On Spirit Day, Catholics Chart New Course for LGBT Youth

October 17, 2013

SpiritDay13_Graphic_FinalToday is Spirit Day. Millions across the nation will wear purple as a sign of their of their love and support for LGBT youth and for their opposition to bullying. We join GLAAD, the main sponsoring organization, in spreading this message of inclusion and well-being.

LGBT teens and young adults suffer greatly from bullying by peers in person and, increasingly, on the internet. Homo- and trans-phobic harassment against youth leads to vastly higher rates of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide than the general population.

Rejection from their faith community and religious-based discrimination only compound these problems. For Catholics, Spirit Day is also prime moment for reflection on our Church’s progress and where we are now headed in ministering to younger people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Last October, . Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s piece on Spirit Day was considered a bold statement, when he reminded Catholics of a prevalent negativity around Catholic LGBT issues from some quarters of the church:

“Many gay and lesbian Catholics have told me (in person, in emails, in notes and letters and in Facebook messages) how alienated they have felt from the church lately.  Perhaps as a result of some of the rhetoric that has been used recently, an increasing number of gay and lesbian Catholics, and gay and lesbian youth in particular, feel marginalized from the church in which they were baptized.”

Fear, hurt, and isolation persist for many LGBT Catholics who experienced decades of damaging language and actions.  Pope Francis, though, has prompted a spirit of renewal that blows through our communities which demands that we act against anti-gay discrimination, especially when it targets youth.

One bright initiative is called Anti-Bullying Learning and Teaching Resources (ALTER), sponsored by the Diocese of Wollongong, Australia. Responding to the rapid rise in bullying through cell phones and social media, the diocese’s Catholic Education Office produced a video (which you can view below) and a resource kit for adults in leadership.

Of note is the use of the word “gay” in the video, revealing an openness to the realities of the students it hopes to help. The Office explains:

“Fix You was deliberately designed to include significant contribution from Diocesan primary and secondary students. To maintain the integrity of this concept, when asked to list words commonly used to bully and to hurt, students were adamant the word ‘gay’ be included. In explanation, it was our students’ reality that this word was often used as a weapon and that verbal bullying was an experience known to most students. Consequently, this term has been included in the sequence of words depicting how bullying brands someone and how this can leave lifelong scars.”

The Office provides an improved commentary on homosexuality that focuses on respecting people’s dignity and ending injustice. They recommend that educators use the word “gay” in their classroom discussions.

This Spirit Day, Pope Francis’ handful of olive branches to the LGBT community has changed the tone by his comment “Who am I to judge?“, his America interview, or his handwritten note to gay Catholics in Italy. Leaders in the American hierarchy have been slow to follow his lead, but the Catholic laity  continue to advance into greater inclusion.

As Catholics, we at New Ways Ministry support Spirit Day, compelled by our faith to end bullying and sustain LGBT youth as they come to know themselves, their community, and God.  We’ve changed our profile picture on Facebook to purple in honor of Spirit Day, and we invite you to do the same as a sign of support.  If you use Twitter, consider using #SpiritDay in your tweets about support for LGBT youth today.

Why not share the graphic above with your friends on Facebook? You can copy and paste it from this post or you can find it on the New Ways Ministry Facebook page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: August 19, 2013

August 19, 2013

News NotesHere are some items that may be of interest:

1) Using hyperbolic language, the Catholic bishops in England released a document responding to that nation’s passage of marriage equality earlier this year. The document reiterated common messages from the hierarchy, while adding new concepts about Catholics being alienated in their own country because of the new law. You can read more at The Catholic Register. Marriage equality in England has at least one columnist asking if the Catholic Church should remove itself from marriage altogether.

