The Rainbow Sash Movement is an organization of
gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender Catholics, with their families
and friends, who are publicly calling the Catholic Church to
conversion of heart around issues of human sexuality.
Members of the movement are committed to
bringing the gifts, the witness and the challenge of gay, lesbian,
bisexual and transgender people into the heart of the church.
Through our public, prayerful, visible presence at the
Eucharist and in the ongoing life of God's People, through our
work for justice, through speaking the truth of our lives and our
loving, we call the whole church to build with us a future of
liberation, reconciliation and joy for all people.
We are also supported by
In wearing The Rainbow Sash we proclaim that we
are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender people
who embrace and celebrate our sexuality as a Sacred Gift.
In wearing the sash we call the church:
-- to honour our wisdom and experience;
-- to enter into public dialogue with us;
-- to work with us for justice and understanding.
Together, let us seek a new appreciation of human
sexuality in all of its diversity and beauty.
The movement's core action, or ritual expression,
involves the symbol of the Rainbow Sash. The sash is a strip of rainbow coloured fabric which members
wear over our left shoulders when we attend the celebration of the
this symbol, we publicly claim our place at Christ's table,
sacramentally expressing the truth of our lives, and calling the
church to embrace a new day of integrity and freedom.
A Question Asked
The movement has its roots in a question asked by
a young Catholic gay man in 1997:
"Are gay Catholics who publicly proclaim their sexuality truly
welcome at holy communion?"
After writing to church authorities, this man
attended Mass wearing a Rainbow Sash as the symbol expressing his
In both Melbourne, Australia, and Westminster, London, he
was refused Holy Communion by the local Bishop ( in London,
Cardinal Basil Hume; in Melbourne, Archbishop George Pell.
Cardinal John O'Connor, in Melbourne at the time, publicly
supported this refusal.) A gay priest who wore the rainbow sash
with him, was also refused communion.
In the face of this public rejection, and feeling that he had
received his answer, this young man laid aside the rainbow sash.
A Movement Begins.
On Pentecost Sunday 1998 a group of 70 people
attended Mass in St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, wearing the
A core group of
leaders had been preparing, over a six-month period of prayer and
discussion, to take up the sash again and transform it into a
symbol of pride, dignity and challenge.
Central to this process was the development of the
movement's Core Statement.
After writing a formal "Letter to Pope
John Paul 11", and a "Letter to the
Church", the leaders of the group wrote to the local
Archbishop and informed him of their intention to attend Mass
wearing the sash.
They assured him that their presence would be prayerful, reverent
and peaceful in word and action.
In order to establish the Rainbow Sash as a recognised symbol, and
to provide to the movement with a public voice in a church which
refuses to listen, the leaders of the group also informed the
national and local media.
On Pentecost Sunday, after meeting for
prayer and preparation before Mass, the group moved across to the
them were parents, family members and friends who, in response to
the " Invitation to Friends and
Supporters" chose to stand in solidarity.
At Mass, as the Opening Hymn began, these 70 people, dispersed in
small groups throughout the congregation, put brilliant rainbow
coloured sashes over their left shoulders.
They participated in the Mass in the usual way, with
reverence and respect.
As the distribution of Communion began, the Rainbow Sash wearers
stood up in their places in silence.
Then, as their turn came, they joined the line to receive
Every one of the Rainbow Sash wearers was refused
Communion, including mothers and fathers of gay children.
People wearing small rainbow ribbons were also refused.
On returning to their places, the Rainbow Sash wearers continued
standing in silent witness.
As the Mass concluded the Archbishop read a statement rebuking
them, and most of the congregation applauded.
Outside the Cathedral, the interest amongst national and
international media was intense.
One person interviewed was a 76 year old woman: "I go to Mass
twice a week and say the rosary every night, but today I was
refused communion by my own Bishop.
If I can learn to love my gay son, why can't the church?"
Members of the group distributed hundreds of copies of the "Letter
to the Church" at the gates of the Cathedral.
