Nun Advocating for Transgender Justice Profiled During Catholic Sisters Week

March 12, 2014


Sr. Monica, in middle

National Catholic Sisters Week, currently underway in the US, seeks to honor and celebrate the many women religious who have positively contributed to our world and our Church. For decades, Catholic sisters included justice for gay and lesbian people in these efforts to create change, and they have been ardent advocates for the full equality of every person. Now, Nathan Schneider’s article published by Al Jazeera America reveals the crucial role Catholic sisters play in advancing justice for transgender people in the Church.

Sr. Monica, a pseudonym used in the article due a request by her congregation for anonymity, began ministering among the transgender community in the late 1990s. Her smaller congregation is noted for ministering on society’s margins, and Monica is trained as a spiritual director and liturgist. She began ministering to the lesbian/gay community at first, before recognizing a “call within a call” to accompany the transgender community. The article notes of Sr. Monica’s ministry now:

“Monica has welcomed trans people into her home for retreats, and helped them to pray, and taken them out to dinner dressed, for the first time in public, according to the gender they know themselves to be. She often stays in touch with them for years on end. ‘Her basic message,’ [psychologist Maureen] Osborne says, ‘is to let them know that they are loved by God and that they are meant to embody exactly who they are.’

“Monica has healed souls and saved lives. Yet the leadership of the Catholic Church she serves acts as if her ministry doesn’t exist.”

Currently, there is no official teaching from the Vatican on gender identity aside from an ad hoc document suggesting guidelines on gender transitions,  and a few condemnatory remarks from Pope Benedict XVI in public speeches. Neither can be considered the result of substantive theological reflection or “official” in any way.

In 2010, Sr. Monica convened  a meeting of seven Catholic priests, a deacon, and four transgender Catholics for an afternoon of sharing and reflection. Schneider describes the meeting, the first of its kind, in the following way:

“Over the course of an hour, two trans men and two trans women told their life stories in brief, and the priests had to listen. They talked about the process of discovering that their gender didn’t fit their body — some in childhood, others later in life. They talked about struggles with priests and longings to be reconciled with their faith…

“During the second hour, there was an open discussion. The priests didn’t ask questions so much as affirm, and express sympathy. ‘I commend you for the integrity that you have’ — that kind of thing.

“As the second hour ended, some of the priests began to slip out for other appointments. One of them began to speak, paused, and then said, ‘Your ministry is to us today, and your spirituality is very, very apparent. You’ve helped me personally a great deal.’

“Another pause: ‘Because I’m a queer man.’ After what he’d heard, somehow, his own secret didn’t seem so scary. ‘I’ve come out to a number of people — but not yet to my brothers here.’ “

Sr. Monica’s ministry was sustained for a long time by her religious community, even when bishops were sharply critical of her work. These critics have kept her from being more public about transgender ministry, and now illness has forced her into an early retirement. Sr. Monica has withdrawn from leading retreats and counseling more than 200 transgender people, instead spending time in prayer and silence with the hope of ‘melting into God.’

Hilary Howes

Hilary Howes

At the same time, transgender topics are increasingly addressed by Catholics through writings and workshops sponsored by New Ways Ministry, of which Schneider writes:

“The first-ever Catholic trans conference in the United States took place one Saturday last November at a suburban convent in Towson, Md. About 35 people attended, mostly older women, sitting together in a room with a crucifix on one wall facing another wall of stained glass. The morning’s presentation was by a psychiatrist who works with gender-variant patients at Children’s Hospital. In the afternoon there was a talk by Hilary Howes, a middle-aged businesswoman who converted to Catholicism after her transition at age 40, almost two decades ago…

“Howes said during the conference in Towson, ‘The idea that God is beyond gender is quite clearly there…It’s a beautiful spiritual journey, but if you don’t have to go through it, please don’t.’…

“The day was full of epiphanies…Some who were already familiar with transgender terms and categories were trying to wrap their heads around the genderqueer label that increasingly resonates with young people  — not one gender or the other so much as somewhere in between, or both, or neither.”

