On Independence Day, Remembering the Global Struggle for LGBT “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness”

July 4, 2014

In the United States, today is Independence Day, when we commemorate the establishment of our democratic nation which allows people to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” to quote the Declaration of Independence.

Amid the celebration, we might take a moment to remember LGBT people around the globe who do not enjoy these blessings due to restrictive and oppressive laws.  As we do so, it is good to note that the United States government is trying to promote LGBT human rights around the globe.

While Catholic bishops in Uganda have supported that nation’s new law which promotes harsh punishments for homosexuality, a Catholic lay person here in the United States has recently spoken out strongly against this measure, and others like it which are springing up around the globe.

Vice President Joseph Biden

United States Vice-President Joseph Biden, a practicing Catholic, did not mince words recently when he addressed a “Forum on Global LGBT Human Rights” which he hosted at his residence.   Huffington Post reported:

“Seeking to mobilize a global front against anti-gay violence and discrimination, Vice President Joe Biden declared Tuesday that protecting gay rights is a defining mark of a civilized nation and must trump national cultures and social traditions.

“Biden told a gathering of U.S. and international gay rights advocates that President Barack Obama has directed that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women around the world

” ‘I don’t care what your culture is,’ Biden told about 100 guests at the Naval Observatory’s vice presidential mansion. ‘Inhumanity is inhumanity is inhumanity. Prejudice is prejudice is prejudice.’ “

Vice President Biden is largely credited with moving the Obama administration to much more progressive policies in regard to marriage equality and LGBT rights.

Marianne Duddy-Burke at the forum.

In attendance at the forum was Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity/USA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics.

Buzzfeed reported that days before the Vice President’s statements, President Obama instituted new directives towards Uganda because of the anti-gay law:

“The White House announced . . . that it would cancel a U.S.-funded aviation exercise with Uganda and impose a visa ban on officials involved in human rights abuses and corruption as part of a package of steps in response to enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February.

“ ‘As President Obama has stated, the Government of Uganda’s enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) runs counter to universal human rights and complicates our bilateral relationship,’ said the NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden in a statement.

“In addition to the travel ban and the cancellation of the aviation exercise, the White House also announced that it is ‘redirecting funds for certain additional programs involving the Ugandan Police Force, Ministry of Health, and National Public Health Institute.’ ”

MSNBC.com has reported on the deteriorating quality of life that lesbian and gay Ugandans have experienced since the law as enacted:

“Some gays and lesbians have decided to flee; others are choosing to stay, trapped indoors and inside a prison of fear.

“ ‘Before, we were an underground community, but at the same time we were vibrant, we were engaged,’ photographer Aldo Soligno recalls a woman telling him while shooting in Kampala.

“ ‘Since the law passed, everything has changed,’ she said to him. ‘Now we are scared to go out from our homes.’

“The situation is far worse for lower-income gays and lesbians, Soligno told MSNBC. Wealthier people can take cabs and spend their weekends at country clubs, free from the threat of violence and police raids that often accompany public transportation trips. ‘But if they don’t have this money,’ Soligno said, ‘they can’t go outside.’ ”

Uganda, a heavily Catholic nation, has very strong anti-gay cultural values.  The Catholic heritage is, in some ways, responsible for this reality.  Kittredge Cherry, who blogs at Jesus In Love Blog, has written about how the nation’s religious heritage influenced its homophobia:

“Forty-five Ugandan male pages refused to have sex with their king after they converted to Christianity — so he executed them. Many were burned to death on June 3, 1886. These boys and young men were canonized by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, leaving some truths hidden by their halos.”

But Cherry refuses to buy into the traditional anti-gay spin that this story often carries.  She asks the following questions:

“Does the experience of the Ugandan martyrs illustrate a gay king being oppressed and demonized by conservative Christians? Or does it exemplify Christians heroically trying to rescue boys from sexual abuse by a pedophile king? Did Christians teach young African men shame about their own same-gender-loving desires? Or did Christians give the pages a way to refuse rape by a ruler with absolute authority? Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between? How can the story be interpreted so that LGBT Ugandans have equal access to justice… and to God? “

Cherry’s answers to these questions are too expansive to reproduce here.  I recommend reading her entire blog post on the subject for a very interesting analysis.  (A “hat tip” to highly respected Catholic gay blogger Michael Bayly for alerting me to Cherry’s post.”)

