I met my best friend in college during Bible Study at the Newman Center across the street from the University.  Weekly, we would attend Bible Study and Sunday night mass.  The more I got to know her the more I wanted to know.  She was funny, but also serious, and deep. She had beautiful eyes, and short brown curly hair, and her smile was Pretty soon we started to study together, eat meals together, hang out,talk all night long, and I felt like I have known her forever.  Both of us were raised Catholic, were first generation college students, and Therapeutic Recreation majors. 

Looking back, I think it was obvious to most people that we were dating.  However, we were both oblivious to what was happening.  I walked a different way to my classes in the morning so that I would see her.  I worked in the food service swiping meal cards and when I saw her in line I was always so happy.  We were spending a lot of time together and it felt great. I felt safe and at home with her. She was the first person I cried in front of and shared some of my childhood trauma with.  

That summer, I applied for a job at a camp in Minnesota.  We were going to be apart.  So we reached out to the Camp Director to see if they had any other jobs remaining.  They did!  She would be a part of the kitchen staff.  Not the kind of job she was looking for but one that allowed us to be together.  That summer we had our first kiss. I had kissed her forehead and nose before (we still did not catch on that we were in love), but never her lips.  So one day I kissed her forehead, nose, and lips.  We both were shocked and my only response was, “Well, the nuns kiss on the lips!”  You have to understand, I went to Catholic School from first through twelfth grade and lived at a Convent with nuns when I was not at school (this is a whole other story). The nuns do kiss on the lips but not the way I was kissing my best friend! 

She wanted to kiss me too which was amazing. However, it meant we had to talk about what this was.  Neither one of us had been in a same-sex relationship before.  I had dated a couple of guys but it never worked out for me. This was a struggle that we each had to go through.  How could we be gay and Catholic?  Are we lesbians? Why would God bring us together if it was wrong? What we were experiencing was the greatest joy for both of us, so how could that be bad? What would others say? My best friend worried about her parents and family.  I worried about what Sister Theresa would say? I met Sister Theresa in high school when I was trying to figure out who I was and in need of direction.  When my family failed to take care of me physically and emotionally Sister Theresa stepped in along with other nuns at the convent.  When I could no longer live with my family over breaks from college, due to their dysfunction and abuse she gave me a room at the convent to call my own. She was my family.  

By the time I finally got up the courage to tell Sister Theresa she responded with “I know! I love you and I will always love you no matter what!” I could not believe that she was okay with me being a lesbian and falling in love with my best friend.  My thought was that she represented the Catholic Church and the Church was against homosexuality so she would not be supportive.  What I did not understand was that she represented God and God is love. Her acknowledgment of our love, and my identity really helped me through my coming out process. One of my biggest struggles was my Catholic upbringing.  The message I learned throughout twelve years of Catholic School is that God is love.  However, in the late 1980’s, many people in the church did not speak or act that way. I internalized those messages and even spoke the language of hate against the gay community. Sister Theresa’s message of love was always clear. I struggled in high school accepting her love, but love won out!  She showed me a way to be to others that was foreign to me.  I wish all young people had a Sister Theresa!!

Tara and I have been together for the past 29 years and legally married for 10. We left the Catholic Church about 25 years ago and never looked back.  We currently attend a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. We have survived a lot together and I still feel like she is my best friend and the love of my life.   


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Willem Van Roosenbeek (contributor)

Will (he/him/his/they/them) serves as the LGBTQ+ Programs and Services Director on the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL) Campus for the past 20 years. Working with the LGBTQ+ community and fighting for social justice has become not only Will’s career path but also his life’s passion. Will is an educator and trainer who provides trainings and workshops both on and off-campus. He has been involved in the city of La Crosse as one of the initial Human Rights Commissioners, has sat on several Boards of Directors, and he currently volunteers at the community LGBTQ Center. Will grew up in Milwaukee, WI, but they have lived in La Crosse for all of their adult life. Will earned his undergraduate degree from UWL in Therapeutic Recreation ‘92. He worked in Drug/Alcohol Addiction Services for three years then went back to school for a Master's Degree in College Student Personnel ‘97. After Graduate school they worked for the Coulee Region Community Action Program (CAP) with youth. In 2001 his current job opened up and he was happy to return to UWL. Will lives in La Crosse, WI with his partner, Tara, and their dog Ruby.

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