First Openly Gay Male Country Musician Applauded in Catholic Church

September 10, 2013

Steve Grand on right, in a screenshot from his music video

Singer Steve Grand is described as “the first openly gay male country star” and is growing in fame. He is also a committed Catholic who openly shares his faith. Yet, what has made Grand’s music and persona stand out is how little those three identities conflict in the public sphere, and the warm reception he has received.

The musician’s rise began with Grand’s participation in his parish’s music ministry, rooted in his “coming out” as a teenager. He claims none of the performers there were “out,” leading Grand to doubt what his priest said about all people being welcomed in the Catholic Church. He also struggled with his parents, who sent him to ‘ex-gay therapy’ when they discovered Grand’s sexual orientation and closely monitored him in high school. Music became Grand’s outlet as he struggled with relationships in his family and with himself.

Grand’s music blossomed in the summer of 2013 when he released  an independent music video on YouTube: “All-American Boy.” It was a wild success. Even though he had been “out” for years, the video placed Grand in a spotlight before family, friends, his parish, and the world. Buzzfeed reports:

“The video wasn’t necessarily Grand’s coming out. He’d done that officially years earlier, but doing this was a terrifying act of vulnerability. ‘It’s me coming out as totally myself and just standing naked before the world,’ he says.

“Despite the risk and fear, Grand says it was something he felt compelled to do. ‘I think that we’re at a time now where there’s no room to be anything but totally honest and totally who you are…I decided this is who I’m gonna be to the world. Just my true, raw self. I’m putting it all out there.’…

“ ‘I couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t true and honest…That’s what people deserve. People don’t deserve a lie. We have a whole new generation that’s counting on us to be brave and to not be afraid of pigeonholing ourselves. People need to be brave for the world to change. If it puts me in a hole, I’ll accept that. But I did what I needed to do.’ “

Grand’s anxiety ceded to overwhelming displays of support from YouTube viewers and peers, and even within his family. The Huffington Post also reports his fellow Catholics are making their support known:

“Many church members have commended Grand for his courage to openly sing about his sexuality, and his priest has held him up as a model Catholic.

“Father Kurt Boras, the priest at Grand’s church, said that Grand has greatly impacted the community.

” ‘I think he’s changing our community, he’s changing us’…Boras watched the video with some of the church staff, and any concerns were about the whiskey and beer consumption in the video, not Grand’s sexuality, he said…

” ‘I’ve never seen this before. It’s opened up conversations with me that are unbelievable, really…A lot of folks have come to me and said, “I have a gay daughter, a gay son.” This young man has really opened up some conversations that maybe I would never have had as a pastor and they’re coming and saying, “Can we talk to you?” ‘

“Boras said that he has not heard a single negative thing from anyone at his church about Grand or the video. He attributes part of this to Grand himself, whom he describes as “charismatic, humble and warm.” But part of it, he believes, is also due to Pope Francis…He said, “Who am I to judge?” and that one statement, I’m telling you, has opened up conversations for me as a pastor that I could never have imagined before. It’s a new kind of era.’ “

Given the increasing demands on Grand, he resigned from his parish’s music ministry. During his final appearance at Mass, the parishioners applauded him with three standing ovations and other signs of support. Steve Grand’s contributions over the years are not diminished for his fellow Catholics, but only amplified as he preaches a message of authenticity that is warmly received. This can surely be read as a positive sign of the times. It is also a positive sign that Catholics who gain fame can use it to promote LGBT equality, as was reported about the hip hop artist Macklemore earlier this year.

You can view his songs on YouTube, “All-American Boy” and “Stay” (please note, if you are not accustomed to music videos, you may echo the priest’s concerns with drinking and smoking).

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Equally Blessed’s World Youth Day Pilgrims Make Headlines as Transformers

August 4, 2013

Equally Blessed LogoThe six young Catholic LGBT pilgrims who journeyed to World Youth Day continue to make headlines a week after the enormous event in Brazil is over.  These pilgrims, sponsored by the Equally Blessed coalition (comprised of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry),  visited the gathering of Catholic youth from all over the world, and “evangelized” the people they met about the goodness and equality of LGBT people.  You can read Bondings 2.0‘s previous blog post about them here for more background on their mission.

