Do Bishops or Politicians Know More About Catholics and LGBT Issues?

May 21, 2014

A couple in Malta celebrates new national progress on LGBT equality.

Recent news out of Malta concerning Catholics and sexuality/gender issues seems to contradict information released by the nation’s Catholic bishops about the opinions of Catholics there on marriage and family topics.

This tiny, heavily-Catholic island nation has witnessed some important progressive political developments lately in terms of LGBT issues and Catholicism, yet the bishops report seems to indicate that Catholics are satisfied with traditional church teaching in these arenas.

Last month, we reported that this country approved civil unions for lesbian and gay couples, including the right to adopt, though the Catholic bishops there strongly opposed the measure.   Furthermore, Malta also made history in the area of transgender equality by becoming the first nation in Europe to protect transgender people in a constitution.  Malta Today reported:

“Malta has become the first European state to have gender identity in its constitution following the proposed amendment that was approved yesterday evening in parliament.”

Yet, according to data released recently by the Maltese Catholic bishops, the Catholic community in this country responded in a very traditional way to the survey about marriage and family issues in anticipation of the upcoming world synod on these topics.  According to The National Catholic Reporter here are some of the results:

  • Nearly 50 percent of Maltese accept and live by the church’s teaching on birth control, and nearly 20 percent said they ignored the church’s teaching on birth control.
  • 62.5 percent agreed that marriage is the indissoluble union between a man and a woman that has children as a goal; 3.8 percent disagreed with this statement and 5.8 percent was unsure; 25.4 percent didn’t answer.
  • 43 percent said not allowing divorced and remarried couples to receive the sacraments was a cause of pain, and 14.7 percent said they have felt this pain; 17.2 percent said divorced or remarried couples should be allowed to receive Communion.

The Maltese survey statistics are one of the few sets of data that bishops around the globe have released that show that Catholics in the pews seem to support church teaching.  Almost every other set showed great dissatisfaction by the laity in the areas of teaching about marriage and family.  (For more information about other survey results, click on the “Synod 2014″ link under the “Categories” heading in the column at the right of this page.)

So what can count for this difference between political reality in this nation which is 98% Catholic and the responses given to the survey by Catholics?  Perhaps the bishops did not get a random sample of Catholics responding to their questionnaire.  Perhaps people responded in a “false positive” sort of way because they did not want to appear to be dissenting from church teaching.  Perhaps people are happy for their government to be more progressive about marriage and sexuality, but they do not want their church to be so.

So, while the news report noted that the Maltese bishops were “surprised but reassured by the findings of the survey,” perhaps they need to do some serious soul-searching.  One other possibility for the discrepancy highlights a possible serious pastoral problem.  Perhaps many of the nation’s Catholics are disaffected or alienated from the church, and did not receive the survey.   

This possibility raises an important concern for bishops not only in Malta, but worldwide. As they gather for the synod, they need to take into account not only the opinions of Catholics in the pews, but also those who have left the pews because they found church teachings on marriage and family life not consistent with what their consciences were telling them.

Malta had a powerful glimmer of hope in this regard this past week. Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna, who was the prominent spokesperson for the hierarchy’s opposition to the civil unions bill, took a more reconciliatory step by meeting with members of Drachma, the Catholic LGBT group in Malta.

Pink News reported that Scicluna took part in an event for the International Day Against Homophobia, which was celebrated world-wide on May 17th.   The bishop, who during the civil unions debate had declared such recognition as a “grave moral act” was not the only Maltese Catholic leader who showed up for the event.  Pink News reported:

“Bishop Scicluna along with a number of other priests were joined by dignitaries from Maltese political parties in support of Drachma and their work with LGBT people.”

Such a gesture of reconciliation with the LGBT community is very much in line with what Jesuit Father James Martin called for in a recent article in America magazine.   More gestures of outreach and reconciliation are needed in our church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


What’s So Doctrinal About Gender Normative Clothing?

May 20, 2014

Jessica Urbina, left, with a friend for senior portraits

A San Francisco high school had removed a student’s yearbook photo because the young woman wore a tuxedo for her senior photos. Though the high school is now apologizing and reversing its decision, the punitive action raises the question of how strongly Catholic authorities will enforce gender norms that are no longer relevant.  This incident also shows the reconciliatory power of dialgoue.

Jessica Urbina is graduating from Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep this year and, like many seniors, had formal photos done for the yearbook. Last week, administrators announced they would not allow Urbina’s photo to be published because she did not wear a dress, as mandated by the archdiocese.

In response, students have worn bowties to class as a protest, and many have posted to social media outlets using the hashtag #JessicasTux with supportive messages and photos of themselves wearing ties. Call to Action, a Catholic justice organization, encouraged Catholics to join the students’ protests and submit their own pictures on Twitter.