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, who has ministered to lesbian/gay people for decades, is quoted in the article as saying, “The trans issue is in the Catholic community now where the lesbian and gay issue was in the late ’70s.” Schneider highlights these two sisters as he concludes the article, writing:

“For decades Grammick [sic] has spoken boldly on behalf of the queer community and has been censured mightily for it; where Monica agonizes about whether or not to speak, Grammick simply does so and then deals with whatever blowback comes from the hierarchy. Where Grammick has advocated, Monica has internalized.

“And this eats at her. ‘I am silent while trans people are being killed,’ she says, clenching her shoulders as if holding an invisible weight. ‘They’re being murdered and committing suicide, and I’m silent!’ When she’s worked up like this Monica can flash a gaze that makes her eyes seem steely and certain, until they fill with tears. And then a saying from St. Catherine of Siena comes to mind, turning her anger to a duller sadness. She recites it: ‘Preach the truth as if you had a million voices — it is silence that kills the world.’ “

IMG_0701In whatever way sisters have ministered, the religious women’s persistent accompaniment and advocacy for LGBT justice is a central reason to celebrate them during Catholic Sisters Week. At the same time, the voices of LGBT Catholics, their family, friends, and allies are all needed to carry on Sr. Monica and the sisters’ desire for transgender inclusion.

You can read the full article at Al Jazeera America by clicking here, and read more coverage of trans Catholic issues by this blog by clicking here. New Ways Ministry will also be offering another transgender workshop on Saturday, May 17, 2014, in Washington, DC. For more information on that, please call (301) 277-5674 or email

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Gonzaga U. To Implement Transgender-Inclusive Policies

February 24, 2014

Gianni Giuliani, a transgender graduate student at Gonzaga University

While existing resources are available for transgender students at Gonzaga University Spokane, Washington, administrators knew more could be done to support gender-diverse students. The Gonzaga Bulletin, a campus newspaper, reports on upcoming changes:

“These new policies would focus on specific areas of the college system that could create barriers for transgender students. Some of these changes would include the addition of gender-neutral bathrooms, a system in which students in transition can discretely change their name on all school-related records, a policy that would permit transgender students to live in the residence where they are most comfortable, as well as make medical resources easily available and non-discriminatory.”

Jaime Hollis, coordinator for special populations, said at least two motivations prompted these policies changes. The first was wanting to conform the University to Washington State law which protects sexual identities. The second is that even with the LGBT Resource Center and supportive staff in other departments, without official policy, transgender students face an uphill challenge. This could be detrimental to Gonzaga’s admissions in the future as people identify at younger ages as transgender due to broader acceptance and information in society. Hollis is quoted as saying:

” ‘If you look at the trend, [with] access to the Internet people are identifying younger as transgender because they now have the language to identify what they’re going through…Because of those dynamics, I think it’s really likely that we’re going to see an increase in trans students at all levels of education.’

“Hollis wants a system to be in place before the school has to deal these challenges.”

It appears making Gonzaga a more trans-inclusive campus will help existing students as well. The head of the University’s LGBT club, HERO, denied knowing any transgender students who were a part of it and spoke to the difficulties of being out at the school given its location in a small, rural city. The Bulletin spoke with one transgender student, Gianni Giuliani, who attended Gonzaga for undergraduate studies and is now a graduate student:

“Giuliani said he faces no major challenges on campus today, but he said that things were harder for him as an undergrad at GU from 2005 to 2009 when he was in the middle of his transitioning process.

” ‘It was really uncomfortable having to change my name and gender through the registrar’s office…Although they weren’t particularly nasty to me, it was just kind of an odd feeling … I felt they could have been more accepting of what that process is all about.’

“While Giuliani is an out and active member of the Spokane transgender community and regularly volunteers at the Inland Northwest LGBT resource center, he has never made a point of coming out on campus.