Recently, they were featured in a BBC television report on World Youth Day, which offered them as an example of how some of the youth at the event were not convinced that “the church was moving fast or far enough.”  You can view the video here.  The brief interview with the Equally Blessed pilgrim Delfin Bautista begins at 1:52.

The pilgrims have also recently posted their own videos on YouTube.   You can view all of them by visiting Equally Blessed’s YouTube channel.  One important moment for the pilgrims was when one of them, Ellen Euclide, asked a question about LGBT issues at a catechesis session led by a bishop.  You can view her question, the audience’s positive response, and the bishop’s answer here:

You can also hear Ellen’s background information and reflection about asking the question in this YouTube video:

The Washington Post’s “On Background” online show featured Ellen, along with The National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen, discussing the pope’s gay positive comments.  Ellen’s comments begin at about 7:25.  You can view that video here:

<iframe width=”480″ height=”360″ src=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/posttv/c/embed/cfcc8ba0-fa0d-11e2-8752-b41d7ed1f685&#8243; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

Just in case that link does not work, you can view the video on the show’s website by clicking here.

Kate Childs-Graham, a “Young Voices” columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, featured the ministry of these pilgrims in her column this week, and she dubbed the group “The Transformative Six.”    She described their work and advocacy while in Brazil:

“So to Rio they went, armed with rainbow bracelets and rosaries, prayer cards and kites. They had hundreds of conversations with other pilgrims from across the world. Many — if not most — supported their message and equality and inclusion, and they engaged those with whom they disagreed in spirited dialogue. Then, they blogged, Facebooked and tweeted about their experience.”

And then Childs-Graham wondered:

“Maybe the pope saw an Equally Blessed kite or received a sticker. Maybe he heard that a brave young woman asked a bishop about LGBT equality and the masses cheered. Maybe he noticed, like these pilgrims, the open arms of the Christ of Corcovado. No matter what it was that helped Pope Francis transform his tone and hopefully will help him transform our church, I’m giving all the credit to the Transformative Six.”

Who knows?

What we do know for sure is that the pilgrims touched the hearts and souls off many of the young people they encountered, and that was plenty transformative!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Priest Tells Minnesotans Why They Can Vote Against Proposed Marriage Equality Ban

June 13, 2012

An out gay Catholic priest addressed a gathering of 200 Catholics in Edina, Minnesota, on Sunday to explain why, as good Catholics, they could vote “no” in that state’s ballot measure to amend their constitution to ban marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.

Benedictine Father Robert Pierson, OSB, gave a ten-minute talk to the gathering of Catholics co-sponsored by Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, Minnesotans United for All Families,  Call to Action MN, Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and Dignity Twin Cities. The Sensus Fidelium blog carries a full text of Fr. Pierson’s remarks, which you can read here. You can also watch the ten-minute YouTube video of his talk here:

My favorite part of the talk is this excerpt:

“My conscience tells me to vote NO on the amendment because I have yet to hear a convincing reason why we need such an amendment to our state constitution. In fact, I believe that the church does not have the right to force its moral teaching on others outside our fold. When the religious beliefs of any particular religious group become the law of the land, we run the risk of violating everyone’s freedom to believe and their freedom of conscience. Allow me to mention three examples of where I see the church ‘fudging’ the facts.

“We have heard it said that civil marriage for committed, same-sex couples ‘will destroy the sanctity of the Sacrament of Matrimony.’ But the truth is, until now the church has not concerned itself with civil marriage. The church does not recognize the civil marriage of its members. If a Catholic is married in a civil ceremony, they are said to be married “outside of the Church” and the marriage is not recognized as a sacrament due to ‘lack of canonical form.; Civil marriage for committed, same-sex couples is not the Sacrament of Matrimony, and the government cannot tell churches who they may or may not marry.”

