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I AM GLIDE – Titania Bucholdt

A focal point of GLIDE’s Sunday Celebration is the “I AM GLIDE” testimony, in which a member of the community takes the pulpit and tells their story, in their words. GLIDE is a place for healing and recovery, and one of the ways we empower each other is by telling our stories. Indeed, we often refer to these testimonies as our “sacred text.” Recently, longtime GLIDE Ensemble member Titania Bucholdt graciously offered her story to the congregation.

In 1987, I was invited by friends at UC Berkeley to attend a concert at GLIDE, but it was not until my fifth invitation to GLIDE to attend Sunday services, in August 1995, that I made it into the building. I was reluctant to go to any church; my experience was that churches were nearly always segregated places run by men who were judgmental, privileged and clueless. Harsh words, but I decided to walk in the door at GLIDE anyway.

My GLIDE story didn’t start when I became a GLIDE member in 1995, or even when I first heard of GLIDE in 1967. It started when my parents decided to get married in 1957 and discovered that there was no Catholic priest in my mother’s parish in Los Angeles who would agree to perform their marriage ceremony.

My parents wanted to be married in the Catholic church. My mother had lived for nine months out of the year, for four consecutive years, on the Brentwood campus of a private women’s Catholic college with her dorm room right next door to the campus church. She expected that she could be married at her campus church—to her shock her request was denied. She asked to be married at the Catholic church down the street where she also attended church services from time to time, and she was turned down. She went to her priest’s supervisor and he told her that she was asking for the impossible. She asked at another Catholic church in her parish, and again she was turned away.

Five priests in my mother’s parish told her that she could try to be married in the Catholic church, but it was unlikely to happen. The reason they gave was that marriage was a holy sacrament, and although the marriage my mother sought was legal due to a relatively recent change in California law, the Catholic archdiocese believed that marriage between people of different “races” was not what God wanted. Marriages were meant to last, and surely my mother had to see that the marriage she sought could not possibly last, therefore it would not be proper to ask for God’s blessing.

My parents were married at a Los Angeles courthouse, with two attorneys who had been pulled out of the hallway by the bailiff as witnesses. Immediately after the ceremony ended, one of the attorneys gave my father a business card and told my father to give a call when he’d “gotten on the other side of this” (he was a divorce attorney). Fifty years later, at my mother’s funeral, my father tearfully said that it had finally happened, he had “gotten on the other side” of his marriage.

My mother was determined to receive the Catholic sacrament of matrimony, so nearly four years later my parents were married in a Catholic church in Nevada. My baby brother and I were there, though I don’t remember it. I believe that the circumstances of this second wedding created some relief, but not so much joy. My parents wore their best street clothes, but there were no photos.

By 1963, my parents had joined a desegregated Catholic racial justice group, one which was expressly unauthorized by the Los Angeles archdiocese. The activist group was named Catholics United for Racial Equality, also known as C.U.R.E. My father participated in a few civil rights marches down Wilshire Blvd. When I asked to join my father in the marches my parents told me that it was not safe. My father was taking chances by being seen in a desegregated group, and I would have an even greater risk of harm—I represented a future that so many people opposed violently.

One evening during the summer of 1963, as my father and I watched the national evening news on television, we were surprised to hear, “In Los Angeles at the Chancery offices of the Los Angeles Archdiocese there is a sit-in by members of Catholics United for Racial Equality.” I was thrilled to see the protesters on television. Father William duBay was on the news, someone I knew personally. While I did not entirely understand the concept or purpose of a sit-in, the reason for their protest was one that I completely understood: The Catholic Church in Los Angeles was refusing to address the issue of racial injustice.

But those protests did not create any immediate change. Father duBay reported to the C.U.R.E. membership that the Archbishop’s response to demands for church action to support the civil rights movement was dismissive. The Archbishop told Father duBay, “There is no race problem in Los Angeles.”

My family began spending long Saturdays at the home of Jefferson Park community activist Leon Aubrey, and soon my parents came to the understanding that “Los Angeles was not a place to raise children.” My father decided to take a work transfer out of state with the U.S. Public Health Service, even though he had been truly delighted by his work in Los Angeles as a public health field investigator.

