Karen Doherty | Oral History




Karen Doherty was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on July 6, 1952. She was baptized at the same church where her father served as an altar boy, and her mother and father were married: St. Genevieve’s in Elmora. Her religious heritage is a fusion; she has as many Protestant as Catholic forbearers and relatives. Karen notes that this mixed background served her well--the Episcopalian part saved her from some of the extreme kookiness in Catholicism; but it is the soaring, passionate spirit in her Catholic faith that inspires her and thrills her heart. "I love being Catholic."

1957: Around First Communion After graduating from Princeton High School in 1970, she went to Trinity College in Washington, DC. Trinity was a physical and psychological oasis in the middle of a bustling urban environment. It solidified her foundation based on Catholic values, but also prepared her to dive into the world.  As a student in a Catholic women’s college, she felt a sense of worth as a person, and confidence in her thoughts and opinions.  She also took for granted the leadership capacity of women.

At the end of her sophomore year Karen married a student at Georgetown Law. After graduation, they moved to Juneau, Alaska. Karen worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and became very involved in the Alaska lands legislation.  She lived an outdoor life and had a lot of adventures canoeing, boating, camping and exploring . 

1988: Karen Doherty and Dr. Lori M. She also learned a little of the Tlingit (Indian) language and culture. At 24, she was adopted during a potlatch, by a family in Angoon, the most traditional of all the villages.  Angoon is located on Admiralty Island, known as “Bear Fort Island” in Tlingit. Admiralty Island then had the largest concentration of brown bears and bald eagles anywhere in the United States. Her everyday world included whales out in the bay, eagles soaring overhead, bears fishing salmon from pristine streams. Southeast Alaska is wild and vast and awe-inspiring. Karen told her son that she hoped we could travel north together someday. "I said on that land he would get to know the best of me, and he would also see where I felt closest to God."

Early 1990s: Karen and Robert at Mt. St. Helens The marriage had problems and, in 1979, Karen divorced and removed to New York City. It was a horrible, painful transition. She hated the city and missed the mountains. She had every intention of returning north, but fell in love and never went back.

In May of 1980, Karen met C.N. at Dignity/New York.  They became lovers and partners in working for Catholic lesbian visibility and community.  In 1983, they founded the Conference for Catholic Lesbians (CCL).

Protest at US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Meeting  In 1987, Karen first met her spouse, Dr. Lori M.  Lori then lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and had a 3-½ year old son, Robert. Karen started out playing with forts and dinosaurs with Robert, and progressed to Cub Scouts, Little League baseball and ice hockey. Robert calls Lori “Mother” and Karen “Mom.” He has his mother’s intelligence and intuitive understanding of people, and Karen's love for the outdoors, collectibles, wild, faraway places and dogs.

1980s: Pride Parade in NYC  Lori and Karen recently purchased their first house, an 80-year-old Craftsman bungalow in Greenport, New York. They are having loads of fun fixing it up and Karen is kayaking all over Hallock’s Bay. She doesn't have the exciting adventures of her Alaska years, but she enjoys the feel of the paddle in her hands, the sun on her hair and wind in her face. 

C.N., co-founder of CCL (no date) One of the things Doherty is most proud to be part of now is the Living Word Project. She volunteered to be a participant in Shelley Jackson’s book, Skin.  (Read more about this project at http://ineradicablestain.com/skin.html.) Doherty wanted to be a Word for several reasons. She love books and words. She has been mentioned and quoted in books, but she notes that she has never really been part of a book. She also felt it would be a tremendous spiritual experience to be connected in such a way to other people, other words, and the story. A condition to being a Word was to have a word from the book Skin tattooed on her  body in a book font.  "I chose Garamond.  I believe words are gifts of the Holy Spirit. The word I was given is 'You.'"

(This biographical statement provided by Karen Doherty.)

Biography Date: February, 2005

Additional Resources

Titles with chapters devoted to Karen Doherty

  • Barbara Zanotti Hope, A Faith of One's Own, 1984 
  • Raymond Holtz, Listen to the Stories: Gay and Lesbian Catholic Talk about Their Lives and the Church, 1991 
  • Jane Redmont, Generous Lives, 1992

Titles with references to Karen Doherty

  • Nat Hentoff, John Cardinal O'Connor, At the Storm Center of a Changing American Catholic Church, 1988 
  • James A. Autry, Confessions of an Accidental Businessman, 1996

CCL Collections
The Conference for Catholic Lesbian (CCL) records, including the CCL newsletter, Images, has been donated to Marquette University Archives and will be available for research as soon as they are processed.


Oral Histories:


Catholic (Roman) | Conference of Catholic Lesbians | Dignity | Women and Religion | Doherty, Karen


“Karen Doherty | Oral History”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed May 16, 2021, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/oral-histories/karen-doherty.