In describing Fr. Pierson’s talk, Fr. James Martin, SJ, provides a succinct background bio of the speaker, on America magazine’s “In All Things” blog:

“Father Pierson, who had worked in campus ministry at St. John’s University and is currently the director of the Spiritual Life Program at St. John’s Abbey, speaks of his own homosexuality, his experience in ministering to gay and lesbian students, and then describes why he bas concluded that a Minnesota Catholic may vote “no” on a proposed state amendment that would prevent same-sex marriages.  In 2005, Father Pierson had resigned from his post as director of campus ministry after the Vatican officially barred men with ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ from ordination, and because of broader issues in the church’s teaching.  ‘Because I can no longer honestly represent, explain and defend the church’s teaching on homosexuality, I feel I must resign,’ he said at the time.”

Fr. Martin also provides some context as to why Fr. Pierson’s remarks are so courageous and prophetic:

“Needless to say, his comments on same-sex marriage are in direct opposition to the U.S. Catholic bishops, including Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who has vigorously supported the amendment (that is, opposing same-sex marriage) and asked parishioners in his archdiocese to recite a ‘A Prayer for Marriage‘ as part of the Prayers of the Faithful (petitionary prayers) at Masses.  The bishops could not be clearer in their opposition, which rests primarily on the Christian tradition of marriage as between a man and a woman (as well as on the church’s opposition to homosexual activity).  Father Pierson’s appeal is primarily to freedom of conscience, and on that topic he quotes both the Catechism and Pope Benedict XVI. ‘Our Holy Father taught in 1967 that we must obey our own conscience, even if it puts us at odds with the Pope. I doubt that he knew that he was going to be Pope when he said that.’ “

Terence Weldon, who blogs at QueeringTheChurch.comprovided another political context for Fr. Pierson’s remarks. Weldon recounts his own personal experience with a conscience decision on an issue of justice:

“For half a century in South Africa, my education in Catholic schools, and decades of parish life thereafter, firmly imprinted on me that we have not only the right but the obligation to follow conscience before the law, especially if those laws areunjust – as many so clearly were under apartheid. In company with countless other South African Catholics, I took this to heart, and did what I could in my small way to make a contribution to justice, including at times knowingly and deliberately breaking some laws when my conscience dictated I do so.

“As an openly gay Catholic, I fail to see why the principle of compliance with conscience rather than with unjust laws should not apply equallly when the injustice is perpetrated by Catholic bishops, and not secular authority.”

LaDonna Hoy

The Sensus Fidelium blog post notes describing the Minnesota gathering notes that LaDonna Hoy, a parishioner at St. Bartholomew’s church in Wayzata, MN, offered remarks that complemented Fr. Pierson’s:

“As a Catholic I would also ask: How then can it be right for a particular faith tradition–for us–to support legislation that defines marriage in a way that removes the rights and limits the freedoms of all Minnesotans regardless of their beliefs or lived experience? We are called as Catholics to bring forth a kingdom of love and justice in our midst. What is core to our tradition and its teachings is that the intrinsic dignity of each person must be respected in word, in action, and in law.

“I pray that we become that church. . . . A church that upholds the sacredness of marriage and its commitments for all people and that is open and informed by the insights and wisdom of the lived experience of its people. A church where inclusive love is once again our guiding principle and justice lights our way.”

I have only two words to add to all these speakers and commenters: “Bravo!” and “Amen!”

May their examples be multiplied.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


“Whodunit” Surrounds Decision to Disinvite Gay Alum from Commencement

April 29, 2012

A gay Catholic alumnus of  a Catholic high school in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, has  been disinvited as commencement speaker after it was learned that as an openly gay man, he is engaged to be married to another man in New York.  The origin of the disinvitation, however, remains a bit of a “whodunit” mystery.

Sacred Heart Academy had originally invited Dominic Sheahan-Stahl to speak at the graduation ceremony where his youngest brother will be one of the seniors leaving the school, and where three generations of their family had been educated. Sheahan-Stahl recounts his side of the story in a YouTube video entitled “Live through Love. Stop discrimination”:

The other side of the story is a bit murkier. The Detroit News reports that

“. . . officials with the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw withdrew the invitation when they learned he is gay.”

The same report also states, however, that it was

“[Sacred Heart Academy Principal Denny]Starnes and some on the schools’ staff [who] learned Sheahan-Stahl was gay after seeing engagement photos on Facebook.”

