When All the World Should Be Bright and Gay

March 17, 2014

There’s a long history to the controversy between LGBT people wanting to march in St. Patrick’s Day Parades that dates back to the 1990s.  This year, the debate about LGBT participation or exclusion is being waged in the two U.S. cities with the most prominent March 17th parades:  New York and Boston.

NEW YORK

New York City’s new mayor, Bill deBlasio, won’t be marching down Fifth Avenue today in the world’s oldest and largest parade celebrating Irish culture because he disagrees with the parade organizer’s decision to continue to prohibit marchers who want to carry signs expressing LGBT pride.

Religion News Service cites deBlasio’s explanation:

“The new mayor said he will participate in other events to honor New Yorkers of Irish descent on March 17. “But I simply disagree with the organizers of that parade in their exclusion of some individuals in this city,’ he said. “

Mayor Bill deBlasio

Though deBlasio’s decision differs from his immediate predecessor, some LGBT equality organizations are disappointed that the new mayor did not take a stronger stand:

“De Blasio’s predecessor, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was a supporter of gay rights but marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. De Blasio did not march when he served as the city’s public advocate. But he said he will not stop any city employee from marching in uniform.

“Gay groups in New York City acknowledge that court rulings have established the parade as a private, religious procession that may exclude gay groups. But allowing city workers such as police officers to march in uniform violates the city’s human rights laws, they argued in an open letter to de Blasio.”

BBC.com reported on Irish reaction on both sides of the Atlantic to deBlasio’s decision:

“Cahir O’Doherty in the New York-based Irish Central website counters that it’s important for gay Irish-Americans to be able to carry a banner in the parade ‘because if you are not seen you are not heard. And when you are neither seen nor heard, bad things can happen to you without anyone noticing. Gay people know this, but apparently quite a few others need to be reminded.’

“The parade controversy is making waves across the Atlantic, as well, where Irish government officials are split on whether to participate or join Mr de Blasio’s boycott. Irish Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, who will be in New York on St Patrick’s Day, has announced she will not march. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, on the other hand, has said he will travel to New York to attend.”

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd supports deBlasio’s decision:

“It has just always seemed strange to me that gays were fighting so hard for so long to bust into such a hoary, boozy, corny tradition. Didn’t they have something more fun and cool to do? . . .

“But certainly, if gays want in, they should get in. And that’s why Mayor Bill de Blasio is right to blow off the parade in protest of the Putinesque restrictions.”

BOSTON

In Boston, a bastion of Irish-American culture and history, that city’s mayor did not march in the annual parade, which was held on Sunday, March 16th.  His decision followed weeks of negotiations and decisions by gay rights groups, the city’s mayor, and others.

The Boston parade is organized by the South Boston War Veterans Council, and this year a group of gay veterans requested to march in the parade carrying a banner from Mass Equality, the state’s LGBT rights organization.  The gay vets were members of LGBT Veterans for Equality.

Mayor Marty Walsh

Parade organizers originally denied the request, but then Boston’s Irish-American mayor, Marty Walsh, stepped into the discussion, saying that he would not march in the March 16th parade unless the gay individuals were allowed to participate. The Boston Globe reported his reason for not marching:

 “As mayor, I feel like I should use my influence. I feel the parade should be inclusive.”

Walsh tried to broker an agreement between the two groups.  At one point, there was hope that an agreement could be reached.  According to Gay Star News, the tentative agreement was that the gay vets could march, as long as they didn’t wear any signs which acknowledged their sexual orientation.

MassEquality Executive Director Kara Coredini

The tentative deal to allow the gay group eventually collapsed because MassEquality said it could not abide by the provision that people not be allowed to identify their sexual orientation.  According to NECN.comMassEquality Executive Director Kara Coredini said:

“LGBT people need to be able to identify themselves as LGBT people. It’s as simple as that. There’s a lot of ways that can be done, and that is a conversation we’re having now with organizers.”