My father had worked as a V.D., presently known as S.T.D., investigator, which meant that he was privy to the goings on at wild Hollywood parties. This included the world of “hookers and high-priced call girls.” As a result of that work, for years afterwards at parties, gatherings and meetings, my father would frequently and fervently declare that “The Civil Rights Movement should not end until there are equal rights for all; and equal rights will not exist until those rights are extended to prostitutes, who are considered by society to be the lowest of the low. We will not have achieved equal rights in the world unless prostitutes also have equal rights.”

In 1965, my father took a new job with the U.S. Public Health Service in Alaska. My mother set about finding a Catholic church near our home in Anchorage. She settled on a grand building that was walking distance from our home—but not walking distance during the winter, when it was safer to drive.

Shortly after the birth of my youngest brother, my mother decided to go to Sunday services and to bring the new baby. It was a dark winter morning despite the ice fog and about 15 below zero. My father dropped my mother and my little brothers in front of the church while he and I went to look for a parking space. When my father and I walked up to the church, we could see my mother still standing on the church steps trying to hide that she was upset. When she had tried to enter the church, she had not been allowed in.

There was a policy of not allowing brown people in the church, particularly when it was very cold outside, since the church administration felt that such people were only “just” trying to get out of the cold. African Americans were allowed in the church, because they were usually in Alaska as members of the U.S. military. Brown people, like my mother, were not allowed in because they were presumed Alaskan Natives, and were assumed to be homeless.

Once they saw my father we were allowed into the church, and after the service that morning the priest apologized to my parents for the error of the volunteer who had not recognized my mother as a member of the church. Eventually my mother came around to the idea that she needed to look for another church community.

My brothers and I were thrilled when my parents decided to join a nearby Byzantine church. What a difference! That church had the most amazing music. The entire church service was joyously sung, call and response, from beginning to end. Frankincense and myrrh were used freely, and it smelled like Christmas every Sunday. My father was very happy with the sermons of the progressive priest. I loved the homemade food that was served to the congregation members after every Sunday service, and every Sunday my family would stay for at least an hour after the service.

Alas that lasted only a few months. The progressive priest was labelled a radical by his supervisors. He was transferred to a very small town on a very large island, accessible only by plane. My father lamented that good churches were hard to find, and great preachers never stayed long before they were pushed out by “the powers that be.” We continued to attend the Byzantine church for some time, but the sermons were dry and boring and the congregation fled the building after each Sunday service.

In the spring of 1967, my father came home from an epidemiology training session in San Francisco. It had been his third week-long training session in San Francisco that winter, and my younger brothers were no longer interested in his stories of the sights of San Francisco, which they were having trouble imagining. But this time my father did not come home to sit at the dining table and tell stories of what he’d seen and heard at the Fillmore, or at Fisherman’s Wharf or Coit Tower. Instead, he stood in the living room too excited to sit down and told us about a church in San Francisco that he’d visited that Sunday.

The unbelievable news was that at this one amazing church in San Francisco prostitutes were specifically invited! The doors of the church had been thrown open to accept everyone: the homeless, drug addicts and prostitutes! It wasn’t that they were accepted, they were being recruited! My father never dreamed he would ever see such a thing in his lifetime in a major city. He was full of pride and hope. The late ’60s were a time of hope and of change.

In 1995, when I first came to GLIDE, I was curious about what my father had seen in 1967. I didn’t expect that it would be the same kind of place, but it was—it was even better. The music at GLIDE was incredible, it reminded me of the Byzantine church of my childhood. I sang along from the pews, and I joined the GLIDE Ensemble the following spring.

Although this great music has kept me busy at GLIDE, it’s not the reason I’m still here. I’m a proud GLIDE member because the GLIDE community does not reject people for how they look, their beliefs, their social status, or for how they’ve handled their own lives. It’s a church for everyone. It’s a church that fulfilled my father’s wildest dreams in 1967, and since 1995 it’s fulfilled my dreams too. My name is Titania, and I am GLIDE.