On Spirit Day, Catholics Chart New Course for LGBT Youth

October 17, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Governor Chris Christie Must Choose on LGBT Equality

August 24, 2013

Governor Chris Christie

New Jersey’s passage of a law  advancing LGBT rights is raising questions about Governor Chris Christie because of 2016 presidential campaign potential. While several states have passed marriage equality and  LGBT protections under Catholic leadership, Christie’s unique path of moderation leaves some hopeful and others disappointed. Either way, delaying much longer on LGBT equality is no longer an option for the governor.

Governor Christie signed the law on Monday, which bans ‘conversion’ therapy and other attempts at changing a youth’s sexual orientation by those with state licenses. Christie, who is a Republican, said the protection of LGBT youth from harm is the spirit behind this bill, as reported in newstimes.com:

“In signing the ban, Christie reiterated his belief that people are born gay and homosexuality is not a sin, a position he first stated in a 2011 interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan

“Christie said on ‘issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards,’ citing a litany of potential ill effects of trying to change sexual orientation, including depression, drug abuse and suicide.

” ‘I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate,’ he said.”

Opponents of the law claimed the ban overrides parental choice and suppresses their First Amendment rights, and U.S. Catholic reports at least one group plans to file a lawsuit.

As much as this ban on ‘conversion’ therapy is a step forward, LGBT advocates in New Jersey are also dissatisfied with Christie because of his failure to support marriage equality. The Washington Post reports on his mixed record:

“Christie vetoed same-sex marriage legislation last year and severely criticized the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a ban on federal rights for same-sex married couples. At the same time, he is ‘adamant’ that same-sex couples deserve equal legal protection, wants a referendum on gay marriage, and vows to abide by a same-sex marriage law if New Jersey voters approve it.”

New Jersey voters overwhelmingly support equal rights, including marriage, but future aspirations mean Christie is walking a fine line. The governor must appeal to conservative voters in the Republican presidential primaries, ensure more liberal New Jersey voters reelect him next year, and also appeal to swing voters in the middle throughout. As political pundits and campaigners calculate what it might take for  Christie to win three years from now, the governor should instead look to his  faith for guidance.

Catholics in government are called to pursue the common good of all people, including the LGBT community, which means advancing justice through the law. Christie might hope he can wait out the debate on marriage and remain essentially neutral, but marriage equality is having its moment. The sweeping victories for LGBT rights will seemingly continue and Christie must choose now, rather than later the side which he will take. As the nation commemorates fifty years since the March on Washington, I offer the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. for all Catholic politicians who have yet to commit fully to LGBT equality:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

What do you think? Will Chris Christie answer the Gospel’s call and fully embrace LGBT rights? Will he become worse on the issue as 2016 approaches? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBT Rankings Fail to Reveal Full Story

August 16, 2013

As college students return to campus for the fall, the Princeton Review released its annual listings of most- and least-friendly schools for LGBT students. Catholic schools fared as expected given public perceptions of Catholicism:  Catholic schools appear on the negative listing and are absent from the positive one. The three Catholic colleges listed under least-LGBT friendly were the University of Notre Dame (#5), University of Dallas (#10), and The Catholic University of America (#18). The Princeton Review’s rankings, though, fail to capture what is really happening in Catholic higher education around LGBT issues.

At The Catholic University of America, an LGBTQ student group was denied official recognition in December 2012 over concerns it would engage in political advocacy. Students organized for several years to create a safer space on a conservative campus, but without success and perhaps the Princeton Review’s rankings are correct for listing this school. in addition, questionable comments by the University of Portland’s president or the 2010 firing of a Marquette University administrator because of her sexual orientation are all reminders that not all is well in Catholic higher education.

Yet, the high-profile controversies and Princeton Review rankings cannot capture the good happening just below the firestorms. New Ways Ministry’s list of “Gay-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities” contains more than half of the Catholic campuses in the U.S.  for having student organizations, campus ministries, and other programs and policies that support LGBT students.

In a high-profile example,  University of Notre Dame administrators released a pastoral plan in December 2012 focused on LGBTQ students that would establish a staff position, student group, and other reforms to make the campus more inclusive. Student leaders and University staff worked closely leading up to the plan’s release to ensure it would make Notre Dame more-LGBT friendly and maintain the school’s Catholic identity.  The work of many students for many years had achieved a great success.

