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


LGBT Issues Pervade 2013 Call to Action Conference

November 4, 2013

Call To Action 2013 Plenary Session

LGBT Catholic issues pervaded Call to Action’s 2013 conference this past weekend as progressive Catholics gathered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to organize for a more justice and inclusive Church and society. Bondings 2.0 offers a round-up from the weekend to show how central acceptance, welcome, and justice for all sexual orientations and gender identities is in broader efforts for Church renewal.

On Friday, New Ways Ministry co-founder Jeannine Gramick, SL joined other prophetic voices in a daylong reflection on conscience, sponsored by the 8th Day Center for Justice. Gramick spoke about her four decades in ministry among the LGBT community and her struggles with the institutional Church that resulted from this work.

A La Familia also hosted a seminar on the same day focusing on acceptance within Latino families of LGBTQ members, which was hosted by Lisbeth Melendez Rivera and Rose Manriquez.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Saturday’s plenary session featured writer and LGBT advocate Jamie Manson, a Catholic lesbian woman whose reflections on intergenerational companionship this blog recently profiled. She joined a panel on the future of Catholic ministry, and when speaking on inclusivity, Manson said:

“It used to be prophetic to include women and LGBT people. For the new generation, it’s not prophetic. It’s just common sense.”

Manson also spoke of the many young adults who are educated in theology and ministry, but unable to answer their call to leadership in the Church because of, among other obstacles, their sexual orientations and gender identities. Roy Bourgeois, a former Maryknoll priest forced out of his community for supporting women’s ordination, echoed these sentiments, saying the Church’s many years of prayers for more vocations would be answered if only those who want to serve as priests were allowed entry.

World Youth Day participants from Equally Blessed

Saturday also featured several workshops highlighting the need for LGBT justice in Catholic and civil communities. These included:

  • “Why the Church, for its Own Salvation, Needs Our Queer Sisters and Brothers” led by Miguel De La Torre;
  • “Same-Sex Marriage and Beyond: The Catholic Imperative for LGBT Equality” led by Marianne Duddy-Burke;
  • “Sharing the Message of Equally Blessed: Stories from the Pilgrimage to World Youth Day, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil” led by members of CTA 20/30 and Dignity Young Adult Caucus;
  • “LGBT Catholics Standing Together: Intergenerational Issues” led by Jeannine Gramick, SL and Bob Shine;
  • Caucuses by Fortunate Families for parents of LGBT children and by Catholics for Marriage Equality for those in Illinois, and Equally Blessed.

Loretto Volunteers helping with marriage equality in Maryland

On Sunday morning, Call to Action’s Leadership Award was granted to the Loretto Volunteers, a program of the Loretto Community that offers a year of service for young adults in an LGBT-affirming atmosphere rooted in the Catholic tradition. New Ways Ministry is one of the host sites for the Loretto Volunteers.

Following that, Marianne Duddy-Burke of Dignity USA offered a homily during the conference’s closing liturgy. Speaking on the story of Zacchaeus, she proposed modern exclusionary labels equivalent to “taxpayer” that included gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and the parent of an LGBT child.

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Flipping the narrative, Duddy-Burke asked attendees to place themselves in the position of Jesus, who called Zacchaeus out of the tree and into life. Jesus saw Zacchaeus as a human being with a profound need and engaged that alone, thus Catholics must do the same no matter how different or unlikable people crying out may be.  In conclusion, she envisioned a Church where the only label that makes a difference is beloved Child of God.

Given these speakers and workshops, there is not only widespread need, but also excitement around building up inclusive Catholic communities where LGBT people, their loved ones, families, friends, and allies are all welcomed. You can check out Call to Action’s website for more information on several of these programs described. For further reflections from Jeannine Gramick and Bob Shine on how diverse generations engaged around LGBT issues, check Bondings 2.0 later this week.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Understanding Transgender Issues Starts with Good Questions

August 27, 2013

Jonathan Merritt

As legal issues and theological debates grow around transgender issues, people of faith are speaking out in greater numbers for full protection and equality. Recent pieces by several authors are fine contributions for Catholics to reflect further on how the Church and its members can better understand and support trans Catholics.