” ‘I wasn’t out…I never tried to blend in and make a big deal of it. I didn’t tell anyone. I just tried to integrate so people probably just assumed I was another guy. I might not have taken that route if there were policies in place to ensure safety and inclusion. I’d have felt like it was OK to come out.’ “

Gonzaga University was one of the first Catholic, and the first Jesuit, college in the United States to offer an LGBT Resource Center starting in 2004. The University is continuing to take its commitment to the LGBT community seriously by focusing on specific policy reforms, rather than just statements of welcome.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Catholics Support Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill in Maryland

February 7, 2014

Catholics were among those who spoke out in favor of a Maryland Senate bill to ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodation, and credit throughout the state. The bill, designated as SB212 and named the “Fairness for All Marylanders Act,” is more commonly referred to as the “transgender anti-discrimination bill.”  In addition to Catholic lawmakers, Catholic advocates from the National Coalition of American Nuns and New Ways Ministry were also at the Annapolis hearing to support the bill.

Delegate Heather Mizeur testifying in Annapolis for the transgender anti-discrimination bill. Photo by Michael Key/Washington Blade.

According to The Washington Blade, the bill was introduced by State Senator Rich Madaleno.  Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic who successfully campaigned to pass marriage equality in the state in 2012, submitted written testimony to support the bill.  Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic lesbian woman who is a gubernatorial candidate, was present to testify for the bill.  The Blade reported:

“Heather Mizeur pointed out during her testimony that the Baltimore County Council passed a trans rights bill after two teenagers attacked Chrissy Lee Polis at a Rosedale McDonald’s in 2011.

“ ‘This is a protection we want to make sure gets extended statewide,’ said Mizeur. ‘Protection against discrimination shouldn’t depend on your zip code.’ ”

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, also a Catholic, submitted written testimony in favor of the proposed law.

The Blade also noted the presence of representatives of two national Catholic organizations:

“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive co-director of the National Coalition of American Nuns, also testified in support of SB 212.

“ ‘We need to incorporate the vulnerable members of our society into our laws and our customs,’ said Gramick.

The complete texts of DeBernardo’s and Gramick’s testimony can be read below.

The Maryland Catholic Conference, representing the bishops of the state, did not send a representative to testify, but submitted written testimony in opposition to the bill.  The Blade  quoted from their testimony:

“ ‘The church firmly opposes undue harassment or discrimination against any person,’ said the group. ‘That principle does not, however, warrant creating a new class of protected individuals in the state’s anti-discrimination statute, especially when the extension of the law would presumably apply to only a small number of individuals.’ “



FEBRUARY 4, 2014

New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo testifying in Annapolis.  Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo testifying in Annapolis. Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

Good afternoon.  My name is Francis DeBernardo, and I serve as Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic ministry that attempts to build bridges of justice and reconciliation between the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and the Catholic Church.  Our offices are in Mount Rainier, Maryland, and we represent the majority of Catholics in the U.S. who support equality for transgender people.  Therefore, I am here today to support the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, SB212.

It is important to recognize that Catholics support equality for transgender people because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it.  Our Catholic faith compels us to promote the human dignity of all people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  Our faith tells us that we must support transgender people not only because of their inherent human dignity, but because they are a vulnerable population.  They experience a shocking amount of discrimination, and violence.  This bill would send a powerful message that we in this state do not support such discrimination and do not support the denial of basic human rights.

Sometimes the transgender experience is compared to the gay and lesbian experience, and there is good reason to do so.  In Catholic thought, however, while there is much official teaching on gay and lesbian issues, there is none on transgender topics.   So while you may be aware of criticsm of lesbian and gay issues coming from church officials, please remember that no such body of statements exists for transgender people. It is not the same issue.

While in past decades, the Vatican and the pope have issued harsh statements on issues dealing with sexual and gender minorities, Pope Francis has ushered in a new openness and dialogue in regard to sexual and gender minorities. His many public statements reveal that gender and sexuality should not be the defining characteristics of a human person, and that all people need to be respected.

Though he has said nothing explicitly on gender identity issues, we do have a precedent from Pope Francis that we must pay attention to.  At the end of December 2013, a transgender woman in Rome was beaten and killed.  Her family would not claim her body for burial.  Yet Pope Francis’ Jesuit Catholic parish church in Rome did provide funeral services for this woman who was so terribly mistreated.  This action speaks volumes about the Catholic  support for non-discrimination coming from the highest level of the church.

Can the state of Maryland do any less?  Can’t we build a community where transgender people will be respected and valued as equals so that they do not experience the terrible fate that this Roman woman did?  Though Catholics support transgender equality from a faith perspective, it is a perspective which is rooted in an idea that is basic to the American way of life:  that ALL people are created equal.

