Bishops Oppose Trans-Inclusive Athletic Policy While H.S. Student Supports It

December 19, 2014

Opposing voices who attended the early December board meeting

High school athletics in Minnesota became more transgender-inclusive last week despite opposition from the Minnesota Catholic Conference and other groups.  Yet, a brave student at a Catholic high school in the Twin Cities editorialized in the school paper in favor of the new policy.

The board of the Minnesota State High School League voted 18-2 for a new student policy that makes trans women eligible for female athletics at almost 500 schools in the state. Guided by a “consistent or sincerely held gender-related identity, the policy sets forth a process for determining a given student’s eligibility and adds appropriate language to existing eligibility policies. This policy is being lauded by LGBT organizations, according to the Star Tribune:

“Monica Meyer, executive director at OutFront Minnesota, which advocates for transgender issues, said, ‘All students want is a safe place to just be who they are. That includes in the classroom, on the court or field.’…

“OutFront Minnesota Communications Director Jean Heyer said, ‘We have heard trans kids are playing sports right now, and we have heard that there are kids who will try out now that the policy is in place.’ “

However, religiously-affiliated schools are exempt from the new policy and Christian groups led opposition to the anti-discrimination measure. The Minnesota Catholic Conference teamed up with the Minnesota Family Council and others in a campaign, claiming the policy would cause great harm to students and athletic competition. There were also ads employing the now-common tactic of discussing restroom use. One email from the Minnesota Catholic Conference, reported by The Column said:

” ‘The Policy will potentially cause more harm to the very students it purports to help because it enables a false understanding of gender that does not promote physical or psychological well-being.’ “

In further letters from the Catholic Conference to the Minnesota State High School League board, executive director Jason Adkins said the now-approved policy supports “gender confusion” and because it is not required by state or federal law, is really “propaganda” for a “harmful ideology.”

Parker Breza, the In-Depth Editor of The Knight Errant, the student newspaper of Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School, St. Louis Park, Minnesota, wrote an essay for the paper supporting the new policy. Breza explained the problems that trans students experience in school:

“Transgender and gender nonconforming students are faced with a binary––a male/female gender spectrum––defined world every second of everyday. For the majority of students, this is not an issue: this two-sided way of thinking has been ingrained in us from a young age, leading us to accept it without much thought. For some, however, being forced to conform to the gender binary, or not allowing them to identify where they actually belong, causes stress, anxiety, depression, and sometimes, much more.

“But this is such a small minority of individuals, so many do not even pause to think about the consequences of an unwelcome environment for trans* (the asterisk denotes the vast spectrum of terms and identities that fall under the trans* umbrella) identified students.”

Breza goes on to make an important Catholic argument in support of the new policy:

“As a Catholic school, we know the importance of breaking down systems of oppression and fighting the marginalization of historically underrepresented groups. No matter how small a group, no community deserves to be subjected to exclusion, harassment, or violence. By not taking a stand for trans* students and their rights, you are condoning trans*phobia.”

That Catholic officials in Minnesota are disappointing in their public advocacy is not new, given the 2012 referendum around marriage equality. Their arguments rely on debunked science, while ignoring or even attacking the real experiences of transgender people and their allies. Their campaigns against equality under the law rely on fear rather than truth, turning to anti-LGBT agendas rather than the Gospel to inform their efforts.

As more trans youth are liberated to come out and live authentically, Catholic leaders at all levels should forgo the political fights and instead figure out how the church’s schools can provide welcome and inclusion for all.  Catholic leaders need to listen to students like Parker Breza, whose faith defines a path of acceptance, justice, and equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Gay Veterans to March in Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade Next Year

December 17, 2014

OUTVETS marching in Boston’s 2014 Veterans Day Parade

Exactly three months from today, St. Patrick’s Day in Boston will be a little more bright and gay with the inclusion of an explicitly LGBT group in that city’s parade for the first time.

A participation application was filed by OUTVETS, a new group highlighting LGBT veterans. It was narrowly approved by the Allied War Veterans Council in a 5-4 vote. OUTVETS was established this fall “as a nonpolitical outfit created to honor the contributions and sacrifices of LGBT veterans,” according to the Boston Globe, and welcomes all.