Writing for Religion News Service, Jonathan Merritt asks Christians to complicate their thinking around transgender matters because they are far more complex than how anti-LGBT voices depict them. Stemming from his experiences with a fellow church member who is a trans man, the author speaks to the deficiency Christians (and one can safely add Catholics) have in thinking and speaking about transgender people. He writes:

“I suspect many Christians are like me and haven’t considered all the theological, ethical, and scientific intricacies of this issue. Perhaps we are afraid that what we discover will stretch the bounds of our thinking. My unsettled thoughts about how to reconcile Kris’s gender identification with my Christian faith tempt me to shrink back from my friendship with Kris. And yet, I’m so glad I haven’t. Our conversations challenge my thinking and force me to ask new and difficult questions of myself. Kris and I may not end up agreeing on everything, but we press on in our friendship anyway. And I think we’re both better for it.

“The transgender issue is an important one and Christians must grapple with it in all its messiness and complexity. So let’s not pretend that any armchair theologian should be able to figure it out. Kris deserves better. And so do all of our transgender neighbors.”

Sharon Groves, the director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith program, writes in The Washington Post about a positive contribution transgender members bring to communities of faith, namely the opportunity for wider reflection on creation, God, and oneself. She first writes a series of questions:

“[What if] we actually took seriously the question of what it means to be human and, more expansively, what it means to live into our full humanity? What if rather than saying that biology is destiny we actually explored the ways in which we all experience our own gender identities and expressions? What if we learned about the lived experiences of our transgender peers?”

Groves asks Christians to willingly engage in a respectful, open-minded questioning by encountering transgender people, their stories, and broader religious questions as a way forward. Fundamentally, understanding transgender community members will also involved understanding oneself in a deeper way on issues of gender, as she writes:

Sharon Groves

“The core teachings of Christianity are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. We cannot love God fully if we don’t do the work of trying to understand who God is for each of us. When we look at the most moving and transformative religious writing – from Augustine to Thomas Merton – there is a sense of openness and curiosity to the experience of God.  We can’t love God if we don’t try to glean how God works in our lives.

“Similarly, we can’t really love our neighbors if we cast off all curiosity about who they are and their experience of life in the world. And finally, if we remain uninterested in ourselves – about how we come to know our gender–then we can’t really love the difference that shows up in our neighbors…

“To live our lives with true compassion and caring, we need to move beyond slogans and ask the deeper questions about gender and the diversity of experiences.   But to do that, one must ask the right question and be open to a multitude of answers.”

In a sign of hope for the Catholic Church, Governor Jerry Brown of California, who is a Catholic, recently signed a groundbreaking law protecting transgender students in that state. The law allows transgender students to use bathrooms and play on the sports teams which match their gender identity most fully. However, comments by an administrator in Nebraska’s Catholic schools opposing a similar law in that state prove that work remains in securing equality for transgender people.  At least one previous story on Bondings 2.0 reveals the pressures trans church employees feel, as well as their fears of discriminatory firings.  Another story shows the support that Catholics can express for transgender people.

A positive first step is for every Catholic to deepen their understanding of transgender issues by questioning their existing beliefs, educating themselves, and encountering trans people in their communities. Share your thoughts and resources on how Catholics can better understand transgender issues in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Has Mixed LGBT Legacy As Archbishop in Argentina

March 15, 2013

Pope Francis

As Pope Francis settles in after initial celebrations, onlookers from all perspectives and places begin to dissect his legacy in Argentina to derive how he may lead from Rome. Bondings 2.0 will provide readers with a variety of commentary and information on Pope Francis as his papacy commences, starting today with an examination of his record on LGBT issues while archbishop.

Most notably, Cardinal Bergoglio presided over the Argentine Church in its failed attempt to stop marriage equality legislation in 2010 when equal rights for marriage were extended to all couples. The then-cardinal spoke of marriage equality in apocalyptic language. He perceived equal rights as a threat to existing families and used the term “war” when referring to the nation’s marriage equality debate.

Katie McDonough at Salon compiled some of Pope Francis’ sharpest critiques of marriage equality, which speak for themselves and include:

“‘Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God’…

“Look at San Jose, Maria, Child and ask them [to] fervently defend Argentina’s family at this time. [Be reminded] what God told his people in a time of great anguish: “This war is not yours but God’s.” May they succor, defend and join God in this war.’”