Yesterday, news broke that Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep will in fact be including Urbina’s picture and is apologizing for its initial decision to exclude her. In a public letter, President John Scudder, Jr. and Principal Gary Cannon explained this recent development as the result of conversations with the Urbina family. They wrote:

 “After that meeting, it was clear that the school had not adequately communicated to Jessica or her parents the decision made several months ago regarding senior portraits. As in past school years, any senior who sat for senior portraits but did not conform to the dress code did not have a portrait included in the portrait pages of the yearbook. Given the nature of this specific case, however, we believe that decision, while conforming with our policy, was wrong. Moreover, the lack of communication with the family led to even greater anguish as it proved unexpected to the student and family as it came at the very end of the school year.”

The administrators also announced the school’s policy change about senior portraits, stating:

“We agree with our students who showed solidarity with their classmate that the current policy regarding senior portraits is not adequate to meet the needs of our families or our mission. We will involve our students, families, and Board in crafting the updated policy…

“While we cannot undo the impact of this decision, the lack of adequate communication, nor the impact of the last few days, we can move forward in a manner that we believe represents the best of our school community.”

Moving forward will mean including Urbina’s photo in her tuxedo in venues where other senior portraits are used. The school also offered to reprint the yearbooks, but the Urbina family suggested alternatives for including Jessica’s photo, so as not to delay students from receiving the yearbooks now. Most striking is the conciliatory and reflective conclusion to the letter:

“While we believe SHC to be a safe and supportive environment for all, this situation has reminded us that we still have much growth to achieve. While many gay and lesbian alumni and students have commented on the inclusive, supportive aspect of our school community, others have remarked on some prejudice that still exists. As a school, we must better learn how to support our students who are navigating issues of gender identity.

“Many people suggest that the past few days have been deeply revealing about our school community. We agree. We are an imperfect community that can and does fail. We are a community that is open to self-reflection, and to the constructive criticism and leadership of its students, as well as to the criticism from members of our broader community. We are a community that strives to grow, improve and do what is right. We are a community that sees, in all situations, an opportunity to learn. While we would have preferred to have this learning be less public than the current situation, especially for the impact it has on individuals and families, we are a community open to sharing our struggles and joys with the wider world so that we can all learn from each other, whether from successes or failures. More than 300 years ago, St. John Baptist de La Salle, one of our founders, said that our students will learn far more from us by our actions than by the words we speak. This is one of those moments…

“In our final words to our student, Jessica, and all our other LGBT students, past, present and future, we repeat the final words of the [US] Bishops [in their pastoral letter, Always Our Children]. ‘In you God’s love is revealed. You are always our children.’ “

While this story had a positive ending, we still need to address the question of why this incident, and the harm done to Jessica, occurred at all. The Archdiocese of San Francisco mandating that women wear dresses for senior photos is not based in Church teaching, nor does it emerge from wise pastoral practice. It is silly and outdated, and nothing more than a naked attempt by the hierarchy to suppress contemporary understandings of gender.

Let’s hope that Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep’s example, both in how damaging their mistake was and in their willingness to learn through the process of dialogue,will inform other Church institutions such that they will avoid future incidents.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Ways Ministry Promoting Transgender Education and Justice in Church and State

May 3, 2014
Participants listen to Hilary Howes at a fall 2013 transgender workshop sponsored by New Ways Ministry.  Another workshop is being held on May 17th.

Participants listen to Hilary Howes at a fall 2013 transgender workshop sponsored by New Ways Ministry. Another workshop is being held on May 17th.

As marriage equality, and lesbian/gay equality broadly speaking, become widespread, LGBT advocacy has begun focusing more on the “T” of the common acronym.  New Ways Ministry and other Catholic institutions have begun to help church members understand this minority.

Trans-forming Love

According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 84% of Catholics agree that lesbian/gay legal protections should be expanded to the transgender community as well, and 93% of Catholics believe in full equality for transgender people.

In seeking to promote education and justice for transgender people within the Church, as well as society, New Ways Ministry will be hosting its second day-long conference on transgender issues from a Catholic perspective. The workshop, titled “Trans-forming Love,” will take place May 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. Through presentations, discussions, and prayer, the workshop will address issues such as gender identity development, legal considerations, spirituality, and the personal perspective of transgender individuals.

Featured speakers include clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Hendricks, PhD, and Hilary Howes, a Catholic transgender woman involved with LGBT advocacy. Hendricks is president of the American Psychological Association’s Division 44 (for the study of sexual and gender minorities), the Society for the Psychological Study of LGBT Issues, and a partner at the Washington Psychological Center. Howes is the author of an article “To Be or Not to Be: A Catholic Transexual Speaks,” which described her conversion to Catholicism and her gender transition. She is a member of the Pacific School of Religion’s Transgender Roundtable.

For more information, and to preregister, please click here. In March, two Catholic parishes, All Saints and St. Lucy’s, both  in Syracuse, also hosted talks on transgender issues.