I urge you to vote for the Fairness for All Marylanders Act.  Thank you.



FEBRUARY 4, 2014

Sister Jeannine Gramick testifying in Annapolis for the transgender anti-discrimination bill.  Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

Sister Jeannine Gramick testifying in Annapolis for the transgender anti-discrimination bill. Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

I have been a Roman Catholic nun for more than 50 years. I reside in Prince Georges County. I taught in Baltimore in grade and high schools and at Notre Dame of Maryland University. I have worked for the poor and marginalized, and have served in a pastoral ministry of advocating for justice for LGBT persons for many decades. I serve as a National Coordinator for the board of the National Coalition of American Nuns.

I speak here today as a person of faith and on behalf of the National Coalition of American Nuns, who support the human rights of all people. 

My Church, the Catholic Church, has a large body of social justice teaching. It is based on the conviction that all persons, including transgender persons, are created by God with an intrinsic human dignity, regardless of one’s actions, appearance, or any circumstances in one’s life. Because we all share in a common humanity, all persons must be accorded equal respect and dignity.

Catholic social teaching does not single out transgender people, but it does emphasize commitment to the poor and marginalized. In his apostolic exhortation, The Gospel of Joy, Pope Francis said that we must have “concern for the vulnerable” and those who are “increasingly isolated.” Pope Francis noted the need to create “new forms of cultural synthesis” (par. 209-216). That is, we need to incorporate these vulnerable individuals into the fabric of our social laws and customs.

All persons, including transgender persons, need to feel welcome in our social institutions. There is no room for discrimination in securing a job or a place to live, merely because of one’s gender identity. And there is no room for being harassed, or treated unfairly, in other public places, merely because of one’s gender identity. In fact, an overwhelming percentage of U.S. Catholics (93%, in fact) believe that transgender people should have the same general rights and legal protections as others.*

I am here today as a Catholic nun, as a person of deep faith, to ask the state of Maryland to support SB 212, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014. Thank you.


–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Fired Transgender Educator Will Have His Day in Court

January 16, 2014

Jan Buterman

A Canadian judge has ruled that a transgender educator fired from a Catholic school should have his case heard in court before the Alberta province’s human rights tribunal.

In 2008, Jan Buterman was fired from teaching in the Greater St. Albert School district [a publicly funded Catholic school district] after transitioning from female to male, which Catholic administrators claimed was a violation of Church teaching.  That same letter terminating his employment also praised Buterman as a teacher. Since the firing, Buterman has pursued a complaint against the district in a lengthy legal battle. The Calgary Herald details the recent ruling by Justice Sheila Greckol, who hopes to resolve the matter:

“Justice Sheila Greckol of Court of Queen’s Bench dismissed the district’s request [to dismiss the complaint] in a written ruling obtained Friday by The Canadian Press. She said it is time for a commission tribunal to hear Buterman’s complaint.

” ‘Five years have passed since the school board terminated Mr. Buterman. The voluminous and continual retreading of arguments at the commission, as well as this application for early judicial intervention on thin grounds, has served only to delay the hearing on the merits,’ Greckol wrote.

” ‘Human rights process is not only for the lion-hearted and well-heeled conversant with litigation, but also for the timorous and impecunious — for all Albertans.’

” ‘The expeditious resolution of complaints becomes an issue of access to justice; justice delayed is justice denied.’ “

Initially, the school district offered Buterman $78,000 to drop the human rights complaint and remain silent about his firing. This offer was refused, and the teacher remains committed to the legal process even if there is no guarantee of victory. A hearing will be set in the coming weeks.

An outcome in this case could set Canadian legal precedents, as the St. Albert Gazette reports:

“This is one of the first cases of its kind to go before a human rights board in Canada, said Kris Wells, director of program services for the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, and it deals with a long-simmering issue: does a publicly funded Catholic school have the right to discriminate against someone based on their gender identity? …

“Buterman’s complaint said that his dismissal was discrimination based on his gender and disability (he had been diagnosed with gender identity disorder, a recognized biological phenomenon)…

“The Catholic school board is going to have to prove that Buterman’s transgender identity precludes him from being a good teacher, Wells said.”