2) Responding to the firing of educator Carla Hale this spring for marrying her wife, one set of Catholic parents began wondering about a Catholic burial for their gay son. While several Catholic officials and funeral directors assured them the institution denies a Catholic burial in only the most extreme instances, these parents remain dissatisfied. Alternatively, one gay Catholic man told The Columbus Dispatch: ” ‘One place the Catholic Church is really, really, really nice about is death.’ “

3)In the African nation of Cameroon, more anti-gay prosecutions and the seeming assassination of prominent advocate Eric Lembembe caused LGBT rights organizations to demand better conditions from the civil and religious authorities in Cameroon who support homophobic language and acts. LGBT advocates said in a statement reported by France 24: ” ‘The religious authorities, the Cameroonian Roman Catholic Church in particular, take a position on homosexuality in order to incite violence,’ ” Cameroon, where about a quarter of the population are Catholic, is one of the worst nations for LGBT rights.

4) A Michigan high school student won a lawsuit in which he claimed his First Amendment rights were violated during a 2010 classroom interaction. The student claimed his Catholic faith did not allow him to accept LGBT people, and was then written up by his teacher for disruptive behavior. Some observers in Education Week believe this case could have broader implications in the tension over free speech in schools and anti-bullying policies that seek to protect sexual orientation and gender identity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


London School Is a Model for Church and LGBT Community Working Together

May 19, 2013

A story from London, England, offers a model of how Catholic schools and LGBT-rights group can  help each other out, all to the students’ benefit.

St. Mary's Catholic Primary School

St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School

London’s Evening Standard reports that Sarah Crouch, headteacher of St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Wimbledon, invited Stonewall, the United Kingdom’s premier LGBT-rights group, to give the school’s teachers a lesson in how to eliminate homophobic bullying. Crouch said:

“We want to give our staff the tools to know what to do should an incident of homophobic bullying occur…It is important that children know it is not OK to use the word gay in a derogatory way.”

This positive action was not without controversy, however, as some people felt it was inappropriate for a Catholic school to bring in advisers from the LGBT community.  The Standard reports:

“Antonia Tully, national coordinator of the Safe at School campaign, said: ‘Many parents will be very concerned that a gay rights organisation is considered to be an appropriate source of advice on how to deal with children using inappropriate language in the playground.

“ ‘If a primary school takes on Stonewall’s agenda, young children will be exposed to homosexual issues, which they are too young to understand properly. Parents expect a school to provide an education, not subject their children to gay propaganda.’ ”

But Tully’s comments, exaggeratedly alarmist, ignore the facts of this case:

“Ms Crouch said that children were not involved in the training, which was carried out for teachers on one day in September.

“She added that Stonewall’s programme was tailored specifically for the Catholic school and did not mention same sex relationships or gay marriage. It concentrated on how teachers should tackle incidents of homophobic bullying.”

Boston’s Edge newspaper notes that the program, in fact, was approved by the local diocese:

“The authorities of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark and all but one of the governors approved the event. Now, St. Mary’s stands as the first and only Catholic primary school to be listed as a Stonewall ‘Primary School of Champion’ of gay equality.”

Headteacher Crouch affirmed the goodness of the program presented and that it synchronized with the school’s Catholic tradition:

 “As a school, and as Catholics, we are opposed to prejudice of any kind and felt it was important to tackle the issue of homophobic language and bullying.

“The training was very successful and we feel confident that if any incidents occur our staff have the means to address them appropriately.”

Such an example deserves wide circulation as a model of how Catholic schools can be taking steps to eliminate homophobic bullying.  Ms. Crouch and St. Mary’s school show that concern for their students was able to outweigh any sensitivity about church and secular politics.  Their example of pragmatic partnering is one that principals–and bishops–should emulate.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Ontario Catholic School Controversy Could Easily Have Been Avoided

March 3, 2013

A recent story from Ontario highlights institutional Catholic intransigence over LGBT issues is trumping reasonable solutions to simple problems.

