Employment non-discrimination protections for LGBT people are among the final obstacles to full legal equality in the United States. Such legislation is hotly disputed locally, while federal action has stalemated until at least after the 2016 elections.
Below are three recent news stories about Catholic involvement in LGBT nondiscrimination issues. Two of these stories highlight the good work being done by Dignity communities.
DC Catholics Protest Church Worker Firing
Catholics stood in solidarity with fired gay cantor Jeffrey Higgins outside the church which expelled him, Mother Seton Parish in Germantown, Maryland. Organized by Dignity/Washington in partnership with DignityUSA, the action coincided with Sunday Masses. Higgins, who was joined by his husband, Robert, and mother, Maria, explained to The Washington Blade:
” ‘We’re standing here to make sure that people in the parish know what happened, that I was fired from my job for being gay and married.’ “
Maria Higgins expressed profound sadness about the firing, but she felt “very proud of Jeffrey and Robert” and was “very proud to stand here.” Despite LGBT non-discrimination protections in Maryland, the Archdiocese of Washington has defended this discriminatory firing under the “ministerial exemption” which allows religious institutions to disregard employment laws when it comes to the hiring and firing of church ministers.
Higgins is counted among the more than 60 church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes since 2008. DignityUSA Board Member Allen Rose, who helped organize the rally outside Mother Seton, said of this situation:
” ‘They seem to have picked people who are gay and who get married as the dividing line. It’s unfortunate.’ “
Florida Bishop Opposes Inclusive City Ordinance
Episcopal attacks on LGBT employment rights are lodged not only within the church, but in civil society, as well. In the latest example, Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida, wrote to Jacksonville, Florida’s city leaders to oppose an amendment which would include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in the city’s non-discrimination laws.
Estevez’s letter to Mayor Lenny Curry and the City Council, reported by The St. Augustine Record, sought widespread “conscience exemptions.” He sought not only that religious institutions, but unaffiliated nonprofits and private businesses, as well, be able to discriminate against LGBT people. He added further that no entity, exempt or not, should be forced into “acceptance of homosexual expression or activity in the areas covered by the proposed legislation.”
Claiming Catholic teaching which does not exist, the bishop said the church does not “condone or cooperate in any aspect of the alteration of a person’s birth gender.” On these grounds, Estevez opposed entirely any inclusion of gender identity and/or expression as protected categories.
Dignity Members in Indiana Back Non-discrimination Bill
Dignity/Indianapolis members released a statement supportive of full LGBT non-discrimination protections in Indiana. State legislators are seeking to correct last year’s deeply criticized religious freedom bill which drew national headlines. The Dignity statement reads, in part:
“It is a terrible reality that discrimination in housing, education, and employment continue to expose LGBTQ Hoosiers to injustice and inequality in our state.
“Inspired by our Catholic faith, we recognize the equal dignity of all persons. We embrace our church’s teaching that shelter, education, and employment are universal and inviolable rights to be afforded to all. And we believe that LGBTQ persons should in all circumstances be treated with respect, never subject to discrimination.”
The statement specifically targeted any proposal that would advance LGB protections without similar provisions for trans communities. In the end, Dignity/Indianapolis invited all Catholics, people of faith, and people of goodwill to join their advocacy for civil rights.
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While it is important to keep tabs on what our bishops are doing, the real story here is the goodness that is happening. Catholics’ action for LGBT justice, especially in regards to church worker firings, is ever increasing in the U.S. Each time a firing happens, there is a greater likelihood that local communities will stand beside the church worker and say “not in our name.”
Catholics have taken to heart Pope Francis’ early exhortation to “make a mess” in our local dioceses for the cause of truth and justice. To that I say, Amen!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry