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


Catholic Communities Featured Prominently in Two Pride Parades

June 22, 2013

PrideAround the globe, June is traditionally celebrated as Pride month in the LGBT community.  It is common for cities, large and small, to host parades, festivals, and other events to acknowledge the contributions of LGBT people and to let folks know about the supportive resources and organizations within the local community.

LGBT-friendly religious groups also take part in Pride celebrations, though having a Catholic presence in these events is a rare occurrence.  Sometimes the presence of a Catholic group sparks controversy, as happened last week in Portland, Oregon, when a St. Andrew Parish marched in the city’s Pride parade, even though their archbishop told them not to do so.

On the east coast of the U.S., another Catholic parish also marched in its city’s Pride parade:  St. Matthew’s in Baltimore, Maryland.  The parish’s LGBT ministry was lauded by the LGBT community for their presence and leadership.  The More Light Presbyterians website had these accolades for their Catholic friends:

When the Gay Pride parade kicked off in Baltimore on June 15, a number of faith communities were present – and Presbyterians were an important part of the event.  Faith Presbyterian – one of the organizers of the effort – and Brown Memorial Park Avenue– were proudly marching behind the banner, FAITH COMMUNITIES OF BALTIMORE with PRIDE – as was First & St. Stephens United Church of Christ.  But the largest number came

St. Matthew's contingent in  Baltimore's Pride Parade

St. Matthew’s contingent in Baltimore’s Pride Parade

from St. Matthews Roman Catholic church – the real instigator of the effort.  Long before we started actively recruiting walkers, St. Matthews had paid all the entry fees (Faith paid for the banner)!  Their goal was to have 100 walkers – I think the final number was 115!  Their enthusiasm was contagious as we planned the event.  Their LEAD ministries – their program to welcome LGBTQ’s – is an important part of the life at St. Matthews – and fits well with Faith’s participation in MORE LIGHT Presbyterians.  Faith and St. Matthews are long-time friends – both are active participants in the events of the Loch Raven (Blvd) Ministerium.  In fact the two churches are planning to do anti-bullying workshops together in the fall.  And we’re already talking about Gay Pride 2014!

Dignity/Washington's contingent in the Capital Pride Parade

Dignity/Washington’s contingent in the Capital Pride Parade

In nearby Washington, DC,  another Catholic community was also celebrated in their city’s Capital Pride Festival.    Dignity/Washington, which marked 40 years of service last year, received the Festival’s “Larry Stansbury Award for Exemplary Contributions to Pride.”   The  Capital Pride Festival’s website details Dignity/Washington’s many contributions to the local community, particularly their contributions to Pride celebrations:

“Dignity/Washington has participated in every LGBT March on Washington. Dignity/Washington was one of the earliest organizations to take part in the local Pride celebrations and has been a Capital Pride participant for over three decades.  Dignity/Washington became a Capital Pride Community Partner in 2007, even before the Capital Pride Alliance came into existence.  In 2008, Dignity/Washington was one of the organizations that supported the decision to award the Capital Pride Alliance the right to produce the celebration.  Dignity/Washington donated free space at the Dignity Center to the Capital Pride Alliance in the first few years after the Alliance came into existence. “

Heather Mizeur

Heather Mizeur

At their Pride liturgy, Dignity/Washington hosted Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic lesbian woman who is considering a run to become the state’s governor.    Mizeur was instrumental in getting Maryland’s marriage equality law passed.

Congratulations to both St. Matthew Parish and Dignity/Washington for being recognized for their wonderful and important contributions!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Will Maryland Have a Catholic Lesbian Governor?

November 16, 2012

Heather Mizeur (right) poses with her wife, Deborah Mizeur (left) in their Maryland home.

Heather Mizeur, Maryland’s only Catholic lesbian Delegate, is considering running for governor of this state which just affirmed the marriage equality law that she worked so hard to pass.

In an exclusive interview with The Washington Blade, a gay publication, Mizeur discussed her thoughts about a 2014 run:

“I’m taking a very serious look at it. I can’t say for sure what 2014 is going to bring but … I know that I would make a good chief executive. I have good ideas for keeping Maryland moving forward.”

The Blade article also commented on the historical significance of such a possibility:

“A run by Mizeur would mark another key milestone in the LGBT rights movement. If successful, she would be the first to win election as an openly gay candidate for governor in the country.”

The recent elections, she stated, are what have moved her to state her hopes publicly:

“ ‘Right now we’re taking stock of what happened in the last election,’ she said. ‘It was incredible to see a big win with Tammy Baldwin being elected the first openly gay senator and Kyrsten Sinema making history in Congress. It really has inspired us to keep pushing forward. So, yes, I’m seriously considering running for governor because we need more diverse voices at that level of government.’ ”

Mizeur was instrumental in helping to get the marriage equality law introduced and passed, as well as affirmed by referendum.  She has been particularly influential with Catholic audiences, having spoken at New Ways Ministry’s marriage equality conference day in 2011, as well as having written a testimonial for the book, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach.
Additionally, she engaged in a Catholic vs. Catholic debate on the marriage equality law with another Maryland delegate.  Bondings 2.0 reported on this debate and the post can be viewed here.