Xtra.ca, a Canadian LGBT news source reports on the case of an 18-year old secondary school student named Brooke who has experienced repeated harassment at a Catholic school in Windsor, Ontario:

Brooke with her girlfriend

Brooke with her girlfriend

“Administrators at a Catholic school in Windsor, Ontario, are allegedly threatening to launch a lawsuit in an attempt to silence a gay student who is speaking out against homophobic discrimination at the school.

“Brooke, 18, a Grade 12 student at St Thomas of Villanova Catholic Secondary School, who asked that her last name be withheld, has had a rough school year so far. It began with the death of her father on Oct 1. On top of that, Brooke says a teacher has been bullying her because she is gay and in a relationship with a fellow student.
“And ever since the teacher outed their relationship to her girlfriend’s parents, Brooke says, the school has become the only place the pair can see one another, so she has no choice but to stay.”
Brooke claims that harassment from her religion teacher, Jolene Coste, has been occurring all year, with the teacher making remarks in class about the girl’s relationship with her girlfriend and with negative remarks about homosexuality.  Things came to a head when Brooke alluded to an obscenity when answering  a question about “real” marriage on an exam.  Her response resulted in a ten-day suspension from school.
The arguing and accusations have been going on for most of the past school year.  School administrators have brought up the possibility of suing Brooke for defamation.
Clearly, this situation has gotten out of hand.  What is sad here is not just the possibility that a religion teacher would be bullying a student or that a student would resort to near-obscenity on an exam, but the fact that school administrators have not explored some way to mediate the situation by having the student, her parents, and the teacher discuss the situation together and come to some ground rules for behavior.
As Bondings 2.0 has reported, Ontario Catholic schools are state-funded, and are also subject to the province’s recent Accepting Schools Act, which was designed to eliminate bullying.  Though Catholic schools originally balked at such a law, this situation clearly shows the need for it.  One member of the Ontario parliament, Cheri DeNovo spoke to Xtra about the need for student safety:
“ ‘That’s not just physical safety, but also psychological and emotional safety as well,’ she says. ‘I call on every adult that surrounds her in that school system to stand up for her safety.
“ ‘Here we have a student in a publicly funded school that is not getting the support from her administration. She does not feel safe. Her concerns are not being addressed. Frankly, I think it’s disgusting that no [administrator] is standing up for her.’
 ‘DiNovo says it’s now the province’s job to ensure the act is enforced. Students shouldn’t have to face a legal battle to get the protection they deserve, she says. ‘[Education Minister] Liz Sandals herself should intervene. It’s sad we have to ask this of our students.’ ”
It is terribly sad that the government might have to become involved here.  Last week, Bondings 2.0 reported on a dispute in New York City between a Catholic pastor and a nearby drag show.  The dispute was easily resolved by the parties sitting down and speaking with one another.
In this school case, good Catholic pastoral care and simple human contact and dialogue could have defused this problem before it escalated to such proportions.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

‘You Shall Love Your LGBT Neighbor As Yourself’

October 18, 2012

Tomorrow is Spirit Day, sponsored by GLAAD, to take a stand against anti-LGBT violence and  bullying among youth. LGBT supporters worldwide will wear purple and promote #SpiritDay on social media as a show of solidarity. Noted Jesuit priest  and author James Martin wrote a blog post for America magazine earlier this week on why participation by Catholics is important, entitled ‘Why Not Wear Purple on Friday?

Citing statistics from the Trevor Project  and US Department of Justice officials, Fr. Martin highlights thatLGBT youth are at a vastly increased risk for suicide attempts, family rejection, and bullying in schools. He encouraged Catholic participation in Spirit Day:

“This should be a no-brainer for Catholics, who are called by Christ to support those who suffer or struggle in any way, particularly those on the margins.

“This is an especially relevant issue for Catholics who support traditional families…For Catholics overall it is an opportunity to demonstrate their ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity’ for their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and thus heed the call of the Catechism.  (There’s even a site for Catholics supporting the initiative.)  And when we’re talking about suicide, we’re talking about a ‘life issue.’”