Principal Denny Starnes addressing students and parents at Sacred Heart Academy assembly.

An MLive.com account intimates that the diocese was the origin of the disinvitation, noting that the school principal, Denny Starnes, announced at an assembly for students and parents that he supports Sheahan-Stahl:

“In front of the Sacred Heart students, staff, parents and various media, Starnes gave an impassioned speech about what the school has been through this week. He spoke haltingly and deliberately, giving support
to Sheahan-Stahl, the senior class at Sacred Heart and the Catholic Church.

“After hearing the students and praying, Starnes said he believes Sheahan-Stahl is the perfect commencement speaker.

” ‘How can I not support this young man to come and speak to this class?’ he said before the school.

“Starnes said he respects the Saginaw Diocese and their decision. As a neighbor to the Sheahan-Stahl family, he said, he knows them well and remembers Dominic as a boy.

” ‘This is my community, of course I’m going to feel different here than someone making decisions in another county,’ Starnes told the student body. ‘The church is not sharing my position on this issue.’ “

Sheahan-Stahl participated in the assembly with Starnes via Skype.

A statement from the Diocese of Saginaw explains they had no role in the decisions, yet does not mention if Sheahan-Stahl should be allowed to speak at the ceremony, and implies that he should not:

“The events that have unfolded regarding the graduation address at Sacred Heart Academy Catholic school in Mt. Pleasant are unfortunate. The decisions to invite, and to rescind an invitation to a graduate who was to deliver the commencement address, were done independently of and without any discussion with the Office of Catholic Schools or the Office of the Bishop for the Diocese of Saginaw.

“The Most Rev. Joseph R. Cistone, Bishop of Saginaw, learned about the events Thursday, only after the situation was reported by local news outlets. Further, neither the bishop nor the diocese were informed of, or invited to participate in, a news conference that was held at the school today.

“‘I am distressed by the way in which Sacred Heart Academy school leadership has handled this situation, and have expressed this to the school’s pastor,’ Bishop Cistone said. ‘It has hurt an individual, a family, a graduating class and an entire school and faith community.’

“‘The Catholic Church is very clear in her teaching, that men and women who have homosexual tendencies must be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”‘ The bishop added, ‘The Catholic faith teaches that individuals with homosexual tendencies, as well as unmarried heterosexuals, are called to lead a celibate lifestyle.’

“Sacred Heart Academy exists to educate and form students in the teachings of the Catholic faith. It is the position of Bishop Cistone, on behalf of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, that individuals who are given an honor – such as serving as the keynote speaker for the culmination of a Catholic school education – should reinforce, and not reject publicly, the teachings of the Catholic faith. . . .”

Students and others have been overwhelmingly in support of Sheahan-Stahl as speaker.  They have started a Facebook page, “Let Dominic Speak,” which as of this writing has 5,107 “Likes.”  A Change.org petition entitled “Sacred Heart Academy, Mt Pleasant MI: STOP endorsing homophobia”  already has 5, 368 signatures.

Sheahan-Stahl will deliver a speech after the graduation ceremony at Warriner Hall on the campus of Central Michigan University.

Regardless of how the decision was made, it is a shameful one that continues to send a message that is contradictory to the Catholic spirit of inclusion and non-discrimination for LGBT people.  The fact that Sheahan-Stahl will still be able to speak shows that the Spirit will not allow such discrimination to squelch the message of inclusion: I believe that God will find a way to have words of inclusion and equality spoken, even if church officials will not cooperate with such a plan for justice.  At the very least, church officials will have to see that Catholics who support equality are not going to just “roll over and die” when adversity strikes; they will find a creative (if not ideal) alternative to let their message be heard.  The sign of the Spirit working in this situation, for me, is that people are finding the wisdom and courage to respond to the unjust decision of disinvitation, and not just giving up or giving in. They are modeling the work of an inclusive church, in the face of church leaders trying to act otherwise. Perhaps it will be a lesson for whatever Catholic officials made the disinvitation decision that Catholics will not be stopped in their quest for equality and justice for LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Catholics Tell Youth: “It Gets Better”

April 14, 2012

Congratulations and many thanks to the good folks at Dignity/Washington who this week launched an “It Gets Better” video on YouTube.  Dignity/Washington is a community of LGBT Catholics and other Christians, their families and friends.   The “It Gets Better” project shows young LGBT people how life does indeed become better as one matures through the teen years into adulthood.  It was designed to help prevent LGBT teen depression and suicide over sexual and gender identity issues.  The Dignity/Washington video tells stoires of how Catholic LGBT adults dealt with these issues in the context of their faith, and it offers encouragement to young people who are struggling with the same topics.