She frequently speaks about how her Catholic faith inspires her public service work.  The Blade article noted:

“Mizeur talks openly about her Catholic faith but said she did not encounter any anti-gay sermons over the marriage issue this year because she goes to parishes run by Jesuits who are more progressive. Despite the Catholic Church’s prominent role in funding anti-gay causes around the country, Mizeur contends it’s important not to abandon the church.

“ ‘We have to fight for change from within,’ she said. ‘If all progressive Catholics left, there’d be no reason to live up to the church’s potential.’

“Mizeur was raised in a tiny farming community in rural Illinois called Blue Mound, population 1,100. She’s from a fifth generation farming family, but her father was a factory worker and UAW member his entire career. She spent time with him on picket lines, which helped inspire her pursuit of public service.

“The experience of walking picket lines “taught me the value of sacrifice and hard work and standing up for the courage of your convictions,” she said. “Catholic teachings on social justice also inspired me.”

In July of this year, The National Catholic Reporter identified Mizeur as one of  “12 Catholic Women Under 40 Making a Difference.”

Maryland became one of the first states which voted in marriage equality by a referendum.  Will it also become the first state with not only a lesbian governor, but a Catholic lesbian governor?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sister Says: “Vote FOR Marriage Equality!”

October 3, 2012

New Ways Ministry‘s Co-Founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, has been busy across the nation working for marriage equality and LGBT equality.

In Maryland this past week, Sister Jeannine spoke at a Catholics for Marriage Equality Maryland community forum, where participants gathered to discuss ways to mobilize the Catholic vote FOR marriage equality in the upcoming referendum in that state.   At the end of her talk, Sister Jeannine waved a lawn sign which she has in front of her home:

Sister Jeannine Gramick sends a message to Maryland’s Catholics

Earlier in September, Sister Jeannine was part of a weekend-long program in Phoenix, Arizona, entitled “Faith in the Voting Box,” sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith program.  Sister Jeannine was joined by other LGBT-equality religious leaders, including Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church.

Sister Jeannine will be a featured speaker at another Catholics for Marriage Equality Maryland community forum on Saturday, October 6, 2012, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Montgomery County Executive Office Building Auditorium, 101 Monroe Street, Rockville, Maryland, 20850.  Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur will be the keynote speaker.  For more information, click here or contact New Ways Ministry, 301-277-5674, info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Maryland Catholics–Including the Governor–Show Their Support For Marriage Equality

September 15, 2012

Catholics in Maryland will have two opportunities to learn how to show support for marriage equality as the debate about that state’s upcoming referendum begins to heat up.

Catholics for Marriage Equality Maryland is hosting two community forums to help people learn more about the upcoming ballot initiative and to discuss ways that they can get Catholic supporters to the polls in November.  Details about both events can be read below.

Maryland passed a marriage equality bill in February, and it was signed into law on March 1st by Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic.  Opponents collected enough signatures to put the bill’s future up to a referendum this fall.

Photo of Governor Martin O’Malley by Michael Key, The Washington Blade

O’Malley spoke at a fundraiser for Maryland campaign for marriage equality, where he cited his Catholic heritage to support the issue.  His remarks were quoted in The Advocate:

” ‘There is a deep strain in Catholic thought since Thomas Aquinas of Catholic responsibility to contribute to the common good, and the common good is a pluralistic good,’ he said. ‘It is a combination of many, many different faiths and many different people coming together, but the bedrock belief, I believe, of all Catholics who are involved in the civic life of their community is a belief in the dignity of every individual, and so it doesn’t surprise me that Catholic public servants would discern that.’ ”

Maryland’s marriage equality supporters are being encouraged to vote FOR question #6 at the polls in November.

In an interview with WFMD radio, Francis DeBernardo, a coalition member, explained the role of Catholics in this issue:

” ‘There’s a strong majority of Catholics across the country, polls have showing,  are in favor of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples,’ says Francis DeBernardo with the group.

“DeBernardo says these Catholics support it because of their faith, not despite it. ‘They favor it because they favor equality and fairness for people. They favor it because their Catholic social teaching has taught them to respect the dignity of every individual, and work for justice for those individuals,’ he says.”

DeBernardo answered questions concerning civil unions and religious exemptions:

“During the debate over the bill [in the springtime], opponents expressed concerns that it would lead to requirements that all churches and religious institutions, even those which oppose marriage for gays and lesbians, perform weddings for same-sex couples. But DeBernardo says that’s not correct. “‘The law that was passed in the spring, and the referendum question that’s being proposed for November, both protect the rights of religious institutions to decide who they want to marry,’ he says.”

“Instead of marriage, some states have civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. But DeBernardo says they don’t offer the same legal protections for a couple as marriage. ‘We don’t think that we should separate one group of people into  a separate category with  separate laws,’ says DeBernardo.”

Both forums will feature New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick.

Barbara Johnson

The first forum also features Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman who this past winter was denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass in Maryland.

The first event will be held:

 Saturday, September 29, 2012
10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Greenbelt Community Church
Crescent Road and Hillside Road
Greenbelt, Maryland 20770

Heather Mizeur

The second forum features Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic lesbian woman who is a Maryland State Delegate.