Finally, The Edmonton Journal’s recent editorial highlights an important point Catholic schools should be taking note of: that even when legally correct, morally, these firings are wrong. The editors write:

“District officials also should do some soul-searching. Perhaps the human rights tribunal will eventually find such discrimination was technically within the district’s rights as a Catholic organization under Canadian law. But on the simple moral test of right and wrong, the school district was wrong to fire Buterman. The quality of his teaching, the only thing that should matter in a publicly funded school district, was never at issue…

“Anyone who thinks that violates the principles of Catholicism should take a page from Pope Francis, who has talked about the need for compassion, not judgment, and the importance of love.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Indonesian Transgender Catholic Woman Is a Light for Those on a Dark Path

January 13, 2014

One of the most remarkable spiritual treasures of the LGBT community is that so many members of this community who have experienced terrible oppression often transform their pain into courage to protect other members of their community from going through the same anguish.

Mami Yuli (center, in yellow blouse) surrounded by residents of the home for older transgender people she established in Indonesia.

One such case is a Catholic transgender woman in the  pre-dominantly Muslim nation of Indonesia.  Known now as Mami Yuli, she has become an advocate for transgender people, having established a home for them to live their lives authentically in peace.  UCAnews.coman Asian Catholic news source, interviewed this woman who used to be known as Yulianus Rettoblaut, who has devoted her life to making sure that others have an easier road than she had.  She stated:

“Transgender people go down the dark path. I want to be a candle that sheds light on this darkness. With this light, they know where to go.”

Mami Yuli’s story is a remarkable tale of transforming herself from someone who worked as a prostitute for 17 years to becoming a guardian angel for others who’ve experienced similar injustices.  Her early life was extremely difficult, when parental rejection caused her education to end, leading to economic despair:

“She began to hit rock bottom, she says, when her parents found out she was transgendered, calledwaria in Indonesia – a melding of the two words wanita, woman, and pria, man.

“On hearing the news, her parents stopped paying her tuition fees two years into her economics degree at the Atma Jaya Catholic University in Jakarta.

“ ‘My parents couldn’t accept me,’ she says.

“In order to survive, she dropped out of university and started to work in Taman Lawang, a public park in central Jakarta notorious for transvestite prostitutes.

“ ‘I put make-up on my face and a wig on my head,’ says Yulianus, who now calls herself Mami Yuli. ‘I got paid about 500 rupiah from each customer.’

“She survived there for just four months, she says. Competition from other transgender prostitutes was tough.

“She worked as a prostitute elsewhere and later as a bodyguard for other transgendered people in a country where intolerance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people is high and attacks are not uncommon.”

Though as a young adult, she said she met with negativity from priests, when she decided to turn her life around she went to confession and received affirmation from her confessor:

“After her mother died and she shunned prostitution, Mami Yuli rented a small house in Jakarta with the money she had made on the streets and became a door-to-door barber.

“Then in 1996, just before Christmas, she confessed to a priest serving in St Stephen’s Parish in Cilandak, South Jakarta.

“ ‘I told him everything I had done. He told me not to be afraid. He said God would have mercy on me if I really wanted to change,’ she says.

“Mami Yuli began attending Sunday Mass regularly and eagerly participated in neighborhood community activities.

“ ‘Parishioners didn’t have a problem with me,’ she says.”

But the hierarchy in Indonesia is not as welcoming as the parishioners have been:

“The Catholic Church’s pastoral stance against this minority is compassionate, says Archbishop Johannes Maria Trilaksyanta Pujasumarta of Semarang, Central Java.

“ ‘We see them as human beings. We love and respect them. We give them a chance to mingle with others,’ he says.

“The archbishop, who is secretary-general of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, is clear though that the Church expects those who are transgendered to convert back to their traditional gender role.”

But Mami Yuli is undeterred eventhough she lives and works in Indonesia, where in a recent survey 93% of the population expressed negative attitudes toward sexual and gender minorities.  She studied law, and she became a professional advocate for LGBT people:

“In 2007, Mama Yuli applied for a commissioner’s post at the National Commission on Human Rights but failed. Two years after finishing her law degree in 2010 she again sent an application to the commission but was this time rejected for failing the health test.