The vote reverses a long-standing ban on gay participants, a Veterans Council policy which was upheld in a 1992 US Supreme Court decision that said the right to discriminate was protected by the First Amendment. However, recent pressures like Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s refusal to participate in the 2014 parade and the pulling of major beer sponsorships may have given parade organizers pause.

Veterans Council commander Brian Mahoney affirmed the decision in an interview with the Globe:

” ‘To other people, it will be a big thing…But to us, it’s a group of veterans that wanted to march and deserved to be honored…We weren’t thrilled last year that the mayor didn’t march…But we always kept open a courteous conversation.’ “

The Globe also noted that though OUTVOTE is the first explicitly LGBT group to march, two contingents last year were LGBT-themed while ostensibly marching as community groups from South Boston.

GLAAD’s blog also noted that this decision comes the same year as changes in New York’s parade are occuring:

“As of September, however, organizers of the NYC event announced that for the first time in its 253-year history, an LGBT organization would be allowed to participate in the parade. The new policy will go into effect in 2015 with OUT@NBCUniversal, a group for LGBT employees with the broadcast company.”

In recent years, these St. Patrick’s Day parades and other Catholic-affiliated civic events have drawn increased attention for their inclusion or lack thereof of LGBT representation. It is good to see parade organizers recognizing what the vast majority of American Catholics know: that people of all gender identities and sexual orientations should be fully welcomed and accepted.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the parade controversies, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Pope Speaks of Parents of LGBTs, As Video Series Examines Family Experiences

December 8, 2014

In his latest interview, Pope Francis’ said the church must figure out how to care for parents with LGBT children while denying

Speaking with Elisabetta Piquè of the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, the pope also emphasized that last October’s synod was not intended to address same-sex marriage at all.The interview, posted in four parts linked to at bottom of this post, is in Spanish (but there is a link in each section to translate the interview to English.)

The interview appeared just as an American Jesuit wrote about the Ignatian News Network’s series on pastoral care with Catholic parents of LGBT people in The National Catholic Reporter.  Eddie Seibert used the synod’s more open approach to LGBT issues to encourage Catholic families to welcome their LGBT children at Christmas and to “Make the Yuletide Gay!”  (More on this video series below.)

Gerald O’Connell of America provides a summary of the pope’s interview:

“Pope Francis pointed out that ‘nobody spoke about homosexual marriage in the synod, it didn’t occur to us. What we spoke about was how a family that has a homosexual son or daughter, how can they educate him/ her, how can they raise her/him, how can this family be helped to move forward in this situation which is a little unprecedented. So in the synod they spoke about the family and homosexual persons in relation to their families, because it is a reality that we encounter many times in the confessional’.  So the synod has to see ‘how to help this father or this mother who accompanies this son or daughter. That’s what was touched upon in the synod. For this reason someone spoke about positive elements in the first rough draft. But that draft was relative.’ “

Crux noted further that Pope Francis referred to his own experiences with parents in the confessional while in Buenos Aires:

” ‘We have to find a way to help that father or that mother to stand by their son or daughter.’ “

The pope spoke positively about the synod overall and said the ongoing process “is the journey that God asks of us” so he does not fear criticism or debates. More broadly, Pope Francis said his efforts at reform would be “slow” and “complex,” and that he is glad resistance is finally out in the open.

In recognizing the difficulties of Catholic parents with LGBT children, Pope Francis echoes the voice of an Australian lay couple who spoke at the synod and have now called for greater lay leadership in a recent piece for The Tablet.   At the synod, Ron and Mavis Pirola used the example of welcoming a gay son and his partner to a family Christmas dinner to illustrate the power of family bonds.

The strength of family bonds is illustrated powerfully by Ignatian News Network in the latest installment of their ongoing series about Catholic parents of LGBT issues. The video features the stories of  Thomas Nelson and Javier and Martha Plasencia, who describe their experiences of loving and accepting their gay sons.  Eddie Siebert, SJ introduced the latest video in a blog post at the National Catholic Reporterand you can watch the parents’ powerful testimonies of love and faith in the video embedded in that article.