So, after two weeks of negotiation, it was decided that the gay group would not march.  Not all loyal Irish Americans were happy with the decision to exclude the group.  The Boston Globe noted one man’s support for the gay veterans:

“Neil MacInnes-Barker, a former sergeant in the US Air Force, said he signed up for the march two weeks ago, as negotiations were starting. He said that normally he does not participate in the parades, including ones celebrating the gay community, but that he wanted to be present in the St. Patrick’s Day event.

“ ‘If there are people — Irish Americans — who are LGBT in South Boston, then I want to march for them,’ MacInnes-Barker said. ‘If they are afraid of being intimidated . . . then I will stand for them.’ ”

Michael O’Loughlin, writing at Advocate.com observed:

“It wasn’t long ago in this country that the Irish and Roman Catholics were both subject to extreme bigotry.

“That some in these demographic groups are in a position to be bigoted toward others is perhaps an accomplishment in itself, showing that they’ve moved up the ranks. But what a sad cycle and a shameful tradition for this great American city.”

Perhaps most significantly, the Sam Adams beer company, announced that they would be pulling out of the parade.  In a statement, quoted by The Boston Globe the company said:

“We were hopeful that both sides of this issue would be able to come to an agreement that would allow everyone, regardless of orientation, to participate in the parade. But given the current status of the negotiations, we realize this may not be possible.”

Chuck Colbert, a gay, Irish American veteran, wrote in The Boston Globe that he hoped some creative solution could be found to the impasse:

“So let me offer a suggestion: If I — or anyone — were to march in an LGBT-identified contingent, holding a small Irish tricolor and rainbow flag, would that be acceptable to parade organizers? What about green T-shirts with a rainbow flag imprinted on it? What about carrying rainbow-colored balloons or banners?

“With all the creativity among the Irish of Boston and the city’s LGBT community, surely we can move the parade to forward march for all.”

And though they won’t be carrying signs about their sexual identities, gay marchers did, in fact, take part in the parade.  According to The Boston Globe,  Randy Foster, a gay man organized a “diversity float” with his neighbors:

Organizers building the diversity float for Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“Foster and his friends and neighbors are not marching Sunday as part of a gay organization. They are marching as South Boston residents who have coalesced around building a park in a corner of the neighborhood known as the Lower End. Many of the people working on the float just happen to be gay. And they have been embraced by the Allied War Veterans Council, the parade’s longtime sponsor.

“’They know us as their neighbors first and as gay second,’ said Foster, an Air Force veteran who served in Desert Storm and who has lived with his husband in South Boston for seven years. Of outside gay groups coming in and hoping to march, he said: ‘How in the world do you ever get compromise if the first statement out of your mouth is, “I’m different than you?” ‘

“Fact: South Boston has a substantial and growing gay population. Fact: A second neighborhood contingent with gay marchers will also be in the parade. Fact: Bill Linehan, City Council president, attacked as unfriendly to gay causes recently by some liberal activists, has been a catalyst behind the scenes to get the neighborhood groups accepted in the parade.”

So, perhaps creativity did make some advancement in the parade, which may help future possibilities for full equality on St. Patrick’s Day.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: MLK Day Marred by Anti-Gay Vandalism at Boston College Law

January 27, 2013

Members of the Lambda Law Students Association at Boston College returned to their organization’s office after the Martin Luther King holiday to find that the place had been vandalized and the walls painted with homophobic slurs. The law students’ discovery triggered an  investigation, still ongoing, by the campus police at the Jesuit school. It is unknown who committed the vandalism or why, but students involved with Lambda are now attempting to create a positive outcome from this chilling incident.

A student leader 0f Lambda Law, an organization working on LGBT advocacy in the legal system, was shocked by the incident, but had high praise for the school’s response to the situation.  The Boston Globe reported:

“Jason Triplett, a Lambda co-chair said he never thought something like this would happen at BC Law School, and that he has always felt safe on campus.

“‘No one can believe that it’s someone at BC law, we believe it was a BC outsider who was looking for some trouble,’ he said.

“Triplett said Vincent Rougeau, dean of the BC Law School, left a faculty meeting the moment he was notified about the graffiti. By lunchtime, the dean had written a letter to the community. And by the afternoon he had consulted with students from Lambda to see how they were doing.

