What’s In a Name?

January 28, 2012

The highly controversial debate over what to name the government-mandated anti-homophobia clubs in state-funded Catholic schools of Ontario has been settled.  Though they are commonly called “gay-straight alliances” (GSAs), Catholic officials balked at this title. After eight months of wrangling, the Ontario Catholic Schools Trustees’ Association (OCTSA) has settled on a choice, and it has also issued guidelines for how to run these groups, reports the Toronto Star:

“Now, at last, the puff of white smoke has emerged. In a report sent Thursday to schools, the committee suggests anti-bullying groups be called “Respecting Difference clubs.” They must have a staff advisor committed to the Catholic faith, they are not to provide personal counseling in a group setting, and are not to be a forum for “activism, protest or advocacy of anything that is not in accord with the Catholic faith foundation of the school,” says the 15-page blueprint sent out this week to all Catholic school boards.

“ ‘This is about helping kids feel safe against bullying, not as advocacy for a lifestyle,’  said Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association. ‘We have nothing against homosexuals, but it’s the (homosexual) act that is in contradiction of the teachings of the church.’ “

Why is there such a controversy over what to name these groups?  In an article on Xtra.ca, a Canadian lesbian/gay news organization, quotes Kirby’s reasoning for opposing “gay-straight alliance:”

“ ‘It won’t be a gay-straight alliance,’ she told Xtra in past interviews. ‘When I look at a gay-straight alliance, I see an activist group. We are answering the students’ request for support and assistance, not for activism. Students don’t want to become activists; they want to be supported in being bullied by their peers.’ ”

At least one observer disagrees with Kirby’s assessment.  In The Windsor Star‘s article,  Larry Lavender, vice-president of Windsor Pride says that gay-straight alliances are not activist organizations and that, in reality, they function pretty much in the way that Catholic trustees want the groups conducted. He states:

” ‘They’re just meeting once a week after classes, and socializing and talking about their problems and being there for each other.’ ”

Lavender has no problem with the new name:

“ ‘As long as they allow them and don’t impede them, don’t suppress their function, is it really important what they’re called?’ Lavender asked. ‘No, not really.’ ”

However, one of the people at the center of this controversy and who stands to be one of those most affected by the decision is not happy with the Trustees’ decision. Leanne Iskander, a student who has been asking for a GSA at her school since last March and who has organized Catholic Students For GSAs,  doesn’t like the new term at all. In an interview with the Toronto Star explains her position:

“ ‘It highlights the difference, rather than the similarities, and it should be about more than just respect — it should be about accepting people as they are. . . ‘ “

In The Globe and Mail article on the topic, Iskander added a thought which highlights how futile it is for authorities to try to pull the wool over young adults who can smell phoniness a mile away:

“ ‘We wouldn’t use this name if they [the school] tried to push it on us.’ ”

Is something’s name really important? Definitely.  The name sets a context for an organization and sends a message about what is permissible and not permissible for discussion.  A name is not only a label:  it also contains values.  Part of the problem in this controversy is that the (OCTSA) sees that the word “gay” only can mean illicit sex and/or political activism, and so it is devalued.  In  The Globe and Mail article, Kirby stated:

“ ‘We may not agree with the advocacy of a lifestyle, but still believe that gay students, and for that matter any students, should not be bullied. . . .We are totally against bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and have nothing against homosexuality. But this is about anti-bullying specifically, not promoting a lifestyle that goes against our Catholic teachings.’ ”

While it is admirable that Kirby is against bullying, her worries about “promoting a lifestyle” are overblown and reveal a defensiveness that, if enacted in these organizations, will guarantee their failure.

If sexual activity and political activism are one’s starting points for understanding LGBT people–particularly young LGBT people–this assumption reveals that there is really no understanding at all.

–Francis DeBernardo,  New Ways Ministry

Bondings 2.0 reported earlier about this controversy in the following postings:

NEWS NOTES: January 18, 2012

Silence Is Not Golden

Abolish ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in Ontario’s Catholic Schools”


NEWS NOTES: January 27,2012

January 27, 2012

Here are some links to items that you might find of interest:

1) While the big news from the Creating Change conference this week is that the “NAACP president says group supports extending rights to transgender residents in Maryland,” the same Washington Post article notes that Maryland’s Catholic First Lady also addressed the conference on the state’s marriage equality bill, noting ““We’re all very diverse and that’s what makes us so strong, but religion should never play a part in what the laws of our state are, and that’s what we’re trying to convey to religious leaders who are opponents of the bill.”

2) The Catholic diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, supports a legislative state “Bill [that] would let wedding vendors refuse service to engaged same-sex couples,” according to The Nashua Telegraph.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


‘Catholic Church Doesn’t Need to Take Another Battering’

January 27, 2012

The Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality during Maine’s 2009 referendum has had a “devastating” effect on the church there.

That’s the opinion of a Maine parish administrator, and also of William H. Slavick, who penned an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald entitled, “The Maine Catholic Church doesn’t need to take another battering.”  Slavick, a veteran church reformer and peace activist who ran for U.S. Senate in 2006, points out that the hierarchy’s supposed “victory” has been a decisive defeat on the pastoral level, with financial consequences, too:

“Recently, a parish cluster administrator acknowledged that the referendum repeal campaign was, for the church in Maine, ‘devastating.’ No explanation was necessary. We know. The lack of charity occasioned wide discomfort. Some left, often among the better educated and more generous. More stopped attending Mass after weeks of campaign bullying. With $200,000 of diocesan referendum contributions unexplained, many refused to make contributions from which the bishop received a cut. That includes the Sunday offertory collection.”

Slavick’s concern is timely because  supporters of marriage equality have gathered enough signatures to stage another referendum on the issue in November, so a new struggle is very near.   Details about the referendum can be read in an article, “It’s on: Same-sex marriage supporters give it another try,” from Maine’s Sun Journal.

Lest you be inclined to think that Slavick’s worries might be isolated to his corner in Maine, allow me to relate what I learned from a California friend this past summer.  While visiting Los Angeles, I chatted with a friend involved in Catholic LGBT ministry there.  When I asked how his parish’s thriving LGBT outreach was going, he said it had closed.  Why?  Because the hierarchy’s strong rhetoric in the Proposition 8 campaign there in 2008 drove away the LGBT Catholics who had found a home in the parish.

Similarly in the heat of the New York debate about marriage equality in June, 2011, J. Peter Nixon wrote a blog post on dotCommonweal in which he counseled bishops:  “Don’t lose ugly.”

“The bottom line is that opponents of gay marriage—among whom I would include the U.S. bishops—are going to lose this fight.  They may win this year and perhaps even the next few years.  But judging from the polling data I’ve seen, their ultimate defeat is as certain as the passage of time. . . .

“There’s losing, though, and then there’s losing ugly.  The way in which the Catholic Church loses this particular campaign will have an impact on its ability to communicate the Gospel to younger Catholics, to say nothing of the broader culture.”

One of those younger Catholics, Michael O’Loughlin, a blogger for America, offered similar advice in an article on HuffingtonPost.com, “Relationships and the Church:  How to Create a Welcoming Catholicism.”  O’Loughlin offered a plan for the future that has already passed the test of time:

“What is the antidote to this institutional downward spiral, where the church is viewed not as the defender of the weak and vulnerable, but as the enforcer of an antiquated morality? The hope lies in the truth that relationships hold unparalleled power in helping individuals find self-acceptance through God’s radically unconditional love. For every rigid religious doctrinaire, there are scores of individuals, lay and ordained, and even some Catholic bishops, who strive daily to protect and care for those who hurt. Relationships have the power to transform how people relate to the church. Those who long for an inclusive and loving church, to witness prophetically with the hopes of a constructing peaceful and just world, can realize this goal through the power of their relationships. These relationships need not be filled with heroic acts. Rather, simple, kind words and gestures, especially from a friend or pastor, do much to combat the harmful words hurled from the powerful.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: January 26, 2012

January 26, 2012

Here are links to some articles you might find of interest:

1) Let us keep LGBT people in Uganda in our prayers today, the first anniversary of the murder of activist David Kato.  In “Uganda: Murdered Gay Activist David Kato ‘Lives On,’ ” the International Business Times reports that among Ugandan gay activists “a commitment to fight for equal rights in Africa has lost none of its force.”