“ ‘I wanted to be a commissioner because I saw many transgender people finding it hard to seek justice whenever they faced persecution or when their rights were violated,’ says Mama Yuli.

“In July, the commission called for more protection for LGBT people, asserting that the state must protect its own citizens following incidents of repression directed against this minority, sometimes by the state’s Public Order Agency, Satpol PP.”

She has combined structural advocacy with direct service:

“Mami Yuli’s house in Depok is home to 15 male-to-female transgender people aged over 50. They all make cakes which they sell in the surrounding area to make ends meet and Mami Yuli generates extra income through hairdressing and fees paid for being a spokesman for different programs.

“ ‘She gives me and other transgender people a place to live. She protects us if something happens to us,” says 70-year-old resident Yopi Uktlseya, known as Oma Yoti, who lives with Mami Yuli.

“Aged 52, Mami Yuli says she wants to spend the rest of her life trying to help what is one of Indonesia’s most ill-treated minorities.

“ ‘God uses me. He wants me to keep staying with transgender people to comfort their souls,’ she says.”

May God continue to bless this courageous woman!  May her ministry flourish, and may she inspire others by her goodness, faith, authenticity, and love!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Jesuit Church Hosts Funeral for Murdered Transgender Woman

December 30, 2013

Andrea Quintero

A transgender woman was beaten to death in the streets of Rome: an act of anti-trans violence that is all too common in 0ur world. Andrea Quintero was homeless and battled addictions before she was found dead alongside railroad tracks in the city’s main train station. John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter reports on what came next:

“If anyone wants an example of what the emphasis on mercy under Pope Francis looks like in action, they’ll find one this afternoon in Rome at the Church of the Gesù, the mother church of the pope’s Jesuit order, where a funeral will be celebrated for a Colombian transgendered and homeless person beaten to death five months ago…

“The delay in organizing a funeral, according to news reports, was due to the fact that Quintero’s family never made a request for his remains or provided any instructions about how they wanted him memorialized.

“Eventually the Jesuit-run Centro Astalli, dedicated to aiding refugees, in combination with the local branch of Caritas and civic officials, stepped in to organize a funeral service.”

[Editor's note:  Bondings 2.0 uses the gender pronoun that we believe a transgender person prefers.  If a person is living as a woman, we use "she."  If a person is living as a man, we use "he."    If someone we quote does not follow this guideline, we report the quotation as it was written, though we may disagree with the pronoun usage, as in the case of Mr. Allen using "he" to refer to Andrea Quintero in the passage above.]

Beyond commemorating Quintero’s death, the head of Centro Astalli spoke to the wider significance of the church providing a funeral to someone on the margins, saying:

” ‘[It's] a signal for the entire Roman community that’s distracted in the face so many people who face discrimination, and who live their difficulties to the indifference of our city.’ “

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Transgender Student’s Struggle Is A Moment to Build Inclusion

December 10, 2013

Tracey Wilson

Canadian television program 16×9 recently profiled two transgender youth. With one, named Tracey Wilson, a girl, the segment revealed just how deep parents’ love can be and how they often become their child’s advocates in hostile Catholic communities.

Tracey, who was born biologically male and originally named Trey, was unique from a young age according to her parents. Trey presented as a girl in public, as well as with family and friends, and decided to live as a girl full-time after the family sought professional advice.

Her parents, Michelle and Garfield, spoke with 16×9 about the challenges in their family when Trey transitioned to Tracey. Garfield, the father, initially struggled to accept his daughter, but was told by his wife that unconditional acceptance of Tracey was a “deal-breaker” in their marriage. Looking back, Garfield now says:

“It was my own personal fear of not understanding. And the fear of bullying, because I was bullied as a kid…As soon as I let go, I never looked back. It changed my relationship with Tracey, it completely changed it.”