The episode is the second part of an examination of Catholic parents of LGBT people .  The first installment, which features Linda Karle-Nelson and Joanne Weyant, can be viewed here:

Seibert summarized his blog post introducing the video by calling for the entire church to emulate these parents’ attitudes and actions:

“So, Christmas is coming. Some of you may be asking the same question the Pirolas asked the bishops…With the amount of division that exists in the world, I pray this holiday season that the messiness of being a human and having a family is something we can find grace in, not judgment and isolation. I pray that if we have the opportunity to welcome someone or turn them away, we choose to welcome. Finally, I pray we remember God doesn’t make mistakes when he creates and nothing can take away our innate dignity — even if we don’t always recognize it.”

Ignatian News Network  has been involved in a larger project of examining the topic of LGBT people and the Catholic Church.  You can read about the debut installment by clicking here.

As Bondings 2.0 has written on several occasions, parents are often the most powerful and effective advocates for LGBT justice in the Catholic Church. Their love their children and their commitment to make the church a better place for them are powerful forces. It is refreshing to hear Pope Francis listening to parents, including the Pirolas, but also those he met while offering pastoral care in Argentina. What will be even more meaningful are concrete changes in practice to make greater inclusion and welcome practical realities in homes and in parishes.

For the full interview with Pope Francis provided in Spanish by La Nacion, use the links provided below:

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Fired Gay Music Director Fires Discrimination Complaints

December 6, 2014
Colin Collette at a press conference last week

Colin Collette at a press conference last week

Fired music director Colin Collette has filed federal and local discrimination complaints against the Chicago-area Catholic parish where he was employed for 17 years.

These filings are the first step in a potential lawsuit, hinging on just what “ministerial exemption” means in employment law.

In filings with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Cook County Commission on Human Rights, Collette claims the pastor and manager of Holy Family Parish, Inverness, discriminated against him on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and marital status. He was fired because his employer thought that Collette’s social media announcement of his engagement to Will Nifong was a public violation of church teaching.

Collette attempted to negotiate with the Archdiocese of Chicago, including a September meeting with Cardinal Emeritus Francis George. However, a lawyer for the fired church worker said these conversations were stalled, and newly-installed Archbishop Blase Cupich had not responded. Collette told the Chicago Tribune

” ‘It is with deep regret that I have had to pursue this course of action…I have chosen to enter into a marriage, as is my right under Illinois law, and perhaps I can open the door to other men and women who the church has chosen to exclude from the community.’ “

Neither the parish nor the Archdiocese of Chicago would comment on the newly filed discrimination complaints. The Tribune explains the filings’ potential implications further:

“A federal discrimination complaint generally has to be filed and reviewed before a person can sue a former employer over alleged discrimination. The EEOC can issue an aggrieved employee a notice of the right to sue the employer or, in rare cases, the agency can sue the employer on the employee’s behalf.

“The success or failure of Collette’s claim will likely turn on what’s called the ‘ministerial exception’ to anti-discrimination law, legal experts said. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that religious institutions have broad latitude in hiring and firing people whose jobs include religious roles.”

That case, EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor, expanded the ministerial exemption beyond clergy without laying out clear guidelines. Whether or not Collette’s role as the parish’s music director is considered ministerial would be have to be adjudicated in any potential litigation. Though the former church worker has expressed a desire to return to his job previously, this recent legal action is aimed at “change and justice” and he told Crux:

” ‘My goal is not just to continue a career in the community that I love…Directing both worship and the music ministry, it is truly my vocation. It is who I am, and it saddens me to have this integral part of my life taken away because I have chosen to enter into a marriage…’ “

Regardless of the legal outcome of this case, Collette’s firing and those LGBT-related employment disputes which have lead to than 40 church workers losing their jobs since 2008 cause tremendous pastoral damage. A town hall at Holy Family Parish four months ago drew hundreds, almost all in support of the gay music director, who received a standing ovation. Several volunteers resigned from the parish in protest of the firing. One parishioner spoke about the pastoral harm, saying, “Everybody was welcome…That’s become a lie.