As the controversy developed over the next few weeks, all of
Australia's Catholic archbishops told the media that they, too,
would refuse Holy Communion to Rainbow Sash wearers.
At the same time, the movement emerged as a strong, new
voice of challenge within the Catholic Church
Over the past two years the Rainbow Sash Movement
has grown and matured.
Members have made a practice of organizing a high profile action
in the local Cathedral at least twice a year, and especially on
Pentecost Sunday. The
movement has developed its public role, using regular articles,
letters, and media commentary to build awareness and call for
As part of our actions we have highlighted
various issues in the church's treatment of gay people:
-- the damaging effects on young people of the church's teaching
and discrimination against gay, Lesbian, bisexual, transgender
people.....youth suicides, harassment, homophobic violence etc;
Event Release and pix)
-- the actions and strategies of "gay cure" groups
like Courage and the Exodus, now active in Australia, and welcomed
by the local Archbishop;
-- the church's ongoing demand that it receive exemption
from all anti-discrimination legislation passed by Federal and
State Parliaments, and its refusal to hire openly Gay, Lesbian,
bisexual, transgender people.
The movement has also focused on alerting the gay
community to the policies, power and influence of right-wing
Catholic leaders, and also on encouraging gay, Lesbian, bisexual,
transgender people to stand up within their churches, and claim
the right to their own spiritual heritage.
In addition to high profile events at the
Cathedral, individuals and small groups of members have chosen to
perform the Rainbow Sash Action at various times in parishes and
at key events in the life of the diocese, always informing church
leaders, and always with quiet strength and dignity.
In spite of being repeatedly refused Communion,
they continue to come forward with faith and dignity.
The Rainbow Sash Movement began as a question.
It developed into a form of
visibility, protest and challenge.
Today it is deepening into an ongoing expression of
sacramental witness and an embodied call for justice.
The Rainbow Sash is also a gift.
Wearing it requires perseverance and generosity, and the
recognition that the church deeply needs the grace and wisdom of
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
When members attend the Eucharist wearing the
Rainbow Sash they become a living symbol of the grace and presence
of gay, Lesbian, bisexual, transgender people in the heart of the
They expose the injustice and break through the
fear that have long poisoned the church's approach to human
In wearing the Rainbow Sash, members change the
actual story, the "the event" of the Eucharist,
becoming visible as gay members of God's People, claiming
their place at the table, and so changing the church.
As our Spokesperson, Michael
Kelly, recently said at our Annual General Meeting:
"I believe that our call today is to move beyond
the status of protesting, oppressed victims.
We refuse to accept the marginalisation and
exclusion that fearful church leaders seek to impose on those who
will not maintain the code of silence and invisibility that have,
for so long, imprisoned the lives of God's gay, Lesbian, bisexual
and transgender children.
Within our own movement, we need to develop a deeper understanding
of the potency, beauty and gift that the Rainbow Sash carries.
It is time to move into a new phase where we
recognize the dignity of the call we have received, the power of
the courage we share, and the grace of the witness and challenge
we generously offer the church.
Wearing the Rainbow Sash is an act of celebration,
a prophetic proclamation, and a ritual honouring of the gift of
gay, Lesbian, bisexual, transgender people, and, even more deeply,
of the whole human mystery of erotic love.
We are a unique and extraordinary group of people,
following the Dance of the Holy Spirit into the midst of a rigid
and fearful institution.
What an amazing grace that we are called to, and
find the courage to, carry this gift and this truth!
Wearing the Rainbow Sash is a joy - we should be
dancing up the aisle!
If the hierarchy cannot embrace us, and the gift we carry,
then the shame is on them -- and I believe people in the church
our increasingly sensing this.
And so the challenge we make today is not so much
to say "stop persecuting us", but to call the People of God to
share in our joy, to open their minds and hearts to the diversity
and delight of human living, and to become the community of
celebration, liberation and justice that Christ intended!
If we, as individuals and as a movement, can
increasingly embrace these qualities in our hearts, and express
them in the spirit with which we wear the Rainbow Sash, then we
will be already living out the freedom, the joy and the future we