“‘The administration responded immediately,’ he said. ‘Everyone involved is really shocked by this.’”

Triplett went on to question whether this was a targeted attack and doubted anyone in the BC Law community committed it, noting that the law school’s campus shared space with undergraduate freshmen at the institution. Even amid the shock and questions, the leadership of Lambda Law Student Association is already acting to redefine this vandalism. Above the Law , a news service for the legal world, reports on a statement released from the organization (warning: the linked article includes a photo of the graffiti, much of which is vulgar, offensive, and sexually explicit, which may be upsetting to some readers):

“The BC Law community has been overwhelmingly supportive in the wake of this act. An act like this is shocking because EVERYONE at BC law, from fellow students to professors and the administration, has been so inclusive and supportive of our organization and the individuals in our group. Our group is taking this and turning it into a positive thing. We don’t want the person who did this to get attention for her or his negative act. We have asked the administration to not remove the hateful graffiti yet; instead, we are holding a meeting to solicit ideas about how we can turn this into a positive thing for BC Law and the LGBT members of Lambda Law.

“Just as an example, one of the ideas we have already been given by one of our members is to use the words as a backdrop for a dedication to the gay rights movement… posting articles, pictures, and quotes on top of them that show our fight for equal rights from Stonewall to the President’s historic inclusion of gay rights in her inauguration speech yesterday… to show where we have come from and yet how far we still have to go.”

New Ways Ministry applauds the resolve of the students at Boston College, who are fostering community in the wake of this hate crime, and the Boston College Law School administration, whose decisive actions have helped to sustain an LGBT-friendly campus in a trying moment.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Dignity Chapters in Washington, DC and Boston Each Celebrate 40 Years

December 3, 2012

Two East Coast chapters of DignityUSA, Washington, DC, and Boston, have both recently celebrated their 40th anniversaries.

In addition to being among the oldest chapters in the national organization, both are among the strongest chapters, too.

The Washington chapter hosted its 40th anniversary Mass on Sunday, December 2, 2012, with Sister Jeannine Gramick, a co-founder of the Washington chapter, as well as New Ways Ministry, as the guest homilist.

A Washington Blade article recounts some of the chapter’s history:

“Dignity/Washington started with a group of about 20 at its first Mass. It moved from twice-monthly to weekly Mass in 1976. Membership and Mass attendance peaked at about 500 and 350 respectively in the late ‘80s. By late 1990, it had become the largest Dignity chapter in the U.S., a feat it maintains to this day, though membership is now about 200 with an average of 90-100 believers attending weekly Dignity Mass in D.C. “

Sister Jeannine recounted the initial meeting of the chapter which took place “in the cafeteria of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with five others in 1971.”

Tom Bower, a co-chair for the 40th anniversary events reflected in the article on some of the chapter’s purposes:

“The official church would very much like us to disappear. We show that you can be gay and Catholic at the same time and happily so and despite the major efforts of a much bigger organization to throw us out. We’re part of a national organization and when the Pope comes out against something gay, we’re able to say, ‘No, that’s wrong.’”

Bower and Bob Miailovich, another long-time member of the chapter, also commented on the challenge of remaining in the Catholic church as gay men:

“ ‘People think, “Oh, why do you keep banging your head against the wall?’” Bower says. ‘That’s why we call it faith. It’s a belief that there is within the larger view of what it means to be Catholic, there’s something there that you just don’t have with other groups.’

“Miailovich says despite the anti-gay teachings, he still ‘find(s) more truth in the Catholic Church than I do in other religions. It’s not perfect and I don’t buy everything at the end of the day but from what I know of other religions and what they teach and believe, I find more truth on the Catholic side than elsewhere else.’ ”

Miailovich continued in this vein:

“ ‘The church really is the people of God,’ Miailovich says. ‘It’s a horizontal assembly, not some vertical thing where you have the Pope at the top and an triangle going down with everyone else. Out there in the pews, there’s a great deal of support for a more progressive agenda, for women’s ordination, for married priests, you have the nuns on the bus for social justice. Everybody in the church does not believe 100 percent of everything that may be promulgated from on high.’