Wouldn’t it be great for more Catholic communities to launch similar videos and to spread the message that “It Gets Better” to LGBT youth through other forms of witness and faith expression.

You can watch the Dignity/Washington video  here:

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Videos Advance Cause of Equality at CUA and UND

March 30, 2012

Students at two of the nation’s top Catholic universities are gaining momentum in their campaigns to get their campuses’ gay-straight alliances recognized by their respective administrations.  At Catholic University of America (CUA), Washington, DC, the students of CUAllies launched an online-video and petition drive for their cause.  At the University of Notre Dame (UND), South Bend, Indiana, the 4 to 5 Movement has been amassing additional support from campus and non-campus groups for their campaign to get recognition.

The CUA video was posted at midnight this past morning on YouTube.  In the style of the famous “It Gets Better” videos, students speak about the need for and importance of a gay-straight alliance on campus. The video is part of a new campaign that CUAllies has launched to collect signatures online for a petition to have their organization recognized by the school’s administration.   All Catholics are encouraged to sign the petition, which can be found here.

You can watch the video here:

UND’s 4 to 5 Movement launched a similar video a few weeks back which has inspired various UND personnel to add their own video comments.  You can view all the videos here. The popularity of these messages have inspired the student government at Jesuit-run Loyola University of Chicago to passed the “It Needs to Get Better” Act,  in support of the UND effort. According to a recent article in The Observer, UND’s student newspaper:

“The act finds the Notre Dame administration would be ‘flouting the reigning moral culture of our day and our shared Catholic heritage’ if it were to not allow for such changes.

“Russell Gonzalez, senior senator and chair of the Constitutional Review Board at Loyola Chicago, said the group passed the act to show a school with a similar faith-based mission to Notre Dame has been able to successfully integrate a gay-straight alliance and an inclusive non-discrimination clause.

“ ‘We hope that the administration of [Notre Dame] takes notice that other Catholic universities have achieved a balance between faith and student experience such that no one needs to feel excluded,’ he said.

“A Jesuit Catholic university, Loyola Chicago has both an inclusive non-discrimination clause and an officially sanctioned LGBTQ student organization. Gonzalez said student government was inspired to pass their ‘It Needs to Get Better’ Act by Church teachings.

“ ‘[The] Church has stated very explicitly in many arenas that all instances of unjust discrimination against LGBTQ people should be removed and avoided,’ he said. ‘The exclusion from the official [Notre Dame] non-discrimination statement and from the constellation of student [organizations] is one such instance.’ ”

What makes both the CUA and UND groups so inspiring is not just that students are organizing for their rights, but that they are doing so from such a strong Catholic perspective.  These students are showing their administrations that recognition of LGBT equality and justice are in the best traditions of the Catholic faith.

Bondings 2.0 has reported on both the CUA and UND efforts previously. You can access those posts by clicking on any of these links:

CUA and UND Students Making Great Strides Toward Official Recognition

Catholic U. and Notre Dame Unite to Work for Gay-Straight Alliances

ALL ARE WELCOME: At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sister Jeannine Gramick in Annapolis

February 2, 2012

Yesterday, we posted that New Ways Ministry’s C0-Founder Sister Jeannine Gramick spoke at a Prayer Breakfast’s in Annapolis, Maryland, to support the state’s marriage equality bill.

Today, we learned that Maryland Faith for Equality has posted her testimony on YouTube, so now you can view and listen to her statement for yourself.

I think her presence and statement speak for themselves, so I won’t add further comment.  However, I invite you to respond to her testimony in this post’s “Comments” section.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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