New Ways Ministry continues to encourage Catholics and others to tweet to Pope Francis to denounce anti-gay laws such as the one in Uganda.  For information on the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Imagining Hope

January 22, 2013
President Obama delivering his inaugural address.

President Obama delivering his inaugural address.

Inauguration times are truly times of hope and joy.   Yesterday, I was down on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to see President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden take the oaths of office once again.

The hope and joy in the crowd was palpable.  Bursts of applause broke out after every few sentences during the President’s inaugural address.   Perhaps no applause was greater (especially from me) especially when Obama uttered the following words:

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”

I have been working in the field of Catholic LGBT ministry for over 20 years, and it dawned on me yesterday, that 20 years ago, even in my wildest dreams, I would never have guessed or even hoped  that I would hear a reference to Stonewall in a presidential inaugural address.  But, there it was: the first time ever that LGBT people or issues were mentioned in such a speech.

But it got better.

A short time after the Stonewall reference, Obama added the following words:

“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began … Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Not only a second reference to LGBT equality, but a specific, supportive message of marriage equality!  I could hardly believe my ears.

All of this was on top of the well-publicized fact before the inauguration that Richard Blanco, the poet chosen to write verse for the occasion, is an openly gay man.

As I reflected last night on the day’s events,  I thought of how much hope such milestones provide.   What is most important for me is that such moments help to fill our imaginations with hope.  As Catholics who work for LGBT justice and equality, it may seem far-fetched to imagine a bishop or the pope saying such things as Obama did yesterday.  But 20 years ago, it was equally unimaginable that we would hear what we heard yesterday.  And 40 years ago, one would have probably been thought insane to imagine such a prospect.

So, let’s pray in gratitude today for the hope that Obama’s message gives us as Catholic advocates for LGBT people.  Let’s give our hope a chance to be renewed and provide our imaginations a chance to be expanded to include impossible dreams.  And let’s pray for the courage to work to make those impossible dreams come true.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Gaining Inspiration from Martin Luther King, Jr. as Obama/Biden Inauguration Is Celebrated

January 21, 2013
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today our nation observes the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a great religious leader who worked and struggled for civil rights, equality, and justice.

His model of non-violent action and resistance, of loving one’s enemy, is a model for Catholics who work for equality and justice for LGBT people in our church and society.

Here are some quotes from the great leader for your reflection and inspiration today:

  • Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
  • I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. 
  • In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. 
  • A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent.
  • Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. 
  • Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.
  • Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.
  • Only in the darkness can you see the stars.
  • We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
  • The time is always right to do the right thing.

Let us also remember in prayer today President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden,  whose inauguration we celebrate today in the U.S.  President Obama was the first president to endorse marriage equality.  He did so after Vice President Biden, a Catholic, first announced his support for marriage equality on national television.  Vice President Biden is also on record saying that transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


The Best of 2012 in Catholic LGBT News

December 31, 2012

Thumbs_upYesterday, we posted our list of the worst of 2012 in Catholic LGBT news.  Today, as promised, we end the year on a positive note by presenting our list of the BEST of the previous year.  Much good has happened in 2012, with Catholics at all levels of the church speaking out for justice and equality for LGBT people.

Thanks to the 286 of you who voted in our poll to determine the selection and ranking of these best news stories.  The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five.

The Top Ten

1. Catholic lay support aids marriage equality victories in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State. 23.08%

2. Priests in Minnesota and Maryland publicly counter the local hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality. 14.69%  

3. Berlin’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki suggests that the church should treat gay and straight couples similarly9.09%  

4 & 5.  TIE                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Bishop Richard Malone in Maine announces that the diocese will not take an active political role against the state’s marriage equality referendum. 8.39%                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Surveys show increase in support for LGBT issues among Hispanics, especially Catholics. 8.39%

6. At New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, Australia’s Bishop Geoffrey Robinson calls for the church hierarchy to re-think its sexual ethics teachings8.04% 