The second event will be held:

 Saturday, October 6, 2012
10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Montgomery County Executive Office Building
101 Monroe Street
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Participants can pre-register by emailing: info@NewWaysMinistry.org   or calling: 301-277-5674.  Registrations will also be taken at the door.  Both events are free.

Suggested Reading before the events:  Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, available as a free PDF by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholics for Marriage Equality Events in Three Separate States

August 15, 2012

 

In the fall of this year, four states across the nation–Minnesota, Washington State, Maryland, Maine–voters will participate in ballot initiatives concerning marriage equality this fall.  Catholic voters will play a key role in each of these contests.

Catholics supportive of marriage equality initiatives–which we know is the majority of Catholics–can participate in several upcoming events in three of those individual states:  Minnesota, Washington State, Maryland.

MINNESOTA

Catholics for Marriage Equality–Minnesota is sponsoring a gathering on Wednesday evening, August 15, 2012, 7:00-8:30 pm to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption and to inspire Catholics to speak the primacy of their conscience.   The gathering will take place in Loring Park, 1382 Willow St., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403. The event will premiere a music video in which over 300 Catholics and friends sing a “For All the Children,” a hymn of love and inclusivity written by David Lohman.   More information can be found on the event’s Facebook page. (DignityUSA is a partner for this event.)
WASHINGTON STATE

Sister Jeannine Gramick

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, and Francis DeBernardo, executive director, will be speaking at two separate events to promote Catholic support for marriage equality.

The first event will be held on Tuesday, August 21, 2012,  7:00-9:00 pm, The United Churches of Olympia, 110 – 11th Avenue SE, Olympia, Washington, 98501.  This event is co-sponsored by Call To Action–Western Washington and The United Churches of Olympia.
The second event , sponsored by Call To Action–Western Washington, will be held on Wednesday, August 22, 2012, 7:00-8:30 pm,  St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral (Bloedel Hall), 1245 10th Avenue East,  Seattle, Washington 98102.  Washington State Senator Ed Murray, a Catholic will join them at this  event.
Complimentary copies of New Ways Ministry’s book, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, will be available at each event.
MARYLAND

Heather Mizeur

Catholics for Marriage Equality–Maryland is sponsoring a voter education program and two community forums.

The voter education program will take place on Sunday, August 26, 2012, St. Matthew Parish, 6:00-8:00 pm, 5401 Loch Raven Boulevard  Baltimore, Maryland 21239. Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic, is a speaker at this event.
The first community forum will be held Saturday, September 29, 2012, 10:00 am-1:00 pm, Greenbelt Community Church, corner of Crescent and Hillside Roads, Greenbelt, Maryland 20770.
The second community forum will be held Saturday, October 6, 2012, 10:00 am-1:00 pm, Montgomery County Executive Office Building, 101 Monroe Street, Greenbelt, Maryland 2085o.  Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic, is the featured speaker at this event.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
 

 


Lesbian Heather Mizeur Makes List of ‘Catholic Women Making a Difference’

July 4, 2012

Heather Mizeur

The National Catholic Reporter has profiled “12 Catholic women under 40 making a difference.”   Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur, an openly lesbian woman, has made the list.  Here’s what the article had to say about her:

“Even at a young age, Heather Mizeur knew that she wanted to serve others. She now serves as a delegate representing the 20th legislative district in the Maryland General Assembly, a position she’s held since 2007.

“She has a passion for service, connected to her love for Christ and the social justice teachings of the church. As a teenager, she was respected by elders and given leadership roles as a eucharistic minister and lector, chair of the Altar and Rosary Society, and member of the parish council. She keeps a commitment to the Catholic beliefs of love, peace and social justice.

“As a delegate, she has helped extend health coverage to thousands of low-income women and children, amputees and young adults. She has been a leading proponent to repeal Maryland’s death penalty and improve transitions for the incarcerated. Mizeur, herself a lesbian, was a leader in the debate over same-sex marriage in Maryland. In March, the bill to legalize same-sex marriage passed. For four years Mizeur was the domestic policy director for Sen. John Kerry, during which time she was the principal architect of his 2004 presidential campaign’s health care reform agenda.

“Media such as The Washington PostThe New York TimesThe Nation and NPR have profiled her work.

“ ‘Build a church with open doors, not folded arms,’ she says. ‘A church as enlightened as its Creator. A church whose greatest commandment is to love thy neighbor as thyself.’ ”

We at New Ways Ministry have enjoyed Heather’s friendship for many years.   When Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States, she and her wife Deborah spoke at New Ways Ministry’s press conference “If I Had Five Minutes with the Pope,” at the National Press Club.   She was also the keynote speaker at a conference day on marriage equality which New Ways Ministry sponsored when we released our book Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach.

Delegate Mizeur was featured on this blog back in February when she debated Maryland’s marriage equality bill with another Catholic delegate.   You can view the debate here.

Congratulations to Heather Mizeur!  Her faith-filled advocacy on so many social justice issues is bettering our world.  Her deep love of the faith and her willingness to speak so honestly about it is bettering our church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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