Bishops Oppose Trans-Inclusive Athletic Policy While H.S. Student Supports It

December 19, 2014

Opposing voices who attended the early December board meeting

High school athletics in Minnesota became more transgender-inclusive last week despite opposition from the Minnesota Catholic Conference and other groups.  Yet, a brave student at a Catholic high school in the Twin Cities editorialized in the school paper in favor of the new policy.

The board of the Minnesota State High School League voted 18-2 for a new student policy that makes trans women eligible for female athletics at almost 500 schools in the state. Guided by a “consistent or sincerely held gender-related identity, the policy sets forth a process for determining a given student’s eligibility and adds appropriate language to existing eligibility policies. This policy is being lauded by LGBT organizations, according to the Star Tribune:

“Monica Meyer, executive director at OutFront Minnesota, which advocates for transgender issues, said, ‘All students want is a safe place to just be who they are. That includes in the classroom, on the court or field.’…

“OutFront Minnesota Communications Director Jean Heyer said, ‘We have heard trans kids are playing sports right now, and we have heard that there are kids who will try out now that the policy is in place.’ “

However, religiously-affiliated schools are exempt from the new policy and Christian groups led opposition to the anti-discrimination measure. The Minnesota Catholic Conference teamed up with the Minnesota Family Council and others in a campaign, claiming the policy would cause great harm to students and athletic competition. There were also ads employing the now-common tactic of discussing restroom use. One email from the Minnesota Catholic Conference, reported by The Column said:

” ‘The Policy will potentially cause more harm to the very students it purports to help because it enables a false understanding of gender that does not promote physical or psychological well-being.’ “

In further letters from the Catholic Conference to the Minnesota State High School League board, executive director Jason Adkins said the now-approved policy supports “gender confusion” and because it is not required by state or federal law, is really “propaganda” for a “harmful ideology.”

Parker Breza, the In-Depth Editor of The Knight Errant, the student newspaper of Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School, St. Louis Park, Minnesota, wrote an essay for the paper supporting the new policy. Breza explained the problems that trans students experience in school:

“Transgender and gender nonconforming students are faced with a binary––a male/female gender spectrum––defined world every second of everyday. For the majority of students, this is not an issue: this two-sided way of thinking has been ingrained in us from a young age, leading us to accept it without much thought. For some, however, being forced to conform to the gender binary, or not allowing them to identify where they actually belong, causes stress, anxiety, depression, and sometimes, much more.

“But this is such a small minority of individuals, so many do not even pause to think about the consequences of an unwelcome environment for trans* (the asterisk denotes the vast spectrum of terms and identities that fall under the trans* umbrella) identified students.”

Breza goes on to make an important Catholic argument in support of the new policy:

“As a Catholic school, we know the importance of breaking down systems of oppression and fighting the marginalization of historically underrepresented groups. No matter how small a group, no community deserves to be subjected to exclusion, harassment, or violence. By not taking a stand for trans* students and their rights, you are condoning trans*phobia.”

That Catholic officials in Minnesota are disappointing in their public advocacy is not new, given the 2012 referendum around marriage equality. Their arguments rely on debunked science, while ignoring or even attacking the real experiences of transgender people and their allies. Their campaigns against equality under the law rely on fear rather than truth, turning to anti-LGBT agendas rather than the Gospel to inform their efforts.

As more trans youth are liberated to come out and live authentically, Catholic leaders at all levels should forgo the political fights and instead figure out how the church’s schools can provide welcome and inclusion for all.  Catholic leaders need to listen to students like Parker Breza, whose faith defines a path of acceptance, justice, and equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Art Show on Queer Saints Plays with Depictions of Gender

November 24, 2014

Artwork displayed in the “Queer Santas” show.

How does gender inform understandings of Catholic saints? An art exhibit at the Pacific School of Religion is rethinking those understandings by playing with gender, furthering the idea that there are transgender Catholic saints.

“Queer Santas: Holy Violence” is Alma Lopez’s show that plays with gender in religious artwork and asks viewers to “reconsider our ideas of religion, beauty and gender,” according to Religion News Service.

Lopez compared these saints to LGBT people today because they refused to adhere to female gender norms imposed by their societies and faced severe violence as a result. The artist added:

” ‘In our community, we do endure so much because we believe in certain things and we know ourselves. So I wanted the Queer Santas to stand for that and start a discussion of how much we endure to be who we are and love who we want to love…

” ‘So it is really me painting their masculinity and their beauty through the story of the Santas,’ she said, using the Spanish word for female saints.”