The Chicago archdiocese is under new leadership with Archbishop Cupich, who has signaled his willingness to dialogue and respect differences in the church. He can start exemplifying this willingness by meeting with Collette and working towards a moratorium on firing people for LGBT-related issues.

In a related note, another fired church worker, Jamie Moore, has decided not to sue Archbishop John Nienstedt and the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

To read more about Colin Collette’s case and all Bondings 2.0‘s coverage of these church worker disputes visit the “Employment Issues” category to the right. For a full listing of those disputes made public since 2008, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

NEWS NOTES: December 4, 2014

December 4, 2014

News NotesHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1) New data from Carl Bialik and the FiveThirtyEight blog suggests Catholics are more progressive than their Protestant peers when it comes to LGBT issues, reports Crux.

2) Robbie Rogers, one of the first openly gay soccer players and a Catholic, will have his life told on a new ABC sitcom called “Men in Shorts.” Last year, Rogers spoke deeply about his faith and sexuality, and the integration of the two.

3)Former Jesuit Benjamin Brenkert, who previously wrote to Pope Francis about his decision to leave the Society, suggested the media’s coverage of last October’s synod did not critically analyze the pope or bishops when it came to LGBT issues. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia was also displeased with the media, harshly criticizing them in the weeks after the synod.

4) Alternatively, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC said the synod was a “free and open process” that came to a “real consensus,” according to Catholic News Service.

5) The Los Angeles Times profiled responses to the synod, including New Ways Ministry director Francis DeBernardo who said of the final report: “I really think this isn’t the last statement…This is the first statement.”

6) Openly gay Catholic priest Fr. Gary Meier, whose coming out made headlines in 2013 before he took leave from active ministry, has launched a nonprofit called Rising Voices of Faith to highlight LGBT people’s voices. The Advocate has further details.

7) National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson spoke with the Rochester City Paper recently about the state of the church, the deep need to include LGBT people and women, and her perspective on Pope Francis.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Chicago’s New Archbishop Cupich Encourages Protections for All Families

December 3, 2014
Archbishop Blase Cupich on "Face the Nation"

Archbishop Blase Cupich on “Face the Nation”

Newly appointed Chicago archbishop Blase Cupich appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” program last Sunday where he offered strikingly positive remarks about LGBT people and their families and seemed to endorse legal protections for families led by a same-sex couple.

Introduced as “America’s Pope Francis,” Cupich was asked how the church should respond to the rapid legalization of marriage equality and whether the church needed to change. Speaking about his own experience in Washington State, where same-sex marriages were legalized through a successful 2012 referendum, the archbishop said:

“I said first of all that we cannot use this moment of public debate to say anything or do anything that would provoke violence against gay and lesbian people. We have to make sure that we’re not part of that and we would condemn that. At the same time it’s not just about gay marriage. It’s about whether or not we’re going to have statutes in our states that uphold and protect people who take the risk of bringing children into the world. People who as mothers and fathers coming together in their love, continue the human race.”

At this point, host Norah O’Donnell asked Cupich whether he thought same-sex parents were included in those needing protection, and specifically whether he considered them to be good parents. The archbishop responded:

“I think there are people not only who are gay but many single people are good parents. And I don’t think that’s the issue. I think the real issue is, should we have — should we continue to have legislation that supports, protects and upholds those people who take the risk of actually bringing children into the world and preserving the human race…

“I do know that there are gay couples, there are others — grandparents, single people who adopt children, who maybe even have children not from the act of love, but to care for children in that way.

“And yes, I think that there has to be way in which we do support them. But I do think there is something unique about a man and woman coming together and bringing children in to the world, preserving the human race and providing that example as a mother and father, a male and female within family that also deserves the state’s support and also protection.”

It is also worth noting that Cupich positively evaluated Pope Francis and promised a similarly pastoral direction for his leadership in Chicago, saying:

“I’m going to do what I’ve tried to do the 16 years that I’ve been a bishop of a diocese. And that is to get to know people. I think one of the things that the Holy Father is appreciated for by people is that he is speaking in a way that really resonates with their aspirations and concerns. What I find to be very interesting in the Francis effect as people call it, is that people do have a sense that the church is listening to them, and also that he is speaking to their deepest desires. And if I can in some way emulate that example then I think that I’m probably on the right track.”

