CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: ‘Landmark’ Gay Rights Case Opened Doors at Georgetown

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 39 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Georgetown University’s ‘Landmark’ Gay Rights Case

Here at Bondings 2.0, we are fond of pointing out how much progress on LGBT equality is being made on Catholic college and university campuses.  Our Campus Chronicles series documents so many encouraging steps happening around the country and the globe.

But that was not always the case.  A major turning point happened for Catholic colleges in April of 1988, when gay student groups at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., won a court battle to be given the same opportunities as other campus organizations.

On April 2, 1988, The New York Times published an article entitled “A Gay Rights Victory at Georgetown” which reported on the court’s decision.  The article begins:

“An eight-year legal battle that pitted gay students against the nation’s oldest Roman Catholic university ended this week as lawyers for Georgetown University in Washington agreed to give homosexual student groups the same privileges as other student groups.

“Both sides said they had won a victory in the settlement on Tuesday, which requires Georgetown to grant gay students access to facilities and financing but does not demand that the university recognize or ‘endorse’ them.”

The article stated that the struggle for this kind of accommodation began at Georgetown nine years earlier in 1979 and had been a focus of campus debate since then.  The campus refused to provide accommodation citing its Catholic principles and religious freedom.

Richard A. Gross, who was a lawyer for the students described the case as a “landmark for gay rights” because, as the Times article explained “the appellate court decision marked the first time a court had ruled that the state had a ‘compelling interest’ to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual preference even over constitutional claims of religious freedom.”

One of the other lawyers in the case was Ron Bogard, who at the time was a New Ways Ministry board member.

The Times described the legal point on which the case centered:

“Georgetown was held in violation of the District’s human right ordinance adopted in 1977, which bans discrimination in 15 categories, including sexual preference.”

The newspaper reported the compromise that the gay groups and the university reached:

“Among the concessions made by the gay students was an agreement that all literature distributed by the groups would contain a disclaimer noting that their views ‘are not endorsed by Georgetown University.’ “

It is amazing to look at Georgetown today and to see how far it has come.  It’s LGBTQ Resource Center describes itself on its web page:

The LGBTQ Resource Center, serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning individuals, is the first such Center of its kind at a Catholic/Jesuit institution in the country. We have sought to build on the rich interfaith and intellectual engagements of Georgetown to create a Center that will speak to all of us in all of our rich diversity.

It is also worth noting that as we struggle with contemporary debates over religious freedom and sexuality, that almost 30 years ago, a civil court saw that protecting individuals’ human rights was a higher value than claims of religious identity.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 24, 2017

 

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Gay Band Director Is Example to Students and to Catholic Schools

Too often lately, there have been too many stories of LGBT people and allies being fired from Catholic institutions because of their identities, marriages, or support of LGBT equality.  So, it’s a refreshing change to report on a case where an out gay man is serving safely and successfully at a Catholic school and has only positive things to report about his experience.

Outsports.com recently published a reflective essay by Keith Johnston, the marching band, pep band, and concert band director at Sacred Heart University, Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Johnston reports that he has worked at the school for the past 14 years, and that “I’ve been an out gay man for the last 20 years, and have been married to the same man for 17 years.”

Keith Johnston leads the band at Sacred Heart University.

Johnston reports that his positive experience at the school has changed his perception of Catholic institutions:

“When I started at Sacred Heart University 14 years ago, despite having been out for a lot of years, I came in with a pre-conceived notion of how my Catholic college students would react to a gay director. While the administration that hired me was aware I was gay, I’m not Catholic, and I wasn’t experienced enough at that time to know how – or even if – I should integrate the personal side of who I am as a person into my teaching.

“I’ve learned much since starting here at SHU, an institution steeped in the Catholic Intellectual tradition, and more progressive than many would suspect.”

Johnston’s example as a successful, out gay man certainly has some impact on the students with whom he works.  He reflects on the experiences that his musically talented young people often face:

“Take the usual uncertainty that many young gay men and women have, add in a few comments about “band geeks” and “band nerds” (often coming from a high school sports team), and you have a recipe for stunting the emotional and personal growth of thousands of kids – harsh words and sentiments that could set them back for years.