James Martin, SJ

Martin even responds to Catholics objecting to Spirit Day and similar initiatives because of an implied endorsement of organizations that oppose official Catholic teaching. He reminds Catholics that it is important to act against injustices, even if partners do not agree on all aspects, because the alternative of waiting for perfection means halting progress. Martin speaks to the heart of Catholic participation in Spirit Day:

“Many gay and lesbian Catholics have told me (in person, in emails, in notes and letters and in Facebook messages) how alienated they have felt from the church lately.  Perhaps as a result of some of the rhetoric that has been used recently, an increasing number of gay and lesbian Catholics, and gay and lesbian youth in particular, feel marginalized from the church in which they were baptized.

“So why not do something simple to show compassion for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, especially those who are bullied or who have even attempted suicide? Purple is a penitential color, the color of remorse, and so it is particularly appropriate as a sign of remorse over any LBGT hate speech.  Why do something small to show your love of neighbor?”

Those of us at New Ways Ministry will be wearing purple tomorrow to publicly witness against the bullying, violence, and hate speech that harm so many LGBT youth and New Ways Ministry hopes you will join in taking a stand because, as Fr. Martin writes:

“You shall love your LGBT neighbor as yourself.”

Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


What’s In a Name?

January 28, 2012

The highly controversial debate over what to name the government-mandated anti-homophobia clubs in state-funded Catholic schools of Ontario has been settled.  Though they are commonly called “gay-straight alliances” (GSAs), Catholic officials balked at this title. After eight months of wrangling, the Ontario Catholic Schools Trustees’ Association (OCTSA) has settled on a choice, and it has also issued guidelines for how to run these groups, reports the Toronto Star:

“Now, at last, the puff of white smoke has emerged. In a report sent Thursday to schools, the committee suggests anti-bullying groups be called “Respecting Difference clubs.” They must have a staff advisor committed to the Catholic faith, they are not to provide personal counseling in a group setting, and are not to be a forum for “activism, protest or advocacy of anything that is not in accord with the Catholic faith foundation of the school,” says the 15-page blueprint sent out this week to all Catholic school boards.

“ ‘This is about helping kids feel safe against bullying, not as advocacy for a lifestyle,’  said Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association. ‘We have nothing against homosexuals, but it’s the (homosexual) act that is in contradiction of the teachings of the church.’ “

Why is there such a controversy over what to name these groups?  In an article on Xtra.ca, a Canadian lesbian/gay news organization, quotes Kirby’s reasoning for opposing “gay-straight alliance:”

“ ‘It won’t be a gay-straight alliance,’ she told Xtra in past interviews. ‘When I look at a gay-straight alliance, I see an activist group. We are answering the students’ request for support and assistance, not for activism. Students don’t want to become activists; they want to be supported in being bullied by their peers.’ ”

At least one observer disagrees with Kirby’s assessment.  In The Windsor Star‘s article,  Larry Lavender, vice-president of Windsor Pride says that gay-straight alliances are not activist organizations and that, in reality, they function pretty much in the way that Catholic trustees want the groups conducted. He states:

” ‘They’re just meeting once a week after classes, and socializing and talking about their problems and being there for each other.’ ”

Lavender has no problem with the new name:

“ ‘As long as they allow them and don’t impede them, don’t suppress their function, is it really important what they’re called?’ Lavender asked. ‘No, not really.’ ”

However, one of the people at the center of this controversy and who stands to be one of those most affected by the decision is not happy with the Trustees’ decision. Leanne Iskander, a student who has been asking for a GSA at her school since last March and who has organized Catholic Students For GSAs,  doesn’t like the new term at all. In an interview with the Toronto Star explains her position:

“ ‘It highlights the difference, rather than the similarities, and it should be about more than just respect — it should be about accepting people as they are. . . ‘ “