Pope Francis, as archbishop in Argentina, also spoke strongly against the adoption of children by same-gender couples, which he labeled a form of discrimination and abuse:

“‘At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.’”

On a positive note, Pope Francis is widely revered for his commitment to the marginalized in society. National Catholic Reporter reveals that as Cardinal Bergoglio, he kissed and washed the feet of twelve AIDS patients in 2001 as a show of his “deep compassion for the victims of HIV-AIDS.”

As mixed as this record may be, not all view his record Argentina as the final word now that Cardinal Bergoglio is Pope Francis. Writing in Time, Tim Padgett is keeping his hopes up:

“I want to believe that his history as an advocate for the poor will bring him to see that today’s church is spending an inordinate amount of time, energy and ultimately moral credibility persecuting homosexuals, feminists and other “heretics” while it’s de-prioritizing, at least in the public’s eye, its core Christian (and human) mission of compassion and redemption.”

Whether Pope Francis will experience a shift as he assumes the papacy is known to God alone, but many in the LGBT community hold out for positive movement now that the former pope, Benedict XVI, has retired. Bondings 2.0 will report more thoroughly on signs of hope over the weekend, and further reactions from the Catholic LGBT community and organizations.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Bishops Oppose Violence Against Women Act Because of LGBT Protections

March 8, 2013

After a lengthy political battle centered around specific LGBT, American Indian and migrant protection, President Barack Obama finally signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act yesterday, but not before five Catholic bishops announced their opposition to the legislation in a statement released Wednesday.

Lauren Markoe writes in The Washington Post about the bishops’ rejection of this legislation that strengthens and funds federal initiatives to further protect domestic violence and human trafficking victims. The 2013 re-authorization added explicit protections for victims regardless of their “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” which is the source of Republican legislators, as well as the bishops’, concerns. Markoe writes:

“[The bishops] are opposing the newly authorized Violence Against Women Act for fear it will subvert traditional views of marriage and gender, and compromise the religious freedom of groups that aid victims of human trafficking…

“That language disturbs several bishops who head key committees within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that deal with, among other issues, marriage, the laity, youth and religious liberty.”

The bishops signing the statement include Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. Several of these bishops previously opposed marriage equality and LGBT civil rights in prominent ways, making this letter only the latest in the narrative against full equality.

In 2010, during the last re-authorization vote in the Violence Against Women Act, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supported the legislation as an effective measure to reduce gender-based violence. At that time,  emphasis on Catholic teachings around human dignity, justice, and non-violence played a central role in the decision to support the legislation. The recent action of these five bishops re-orients episcopal judgement on the bill to sexual ethics exclusively.

Will the bishops continue to make their view on sexual ethics the only litmus test for all social policy?  Such a position would be socially disastrous.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Reflections on Vatican II and LGBT Issues–Part 2: Humble Learning

December 28, 2012

The second part in a three-part series reflecting on Vatican II and LGBT issues.  For the first part, click here.

humilityIn this second part of the Vatican II and LGBT series, we will look at Richard Gaillardetz’ second of three dynamics which he identified as instrumental for making the Council so successful.  (To read the entire Gaillardetz essay on which this post is based, click here. ) The second dynamic he identified is “humble learning.”  In part, he had this to say about this essential dynamic:

“A second dynamic evident at the council was the bishops’ commitment to humble learning. In the century before the council it had become common to divide the church into two parts: a teaching church (ecclesia docens) made up of the clergy and a learning church (ecclesia discens) consisting of the laity. This way of imagining the church dangerously overlooked the fact that bishops do not have a monopoly on divine truth. They do not receive supernaturally infused knowledge at their episcopal ordination. It is not the case that a priest with a shaky understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity on the day before his episcopal ordination would suddenly be able to give learned lectures on the topic on the day after ordination! As St. Cyprian of Carthage sagely pointed out in the third century, bishops must themselves be learners before they can be teachers (Epistle 74, 10).

“Historians of Vatican II will point out the remarkable willingness of so many of the council bishops to become students once again. It is easy to forget that a good number of bishops, then as now, found that their pastoral responsibilities made it difficult for them to keep up with current historical, biblical and theological scholarship. As the council proceeded, many bishops sought the expert input of some of the many distinguished theologians and ecumenical observers who were in Rome at the time. Many regularly attended evening lectures offered by leading theologians. . . .