And he notes the importance for teachers to be role models for them:

” The biggest thing I’ve learned, however, has been from my students. Yes, they’re in band to play music. But what they really want to learn is how to become who they really are, and who they have the potential to be. The only way they can learn that is for their teachers to be unafraid to share with them who they are, regardless of their sexuality.”

Keith Johnston

Johnston is explicit in his support:

“At the start of each year at band camp, I tell my students that if you’re gay, straight, bi, transgender, or you don’t know what you are, you’re welcome in the band. If, like me, you’ve heard the voices screaming inside of your head saying “you’re gay”, and you don’t know how to make the noise stop…come and talk with me.”

In the essay,  Johnston recounts his own tumultuous coming out experience in which his own physical health was put in peril.  He survived the ordeal, and he has come out stronger on the other side:

“. . . [E]very day I look at myself in the mirror and am reminded of the physical damage that can happen by trying to be someone we’re not. It was not long after that I decided it was time to start accepting who I was, and if anyone had a problem with it, it was indeed their problem, not mine.”

The band director at this Catholic school, though not a Catholic himself, certainly has values that reflect the Catholic tradition.  At the end of his essay, he states:

“Each of us has worth and dignity, and that worth includes our gender and our sexuality. My door is always open to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

“Sexuality and gender is a spiritual gift.

“All of who you are is sacred.

“All of who you are is welcome.”

I can’t think of any better expression of Catholic values about humankind, identity, and hospitality.  I think Pope Francis has, in other ways, expressed those same values.

I also can’t think of a better argument for why Catholic institutions, especially schools, should continue to employ LGBT people.  The gifts they bring from their personal struggle and growth are a blessing to all they serve.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 23, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

In Chechnya and Abroad, Today’s LGBT Martyrs Killed for Hatred of Love

Editor’s Note: Content in today’s post may be disturbing to some readers as it deals with violence against LGBT people, including a brief description of such violence.

Pope Francis is celebrating a liturgy for contemporary martyrs today, held at the church of St. Bartholomew in Rome which functions as a shrine for martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries. Those remembered will include persecuted Christians, pastoral ministers killed because they worked for justice, missionaries, and resisters against totalitarian regimes, reported Vatican Radio.

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“Jesus is Beaten,” from series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by David Blanchard

I want to remember LGBT martyrs as well: those people who have been killed because of their gender and/or sexual identity or because of their advocacy for LGBT human rights. In particular, I remember LGBT people in Chechnya who are en masse being kidnapped, tortured, and even murdered. One Chechen gay man told the BBC:”If beating you with their hands and feet is not enough, they use electric

“If beating you with their hands and feet is not enough, they use electric shock. . .They have a special black box and they attach wires to your hands or ears. The pain is awful. It’s terrible torture. . .They used to detain people before all the time to blackmail them. . .Now [the aim] is the extermination of gay men, so that there are none left in the republic.”

Once they are released from these torture scenarios, the now outed victims have faced reprisals from their own families, including at least two honor killings, according to The New York Times. While Chechnya’s president denies any persecution, human rights groups based in Russia are secretly helping to evacuate LGBT people from the country.

Critics will contend LGBT victims of violence are not martyrs; they were not killed because of odium fidei (hatred of their Christian faith). But in early Christianity, the word “martyrdom” meant a witness to the truth of faith. Today’s LGBT martyrs are witnesses to the truth of how God created them, and thus witnesses to the Creator. They include high-profile leaders who demanded equality, like Ugandan LGBT rights activist David Kato or U.S. gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk. They also include those who simply refused to deny a God-given identity, like the many transgender people, particularly women and people of color, murdered each year.

Though it is the Easter season liturgically, this is also a time of crucifixion for too many people. Blessed Oscar Romero, himself a martyr, challenges us, as the people of God, with these words:

“For the church, the many abuses of human life, liberty, and dignity are a heartfelt suffering. The church, entrusted with the earth’s glory, believes that in each person is the Creator’s image and that everyone who tramples it offends God. As holy defender of God’s rights and of [God’s] images, the church must cry out. It takes as spittle in its face, as lashes on its back, as the cross in its passion, all that human beings suffer, even though they be unbelievers. They suffer as God’s images. There is no dichotomy between [the person] and God’s image. Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being abuses God’s image, and the church takes as its own that cross, that martyrdom.”

No, murdered LGBT people are not universally martyrs odium fidei, but I consider them martyrs odium amoris, or for “hatred of love.” This designation is an emerging, though not yet canonical, category for those killed because they died acting for the common good. As such, they demand to be remembered and honored by the church.

Pope Francis may not share my thinking or specifically include LGBT martyrs in his prayers today. Sadly, he has too often remained utterly silent about LGBT victims of violence. I am unaware of any church leader who has expressed solidarity with LGBT people in Chechnya. This makes our prayers, as LGBT people and allies, all the more important and urgent.

Who are the LGBT martyrs that are special to your heart?  Please name them in the “Comments” section of this post so that we can pray to them and with them today and in the future.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 22, 2017

Next weekend, Frank Mugisha, the head of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the leading LGBT advocacy organization in that country where homosexuality is criminalized, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Clergy Group Sharply Criticizes Vatican’s Ban on Gay Priests

The Vatican’s 2016 document on priesthood, which renewed a ban on gay men, is “disrespectful” and “insulting,” said a national organization of American priests.

downloadThis week, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) released its statement on “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” which had been released by the Congregation for the Clergy last December.  The AUSCP describes its mission as “to be an association of U.S. Catholic priests offering mutual support and a collegial voice through dialogue, contemplation and prophetic action on issues affecting Church and society.”

AUSCP criticized the document’s inclusion of the terms “homosexual tendencies” and “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” because this language is”ambiguous and disrespectful of the personhood [of gay people].” The National Catholic Reporter said the statement continued:

“‘We find it also unfounded and insulting,’ the group said, adding that the clergy congregation document ‘implies that ordained priests with a homosexual orientation who serve the Church with distinction “find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.”‘

“If the Congregation for the Clergy document had stated that heterosexual and homosexual persons who are living chaste lives can be admitted to ordination to the priesthood it would have been more respectful and inclusive. The issue for discernment is whether the applicant or candidate has integrated his sexual identity with Catholic Christian faith and spirituality.”

The statement, which came from AUSCP’s leadership team, has been sent to every U.S. bishop, as well as to “the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors, the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, and the National Association of Hispanic Priests of the USA.”

Since December, many Catholics have been left wondering how the same pope who said “Who am I to judge?” in reference to a gay priest could also approve such an exclusionary document. Some critics have challenged the document for using imprecise or even inaccurate information in its treatment of homosexuality, and the document has done little to end the harm caused by forcing gay priests to remain closeted and by perpetuating homophobia in clerical spaces.

AUSCP’s statement keeps up pressure against the harmful Vatican document, and the statement is particularly incisive coming from the people most affected by “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation.” U.S. Catholics in the pews have not wavered in their support of gay priests: some 1,500 people signed New Ways Ministry’s “thank you” to them, and Catholics wore white ribbons in support at Easter Masses last weekend.

Still, gay and bisexual men in the priesthood have yet to have a “Stonewall Moment,” as theologian Lisa Fullam phrased it in December, when the principle behind “Who am I to judge?” would really allow such priests to live authentically and to minister openly for the benefit of the entire people of God.

Lisa Fullam will be a plenary speaker on sexual ethics at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,”  April 28-30, 2017, Chicago. Among the many focus sessions at the symposium will be one on gay men in the priesthood and religious life, led by openly gay former priest Warren Hall.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 21, 2017

 

Gay Catholic’s Coming Out Is Affirmed by Easter Message

As we celebrate the Octave of Easter–the eight days of rejoicing at the Resurrection that began on Easter Sunday, it might add to our prayers to reflect on a recent coming out story written by a young gay Catholic for his college newspaper.