The show features icons of St. Lucia, St. Liberata, and St. Wilgefortis, as well as mermaids from Mexico termed “sirenas” which trans girls have taken up as symbols. Each of the three saints is traditionally understood to exhibit male characteristics, like St. Liberata’s and St. Wilgefortis’ beards or St. Lucia’s (or Lucy’s) refusal to marry a man, which resulted in  her eyes being gouged.

Pacific School of Religion professor Justin Tanis commented about Lopez’s depiction of the saints, saying:

” ‘I am natural, I am one of God’s people.’ And yet this is an image that many people would consider heretical because gender play is involved…All of these saints are women who took their own agency and stepped outside gender norms. In that sense, they were queer and violence was done to them for it.’ “

Lopez’s previous work has been controversial in the past, drawing Catholic protests for pieces like a semi-nude Virgin of Guadalupe. So far, the Pacific School of Religion exhibit is drawing only praise — and has drawn some into deep meditation and prayer, according to Tanis, who is also director of the Pacific School of Religion’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry.

In recent years, the highlighting of lesbian and gay saints has opened Catholic eyes to the reality that sexual orientation is a gift from God that has helped many attain holiness. Lopez’s art further adds gender identity, as the church grows in understanding and appreciation for the holy trans people in our world.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Jesuit Students Honor UCA Martyrs with Transgender Education and Justice

November 20, 2014

Teach-In participants remember the martyrs in prayer

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, when people worldwide will remember those transgender people who died this past year as a result of anti-LGBT violence.

As vigils are held and prayers are offered, I want to highlight a moment of hope for trans justice that happened at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice last weekend.  The Teach-In is an annual event that brought together 1,600 students and staff from North American Jesuit high schools and colleges.  New Ways Ministry presented a workshop titled “Trans-forming Love” which looked at transgender issues through an affirming Catholic lens.

Over 40 participants explored not only justice for transgender people, but the gifts and qualities that gender diverse communities offer our church and our world. The conversation touched upon the Catholic Social Tradition, spirituality, and the ways in which students’ communities can become more inclusive.

Transgender justice fit in well with the Teach-In this year which was held on the 25th anniversary of the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) martyrs, who were killed for aligning themselves with the poor and victimized of El Salvador. The UCA continues the prophetic witness of the Jesuit martyrs today, including support for LGBT people by hosting the first LGBT human rights conferences in El Salvador (which you can read about here and here) in 2013. At that conference, which New Ways Ministry participated in, it was obvious that trans advocates were leading the way for equality in that country.

A prayer card honoring the six Jesuit UCA martyrs and their two female colleagues

Fittingly, LGBT justice was included among the many social justice causes being discussed, prayed over, and advocated for during the Teach-In, including a workshop addressing homosexuality offered by Arthur Fitzmaurice of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.

Wider church reform conversations were on the conference’s agenda as well. Jesuit Fr. James Martin told young adults that you address systemic injustice in the church the same way you address it in the world — “You fight it.” Fr. Thomas Reese suggested that Pope Francis will leave it to local episcopal conferences to respond to same-sex relationships being legalized.

I am profoundly inspired by the students who attended the Teach-In, who I met at the workshop and also at New Ways Ministry’s exhibit table. During conversations with participants,  I found that students needed no convincing that LGBT rights were indeed human rights and questioned how anyone could oppose full equality and inclusion. They were, understandably, unhappy with the church and yet, for many, it was the church which deeply informed their passion for justice. I spoke with faculty courageously working to make their institutions safer and more welcoming, sometimes at great personal risk.

I was happily surprised at how affirming, and indeed informed, these teens and young adults were about issues of gender identity and diversity. Trans justice was as much a given as anything else.  Many students raised questions about how to be a better ally.

During this Transgender Day of Remembrance we mourn, for mourning is necessary and indeed an act of resistance. As Christians, it is important to remember that death is not the final word, even violent and gruesome death. The UCA murders prompted hundreds of thousands of people to seek justice in El Salvador and beyond. Today, the hate crimes against transgender people motivate thousands more to demand justice for this group of people in the very same way. At the intersection of these many tragedies, a group of students from Jesuit schools helped the light of LGBT justice burn a bit brighter last weekend — and that is Good News for us all.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Filipino Religious Superiors Affirm Their Solidarity with Murdered Transgender Woman

November 8, 2014

Demonstrators call for justice in the case of murder victim Jennifer Laude

Catholic leaders in the Philippines are demanding justice for a transgender woman allegedly murdered by a US soldier, further adding to the church’s positive response in this most tragic situation.

The Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP), through their Office of Women and Gender Concerns, said in a statement:

“Our shock and horror over the gruesome killing of Filipino transgender woman Jennifer (legal name: Jeffrey) Laude by a US marine serviceman are accompanied by grave concern about how the case will progress and the kind of justice that might prevail in the end given the circumstances surrounding the case.”

The statement beautifully reflects Catholic social teaching in its fullness, acknowledging the many factors in this case which disadvantage Laude and her loved ones seeking justice. On the victim’s gender identity, the statement notes:

“Laude, the latest victim, is a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community that, in present society, continues to suffer discrimination, marginalization, exclusion and hate crimes. Such is the result of centuries-old societal biases toward those who ‘do not fit’ into the so-called mainstream.”

AMRSP acknowledges two other factors worth noting here. First, the problematic Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States “puts a Filipino crime victim at a disadvantage” and allows the US to disregard the Philippines in favor of its “own brand of justice.” Second, there is the simple disparity in resources between Laude’s family of “humble means” and the near-unlimited means of the US military. A past incident where US soldiers escaped prosecution for rape was offered as an example. AMRSP leaders called on all involved to seek justice, saying:

“We call on witnesses to put aside fear and come forward with what they know. We call on Laude’s family and supporters to stay the course and not be cowed into giving up. We call on Laude’s critics to hold their judgment. We call on our government officials and lawmakers to re-examine the onerous provisions in the VFA. We pray that genuine justice based on the truth will be served—for both the victim and the accused.”

In a related move, a top official with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Phillipines spoke about Laude’s murder and the legal case with a Catholic publication. In the interview, Bishop Elenito Galido of Iligan said:

” ‘We are asking for justice. We do not condemn…We do not judge or anything. We are seeking justice.

“Killing a person is a crime whether the victim is transgender or not. We do not discriminate. It’s clear enough there is a crime we have to seek justice for.”

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo also called on the Filipino government to ensure rights of the country’s citizens are respected in this legal process.

A week ago, I applauded Catholic pastoral leaders for granting Laude a Catholic funeral that respected her identity and brought healing to both Laude’s family and the LGBT community in the highly traditional Philippines. Ministers mediated God’s love through the sacramental life of the church.

Now, these further statement add justice to that charity by prophetically standing beside a most marginalized and vulnerable person. Their words respect Laude’s identity. They acknowledge the reality that her murder is most likely a hate crime, caused about by anti-LGBT cultural attitudes and discrimination. They address the compounding factors of militarism and inequality before the law in this case. Filipino Catholic leaders show how Catholics can and must integrate LGBT justice into the church’s broader efforts. In short, they model Pope Francis’ desire that we be a “poor church for the poor” that is “home for all.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

Mabuhay: “Religious groups call for justice for slain transgender


DignityUSA Highlights Transgender Spirituality in Essay Series

October 13, 2014

James & Evelyn Whitehead

DignityUSA’s fall newsletter focused on transgender spirituality through three essays by James and Evelyn Whitehead, who open the discussion by saying it is “time to talk” about the sometimes forgotten “T” in LGBT.

The first essay, “Forsaking the Normal: Biblical Tales of Transformation,” explores Scripture where paradoxes and exceptions, rather than what is considered normal, are valued. Transformations abound in the examples they cite, leading the Whiteheads to write:

“A life that will not fit comfortably into the binary reality of male or female is not ‘normal.’ But, as we have seen, normalcy carries little weight in the biblical stories that tell of transformations that unseat our confident grasp of reality. Paradox and miracles are the stuff of Scripture. Does not the odyssey of a transgender person fit in this narrative of grace?”

Given that love is overly abundant in a divine economy and nature is wildly diverse, the lives of those identifying as gender diverse must be considered “not as deviance but as splendid variety.”

The second essay, “Graceful Bodies and the Play of Gender,” raises questions about how society forms gender and, relatedly, plays with gender in popular culture before explaining the biological and psychological factors at play with transgender identities.

The dissonance when anatomy and gender identity do not coincide can lead to lengthy interior journeys, often ending when a transgender person transitions, defined as “the courageous effort to integrate one’s inner gender identity with outward gender expressions. For the person undergoing it, their loved ones, and the communities, this can be a very spiritual journey.” The Whiteheads write:

“In a life of discipleship, as we follow the path of Jesus Christ, cultural differences and prejudices begin to fall away. We come to see that human nature is not simply a biologically determined essence; we recognize that ‘the natural is not primarily what we are given, but rather what we are called to become.’ We become more capable of welcoming those who differ from us, even those whom society has rejected. In our support for transgender persons, compassion and justice embrace as we glimpse intimations of the coming Reign of God.”

