim Highland, Sister Eileen DeLong and Father Jim Fleck formed Catholics for Human Dignity, the first state-registered political lobby of Catholics advocating human rights for gay people. This group was decisive in helping defeat Proposition 6. Dignity continued to be involved in human right campaigns to benefit the gay community. In 1979, over 350 members of Dignity from 27 chapters participated in the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. That same year Dignity president Frank Scheuren, along with the Rev. Troy Perry and representatives of the National Gay Task Force and Gay Rights National Lobby presented nationwide petitions for Gay Rights legislation to President Jimmy Carter's representatives at the White House. In 1980, in tacit recognition of the importance of its work in the political sphere, Dignity opened a permanent national office in Washington, DC.
Although conservative members of the church hierarchy in the United States had always opposed Dignity and its work, a few prominent bishops, including Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle, were supportive, and since its foundation Dignity had been able to engage the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in an ongoing dialog concerning gays and lesbians and the church. The Vatican, however, was opposed to any ministry to the gay and lesbian community, and as early as 1976 withdrew the imprimi potest for Father John McNeill's The Church and the Homosexual, and later forbade him to write or speak on the issue of homosexuality "in any of its aspects". In October 1986, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, defining homosexuality as "an objective disorder" and banning groups that do not agree with church teachings from using church facilities. As a consequence, Dignity chapters were not permitted to hold meetings or celebrate mass on church property; the first eviction of a chapter took place in December. At the same time, the Jesuit Order instructed Father John McNeill to give up all public ministry to gays and lesbians or be expelled from the Order; McNeill refused to comply. In response, Dignity/USA placed a full-page advertisement in the April 27, 1987, issue of Newsweek magazine, the first full-page, full-circulation advertisement purchased by a national gay/lesbian organization. Dignity issued its own Letter on Pastoral Care of Gay and Lesbian Persons, outlining a positive approach to a variety of justice, sexual, and ministry issues affecting gays and lesbians and their families, at the organization's eighth Biennial Convention in Miami in July of that year. Dignity's Task Force on Sexual Ethics, instituted in 1984, issued its report, Sexual Ethics: Experience, Growth, Challenge, in 1989.
Dignity has continued to play an active role in the movement for gay and lesbian civil rights, sending one of the largest organizational contingents to the 1993 March on Washington, and participating in the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force's National Policy Round Table in 1998. It vigorously opposed the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons (1992), which urged bishops to oppose gay and lesbian civil rights laws in such instances as child adoptions, employment of teachers, and military recruitment, as well as the Vatican's Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons (2003), instructing Catholic politicians and the public to oppose legal protections for same-sex couples. On the other hand, despite its frequent disagreements with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dignity supported the Conference's Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to the Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers (1997).
Jim Highland. Dignity; a brief history, 1969-1981. 1981.
Highlights of DignityUSA's History, 1969-present,
47.8 Linear Feet (94 boxes.)
Language of Materials
Records of Dignity/USA, the oldest organization for Roman Catholic members of the GLBT community, from it's founding in 1969 until the early 1990s. The materials include correspondence, minutes, motions, and work papers of the organization's Board of Directors and House of Delegates; records of Dignity's biennial National Conventions; correspondence files of Dignity officers, including Joseph Killian (Joe Gilgamesh), the first elected president of Dignity; and extensive subject files, containing correspondence, reports, press releases, notes, copies of magazine and newspaper articles, and other materials relating to Dignity's day-to-day operations, its efforts to obtain recognition from the Roman Catholic hierarchy, both within the United States and at the Vatican, of the spiritual needs of gays and lesbians, and its active participation in the secular movement for the recognition of GLBT civil rights. Additional materials include records of the regions and chapters into which Dignity is divided; the materials relating to the Los Angeles chapter, always the largest in the organization, are particularly extensive. The collection also includes a collection of photographs and slides documenting the history of Dignity, and extensive files of newsletters published by the national office and by each region and chapter.
- Series 1: National Office Files
- Subseries 1.1: Board of Directors/House of Delegates
Subseries 1.2: Correspondence
- Subsubseries 1.2.1: General Correspondence
Subsubseries 1.2.2: Joseph Killlian (Gilgamesh)
Series 2: National Convention Files
Series 3: Region Files
Series 4: Chapter Files
- Subseries 4.1: Chapters
Subseries 4.2: Los Angeles, CA, Chapter
- Subsubseries 4.2.1: General Correspondence
Subsubseries 4.2.2: Subject Files
Series 5: Newsweek Avertisement
Series 6: Newspaper Clippings
Series 7: Photographic Materials
Series 8: Publications/Newsletters
- Subseries 8.1: National/International Newsletters
Subseries 8.2: Region Newsletters
Subseries 8.3: Chapter Newsletters
Series 9: Ephemera
Date of acquisition unknown.
Collection processed by Yolanda Alaniz, November 2006-May 2007.
Processing this collection has been funded by a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
- Catholic gays -- Canada
- Catholic gays -- United States
- Dignity/Los Angeles
- Gay rights -- Religious aspects -- Catholic Church
- Gays -- Canada -- History -- 20th Century
- Gays -- Religious life
- Gays -- United States -- History -- 20th Century
- Gilgamesh, Joe
- Homosexuality -- History -- 20th century
- Homosexuality -- Religious aspects -- Catholic Church
- Homosexuality -- Religious aspects -- Christianity
- Killian, Joe (Joseph Leon, Junior)
- Lesbians -- Canada -- History -- 20th century
- Lesbians -- Religious life
- Lesbians -- United States -- History -- 20th century
- Dignity/USA records
- Yolanda Alaniz
- © 2007
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in: English