Cupich also affirmed he would not deny Communion to pro-choice politicians, making a larger point that bears on LGBT issues in the church:

“I think that is important always to begin with an attitude of dialogue. It’s important to listen to people and it’s very hard to have dialogue because in order for someone to tell you why they think you are wrong, you have to sit in patience to allow that to happen. The community — as I say, cannot be the place where those discussions are fought, but rather we have to look at how we’re going to deal with the tough issues of the day in a constructive way and as adults who respect each other.”

All of this led to a decidedly different interview with Face the Nation than the typical episcopal appearance. Too often, these interviews have been used by Cupich fellow American bishops to hammer away at LGBT equality. Instead, Cupich’s pastoral inclinations are clear, as is his commitment to dialogue and to respecting difference.

Further, he recognizes LGBT advocates within the church as adults with whom a constructive conversation can occur.

Most striking is Cupich’s admission that gay parents are good and society should evaluate how it can protect all families which, while not endorsing marriage, is a significant shift given his peers’ stated views.

Whether or not Cupich is “America’s Pope Francis” remains to be seen, but what is clear is that his leadership in Chicago signals a new voice in the American church. At the very least, LGBT advocates have a prominent archbishop who says he is ready to listen, willing to dialogue, and seems to be more realistic about what family life really consists of today.

You can watch the full interview by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Trinidad Archbishop Opens Gay-Inclusive Shelter, Calls for Families to Welcome LGBT Children

December 1, 2014

Archbishop Joseph Harris

The archbishop of the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago is the latest example of the “Francis Effect.” He recently encouraged parents to love their lesbian and gay children, and he opened a new shelter last week that will be inclusive.

Archbishop Joseph Harris helped open the Credo Center, a new shelter for at-risk children administered by the Holy Faith Sisters. The Center will welcome lesbian and gay youth, echoed in an opening statement:

” ‘Our doors are open to any boy or girl we feel are equipped to help, irrespective of race, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability or socio-economic status.’ “

The Holy Faith Sisters operate three other shelters in the country, all of which welcome youth regardless of their sexual orientation. Family rejection is a key reason why youth find themselves at the shelters. When asked about parents who cast out LGBT children, the archbishop’s words were recorded by Trinidad and Tobago Newsday:

” ‘I think that is the worst thing that you can do…I think people are people. All people have to be respected. All people, whatever orientation, are made in the image and likeness of Almighty God. We have to find God in them…

” ‘May all who enter it be treated with respect and kindness…May the spirit of love and affection touch all who use the rooms of this house. Loving God, may you lovingly care for all who will live, work and recreate here. Amen.’ “

At the center’s opening, Credo director Sr. Roberta O’Flaherty also addressed the problem of abandoned youth saying:

” ‘Our centres offer a second chance to socially displaced young people whose experience has been victimisation and marginalisation…Our worst crime is abandoning our children. For many of our children, the answer to today’s problems is not just tomorrow, it is tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. But tomorrow is much too late for children who are suffering.’ “

Civil leaders in attendance, including the Minister of Gender and Child Development Raziah Ahmed, also spoke against discrimination based on a child’s sexual orientation and chastised parents who would reject their children.

The religious statements against discrimination are even weightier given the status of LGBT rights in Trinidad and Tobago. Though unenforced, the country still criminalizes homosexuality and bars gay visitors, even though some progress has been made in recent years.

It is good that high-ranking Catholic leaders are ministering pastorally and speaking out against prejudice against LGBT people. Too often, Catholic bishops have forgone their responsibility to speak out or care for all people because they were so adamantly opposed to LGBT civil rights. Archbishop Harris’ pastoral words and public blessing of the Holy Faith Sisters’ inclusive ministry are well in keeping with Pope Francis’ welcoming style, and hopefully a sign of more to come!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,135 other followers