Elsewhere in the last year, Stonehill College students won the inclusion of sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies and hosted New Ways Ministry co-founder, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, to speak. Georgetown University and Marquette University have extensive LGBTQ resource centers with professional staff and programming. The New York Times and USA Today reported on the prominence of gay student leaders in campus governance elected by their peers. In a comprehensive article, Michael O’Loughlin recently examined the positive things that Catholic campuses are doing for LGBT issues across the country. Then there are the numerous initiatives that do not gain media attention such as building up inclusive communities in dorm rooms, chapels, and meetings nationwide.

Is this a declaration that the struggle to make Catholic higher education more inclusive is over? No. However, as students and their allies strive for  Catholic campuses where LGBT community members feel safe and respected, it is essential to recall all the good happening too. Certainly, it is a dream at this time to think Catholic colleges would be the most progressive on LGBT issues, but there is too much good for the dominant theme to be just the anti-gay listing. The Princeton Review’s rankings cannot reflect nuanced reality within Catholic schools.

Is the University of Notre Dame’s plan perfect? Probably not, but for those following Catholic LGBT issues this was viewed as a positive and significant step for a high-profile Catholic school. The willingness of administrators to listen and engage LGBT student concerns should be applauded and this dialogue will only flourish into more steps forward. Is the rejection of Catholic University of America students a final chapter? Certainly not, as they reorganize for the coming academic year to ensure every student has a safe place on campus and a community where they are included.

Instead of condemning the Church’s higher education where problems remain, every Catholic might ask themselves at the start of a new academic year how to support students and schools in becoming friendlier for LGBT students and educators.  With over one million students in approximately 220 Catholic campuses nationwide, this is certainly an important area for all in our church to be considering.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


The Pastoral Dimension of the New Boy Scout Policy on Gay Youth

July 19, 2013

Boy ScoutsThe National Catholic Reporter’s columnist Father Peter Daly recently wrote a column praising this spring’s Boy Scouts of America decision to admit gay scouts.  Writing as a pastor and a former Scout, Father Daly reminds readers of the pastoral dimension that must be attended to in discussing this issue.

He begins by noting that all of the hype about the new policy clouded the fact that Scout troops tend to be pretty ordinary groupings:

“If you come to one of their troop meetings on Sunday afternoons, you would think you had stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting. The boys actually are what the Scout Law says: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. (Well, truth be told, maybe they are not always clean. But they are boys, after all.)

“When our Boy Scouts meet in our parish hall, they carry in the American flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and say the Scout Oath. Then they go to work on their projects. They go camping, get merit badges, build fires, tie knots, make balsa wood cars, and horse around; exactly the same as Scouts did when I was a Scout a half-century ago.”

And while much will be the same, there is one significant change that this policy makes:

“After the rule change, I sent our Scout leaders a letter saying there was no change in our relationship to Scouting and no change in the behavior we expected of Scouts. We still expected everyone to be chaste, boys and leaders.

“But one important thing has changed: Boys can now be honest about themselves to others without fear of reprisal by the Scout leaders.

“Let’s face it: There have always been gay Scouts. Just like there have always been gay men in the military and in the priesthood. In fact, we have always had some gay bishops, whether they want to admit it or not.

“What is different now for our boys is that they no longer have to be afraid. They do not have to be afraid of reprisals and bullying. They do not have to be afraid that if someone knows they are gay, they will be excluded or expelled.”

And he puts the whole controversy into perspective by reminding readers that when we discuss gay scouts, we are really discussing youth in a very fragile moment of their lives:

“Growing up is hard enough without an added layer of fear and discrimination.

“Gay boys are no different from any other boys. They are experiencing their maturation in fits and starts. They are discovering what it is to be a man. They are figuring out what it means to love. If the boy is a Catholic, he is also discovering what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ. That is hard for us all, whether we are hetero or homosexual, but there is an added a layer of difficulty for gay adolescents. I’ve witnessed this in my own ministry.

“Three times in my 27 years as a priest, I have had to sit across the room from young men who tried to commit suicide because they were gay. Three times, I have heard their anguish as they told me that their church regarded them as ‘intrinsically disordered’ and their love as seriously immoral. Three times I have had to hear them say that part of the reason for their despair was our preaching.”

And he has a sharp critique of those who oppose the new policy:

“Conservative Catholic theologians would no doubt demand that I condemn all homosexual acts as immoral. They would want pastors to insist that all gay boys must learn to carry their unique cross of perpetual life-long chastity, a burden we would never dream of imposing on heterosexuals. They would want me to say that all gay acts are evil and all inclinations are intrinsically disordered.