“He also says there’s an ‘attitude that it’s my church and you can’t take it away from me.’

“ ‘I can’t leave what is mine and that leaves you with a sense that some day, somehow, change will be made. You’re right, there are people who’ve said, “Why spend a lifetime working with these people, let’s go start our own thing and not worry about what’s left behind.” But I’m not going to change. This is who I am. This is how I pray and how I worship and here I am. We pray for our church leaders because we feel they need enlightenment.’ ”

A blog post on Boston.com offers a bit of the origin’s of the Boston chapter:

“Dignity/Boston grew out of a short-lived group called Interfaith, started by a local diocesan Holy Cross priest, the late Father Tom Oddo, along with former Holy Cross seminarians Ray Struble and Jim Andrews, and Ralph Fuccillo, among others, according to Struble. Another priest instrumental in Dignity’s growth during the 1980’s until his death in 2005 was the Rev. Dr. Richard Rasi, a priest with the Melkite Catholic rite, who frequently presided at Mass and established a popular ministry in Provincetown.
“The local chapter first met on December 3, 1972, at the Randolph Country Club. The next year, Dignity moved to St. Clement’s Church where it remained until 1977 when the local chapter moved to Arlington Street Church. In 1988, Dignity/Boston moved to St. John the Evangelist Church, located in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, where it remains today.”

The post also describes the distinguished history of activism and advocacy that the Boston chapter has:

“Politics and religion mixed well in the organization’s early years. ‘Dignity represented —for those of us who were Catholic — our political family, because [secular gays wanted] nothing to do with the religious crowd,’ said Struble. Keep in mind, he continued, ‘Boston was one of the most politicized gay cities in the country and one of the most Catholic.’

‘Dignity gave voice to the political piece that people of faith were trying to get into the public square,’ he explained. ‘We had push back from secularists. We were looked at as compromising.’ ”

‘But politics was only half of the Dignity equation.

“ ‘For those of us who were coming out of Vatican II and coming to terms with gayness, and what I learned in the seminary, I felt [the need] to be doing Christ’s work in the world,’  Struble said. ‘For those of us in the seminary, this was our calling.

“ ‘We took the social action of Jesus’ message to heart to be religious activists. That meant accepting everything, including women at the altar,’ he explained. ‘The sacrament [of the Eucharist] was the affirmation of us as one.’ “

But ecclesiastical and secular politics are not the full picture, as one of Boston’s younger members, Steven Young, points out:

“I don’t think I know God’s will better than anyone else. But I know what I know, and the truth I have about who I should love and whether that is sinful or not. I feel it deeply in my soul that being gay is not wrong [and] that I have to share with the rest of the Church. If people are blind to that—all the more reason for sharing that truth with others.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, a Boston member, who is also the Executive Director of DignityUSA, agrees:

“ ‘Faith, community, vision, and courage,’ said Duddy-Burke. ‘That’s what we offer to the LGBT movement and the church.’ ”

Like Dignity chapters across the country, these two communities offer vibrant opportunities for spiritual development, community, service, and support.  As Sister Jeannine Gramick said at the close of the Blade article:

“They’ve had a marvelous ministry here for 40 years ministering to local LGBT Catholics. It’s really a time to rejoice.”

And we add our own message to both chapters:  “Ad multos annos!”  (“Many more years!”)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


ALL ARE WELCOME: A Priest With An Extravagant Sense of Hospitality

February 13, 2012

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.  This is the fourth installment.  At the end of this posting, you can find the links to previous posts in this series.

When a parish wants to welcome LGBT people to their community, sometimes all it takes is a simple symbol to let folks know they will not meet with any animosity due to sexual orientation or gender identity.

Fr. Walter Cuenin

A lesson in expressing that welcome can be learned from Fr. Walter Cuenin, a long-time advocate for LGBT people in the Boston area, having been pastor at one of the first gay-friendly parishes there, Our Lady Help of Christians, in suburban Newton.  In 2006, he was the main speaker at Boston’s interfaith prayer service for Gay Pride Week.