2) Dignity/Chicago and the Rainbow Sash Movement are two of the sponsors of a Sunday, February 12th, 10:30 a.m. protest outside of the Windy City’s Holy Name Catholic Cathedral.  LezGetReal.com reports the details and reasoning behind the protest in “Holy Name Cathedral Protest Set for 12 February.”

3) PinkNews.co.uk reports that the province of Queensland, Australia, has agreed to a Catholic priest’s 25,000-signature petition to eliminate the “gay panic” defense from the law.  For details on the decision, read “Catholic priest wins ‘gay panic’ defence fight.”  Bondings 2.0 blogged about Fr. Paul Kelly’s signature collecting efforts in our January 2, 2012, post “Catholic Priest Speaks Out for Equality in the Law.”

4) The New York Times carries an Associated Press story, “Gay Marriage Returns to the Political Spotlight,” which is a good round-up of upcoming marriage equality battles in seven states.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Meet Marc Mutty

January 26, 2012

Marc Mutty

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of the name “Marc Mutty” before.  I hadn’t heard of  him until yesterday when several news items about him flashed across my computer desktop.  He’s sort of a cross between Daniel Avila, the advisor to the U.S. bishops who last year created an uproar when he claimed that the devil caused homosexuality, and Cardinal George,  who earlier this month apologized for comparing the LGBT movement to the Ku Klux Klan.

I first saw his name in the lead paragraphs of an article about Maine’s anti-bullying bill being approved by a legislative committee:

“After the Legislature’s Education Committee voted unanimously to pass a new anti-bullying bill, Marc Mutty of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland reached out and shook the hand of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Terry Morrison, D-South Portland.

“It was a brief exchange, an easily overlooked moment.

“But to Morrison, who is openly gay, the handshake with Mutty, who has worked on campaigns to oppose same-sex marriage, was a big deal.

I was touched by this gesture, and the fact that it signified that a Catholic official was supportive of a law that would help LGBT young people.  It made me think kindly towards Marc Mutty. Since I was curious about who he was, I did what any self-respecting 21st century hipster would do:  I googled him.

What I learned was that Mutty was, in fact, the Director of Public Affairs for the Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine.  A little further digging revealed that he had also been the Chair of “Yes on 1,” the organization which led the fight to block the extension of civil marriage rights to lesbian/gay couples in Maine’s 2009 referendum. Now I was not thinking so kindly towards him.

Further digging revealed that a new documentary film shows that Mutty actually regretted a lot of the anti-gay rhetoric that he promoted during the 2009 campaign, even acknowledging that some of it was blatantly untrue.  According to a Portland Press Herald April 17, 2011, article, the documentary contains interviews of Mutty acknowledging that  his words were sometimes false:

” ‘We use a lot of hyperbole and I think that’s always dangerous,’ says Mutty during a Yes on 1 strategy session, at the time on leave from his job as public affairs director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine.

” ‘You know, we say things like “Teachers will be forced to (teach same-sex marriage in schools)!” ‘ he continues. ‘Well, that’s not a completely accurate statement and we all know it isn’t,you know?'”

At this point, my feelings turn to anger that someone in a responsible position, someone who holds a leadership role in the Catholic Church, would spread knowingly misinformation about LGBT people.

The article goes on to describe Mutty’s shame and regret:

“At another point, he laments, ‘I fear I’ll be remembered for the work I did on this campaign.’