“Vatican II reminds us that we are all disciples of Jesus and, therefore, lifelong learners.”

If there is one area where our present-day bishops can use some humble learning, it is the area of sexuality and gender.  Our world has undergone such a major transformation in this area over the last century, particularly the last half-century, yet our bishops don’t seem to have paid any attention to it.

I say this not just because the hierarchy’s ideas in this area are traditional, but because when they make statements about sexuality or gender, they often do so in such a way as to give the impression that they are totally unaware that everyone else in the world has been discussing these topics passionately for so long.  Often the hierarchy won’t even raise opposing arguments as “straw men” so that they can refute them.  They seem unwilling to acknowledge that a whole new universe of discourse has been established. It seems like their strategy is that ignoring these new discussions might make them go away.

Gaillardetz’ argument reminds us that as an entire church, we need to be continually learning.  “Humble learning” is almost a redundancy.  All learning requires the humility to acknowledge that one may not already have all the answers or not know how to respond to new information.

In the particular area of LGBT issues,  new ideas and new research continue to be published every day.  Reputable and faithful Catholic theologians and scholars have been developing new ideas about sexuality and gender since the 1960s, but church leaders rarely even acknowledge that this robust discussion has been taking place.  If they do acknowledge new ideas, too often it is to censure them without giving them a full and honest hearing.

I believe that what the church most needs is a new C0uncil focusing solely on the issue of sexuality and gender. Such a gathering would hopefully allow bishops to become humble learners in this most important area of human and ecclesial life.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Pope Criticizes Marriage Equality and Transgender Identity; Equally Blessed Responds

December 22, 2012
Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

For the third time in just about a week, the Vatican has offered negative comments about LGBT issues.  Yesterday’s remarks came from Pope Benedict himself, in his annual Christmas speech to the Vatican staff.

An Associated Press account reports:

“The pope took his opposition to gay marriage to new heights Friday, denouncing what he described as people manipulating their God-given gender to suit their sexual choices — and destroying the very ‘essence of the human creature’ in the process. . . .

” ‘People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being,’ he said. ‘They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.’ “

” ‘The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned,’ he said. . .

” ‘When freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God,’ Benedict said.”

Though stated in the context of an argument against marriage equality, these remarks also comment on the issue of transgender identity.

Major excerpts from the address can be read in this synopsis by Vatican Radio.

Equally Blessed LogoEqually Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic organizations (Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry) working on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families responded to the pope’s speech:

“Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican bureaucracy have released a number of troubling statements in recent days disparaging lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and speaking against their right to be treated fairly in civil society.

“In L’Osservatore Romano, historian Lucetta Scaraffia compared proponents of marriage equality to 20th-century communists who wooed millions with their promise of perfect social and economical equality.

“In an address released earlier this week, the pope labeled same-sex marriage as a threat to world peace.  Yesterday, in a speech to Vatican bureaucrats he denounced what he described as people who manipulate their God-given gender to suit their sexual choices — and destroying the very ‘essence of the human creature’ in the process.

“These harsh statements are particularly dispiriting at this sacred time of year when families that include LGBT children, parents and grandparents gather to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. We could find fault with Ms. Scaraffia’s historical comparison, or the pope’s rigid and outmoded understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman. Instead we remember that Jesus, when asked by messengers from John the Baptist whether He was the Messiah, told them to go back and tell John about what they saw happening all around them:  the sick were being healed, the lame made to walk and good news was being proclaimed to the poor.

“What we see when we look around us are heterosexual parents loving their LGBT children and advocating for their dignity and equality; same-gender couples creating safe and happy homes for their children; and transgender people like those whom the pope criticizes living healthy, mature, and generous lives.

“Increasingly Catholics in the United States and around the world see what we see. Catholics, following their own well-formed consciences, are voting to support equal rights for LGBT people because in their churches and communities they see a far healthier, godly and realistic vision of the human family than the one offered by the pope. We commend it to him for his consideration.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Recent Comments from the Vatican on LGBT issues:

December 21, 2012: Vatican Journalist Compares Marriage Equality to Communism

December 17, 2012: World Day of Peace Message and Meeting with Ugandan Parliamentary Leader Cause Controversies for Pope Benedict


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,110 other followers