For Transgender Day of Visibility: How Catholic Tradition Can Stop Trans Murders

Today is the International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to raise awareness about trans people’s accomplishments and fight back against transphobia. But amid celebrations is the sad reality that hate crime-related killings against transgender people in El Salvador are on the rise. Disturbingly, LGBT activists have claimed the Catholic Church in that country, and elsewhere in Latin America, contributes to this tragedy. But the people of God in that country can choose another path.

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Trans advocates marching through San Salvador on International Women’s Day.

In February, Reuters reported, three trans people were murdered in just the town of San Juan Talpa, bringing the total number of trans people murdered in 2017 up to seven. Of one murder, the news service reported:

“The town’s latest victim was Elizabeth Castillo, a transgender woman, who police say was kidnapped in February after attending the funeral of two transgender women. Her body, showing signs of torture, was then found dumped on the roadside.”

Another 40 trans people, said Karla Avelar, director of group Communicating and Training Transwomen, “have been forced to migrate to other countries to safeguard their own lives.” Teresa, a trans woman in San Juan Talpa, has considered fleeing because of her fears, saying:

“‘I think that someone is coming to kill me. . .I live in constant fear. . .With a doubt, I’ve thought about being far away from this country because staying here the gangs find you.”

“The gangs don’t accept lesbians, gay boys or transgender people. Diversity doesn’t fit into their rules.”

Anti-LGBT violence is closely affiliated with the gang violence ravaging the country, which Reuters described as “one of the world’s deadliest countries outside a war zone.” Gangs maintain control of many communities through extortion, violence, and rape. But social stigma is also contributing greatly to the suffering now endured by LGBT people in El Salvador, and activists claim the Catholic Church is complicit in this regard. Humanosphere reported:

“Advocates say LGBT people face a double threat from such violence. They say anti-LBGT rhetoric from religious figures and politicians perpetuates already entrenched social prejudices, and that the influential Roman Catholic Church furthers anti-LGBT sentiment by publicly condemning gay marriage and sex.”

LGBT-negative stigmas are widespread in El Salvador. Reuters said a “2013 survey by the U.S.-based Pew Research Centre found nearly two-thirds of Salvadorans believed society should not accept homosexuality.” Reparative therapy is also commonplace; another survey found two in five LGBT people had experienced it. Given the church’s considerable, and at one time dominant, influence in El Salvador, these stigmas are derived, at least in part, from LGBT-negative statements and actions of Catholics. Avelar, herself the survivor of two attempted killings, summarized the situation:

“‘They are criminalizing us. . .They use the word of God and the Bible to judge us. It’s destroying us.'”

“Destroying” is not hyperbolic. Twenty-five LGBT people were murdered last year in a nation with a population equivalent to that of the U.S. state of Massachusetts.  After the first quarter of 2017, El Salvador is on pace to exceed that number.

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In 2015, Archbishop Romero was beatified on the same day that Ireland passed marriage equality. It was a great day for the laity! Click to share this graphic.

But the Catholic Church in El Salvador has another option: a liberationist tradition already being taken up by some Catholics in regard to LGBT people. The Universidad Centroamericana, where six Jesuits were martyred in 1989, hosted El Salvador’s first LGBT rights conference in 2013 (to read a reflection on this event from Bondings 2.0’s editor Francis DeBernardo, click here).

This liberationist tradition is rooted in the nation’s martyrs, including Blessed Oscar Romero who was not beatified, due to conservative opposition, until Pope Francis. Shortly before his assassination, Romero told a reporter:

“If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. If the threats come to be fulfilled, from this moment I offer my blood to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality.”

Trans Salvadorans murdered are themselves martyrs; they were killed for walking the path of holiness, for living openly as their authentic selves. In their blood, new seeds of freedom and hope take root to flourish. These children of God should have never faced violent deaths in the first place, but their murders now compel Catholics to be a leading voice for LGBT human rights and as a defender of crucified LGBT communities.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 31, 2017

Nicole Santamaria, an intersex woman and LGBT rights activist from El Salvador, 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. She will join an international focus session panel of transgender and intersex advocates. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who heads Sexual Minorities Uganda, will be a plenary speak on “The Catholic Church, Criminalization Laws, and the LGBT Experience in Uganda.”  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Carmelite Sisters Become Key Allies for Transgender Youth in India

In January, Bondings 2.0 reported about Indian Catholics’ involvement in starting the country’s first school inclusive of trans youth. This week, The Atlantic posted a more in-depth look at the women religious who helped make the school a reality, and who have remained involved as key allies.

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Vijayaraja Mallika and Sr. Pavithra

Transgender  educator Vijayaraja Mallika had a dream was to start a school for trans people and to give it the name “Sahaj,” which in Hindi means “natural.” But Mallika lacked a proper space for the school until Carmelite sisters, having become aware of the activist’s efforts, invited her for tea. The article continued:

 

“Splitting themselves between an auto-rickshaw and a public bus, the sisters and the activist rode past palm trees, tech offices, and paddy fields to the spot they had in mind: an unused building that the CMC convent had once intended to turn into a dormitory.

