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


Scenes from the Signing of Maryland’s Marriage Equality Law

March 2, 2012

At the signing ceremony: Governor Martin O'Malley (center) is flanked by Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown (left) and House Speaker Michael Busch (right). Catholic lesbian Delegate Heather Mizeur is smiling behind Brown.Both O'Malley and Brown are Catholic, and Busch was raised Catholic, (Photo by Sister Jeannine Gramick)

On March 1st, 2012, Maryland became the eighth state (plus the District of Columbia) to enact marriage equality legislation for lesbian and gay couples.  Governor Martin O’Malley became the fifth Catholic governor to sign a marriage equality bill, joining Washington State’s Christine Gregoire, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, Maine’s John Baldacci, and New Hampshire’s John Lynch.

Among the religious and civic leaders attending the signing ceremony was New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick.  “I was so proud that our Catholic governor relied on our faith’s tradition of equality and justice for all people, including lesbian and gay people,”  Sister Jeannine said. “It was an honor to participate in this moment, and I’m glad I was there to show the strong support that Catholics have for marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.”

At the signing ceremony: Governor O'Malley hands the pen he signed to Delegate Maggie McIntosh, a lesbian. Sister Jeannine can be seen cheering in the white box .

O’Malley prefaced his signing of the bill with a statement which reverberated with Catholic social teaching:

“For a free and diverse people, for a people of many faiths, for a people committed to the principle of religious freedom, the way forward is always found through greater respect for the equal rights of all, for the human dignity of all.

“Religious freedom was the very reason for our state’s founding, and at the heart of religious freedom is the freedom of individual conscience.

“If there is a thread that unites all of our work here together, it is the thread of human dignity, the dignity of work, the dignity of a job, the dignity of every child’s home, the dignity of every individual.”

On behalf of Catholics, New Ways Ministry thanked Governor O’Malley and the Maryland legislature in ad appearing in today’s print edition of The Baltimore Sun:

Equally Blessed, the coalition of Catholic groups that support equality for LGBT people in the church and wider society, released this statement today on the signing of marriage equality legislation in the state of Maryland:

“We are deeply gratified that Governor Martin O’Malley has joined fellow Catholic governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Christine Gregoire of Washington in signing marriage equality legislation into law.

“These governors represent the sentiments of Catholics in this country far better than the church’s hierarchy, which has spent millions of dollars in an increasingly futile campaign to prolong the era in which secular governments actively discriminate against same-gender couples and their families.

At the signing ceremony: Sister Jeannine Gramick poses with Catholic couple Dave Kolesar and Patrick Wojahn. (Photo by Dan Furmansky)

“We applaud Governor O’Malley and the state legislators who recognized that every human being, regardless of sexual orientation, is created in God’s image, and must be treated with dignity and respect by their neighbors and their government, and we pray that some day such an understanding will take root among the bishops of our church.

“As a coalition we were honored to work of behalf of marriage equality in Maryland by placing an op-ed in The Washington Post making the Catholic case for same-gender marriage. In addition, three coalition members, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, and Allen Rose of DignityUSA testified before the House of Delegates.

“We are particularly thankful to Governor O’Malley, who distributed copies of Mr. DeBernardo’s booklet, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, and who will be attending New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality, March 15-17 in Baltimore.

“It is fitting that Sister Jeannine, one of the most effective advocates for LGBT people in the church, will be participating in today’s signing ceremony.”

For more news on the signing ceremony, check out these articles:

The Baltimore Sun: “Governor signs same-sex marriage bill”

The Washington Post: “Md. becomes eighth state to legalize gay marriage”

The Washington Blade: “O’Malley signs marriage bill”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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