The third and final essay, “Transgender Lives and Catholic Hospitality,” the Whiteheads examine a faithful response to the problem today where transgender people are still quite invisible to society. While legal advances and some faith outreach are underway in protecting the rights of and promoting welcome to transgender people, much work remains. Catholicism’s long-emphasized virtue of hospitality is one possible source for the church to respond to those who are gender diverse, as it includes both the welcome and compassionate care which all people desire.

James and Evelyn Whitehead, a theologian and developmental psychologist respectively, have written widely on contemporary Christian spirituality, including LGBT issues. Offered here are only brief summaries of what are rich essays helpful for those desiring to know more about transgender issues overall, and those desiring a spiritual reflection on the infinite goodness and diversity of God’s creation. You can find each essay in full by clicking here.

In addition, this is only part one of DignityUSA’s exploration of transgender spirituality and Bondings 2.0 will update as this series emerges. You can read more about DignityUSA itself in a recent write up at Believe Out Loud, available here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


How LGBT-Friendly Are the Appointees to the Synod on Marriage and Family?

September 11, 2014

The Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family is less than one month away.  The Vatican released the names of the bishops who will be participating, as well as a list of the lay observers.

In terms of the bishops who will be participating,  there is a mixed bag on their approach to LGBT issues.  Here are some of the prominent names, with a little bit of their history on LGBT topics:

These are only a handful of the more than 250 appointees, and it is by no means an exhaustive list of people with any sort of record on LGBT issues.  It only includes names of those for whom I had concrete supporting evidence with which to link.  However, others on the list, such as Cardinal George Pell of Australia and now at the Vatican, have a long history of anti-LGBT measures.  Similarly, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, Germany, are known to be very supportive of LGBT people and topics.

If you are aware of others on the list who have a record, positive or negative, on LGBT issues, please share your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.  Supporting links would be very helpful.

From my perspective, the most important feature from the list of lay observers is that no publicly LGBT person or couple is named.  The Synod will be examining pastoral responses to families headed by same-gender couples.  Didn’t the Vatican think it would be good to hear from some of them?  If the Vatican has invited heterosexual couples to participate, why did they not invite lesbian and gay couples, too?

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, offers a critical view of the list in an essay entitled “The makeup of Synod of Bishops on the family is disappointing.”   Reese is disappointed that so many Curia officials will be participating, and he notes that they should be “staff, not policymakers.”  He explained:

“They have all the other weeks of the year to advise the pope. This is the time for bishops from outside of Rome to make their views known.”

Reese observes that the choices of who will be advising the bishops also seems lopsided.

“Half the experts are clerics, which seems strange at a synod on the family. None of the 16 experts is from the United States; 10 are from Europe (including five from Italy), three from Asia, and one each from Mexico, Lebanon and Australia.

“There are more laypeople among the 38 auditors, including 14 married couples, of whom two are from the United States. Many of the observers are employees of the Catholic church or heads of Catholic organizations, including natural family planning organizations.

“For example, one couple from the United States is Jeffrey Heinzen, director of natural family planning in the diocese of La Crosse, Wis., and Alice Heinzen, member of the Natural Family Planning Advisory Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

Bondings 2.0 will continue to update you on the Synod as the days of preparation progress, and we will try to provide LGBT-relevant information and analysis once the meeting begins.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: September 2, 2014

September 2, 2014

News NotesHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1) Catholics United, a faith-based political organization, has called on Archbishop Charles Chaput to do more to show support for transgender people in the wake of the suicide of a transgender young man, Riley Moscatel, in Philadelphia.   Moscatel was raised Catholic and had a Catholic funeral.

2) In Alberta, Canada,  St. Albert Catholic High alumnus Brent Saccucci is one of 10 recipients of the University of Alberta’s 2014 Peter Lougheed Scholarship, according to The St. Albert Gazette.  Saccuci, a gay man, studies education, and he is active in addressing inequities in schools, especially around young students of colour and those who are LGBTQ.

3)  Elliot Wehrle, a student at Mother Teresa Catholic High School in Ottawa, Canada, was the youth marshal for Ottawa Pride this past month.  Wehrle wrote Break Before Bend, a musical about coming out, which was performed at the school in March.

4) In the heavily Catholic nation of Ecuador, President Rafael Correa, has allowed same-sex couples in civil unions to list their status on their national identification cards, similar to the way marital status is listed.  Same-sex marriage is not legal in the country.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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