Pride is Dignity: Celebrating Pride month with the Dignity collection, new to Digital Commons @ USF

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Guest post from Dahlia Thomas, Collections Specialist – Oral History and Digitization for Special Collections, Stephanie Mackin, Visiting Assistant Librarian for Special Collections, with contributions from Natalie Kazmin, Cataloger, USF Libraries, Tampa campus

To have pride is to have dignity in oneself and one’s community. It is to be proud of the many attributes that make a person uniquely true to themselves. During Pride Month 2023, USF Libraries celebrated the LGBTQIA+ community by showcasing our newly digitized Dignity collection. This collection is unique as it focuses on the intersections between Catholicism and the LGBTQIA+ community from the late 1970s to the early 2000s.

image of speech
Dignity Tampa Bay, “Dignity Tampa Bay 8th Anniversary Banquet – Address by Frank Kern, President” (1983). pg.1. Dignity Collection. 5.

The Dignity Organization focused on providing a community to those who may have felt excommunicated from religion for their identity as both queer and catholic. Their goal was ultimately to break down barriers and support those who felt alone, contemplated suicide due to their lack of support, felt guilty for loving whom they love, and/or felt condemned for their identity. Dignity provided resources for those rejected by their families while also providing education about protection in the wake of discrimination due to the AIDS crisis. Access to information helped many individuals find community, support, and safety during the 1980s. This intersection is extraordinary as these forces are usually opposed; however, encouraging family, positivity, comfort, hope, and a safe space for LGBTQIA+ individuals during this time was their legacy.

The collection provides memorabilia such as programs, workshops, and speeches encouraging gay and lesbian Christians to continue walking in faith despite the rejection they faced. An address delivered by President Frank Kerns at their 8th Anniversary Banquet reflects on his first experience with the Dignity Organization. He states that by being present in the organization, members of the congregation are helping to build a community and continuing to serve God. Kerns describes these actions as ripples created after throwing a stone in a small pond and explains that the ripples are the impact each member has on one another. This ripple effect will never stop because the organization continues to progress by influencing each other with positivity and compassion.

image of speech
Dignity Tampa Bay, “Dignity Tampa Bay 8th Anniversary Banquet – Address by Frank Kern, President” (1983). pg 2. Dignity Collection. 5.

This address is a breath of fresh air as it uplifts the community while remaining optimistic for the future. This address is available online through Digital Commons at USF, and we are excited to have a collection that can merge gaps between groups.

The intersection between  Catholicism and queer feels conflicting, but it should not be. There is an appreciation found in the experiences and stories of those who find faith in God while feeling comfortable in their sexuality. The Dignity Organization has provided the accounts of those who walk in this intersection and has created a safe place for those to find community. During the 1980s, many safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ were dwindling as the AIDS crisis was getting worse and worse, and gay men specifically were blamed for the epidemic. Dignity President Frank Kerns imbues a sense of passion, purpose, and value in the congregation by stating “What makes us unique, as members of Dignity/Tampa Bay is that we come to take our place in the Catholic Church and to worship our Creator in fellowship with our gay brothers and sisters. We come together because we are Catholics in search for a community where we can receive and give support as gay Catholics” (Dignity Tampa Bay, 1983).  Finding a place where men and women can free themselves from prejudice, even for a moment, is a blessing.

This collection reflects the work the DignityTampa Bay chapter has contributed to the Tampa area and to the LGBTQIA+ community by supporting human rights and by acknowledging the human dignity of a community that has long been tormented and rejected (Movement Advancement Project, 2023). We encourage those interested in more intersectional content to check out the Dignity collection or the Out Down South Oral Histories. Discover even more LGBTQIA+ resources and collections by browsing our LGBTQ+ Digital and Special Collections.

*The Dignity collection is currently going through a redaction process by our Digitization team (by request of the donors) for personal information on membership forms and meeting notes. However, the majority of the collection is currently available online.

 Dignity Tampa Bay, “Dignity Tampa Bay 8th Anniversary Banquet – Address by Frank Kern, President” (1983).  Dignity Collection. 5.

Snapshot: LGBTQ equality by State. Movement Advancement Project. (2023, June 28).

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