John Ferrannini, co-Editor-in-Chief at The State Hornet, the student publication at Sacramento State University, used the occasion of the Paschal Season to describe his reconciliation of his faith with his sexuality.  In ” ‘Coming out’ as a gay Catholic,” he writes:

John Ferrannini

“The church has beautiful things to teach about human sexuality — the symbol of the complete giving of oneself to the other. Without a moral guide on this journey, I certainly did some things I regret. I felt as though my choice was between a lonely repression or exciting but lonely promiscuity.

“But I refuse to believe that. And I realized that when, at Sunday mass again for the first time in a few months, I heard Jesus ask his father from the cross in the gospel reading ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

“. . . . He was so removed from his father that he asked why he had been abandoned, betrayed, scoffed at, beaten and left for dead.”

“But as Easter Sunday reveals, Jesus wasn’t really forsaken, because God never abandons his children. Jesus came, after all, to seek out and be with those rejected and derided by the society of his day — and ours.”

Ferrannini described the struggle and tension that he felt as he grew up as a gay teen:

“The religion is based on love, incarnate in the person of Jesus. Yet my love remains designated by the church an “objective disorder.”

“And so when I realized I was gay as a later teenager, I spent a lot of time asking why it had to be me, why this cross was the one I’d been chosen to bear.

“I asked myself what childhood trauma I must’ve gone through that made me this way.”

Despite the obstacles that Catholicism seemed to put in his way, he still found a pull towards the faith, but also began to trust his own experience:

“What attracted me to Catholicism was the certainty of knowing the absolute truth. Christ assured St. Peter that the gates of hell would never prevail against the church, that when the pope spoke doctrine we are bound to obey as though God himself were saying it.

“I was, as many are, content to accept Catholic teaching about homosexuality. But what got under my skin was the fact so many otherwise devout Catholics threw away so many teachings — particularly those championed by Pope Francis — because they were too ‘liberal.’ “

” . . . And in the meantime, the LGBT people I knew and worked with didn’t seem ‘objectively disordered.’ “

Ferrannini describes his acceptance of his sexual orientation, his temporary break from the church, and participation in activities that he did not find fulfilling.  And then the Easter moment described above seemed to break through for him, providing him with insight to be able to live creatively, not destructively, in the tension between faith and sexuality.

He offers an insight that would be important for many church and LGBT leaders to heed:

“. . . I learned that the awkward relationship between the church and the LGBT community hurts both.”

So true.  each group could benefit greatly by the gifts and insights that the other has.  From the time of St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus,  the Christian tradition has always grown from the personal experiences that individuals of faith undergone.  The Church tests those experiences against its values and tradition to see if they are congruent with the faith.  As more LGBT people like Ferrannini continue to testify to the goodness and holiness they experience in the discovery of their sexuality or gender identity, the more opportunity the Church has to see the value that such people bring to the growth of the faith.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 20, 2017

 

London’s Catholic LGBT Ministry Rallies Around Ugandan Exile

In what is a strong display of Catholic advocacy for the human rights of gay people, the members of LGBT Catholics Westminster have rallied around a gay Ugandan who worships with them to prevent him from being deported to his native land where homosexuality is criminalized.

LGBT Catholics Westminster embers at London Pride.

London’s Tablet reported that the man “faces a very high risk of being killed if he is forced to return to the place of his birth.”  LGBT Catholics Westminster is the official diocesan pastoral ministry in London, approved by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Westminster Diocese.

The Tablet provided background about the man at the center of this situation:

“Godfrey Kawalya, a gay Ugandan refugee, LGBT campaigner and a member of LGBT Catholics Westminster, has been living in Britain since 2002. In Uganda, where same sex acts are illegal and punishable by life imprisonment, he says he was expelled from secondary school, sacked from his job and rejected by his family for being gay. He was also an active member of the political opposition to the current president, Yoweri Museveni.

“After he fled from Kampala to rebel-held territories in Northern Uganda, Kawalya said he was attacked and robbed, and a friend who sheltered him was killed. He escaped to Kenya with the help of some nuns and eventually made his way to England.

“In August 2015 the Home Office refused his claim for asylum on the grounds that they did not believe he was gay and because he didn’t disclose his sexuality when he first arrived. ‘I was fearful, it wasn’t easy. I don’t know why they don’t believe me’, Mr Kawalya told The Tablet.

“Several appeals have failed and Mr Kawalya has one final chance to appeal by supplying new evidence to support his case by 17 May.”

LGBT Catholics Westminster has organized a petition for UK citizens to sign, asking the British government to grant Kawalya asylum.  Several Catholic leaders have already signed the petition, including  Vincent Manning, chair of Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support, Ged Clapson, Jesuit Communications Officer in Britain, and Fr. Tony Nye, a pastor at Farm Street Jesuit Church in Mayfair, London, which hosts the LGBT Catholics Westminster organization.

Martin Pendergast, a leader in the LGBT Catholics group said of Kawalya’s case that “even if he were not (gay), the law takes the view that refugees who are in danger of death or persecution because they are perceived to be gay in their home country must be granted asylum.”

For more information about LGBT Catholics Westminster or to learn how to sign the petition if you are a UK citizen, visit www.lgbtcatholicswestminster.org or email lgbtcatholicswesminster@gmail.com.

When people speak about appropriate Catholic pastoral ministry for LGBT people, I can think of no better example than this story of Catholics using church teaching condemning discrimination against LGBT people to help save a person’s life.

In less than two weeks, Frank Mugisha, the head of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the leading LGBT advocacy organization in that country, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 19, 2017

 

Court: Lesbian Couple May Adopt Child Over Catholic Birth Parents’ Objections

An Australian court has rejected an attempt by a set of Catholic birth parents to stop a same-gender couple from adopting their daughter.

supreme-courtNew South Wale’s Supreme Court ruled the girl, known as “CJD” in court documents, could be adopted by the two lesbian women who have raised her since she was six months old, and could take on their surname.

CJD’s birth parents had objected to the adoption on religious grounds, explained The Sydney Morning Herald:

“[T]he birth mother opposed the adoption because the foster parents would not commit to raising the child as a Catholic.

“The NSW Supreme Court heard the birth mother was ‘a practising Catholic and she is not comfortable with the placement of CJD with the proposed adoptive parents because of her upbringing and religious values’.

“The lesbian couple, who are both university educated, have been in a stable and loving relationship for almost a decade. However, they told the court they couldn’t raise CJD as a Catholic given the religion’s longstanding opposition to homosexual relationships.”

Barnardos, the adoption agency, said that because the couple “would not be able to facilitate her involvement and development with Catholicism due to their sexual orientation,” it was best not to baptize the child.

Social services removed CJD from her mother’s care because the mother was convicted of manslaughter in the death of another child and because of her substance abuse issues. The father, who also sought custody, wanted CJD raised Catholic as well.

But custody by either birth parent was not in the girl’s best interests, according to Justice John Sackar, who said:

“‘Religion of course is only one of a multitude of factors the court is to consider in determining CJD’s best interests. . .While the birth parents’ religious beliefs must be respected, the proposed adoptive parents’ attitude to the Catholic faith requires equal respect.'”

Though CJD will not be raised Catholic, the adoptive parents have said they will keep her in contact with her birth parents, and expose her to Christian faith in other ways, ultimately supporting any future religious beliefs she may develop.

Adoptions are an increasing point of controversy for LGBT equality. Catholics have frequently been involved as adoptive parents, as birth parents, as social service providers, as church communities in these cases. In some instances, this involvement has been positive. But in other instances, Catholic involvement has only exacerbated the complexity and pain of such situations. YesterdayBondings 2.0 reported on the U.S. bishops’ support for legislation that would allow social service agencies to discriminate against LGBT adoptive parents.

In complex and painful cases involving children, Catholics should be prioritizing a child’s well-being. A safe and loving home regardless of the parents’ gender and/or sexual identities should take precedent over all other considerations; for Catholics, this is the option most faithful to our tradition.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 18, 2017