New Ways Ministry welcomed a delegation of LGBT advocates from Belarus yesterday who are currently touring the United States to learn about LGBT leadership in this nation. They visited New Ways Ministry’s office in Maryland because they wanted to connect with a religious organization that works for LGBT equality.
Staff members Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine joined co-founder Sr. Jeannine Gramick and supporter Patrick Wojahn in explaining the ministry’s purpose and programs. The New Ways Ministry representatives set the work within the broader context of LGBT rights advocacy, giving particular emphasis to the role that Catholics have been playing in marriage equality victories in recent years.
Kiryl Prasniakov, Aliaksandr Paluyan, Natallia Mankouskaya, and Irina Solomatina then explained their struggles in Belarus to support the LGBT community. Free speech and assembly rights are severely limited with public demonstrations frequently leading to arrests and police brutality. Police have raided four gay clubs in the last two months and travel restrictions imposed by the government have limited international fact-finding delegations. However, all spoke positively of progress being made, and they remain optimistic and undaunted by their struggles.
Belarus is a less religious nation than the US. Eastern Orthodox Christians are the dominant denomination, and this church has close ties to the government. The delegation seemed curious that US Catholics so freely speak their minds. They were particularly intrigued that US Catholics speak earnestly with their bishops and clergy about supporting the LGBT community.
Sister Jeannine said of the morning meeting: “I was delighted to know that the women in the delegation were strong feminists and were glad American Catholic women were likewise. That was a highlight for me that they really perked up over feminism.”
Bob Shine commented: “The dangers these human rights activists confront daily gives me a helpful perspective for our work in the United States. While the challenges from the Catholic hierarchy and anti-equality activists in this nation are frustrating, the freedom we have to dialogue openly and honestly cannot be understated.”
Francis DeBernardo observed: ”I was amazed at their courage in working under such a harsh and oppressive legal system. These men and women are doing important and heroic work, and it was an honor to meet with them and be inspired by their example.”
The Belarusian delegation will be hosted at the White House this week before traveling to California, Texas, Alabama, and New York through February. LGBT advocates, like these from Belarus, are sponsored through a newly-implemented leadership program administered by the US State Department.
New Ways Ministry sends our new friends many blessings as they continue their travels and for the work that lies ahead of them in their homeland!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry