Carol Curoe was a dutiful daughter. Growing up, she was an excellent student, a hard worker, genuinely close to her parents and siblings. She strove, in particular, to please her father, and he was proud of her achievements. She even chose her college major and first profession, engineering, because Robert Curoe thought she’d be good at it.
“My life with Dad is a series of vignettes that have two main themes: my striving for his attention and his desire to make me strong, to live up to my greatest potential,” Carol Curoe wrote in the memoir she authored with her father, “Are There Closets in Heaven? A Catholic Father and Lesbian Daughter Share Their Story.”
If You Go
What: “Are There Closets in Heaven?” Discussion, book signing and reception with Carol Curoe and Robert Curoe
Where: St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Fireplace Room, 519 Oak Grove St., Mpls.
When: Thurs., Feb. 21, 7 p.m.
FFI: PFLAG: Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals & Transgendered Persons, www.pflagtc.org
‘Dear Mom and Dad’
Because the Curoes are a close family, Carol’s parents were well acquainted with Susan Langlee. Robert and Joyce Curoe thought Carol and Susan, who had lived together for five years when they came out in concurrent letters to family members, were best friends and roommates. “To say we were shocked by the news that they were lesbians would be an understatement,” Robert Curoe wrote.
The decision to break the news in a letter was a deliberate one. “We really wanted them to get a chance to have their own reactions [and coming out in a letter] gave them a chance to react without saying or doing something we all might regret,” Carol Curoe told the Minnesota Women’s Press. “It seemed a respectful way for them to get the news.”
She had not overestimated her parents’ reaction. “I had the same feeling of dread as when Pearl Harbor was bombed, JFK was shot, President Roosevelt died, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. My daughter is gay,” Robert Curoe wrote. And Joyce Curoe took it even harder.
A journey to acceptance
What makes this beautifully written book a page-turner and sets it apart from a standard coming-out story is Robert Curoe’s spiritual journey from unquestioning Catholic to outspoken advocate-even in the face of opposition from the Church-for the rights of his daughter, the family she created, and all gay and lesbian people. The seeds of acceptance that grew into support and flowered into advocacy were there from the moment Robert and Joyce Curoe opened the letter.
There was never any thought, Robert Curoe said, of rejecting Carol. “We knew we didn’t have any choice but to accept it,” he told the Minnesota Women’s Press. Though they struggled with Carol’s sexual orientation, Robert and Joyce accepted her relationship with Susan, and the couples visited back and forth between Iowa, where Robert and Joyce farmed, and Carol and Susan’s home in Phoenix and later, Minneapolis. The couples vacationed together and Susan was part of the Curoe family.
Carol and Susan’s decision to expand their family with children was a turning point in how Carol’s parents viewed their daughter’s life. When Carol announced her pregnancy, her father told her he thought it was a mistake. “I was still afraid of others finding out,” he said.
Carol and Susan forced Robert and Joyce’s hand by making it clear that they would be out as two mothers raising their child. That meant out when they were visiting Robert and Joyce in Iowa. If they could not be out, they would not be there at all.
This was unacceptable. There would be a hole in the Curoe family, Robert thought. This time, it was he and Joyce who wrote a letter. This one went a bit further afield than the ones Carol and Susan had mailed to their parents and siblings. In the letter, mailed to 50 friends and family members, Robert and Joyce wrote that Carol was a lesbian in a committed relationship, and expecting a baby.
The response was overwhelmingly positive. Even those who struggled to understand were accepting and supportive. “It was the best thing we ever did,” Robert Curoe said.
Buoyed by support, Robert and Joyce became active in PFLAG. Robert began to write letters to the editor about gay marriage and discrimination. They attended Human Rights Campaign events. And he began, for the first time, to question some teachings of the Church that had been such a huge part of his life. All six Curoe kids had attended Catholic schools; Carol had attended a Catholic university, too. The Curoes had helped raise money for parochial schools; Robert’s parents had donated the money to restore their parish church, and their names were on a brass plaque on the front of the building. Now he often found himself at odds with his church on the subject of homosexuality. Though he had some support from individual clergy and, most notably, retired Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, Robert Curoe wrote: “In my opinion, the Vatican’s position is uncharitable and condemning; as such, it is hard to accept and understand. To hear the Catholic Church make such statements is frustrating and challenges our core religious beliefs.”
It is not only Carol, Susan and their children who have been affected by the church’s anti-gay rhetoric. In late October, Minneapolis-St. Paul Archbishop John Nienstedt’s office pressured Minneapolis’ St. Frances Cabrini Church to cancel Carol and Robert’s planned talk about their book, “Are There Closets in Heaven?” The Archbishop seemed to be taking aim when he wrote, “Those who actively encourage or promote homosexual acts or such activity within a homosexual lifestyle formally cooperate in a grave evil and, if they do so knowingly and willingly, are guilty of mortal sin. They have broken communion with the church and are prohibited from receiving Holy Communion until they have had a conversion of heart, expressed sorrow for their action and received sacramental absolution from a priest.”
Today, Robert Curoe is an 82-year-old widower (Joyce died last year after 52 years of marriage) who lives in Iowa. He gave up farming some years ago, and last year, reluctantly gave up his second career as a ski instructor, though he still skis. Carol and Susan live in Minneapolis with their sons Patrick, 13, and Jonathan, 10.