Maryland Non-Discrimination Law

In conjunction with its educational efforts within the Catholic community, New Ways Ministry has also been active advocating for transgender legal rights in Maryland. In late March, the state’s legislature passed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014 which established protections related to employment, housing, and public accommodations based on gender identity. It is expected that Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic, will sign the bill into law this spring.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director, and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, of New Ways Ministry both testified before the Maryland Senate alongside other prominent Catholics in support of the bill.  You can read their testimonies and a full report here.

Though 71% of Maryland citizens supported the law, a Republican state delegate will attempt to overturn the law through a referendum once O’Malley signs it. In response, the Maryland Coalition for Transgender Equality has launched the “Stand for Fairness” educational campaign, according to The Advocate. It is unlikely the law will face enough opposition to be put up for referendum.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: USD Drag Show Draws Fire, But Is Really a Moment for Encounter

April 16, 2014

University of San Diego students at the drag show.

The decision by the University of San Diego (USD), a Catholic school, to host a drag show was controversial, catching even the Vatican’s eye. However, one professor there says there is much more to this drag show than critics understand and it should be a moment for learning.

“Supreme Drag Superstar III” was the third annual drag show at USD, hosted by the campus’ LGBT group called PRIDE and promoted as a “celebration of gender expression.” According to U-T San Diego, the show features “a brief academic talk on the history cross-dressing and information booths,” in addition to the costumed musical performances.

Two local attorneys, Charles LiMandri and Thomas McKenna, protested the drag show by writing to the Diocese of San Diego and the Congregation for Catholic Education at the Vatican. The Diocese refused to comment and the Congregation turned down their complaint as it “lacks standing” for action against the University.

For its part, the University of San Diego has defended the show. Tim O’Malley, a spokesperson, said nothing about it violates Catholic teaching and stated further:

“We do not mean to demean our critics. Gender expression and identity, for some people, is not an area to be explored. For some people, that simply is wrong…However, the law of the church is silent on cross dressing. There no evidence that cross dressing is inherently homosexual.”

Emily Reimer-Barry, a theology and religious studies professor at USD, wrote about drag shows and transgender people in a post on the blog Catholic Moral Theology. She explains that each semester she invites a trans person to speak to undergraduate courses in sexual ethics in an effort to complicate and humanize what students preconceptions about the transgender community. While the post includes helpful definitions and suggestions, she also makes clear the importance of events like USD’s drag show, relating it to a transgender friend of hers, Jackie:

“Each time I hear Jackie’s personal story, I realize that Catholic parishes and Catholic institutions (like hospitals and universities) have a long way to go before all transgendered people will feel welcomed and included. I’m proud that at the University of San Diego we are trying to raise awareness of these issues in events like last night’s PRIDE’s Celebration of Gender Expression Supreme Drag Superstar. The drag show is fun as well as educational, and it helps students on my campus think more concretely and creatively about sexuality, gender, inclusion, and justice…

“For those who find such an event to be inconsistent with the Catholic identity of the university, I would suggest that to be church in our world today means engaging with the full reality of human experiences. It is a problem that so few people are aware of the terminology and basic facts about diverse expressions of gender identity.”

Furthermore, Reimer-Barry believes the drag show allows for self-reflection on how each person performs a gender identity and how we relate to our self in terms of sexuality and gender. This reflection helps with how we view the experiences of others, and “learn more about the diversity of God’s creation.” To conclude, she appeals to Pope Francis’ witness, writing:

“Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium: ‘Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God’ (no. 272). The pope reminds us that ‘A Church which goes forth is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others.’ (no. 46). What powerful words in this context– What would it mean to have the doors of the church open to the transgender community? What would it mean to walk with students who are questioning their gender identity?…if the drag show helps GLBTQ students and their allies at my school to know that they are loved, supported, and included in this community, then we are doing something good and something special.

“I believe we need a much deeper theo-ethical engagement on these issues. The natural law tradition of Catholic theology invites us to reflect on human experience in order to draw norms about what promotes human flourishing; yet theologians sometimes collapse or confuse sex and gender, or we fail to include the life experiences of GLBTQ persons in our methodologies…We may think we have a long way to go, but a framework of listening and learning from the experiences of others will help us achieve much. This theology of accompaniment, like the drag show, can be a fun learning experience. And we can realize together that in the eyes of God each one of us is fabulous.”

Drag shows have previously caused controversies at Catholic schools and parishes, including in San Francisco and in New York. Thankfully, the University has defended the student-led drag show to promote awareness of the complexities surrounding gender and sexuality. What if other Catholic institutions, often so quick to shut down such initiatives, thought like Reimer-Barry and saw drag shows as an opportunity to see God in new ways and offer support to LGBT people?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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 info@newwaysministry.org.

–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.’ “

TESTIMONY OF FRANCIS DeBERNARDO,

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW WAYS MINISTRY

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.

TESTIMONY OF SISTER JEANNINE GRAMICK

EXECUTIVE COORDINATOR, NATIONAL COALITION OF AMERICAN NUNS

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.

* http://publicreligion.org/research/2011/11/american-attitudes-towards-transgender-people/

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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