In The Globe and Mail article on the topic, Iskander added a thought which highlights how futile it is for authorities to try to pull the wool over young adults who can smell phoniness a mile away:

“ ‘We wouldn’t use this name if they [the school] tried to push it on us.’ ”

Is something’s name really important? Definitely.  The name sets a context for an organization and sends a message about what is permissible and not permissible for discussion.  A name is not only a label:  it also contains values.  Part of the problem in this controversy is that the (OCTSA) sees that the word “gay” only can mean illicit sex and/or political activism, and so it is devalued.  In  The Globe and Mail article, Kirby stated:

“ ‘We may not agree with the advocacy of a lifestyle, but still believe that gay students, and for that matter any students, should not be bullied. . . .We are totally against bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and have nothing against homosexuality. But this is about anti-bullying specifically, not promoting a lifestyle that goes against our Catholic teachings.’ ”

While it is admirable that Kirby is against bullying, her worries about “promoting a lifestyle” are overblown and reveal a defensiveness that, if enacted in these organizations, will guarantee their failure.

If sexual activity and political activism are one’s starting points for understanding LGBT people–particularly young LGBT people–this assumption reveals that there is really no understanding at all.

–Francis DeBernardo,  New Ways Ministry

Bondings 2.0 reported earlier about this controversy in the following postings:

NEWS NOTES: January 18, 2012

Silence Is Not Golden

Abolish ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in Ontario’s Catholic Schools”


Silence Is Not Golden

December 22, 2011

Towards the end of a recent article on a Canadian’s campaign to end homophobic bullying,  an interesting discussion takes place about how to bring an anti-bullying message to Catholic schools.  You may recall that we reported on a controversy that has been brewing in Ontario, where state-funded Catholic schools are mandated to institute gay-straight alliances, but that church officials do not want to refer to these organizations by those terms.

The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association is devising a list of names other than “gay-straight alliance” which it will recommend to local school boards.   Nancy Kirby, the Association president, comments on the naming controversy:

“Everyone is getting so caught up on the name of what the club should be that they’re getting away from what we’re trying to do and that’s to help protect our students, help support them.”

Ms. Kirby misses the point.  By not using the word “gay” you are already not protecting children because the omission sends the message that there is something wrong with the word, and by extrapolation, the reality. Not to use it sends the message that this topic is shameful, dirty, secret.

In using the word “gay,” the schools would be acknowledging that the reality is something that can be discussed.

In another earlier post, we mentioned that the first step for parishes who want to welcome LGBT people  is to use the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “transgender” in natural, normal, and affirming ways.   To do so sends a message of acceptance.

How can there be protection and support of youth if the adults who supervise them are afraid to use words honestly and accurately?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Bishops, Bullying, Religious Liberty, and Marriage

December 3, 2011

At their recent meeting in Baltimore in November, the U.S. bishops once again remained silent on the issue of bullying and violence directed against LGBT people.  For the second year in a row, the USCCB could not find any word to speak on this devastating problem  to which our nation has alerted since Fall of 2010 when the suicides of teenagers who had been bullied because of the sexual or gender identity made major headlines.

The bishops remained silent despite the fact that they received a petition from over 1,700 Catholics asking for moral leadership on this topic from the hierarchy.  The petition was sponsored by Equally Blessed, a coalition of four national Catholic organizations, one of which is New Ways Ministry.

Sadly and tragically, the bishops have painted themselves into a corner on LGBT issues, and now they seem unable to speak against such a blatant disregard for human dignity as bullying is. Instead, the bishops used their annual moment in the media spotlight to present themselves as victims by claiming that their religious liberty is being denied because of the growing social and legal acceptance of equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples.

Among the commentary on the religious liberty topic is an essay by John Mattras which explains in the plainest possible way the contradictions of such an argument.  The essay is titled, “Do Unto Others–US Bishops, Religious Liberty and Gay Americans’ Tax Dollars.” Take a look at it, and let us know what you think.