The Wilsons overcame their family troubles, but problems arose at Sacred Heart Elementary School, Vancouver, where Tracey is a student. When informed of the transition, Sacred Heart refused to call Tracey by her preferred name or to allow her to dress in the female uniform and use female restrooms. The superintendent of the Catholic school system in Vancouver, Doug Lousen, made the following  remarks:

“God creates a person with a sexual identity at birth. I don’t believe God makes mistakes. You cannot just change your sex…

“In order to be who you are, to be who God made you to be, you don’t have to wear a girl’s uniform. It’s as simple as that.”

The 10-year old student spoke about the administration’s rejection on 16×9, saying:

“ ‘Sometimes I wish that I was just a girl, just a normal girl so I wouldn’t have to go through all of this.’ …

“ ‘When they said that they couldn’t let me [transition], and that God doesn’t make any mistakes, and if he made me a boy then I would have to stay a boy.’

” ‘I couldn’t even watch TV I was crying so much, I couldn’t read a book, I couldn’t do anything. Literally I just lay in my bed sobbing.’ “

The Wilson’s have now filed a human rights complaint against the school, as well as Catholic Independent Schools Vancouver. In Canada, Catholic schools receive government funding, so religious exemptions may or may not come into play in the case.

Michelle, the mother says of the experience:

“They had no intention of letting her be who she wanted to be.

“Everyone says, ‘Well, what did you expect?’ I expected compassion. I expected a community that talks about love and acceptance to actually show love and acceptance.”

You can watch the full segment where Tracey and her family speak out at Global News‘ website here.

Regardless of the legal complexities in these cases, Catholic schools worldwide should begin expanding their policies to welcome young transgender students. Perhaps one day, Catholic schools can more fully act upon their words of love and acceptance.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Love Trans-Formed Over the Weekend

November 25, 2013

Participants at New Ways Ministry’s “Trans-forming Love” workshop.

Love was trans-formed near Baltimore on Saturday, November 23rd, as Catholics gathered for New Ways Ministry’s workshop “Trans-forming Love”  which addressed transgender issues from a variety of perspectives. Participants from as far as Chicago and New England gathered for prayer, reflection, and education during the daylong workshop. They were parents, friends, spouses,pastoral ministers, allies, and transgender people themselves.  The workshop was held at the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart convent.

The morning began with prayer, followed by a presentation from Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, MD of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. Dr. Menvielle shared his story of how his psychiatric career migrated into the care of gender variant children. He helped participants understand terminology and concepts particular to discussions of gender identity and diversity, as well as sharing clinical insights.

Dr. Edgardo Menvielle

Dr. Edgardo Menvielle

Most pointedly, he spoke of the particular needs of gender variant children, who may or may not ultimately be transgender. Transgender youth are at increased risk of violence, depression and suicide, risky sexual behaviors, and homelessness. Peer victimization at young ages leads to lifelong problems with social acceptance and self-worth, and he continued:

“If you’ve been bullied as a child, you don’t get over it. It tends to affect people in profound ways.”

Dr. Menvielle attributes many of the challenges transgender people face to social factors, such as how one’s family, friends or co-workers might respond or how culture, philosophical, and religious factors could affect their well-being. Given these realities, it was easy for participants to extrapolate how pastoral care of transgender people in the Catholic Church is a necessary, needed step.

After a lunch break, participants heard from Hilary Howes, a transgender Catholic woman who spoke to the personal, spiritual, and religious aspects of transgender people’s lives. Howes shared her story of transitioning eighteen years ago, and then about her efforts to advocate for transgender rights. She noted that each person’s life, especially those on the margins, is a parable that instructs.


Hilary Howes

Howes also discussed her participation in the Transgender Religious Roundtable which hopes to go beyond just welcoming transgender people into faith communities. Howes said of this effort:

“Our idea was: what do we bring to the party? What is it that we [transgender people] do that is unique to religious institutions? In other traditions, transgender people hold a very special place and in Western culture we needed to define that.”

Specific to the Catholic community, Howes was asked why transgender people would stay Catholic and she replied:

“I’ll have to admit that for a lot of transgender people raised in the Catholic Church they have been so harmed by the Catholic community that they have left church. I know a number of Lutherans and Episcopalians that were raised Catholic.

