By Christina LoBrutto
A mother of two and a cat lover, Rev. Katie Mulligan is Rider’s new Protestant chaplain. She is also openly gay.
Mulligan graduated from the Princeton Theological Seminary and currently works as a youth pastor for four churches in the area: Ewing, Covenant, West Trenton and Lawrence Road Presbyterian churches. Mulligan serves as a part-time chaplain at Rider’s Lawrenceville and Westminster campuses.
In her spare time, she enjoys writing sermons and inspirational thoughts in her blog, InsideOuted.
“There is a moment when you are pulling your shirt over your head at the end of a day,” she wrote in her first blog post. “The shirt is half off and your arms are twisted in the sleeves. You can’t see a thing, eyes momentarily veiled by cloth, torso bared. You’re inside-outed, as my kids would say. To be in the church and be out as queer, it’s the same moment: inside-outed.”
It was in this first blog, posted on Oct. 10, 2010, that Mulligan came out to the world as a lesbian.
“So then let me claim it and be done,” she wrote. “I am queer and I am ordained. And I am unrepentant of both,” she wrote.
Now, over two years later, Mulligan shared that her experience coming out was one of mixed emotions.
“It was an interesting process,” she explained. “People were totally taken off-guard.”
“I had been married, I had two kids — it wasn’t something I’d spoken openly about in terms of my public writing. I’ve been on the liberal end of things for a long time, so it’s not like I was a right-wing Republican coming out as gay.”
She also stressed that being “out” is difficult to define.
“Being ‘out’ is sort of an interesting question. It’s sort of a never-ending process, because if somebody doesn’t know that you’re not straight, then it surprises them and they understand you to have come out to them.”
Mulligan expressed her frustration and struggle to out herself, especially within her church community, for fear of not being ordained.
“At that time in the Presbyterian church, there was a rule that if you were LGBTQ, it was fine if you were celibate,” she said.
“As long as you weren’t partnered, then technically you could be ordained. But frankly, they weren’t ordaining anybody who was ultimately queer. It was a really hard road to go. So a lot of us had simply chosen to say, ‘Well, no one’s asking me any questions about my sexuality, so I’ll just move forward in the process and see where that goes.’ And nobody ever did. Part of it was that I had kids and all of that, and nobody ever asked me any questions about my sexuality, so I just moved forward and I was ordained.”
Students seem to have positive reactions to the fact that Mulligan is gay.
“I think it is a great thing that Rider is lucky enough to have an openly gay Protestant chaplain,” said Patrick Callahan, a junior elementary education and psychology major. “There is a stigma that the religious and LGBTQ community have a very negative relationship. Oftentimes, though, that’s not the case. There are plenty of people that belong to both groups, and plenty more that are supportive of each other.”
Coming out through her blog proved to be a freeing experience for Mulligan — a weight lifted from her shoulders.
“Once I was out on my blog, then I could write, I could speak, I could pretty much say anything without fear, and that was what I was going for,” she said. “I didn’t really want to be shoved in this space anymore.”
One topic that Mulligan discusses in her blog is the concept of a “safe space.” She explains that she has struggled to find a safe space at times, especially within the church community.
She referred to a training program she attended for new pastors, explaining that while it was meant to serve as a safe space, this was not necessarily the case for her.
“It is intended as a safe place for newly minted pastors to share with one another, build friendships, speak deeply of our struggles, etc. It is not, however, a particularly safe space for queer folk,” she explained.
“I lost track of the number of times I shared meals with pastors who believed homosexuality is a sin and felt comfortable dishing that out with the oatmeal breakfast. I still go, but I know the limitations of that space. I can only take so much. Still, it is important to thrive in that space, even though it is not safe.”
As chaplain at the Lawrenceville and Westminster campus, Mulligan has observed the climate surrounding the gay community on both of Rider’s campuses.
“I think that Westminster tends to be an atmosphere where there’s been a longer acceptance of LGBTQ folk in the community,” she said.
“I think that those sorts of artsy places have just long been a haven for folks who are on the margins of lots of communities, so I think that’s made it easier there in a lot of ways. But here [Lawrenceville], I don’t really go any place that’s hostile. I don’t find a lot of people trying to change others.”
At the same time, she stressed the importance of having a place where one can feel comfortable.
“I wouldn’t say that I’ve found a large number of openly queer folk wandering about with their queer signs on this campus,” Mulligan said. “Again, I’m new here, so it’s taking me a while to sort of figure out where are the pockets and spaces that are open and affirming. That’s one of the challenges for LGBTQ folk. It’s how to find places where you can just be. At least until the world catches up to where it needs to be, it’s pretty vital to have those safe spaces.”
Mulligan says that Rider has created such an atmosphere for students.
“I know Rider’s got a very firm policy about accepting one another as we are here in this campus community. I think they’ve created a space where it is possible to be out queer if you would like to be.”
Contact this writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.