On November 10, 2011, one week before the U.S. bishops’ meeting, the Maryland Catholic Conference issued a statement on religious freedom, which also purported that this cherished value is at risk.   About the Maryland statement, New Ways Ministry had this to say:

“In issuing their statement,“The Most Sacred of All Property:  Religious Freedom and the People of Maryland, ” the Maryland Catholic Conference inserted a “red herring” into the debate on marriage equality occurring in the Free State.  The bishops have re-framed themselves as victims of secular government, when, in fact, they are opposing the religious liberty of other churches, the will of the majority of Catholics, and civil rights for all.

“The title of the bill to be passed is the “Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act” to emphasize that religious institutions will retain their freedom to choose who they would like to marry.  A number of churches already marry same-gender couples, so when the bishops oppose marriage equality legislation, they are, in fact, curtailing the religious freedom of these other churches to have their marriages fully recognized.

“In 2010, the Archdiocese of Washington closed its adoption services rather than minister to same-gender couples by their own choice. The Catholic bishops could have relied on their own mandate to protect equality and human dignity.  This second option would have been more in line with the majority of US Catholics.  In 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute issued a statistical report which noted that 74% of US Catholics support civil legislation for same-gender couples. Protecting the children of same-gender couples is a major motivation for Catholics wanting such measures.

“Why do the bishops want to enshrine into law a teaching about marriage which even their fellow Catholics do not accept and which curtails the religious freedom of other churches?”

Your thoughts?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Abolish “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in Ontario’s Catholic Schools

December 2, 2011

In Ontario, Canada, Catholic schools receive public funding, so it is easy for there to be a morass of entanglement when the interests of government and religion conflict.   Over the past year, a debate percolated in the press and legislature about  the idea of requiring Catholic schools to establish gay-straight alliances for students.  The requirement has become law, but with a compromise that allows Catholic schools to call these student organizations “equity clubs,” instead of  “gay-straight” alliances.

The Globe and Mail, an influential Canadian newspaper has editorialized that this compromise defeats the purpose of the new law.  The paper offers a powerful and poignant reason why:

“To be made nameless is not a small thing. It is to be told that some shame is associated with who you are. The clubs can exist but, depending on how the Catholic schools react, perhaps only in the closet, a place of shame.”

The editorial likens this compromise to another historic compromise on gay issues, which was recently repealed in the United States:

“It is similar to president Bill Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” law of 1993, now repealed, under which homosexuals were allowed in the U.S. military, as long as they didn’t breathe a whisper of it. That put gay and lesbian soldiers in a terrible position – vulnerable to expulsion, and still treated as if they needed to hide who they are.”

While conceding that the Catholic schools have a right to their religious beliefs, the editorial challenges them to a higher standard:

“The Catholic schools have the right to their beliefs about homosexuality. But they are public schools and they do not have the right to insist on a second-class status for students who identify as homosexual, or who simply have questions about their identity, or who have gay or lesbian parents. They need to try a little harder to make religious belief and equality work together.”

It’s sad that these schools have to be reminded of this challenge.  The Catholic tradition itself calls these institutions to the higher standard of defending the dignity of every human life.   The Catholic schools of Ontario should be doing a lot more for LGBT students, and having their reality named in the organizations that are designed to support them is just the beginning.

The Globe and Mail editorial highlights the reason why this issue is so critical:

 “This is not an abstract issue. It is difficult to be gay in high school, and gay teens suffer from depression, and depression is a factor in suicide. If Ontario truly wishes to defend those vulnerable to bullying, it should do so wholeheartedly. The best answer is to promote acceptance, and require it from those who refuse to give it.”

Catholic leaders seem slow to learn that discrimination and silencing are life and death issues.  They could learn a lot from the political leaders of Canada.  Another article in The Globe and Mail describes what these government leaders are doing in the wake of suicides caused by bullying.  What are Catholic leaders doing?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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