“The reality is that there is no teaching by the Roman Catholic Church on transgender people. There are those who make claims; there is nothing that has been substantiated. Every priest I’ve talked to and a couple of bishops have been very supportive and understanding. They have not found any incompatibility with being transgender and Catholic.

“For me, one reason I stay Catholic is the ritual. I’m deeply called to that. It’s highly symbolic to me as an artist and a creative person. There’s a convenience factor too with my wife being Catholic.”

You can read more on Howes’ blog, TogetherStyle, where she also provides resources for transgender people. There are also resources available for promoting inclusive faith communities from the Institute for Welcoming Resources.

The day concluded with a closing prayer, part of which is included below for the reflection of Bondings 2.0 readers:

“We give you thanks, O God our Creator, because you have given us life. You have made us in your image and breathed your Spirit into us. We are alive with the divinity that you manifest in us. We have been touched by you, O God.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

NEWS NOTES: November 20, 2013, Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 20, 2013

NewsHere are some items you may find of interest:

1) Today is the National Transgender Day of Rememberance, which commemorates those transgender people who have died from transphobic violence. The official website for this day features some of the hundreds of transgender people murdered world wide in 2013, with more than one dozen having died in the U.S.

2) Archbishop Jozef Michalik, president of Poland’s bishops’ conference, blamed the scourge of child abuse on societal acceptance of same-gender couples, reports The Telegraph.   His statement to this effect came only a week after he also identified pornography as the main cause of child abuse.

3) In an op-ed essay in Portland’s Press Herald Mike Michaud, a Catholic gubernatorial candidate in Maine, came out as a gay man.

4) A  student at a Catholic high in Bronx, N.Y., has filed suit against the school, claiming she was expelled because she is a lesbian, reports The New York Post.

5) The heavily Roman Catholic Mexican state of Jalisco has legalized civil unions for lesbian and gay couples,  according to

6) Following up on the controversy of distributing tickets to a Macklemore concert at Jesuit-run Creighton University, reports on how Catholics in that Nebraska city are open and welcoming of gay and lesbian people.

7)  Lesbian and gay couples who are getting legally married have a variety of ways of planning and structuring their rituals, according to a Religion News Service article on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog.  Catholics are among those making intentional and creative decisions about their ceremonies, notes DigntyUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Catholic Workshop on “Trans-forming Love”

November 10, 2013

While we know from poll after poll that Catholic lay people overwhelmingly support lesbian and gay people, I think there is probably not yet as strong support for transgender people among those in the pews.   The reason for the difference is probably because Catholic people have had less familiarity with transgender people, and probably rely more on myths or stereotypes than on factual evidence and personal testimony.

To help Catholics get a better understanding of transgender people and issues from the perspectives of both science and faith, New Ways Ministry is hosting a workshop day entitled “Trans-forming Love,” on Saturday November 23, 2013, 9:00 am – 3:30 pm, at the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, 1001 West Joppa Road, Towson, Maryland, 21204,

The goal of the day is to dispel myths and stereotypes about transgender people by gaining sound information from the scientific community and from the life story of a transgender person. The transgender experience will also be explored in the light of faith and spirituality.  The day includes presentations on gender identity development, personal perspectives, legal considerations, and spiritual dimensions. There will be Q & A sessions, small group discussions, and informational handouts.

Edgardo Menvielle, MD

Two speakers will be making presentations.  In the morning, participants will hear from Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, MD, an attending psychiatrist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. He co-founded the Gender and Sexuality Development Program and serves as its medical director. Dr. Menvielle provides clinical services and training for child psychiatry, psychology, pediatrics trainees, and students.

Hilary Howes

Hilary Howes

In the afternoon, the speaker will be Hilary Howes, a Catholic transgender woman, who has been married for 34 years. She authored the article, “To Be or Not to Be: A Catholic Transsexual Speaks,” which describes her conversion to Catholicism and her gender transition. Hilary is involved with several transgender rights organizations, including the National Transgender Religious Leadership Roundtable.

Space for this workshop is limited, so please register soon if you would like to attend.  Registration is required. Suggested donation is $25 (more if you can, less if you can’t) and includes lunch.

For more information and to register for this program online, please visit New Ways Ministry’s website.  If you have questions, please call (301) 277-5674 or send email to:

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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