“Well, let them say it. Let them say it to those boys who tried to commit suicide. Let them say it to the frightened little Scout who is still figuring out himself.

“It is easy to be some ivory-tower theologian writing in the abstract. They are not speaking as pastors or parents or Scout leaders. There is truth in lived experience, too, just as much as in theories. That is real ‘ontological’ truth.”

Many thanks to Fr. Daly for bringing a much-needed pastoral sense to this whole debate about the Boy Scouts.  Such sensibility is needed in more of our church discussions about LGBT issues.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


“Queer Catholic Faith’s” Line-Up for 2013

January 23, 2013
Victor Postemski

Victor Postemski

DignityUSA‘s popular webinar series “Queer Catholic Faith” returns on Tuesday, January 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m., Eastern Time, featuring Victor Postemski a DignityUSA board member who is active in the Young Adult Caucus. In an era when young people stay as far away from faith communities as possible, Victor shows the face of a courageous, creative contingent of faith within Dignity communities.  What does it look like to be young + gay + Catholic? Participate in the webinar to find out! Attendance is free, and you can register by clicking here.

Rev. Bob Pierson, OSB

Rev. Bob Pierson, OSB

February’s installment of the “Queer Catholic Faith” series will feature Rev. Bob Pierson, OSB, a Minnesota priest who last year encouraged Catholics to use their consciences when deciding how to vote on a marriage equality referendum in the state.   Tune in to hear Fr. Pierson on Tuesday, February 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m., Eastern Time.  Register for that event by clicking here.

Delfin Bautista

Delfin Bautista

In March, Catholic transgender advocate Delfin Bautista will be the guest, along with his mother, Rebeca DelCristo.   Their installment will be on Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m., Eastern Time.  Register for that event by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Fordham Adopts ‘Queer’ Due To Student Campaign

November 4, 2012

Student organizations at Fordham University may now use the term ‘Queer’ in official programming, a decision reached after lengthy discussions with administrators in early October.

A statement announcing the decision by The Queer Campaign, a student group at Fordham,  in conjunction with the student groups Pride and Rainbow Alliance, said, in part:

“After a long period of dialogue with the Dean of Students and the Office of Student Leadership and Community Development, the word ‘queer’ may now be used on both the Lincoln Center and Rose Hill campuses of Fordham University, like any other word, by ANY club—as long as it is not derogatory. This represents a culmination of efforts enacted by the Queer Campaign…and many other communities at large.”

The Queer Campaign describes itself as “a movement for full rights to the usage of the word ‘queer’ at Fordham University at Lincoln Center.”

Tom Beaudoin, an associate professor of theology at Fordham, wrote on these recent developments in America magazine’s ‘In All Things’ blog. Beaudoin celebrates the decision as allowing a person to self-identify how they are addressed:

“Over the course of teaching college for the past dozen years, and through my own many missteps, I have come to see it as a basic rule of decency that as much as possible, people should be called whatever they prefer to be called. I have seen this rule of thumb proven helpful in many kinds of conversations across substantial differences…

“Of course, in a great many cases, letting adults specify the way they want to be addressed is not only a matter of decency, but also of dignity. This is especially the case where a part of oneself, or even something like one’s entire being, has not been acknowledged in situations where it mattered, and where people could have done differently.”

He writes that the re-appropriation of ‘queer’ from hate speech to a positive term has led to a new field of study, queer theory, and bears on religious studies and theology in smaller ways. More than this, Beaudoin identifies ‘queer’ as:

“Among many other meanings, queer means the dignity of speaking for one’s own identity and desires outside the expectations and constraints of what presents itself in many areas of life as the obligation to be (or become) ‘straight.’ This often quiet revolution is happening in uneven, but sure, ways across Catholic college and university life in the USA.”

In a follow-up post, he expands this conversation on ‘queer’ to the entire Catholic Church, where the characterization of LGBT persons is increasingly important in a milieu of negativity from some leaders.

Beaudoin’s belief that ‘queer’ is a nucleus for theological reflection is given a flesh-and-blood example  in the blog of a student writing on his experiences as a Queer Catholic. Describing the struggles of harmonizing these two identities, Nathan writes:

“This self hatred hit an all time low during my Junior year. I was in my “Christian Morality” class and my teacher told me that all “homosexuals” are “intrinsically evil”, “morally wrong”, and that “homosexuality is a mental disorder”. I went home… and I don’t think I had ever hated myself, my identity, more than I did that day. The ironic thing is that what kept me going, was my faith. I was a huge part of my youth group in my Church. My youth group was my safe-haven where I didn’t need to worry about being perceived as “gay” or “straight” , its where I truly felt loved by God and that the God we talked about in high school was not my youth group’s God.