The Brandeis Hoot, the student newspaper of Brandeis University, a mostly Jewish school in Waltham, Massachusetts, recently carried a profile of Fr. Cuenin, who serves as the school’s Catholic chaplain. The article begins with Fr. Cuenin’s  simple pastoral theology, based in the Christmas story, which is appropriate since the chapel at Brandeis is called the Bethlehem Chapel:

“Cuenin bases his decision to exhibit a gay pride flag [outside the chapel] on a tale about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. According to Christian tradition, when Mary and Joseph arrived at a Bethlehem inn, Mary was forced to have her baby in an outside stable since there were no rooms left at the inn. Cuenin connects this story to Brandeis’ Bethlehem Chapel by using the multicolored flag to portray that ‘in this Bethlehem, there’s always room for everyone in the inn.’ ”

Fr. Cuenin knows how to talk as a pastor in a way that affirms people. The wide-ranging interview with him covers a variety of hot-button issues:  contraception, abortion, gays in the military, immigration, and he answers them all with the kind of compassion and common sense that any good pastoral leader should exhibit.  For example, while not stating support outright for marriage equality, Cuenin gets across a message of loving acceptance.  In the interview, he states:

“ ‘The Catholic Church opposes gay marriage, so I cannot directly say I support it, but I have seen from my experience that for many people it creates a much healthier environment … For example, if you were to go to Provincetown in the summer time, where a lot of gay people go, it’s a radically different place today than it was 20 years ago,’ Cuenin said. ‘They are there with children and married, raising kids, so they go home at night. In other words, it has transformed the whole gay scene … it hasn’t led to total debauchery. In some ways, it has pulled people back together,’ Cuenin said.”

The closing of the interview highlights the extravagant sense of hospitality that would be wonderful to see throughout out church:

“ ‘When I was a pastor of a large church … I would always say I welcome everybody to this church, whether you’re gay or straight, divorced or remarried. Sometimes people in authority can take that the wrong way, but my understanding of being Christian is someone who welcomes everybody.’ ”

Let’s all try to practice that welcome to all we encounter.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Previous posts in the ALL ARE WELCOME series:

Say the Words , December 14, 2011

All in the Family , January 2, 2012

At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out? , January 25, 2012


Barney Frank Remembers Kevin White

January 31, 2012

Barney Frank

Kevin White

If openly gay Congressman Barney Frank is praising an Irish Catholic former mayor of Boston, you have to stop to take notice.

Indeed that is what Frank did the other day in a news story circulated by the Associated Press, and which I read on the website of The Herald News of Fall River, Massachusetts.  Kevin White, who passed away on January 27th, was the subject of Frank’s praise.

Describing White as “the first modern mayor,” Frank lauded him for his inclusive spirit:

” ‘City Hall was pretty much a Whites-only — almost an Irish-only — place,’ Frank told The Associated Press. ‘He opened it up, hired people of all races, genders’ and even embraced the gay rights movement.”

Most importantly, as Frank tells the tale, if it weren’t for the Catholic White, there would have been no “Congressman Frank:”

“ ‘He was an enormously important figure for the city, for many of the values I cared about and, in my case, really made a great difference in my life,’ Frank said.’I was still, when I met him, planning on an academic career, figuring I would dab in politics. He was the one who persuaded me to try fulltime government political work.’ ”

White had served four terms as Boston’s mayor, being elected for the first time in 1967 and serving until 1983.  Before this tenure, he had served as Massachusetts’ secretary of state three times.  The article also notes:

“White also was the first major state-level political figure to open up the political system to new people, including African-Americans and gays, Frank said.”

White’s funeral will be held at St. Cecilia Catholic Church, Boston.  This gay-friendly parish was in the news in 2011 when the Archdiocese of Boston told them that they could not host a Pride Mass during Gay Pride week in the city. The mass was re-schedule for one month later, after the pastor, Fr. John Unni, had preached a sermon of unconditional love and acceptance.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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