7 & 8. TIE                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The University of Notre Dame gives official recognition to a gay-straight alliance after years of student activism. 5.24%                           Austrian Cardinal overturns a pastor’s decision to bar a gay man from serving on a parish council. 5.24%

9. Catholics in Media Associates gives its top award to TV’s Modern Family, a show featuring a gay family. 3.85%  

10. Maryland priest who denied communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral is removed from pastoral ministry. 3.5%  

Editor’s Note:  One item which we neglected to add to the list for voting was that Vice President Joe Biden, a  Catholic, endorsed marriage equality, paving the way for President Barack Obama to do the same.  Biden also referred to transgender equality as “the civil rights issue of our time.”  We feel these should deserve some mention on the list of the best Catholic news of 2012.  We regret that we didn’t include them for voting.  Mea maxima culpa.

Other items

Cardinal Francis George apologizes for comparing the LGBT community to the Ku Klux Klan. 2.45%  

Ontario requires all schools, including state-supported Catholic schools, to institute gay-straight alliances. 2.1%  

Jesuit author James Martin endorses Spirit Day, a national program to end bullying of LGBT youth. 2.1% 

Pastor at Most Holy Redeemer parish in San Francisco reverses his earlier decision to ban drag queens from parish events. 1.75%

Students at Stonehill College, a Catholic campus in Massachusetts, win a new and improved non-discrimination policy. 1.4%  

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Coalition Celebrates Marriage Equality Electoral Victories

November 8, 2012

Equally Blessed, the coalition of four Catholic organizations which work for justice and equality for LGBT people has issued a statement on Election Day’s four marriage equality victories and the re-election of President Barack Obama.  Here’s the statement in its entirety:

“Like millions of other faithful Catholics, we watched with mounting excitement last night as election returns poured in from the four states in which marriage equality was on the ballot. By this morning we knew that Catholic voters and politicians had helped, in the words of the great abolitionist Theodore Parker, to bend the arc of history toward justice.

“In Maine, Maryland and Washington, faithful Catholics ignored the high-pressure tactics of their bishops and helped make marriage equality a reality. In Minnesota their votes were indispensable in defeating an amendment that would have made marriage equality unconstitutional.

“We congratulate Vice President Joe Biden, a faithful Catholic whose support for marriage equality helped persuade President Barack Obama to embrace our cause. We thank Governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Christine Gregoire of Washington, both Catholics, for leading the movement toward marriage equality in their states. We are also grateful to the many Catholic legislators who risked their political careers and the opprobrium of their bishops to vote as their consciences dictated on this important issue.

“Mostly, however, we want to share in a moment of prayerful joy with all the Catholic lay people who considered the teachings of their church, the promptings of their hearts and the leadings of the Holy Spirit and then helped make history.

“We hope that the rising Catholic tide of support for marriage equality will one day carry along our bishops as well. Their intransigence in refusing even to speak with groups that represent gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender Catholics and their families is becoming increasingly untenable. Their penchant for threatening Catholics who follow their own consciences in the voting booth is both theologically suspect and obviously ineffective. The millions of dollars that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus spent attempting to crush the hopes of LGBT Catholics and their families could have been better spent to achieve more Christian ends. And their ongoing relationship with the National Organization for Marriage, even after its deliberate attempts to divide the electorate on racial grounds, is a scandal for which they have yet to answer.

“Despite loud and frequent warnings from their bishops, Catholics voted yesterday for President Barack Obama, and their votes were critical in passing marriage equality into law. The results of the election point to a crisis of credibility. Catholics are tired of watching their church’s leaders ride into the cultural wars in the ranks of the political right. It is time the bishops begin working with the People of God to heal the wounds in the Body of Christ.”

Equally Blessed is comprised of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Biden: Transgender Equality Is ‘Civil Rights Issue of Our Time’

November 1, 2012

Vice President Joe Biden

Catholic Vice President of the United States Joe Biden recently stated that transgender equality is “the civil rights issue of our time,”  according to a short article on Politico.com.