“Your religion needs you. For me, I see so much beauty in my faith, in my Church. If you are struggling to come to terms, pray, experience, find God in the struggle. If I hadn’t struggled with my identity, my relationship with God would not be what it is today…You are needed, and that times are changing.”

The times are changing indeed and Fordham University is creating space for desperately needed honest conversation and expression about identity, sexuality, and faith.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Georgetown U. Celebrates Coming Out Month

October 25, 2012

Georgetown students celebrate at a Coming Out month activity.

October is Coming Out Month at Georgetown University. In addition to the full schedule of activities, the campus also engaged in a conversation about faith and sexuality in the campus newspaper, The Hoya.

GU PRIDE, the undergraduate LGBTQA organization, and the LGBTQ Resource Center have hosted a series of social and educational events, according to Vox Populi, a campus blog. These include a panel discussion on gay undocumented workers, the inaugural question and answer forum with university President John J. DeGioia on campus LGBT matters, and a day-long outdoor event on National Coming Out Day.

Some of the activities were designed to celebrate the fifth year of Georgetown’s  LGBTQ Resource Center. Created as a response to student campaign entitled “Out for Change” that began in 2007, this office provides a safe space on campus, runs programming around relevant topics, and is beginning to aid other Catholic colleges and universities in establishing similar programs.

The Hoya, Georgetown’s student newspaper, reports that many credit the LGBTQ Resource Center with transforming the campus’ conversation on sexual orientation and identity. The newspaper reports:

“’The campus climate for the LGBTQ community was far different five years ago than it is today,’ Scott Chessare (SFS’10), former co-president of GU Pride and one of the leaders of the rally in Red Square that launched the campaign in 2007, said. ‘It was fractured, divided, not really united. We thought there was a general lack of institutional support’…

“‘In [that] dark hour, there was a seed of opportunity to respond to what happened,’ Chessare said. ‘I think that is something we saw five years ago [with] DeGioia’s courageous decision to commit to establishing the LGBTQ center, not in spite of our Catholic and Jesuit identity, but because of it.’”

Chessare’s comments add to a conversation in the opinion pages of The Hoya about Catholicism and sexuality. One column featured junior Nate Tisa writing on his experiences being Catholic and gay, and positively harmonizing these two identities. Tisa writes:

“Every Catholic outside the heterosexual binary is faced with a choice: Hide your identity and experience the sacraments in the knowledge that you do so with a divided soul or live as you were created but find yourself excised from many church ministries and the sacrament of marriage…

“…it is the status quo element in the Church hierarchy that has lost its faith in the living God, not the majority of lapsed Catholics. Traditionalists are so confident in their moral authority that they fail to acknowledge the hand of God working social change through those on the margins of society.

“This world and this university need the Church, now and a hundred years from now. Society is changing, and God is in that change — do not reject it.”

Senior Julia Maddera responded to a student columnist defending the hierarchy’s actions in The Hoya with her experiences as an LGBT Catholic driven away from the Church. She writes:

“While the Catholic bishops may claim to be aware of the alienation that LGBT Catholics suffer, they do little to stem it and often actively participate in it. Archbishop John Myers of Newark recently urged practitioners who support same-sex marriage to refrain from receiving the Eucharist…As the archbishop of my diocese, he was speaking to me.

“I will abstain from Communion, but not out of respect for Archbishop Myers’ words. I can no longer participate in a church whose actions and teachings on homosexuality introduce a moral inconsistency to the larger body of its doctrine…

“I admire my LGBT Catholic friends who continue to engage in dialogue with the Church. I live in hope that the Church will listen to them and set aside its ancient prejudices to become the truly welcoming community that Jesus envisioned…However, I cannot patiently wait for the hierarchy to rediscover its conscience.”

These student voices highlight the persistent tension found at Catholic colleges and universities between institutional religious identity and personal sexual identities. Yet, the progressive actions by Georgetown University in the last five years to positively engage prove that Catholic institutions can simultaneously be vibrantly Catholic and LGBT-affirming for the benefit of all students.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc.

For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education, contact youngadults@newwaysministry.org.


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