“He even goes so far as to plead ‘for forgiveness for the ways in which I might have betrayed my own self in this endeavor.’ “

Now, my feelings for him turned to sadness.   It must be very hard to promote ideas that one doesn’t believe and that one knows to be untrue.  It must be even harder to do so, if one reflects on the harm that such words and ideas can cause to people.  Like Daniel Avila and Cardinal George, with whom I have compared him, Mutty seems to have got caught up in his own rhetoric and extrapolated it to its own false conclusions. It seems that when he heard himself speak those conclusions he realized how wrong he was, but by this point, he had painted himself into a corner of his own words and could not find a way out.

I decided to write about Marc Mutty because he is like many people that I have met during my work in the church: people who become so blinded by their ideology that they find it difficult to speak the truth.   He is like the many people I have met who actually do not believe the anti-gay messages that they promote, but who continue to promote them because of fear of losing their positions and prestige or who get blinded by their own rhetoric.   Their actions cause damage to others, for sure.  Equally as sure, however, is that their duplicity causes harm to themselves.

At the risk of sounding pious, we need to pray for people like Marc Mutty.  I think people who work for LGBT equality need to make safe spaces for people like him to admit their errors, free of judgment.

In his case, let’s hope and pray that his handshake on the anti-bullying bill is a step towards integrity for him and justice for LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: January 25, 2012

January 25, 2012

Here are links to some articles you might find of interest:

1) In a Washington Blade article, Maryland’s Catholic Governor Martin “O’Malley says marriage bill brings dignity, religious freedom.”  In attendance at the Governor’s prayer breakfast, and quoted in this article in support of marriage equality, is New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick.

2) Announcing that he will veto New Jersey’s marriage equality bill and prefers a referendum on the issue,  Catholic Governor Chris “Christie Wants Voters to Decide on Gay Marriage” reports the New York Times.

3) Both Pope Benedict XVI and John Boswell, the late Catholic gay historian, are quoted in “The ‘Art’ and Rhetoric of Stereotyping and Scapegoating LGBT People,” published on HuffingtonPost.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


ALL ARE WELCOME: At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out?

January 25, 2012

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.  This is the third installment.  The first one can be accessed here; the second one can be accessed here.

Catholic colleges over the past decade have struggled with how to accommodate LGBT students and faculty.  Many have done excellent work in this regard, developing innovative and pastorally sensitive programs and policies.  Some have even gone so far as to provide partner benefits for faculty. (New Ways Ministry maintains a list of gay-friendly Catholic college campuses which can be accessed here.)

This week, the The Observer, the student newspaper at the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College, South Bend, Indiana, reports on a Campus Life Council discussion on there about developing a gay-straight alliance.  One of the questions they are trying to answer is: Would a gay-straight alliance fare better as an institutional structure or as a student run group?

In the article, Sister Sue Dunn, assistant vice-president for student affairs, explains that all LGBT programs are run by the Core Council for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Questioning Students, described as:

” ‘. . . a blend of students and administrative types. We have someone representing Student Affairs, the Gender Relations Center, the Counseling Center and Campus Ministry,’  she said. ‘We also have eight students, most of whom identify as GLBT and some heterosexual allies, who build a network and programs.’ “

According to the article, Sister Dunn acknowledges that “many students perceive the Core Council as directly aligned with Notre Dame’s administration,” which, she states, has at times been “a tension.”

At least one student expressed a differing opinion on whether the gay straight alliance should be institutional or independent:

“Diversity Council representative Alexa Arastoo said she would not want to see a gay-straight alliance become a part of Core Council. She said a completely student-run organization would allow more opportunities for leadership, and would allow the group to branch out more.

” ‘Having a club on the student level changes the culture. It’s where we get involved and know what’s going on,’ Arastoo said. ‘This isn’t just a tutoring or interest club, it’s part of their person.’ “

It’s an age-old question:  does becoming part of an institutional structure create more advantages or disadvantages?  Does remaining independent and grassroots-oriented mean trading access and support for honesty and integrity?

These are questions that not only Notre Dame students must resolve for their gay-straight alliance, but that many folks involved in LGBT ministry in the Catholic Church face every day.

I don’t think there are any simple answers to these questions.  It would be great to hear what blog readers think. Please share your thoughts in the “Comments” section.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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