Biden had stopped to speak with a woman at a Sarasota, Florida, campaign office, and the following information was provided by a reporter:

“She said something …at first inaudible to [the press] pool, to which VP responded was the ‘civil rights issue of our time.’

“Pool later asked the woman, Linda Carragher Bourne of Sarasota about the exchange. She said her daughter was Miss Trans New England and asked if he would help them.

” ‘A lot of my friends are being killed, and they don’t have the civil rights yet. These guys are gonna make it happen,’ she told the pool.”

The story also notes that the Obama-Biden administration is the first to send a representative to a conference on transgender issues.

Kudos to Biden for being so forthright in his support for LGBT equality!

Biden is widely credited for having moved President Obama to speak up publicly in favor of marriage equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Pelosi, Theologians, Lay Catholics Agree: Support Marriage Equality

May 16, 2012

The message that American Catholics support marriage equality is one that cannot be emphasized or repeated enough.  Since the Catholic bishops oppose marriage equality so vocally and vociferously, it is important to keep reminding people that the hierarchy’s position is not reflective of the Catholic population.  Some recent news stories highlight this fact.

Representative Nancy Pelosi

The Washington Post’s blog “Under God” recently ran a quote from Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives minority leader who is Catholic, that she made at a press conference in response to a question about religion and marriage equality.  Pelosi responded:

“My religion compels me–and I love it for it–to be against discrimination of any kind in our country, and I consider [the ban on gay marriage] a form of discrimination. I think it’s unconstitutional on top of that. So I think that yesterday was a great day for America because the president in a very personal, as well as presidential way, made history, and hopefully this will bring people together on the issue.”

She joins other prominent Catholic politicians–Washington State’s Governor Christine Gregoire, Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, Vice President Joe Biden–who this past year have publicly voiced support for marriage equality.

Politicians are not the only prominent Catholics who are speaking out for marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples.  A DailyBeast.com headline recently asked, “Do Most Catholic Theologians Support Same-Sex Marriage?,” and the article answers a resounding “Yes!”

One of the scholars cited is Paul Lakeland, professor of religion and director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, who, in reference to the bishops’ position on marriage equality, states:

“That’s not really an argument that has a theological justification. . . .It’s an argument that’s based more on fear or repugnance.”

Also quoted is Daniel Maguire, professor of theology at Marquette University:

“Archbishop Dolan and the United States Catholic Conference are misrepresenting ‘Catholic teaching,’ and are trying to present their idiosyncratic minority view as the ‘Catholic position,’ and it is not. . . .The bishops will stand with Dolan and the U.S. Catholic Conference, but on this issue, they are in moral schism since most in the Church have moved on [to] a more humane view on the rights of those whom God has made gay.

“Most Catholic theologians approve of same-sex marriage and Catholics generally do not differ much from the overall population on this issue.”

Frederick Parrella, professor of theology at Santa Clara University, notes that there is “nothing in the Gospels” to support opposition to marriage equality.

A new Gallup poll which shows that about 50% of Americans support marriage equality,  51% of Catholics express the same support, compared to 47% of Catholics who oppose such measures.

In his latest post,  Michael O’Loughlin at America magazine’s “In All Things” blog offers some analysis of why Catholics are so supportive of marriage equality:

“As with the public as a whole, the more visible gay and lesbian people are in families, schools, and the workplace, the more likely Catholics are to support laws that they see as extending civil rights to a group of historically marginalized people. But is there something about Catholicism in particular that would lead to acceptance of same-sex marriage, even as some church leaders rail against it? I think the sacramental nature of our faith, the belief that the world is good and infused with God’s grace, and the understanding of family and community as pivotal to living out the Gospel might compel Catholics to reject the call to take up a fight against same-sex marriage. Perhaps some of the laity have taken to heart the church’s emphasis on social justice, its call to protect the marginalized, and its preached message of inclusivity for all, and are now applying these themes to a specific, modern situation. Some bishops may lament this break between shepherd and flock, but in some ways perhaps it is not so troubling? If Catholics are following what they believe to be well-formed consciences and standing up for those they see as victimized and marginalized, the Gospel message lives.”

From all quarters of the church, except the hierarchy, Catholics support marriage equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,010 other followers