“Mallika looked at the size of the structure, the roomy kitchen and sunny terrace. She was so overwhelmed that she burst into tears. The building was not only a concrete way to get her school started, it was also indicative of an entirely new support system. The Carmelites, she realized, could become unlikely allies for transgender activists pushing for education and acceptance in [the state of] Kerala.”

The Carmelites spent $8,000 to help outfit the school, and there are now two sisters living on the property. Sr. Pavithra, who helped connect the order with Mallika, said there is potential for more support, too. The sisters have “conceived of a new initiative to help trans youth by educating children in Carmelite-run schools about what it means to be transgender.” Through this awareness-raising program and through financial support for trans youth, the Carmelites goal for the students is “to ensure that they never drop out of school to begin with” and will not have to enter the sex trade. Sr. Pavithra said:

“We are 6,000 sisters. We have so many institutions. We are known to the society. Unless and until we take them up, how will [trans people] come up?”

Yet, establishing Sahaj itself has been a struggle. The initial excitement of establishing the school has ceded to frustrations. At present, there are “no teachers, no accreditation, and no students.” The building, instead, is functioning as a shelter. But despite administrative challenges, Sr. Pavithra and the Carmelites remain hopeful:

“‘Any new beginning has got its own problems. It takes time, even for a normal school. A transgender school? We have miles to go ahead. . .Of course it can happen in Kerala. . .These are all the initial struggles to take up a new responsibility. I said, “Mallika, you are the first generation. Us sisters, we may be part of it, and maybe [by] the third generation, we will see the fruits. It will take.”‘”

The sisters’ commitment is important because the needs of trans people in Kerala are great. Approximately 25,000 trans people live there, and their outcomes are impaired by the high levels of discrimination, harassment, and violence that they and other trans communities in the world face. The Atlantic compared education outcomes:

“Kerala boasts a higher literacy rate for both men and women than any of India’s other 28 states. But 58 percent of transgender students in the state drop out before completing 10th grade and 24 percent drop out before ninth grade.”

Kerala’s 2015 Transgender Policy and the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to legalize a third gender option have done little to mitigate these oppressions, said Mallika. Indeed, a trans advocate named Faisal said Kerala is a worse place to be trans than other states. Hijras, who are “transgender, intersex, and transsexual people who live within a strict hierarchical community” found elsewhere in India, are less present there. And Kerala has fewer Hindus and far more Christians than the overall demographics of India, with Christianity being far less accepting of non-binary genders than Hinduism.

Thankfully, the Carmelite sisters are paying attention to voices on the peripheries, and have been quite accepting of trans people in their state. The partnership began when Sr. Pavithra encountered Mallika at a social work gathering:

“There, Mallika spoke about how she had looked at almost 700 properties to no avail; some were too small, while others closed their doors when the owners learned what would be done with the space. Sister Pavithra took up the issue with her convent’s administrative council and advocated that they retrofit one of their vacant buildings into a school. . .The six council members approved the lease, with the blessing of the local bishop.”

The partnership is not, however, without its own problems. In an effort to protect trans people with whom they are working, the sisters have, at times, enforced strict curfews to keep people staying with them from going into sex work. They also “occasionally try to persuade trans people to wear clothing associated with the gender they were assigned at birth,” though one sister said this is so trans persons will “blend in, gain acceptance, and avoid ridicule” in society. She explicitly rejected that there have been any attempts at “conversion therapy.”

And there are intra-church hiccups, too, with some Catholics critical of the sisters’ work and of trans outreach generally. To them, Sr. Pavithra simply said, “If we consider everybody’s opinion, nothing will take place in the world.”

Church officials have had a leading and largely positive role when it comes to LGBT people in India. Last fall, the bishops’ official development agency, Caritas India, announced trans-specific outreach programs (though, it must be noted, the director’s approach to gender identity has been criticized). Virginia Saldanha, a leading lay person who was once executive secretary of the Office of Laity for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, said the church must bring LGBT people “in from the cold.”

A particularly bright light is Bombay’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias who, in a message to LGBT people conveyed through a personal interview with Bondings 2.0’s Francis DeBernardo, said the “church embraces you, wants you, needs you.” Gracias has said repeatedly that homosexuality should not be criminalized.In fact, he was the only religious leader in India to criticize the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate criminalization in 2013.

5The witness of these Carmelite sisters and other Indian church officials to the dignity and worth of LGBT people can be an inspiration and model for the church universal.

To learn more about Catholics involvement in international LGBT human rights, attend 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. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who heads Sexual Minorities Uganda, will speak on “The Catholic Church, Criminalization Laws, and the LGBT Experience in Uganda.”  An international panel of transgender and intersex advocates will speak during a focus session. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 30, 2017

Why Catholic High Schools Need LGBTQ+ Student Groups

Last month, a St. Louis, MO, Catholic high school, Nerinx Hall, made news when it turned down a student request to establish a gay-straight alliance (GSA). Questions arose about how Catholic high schools can best serve their LGBTQ+ students while retaining their Catholic identity. 

To aid Nerinx Hall and all other Catholic schools when deciding whether to start an LGBTQ+ student group, Bondings 2.0 has compiled data on the experiences of LGBTQ+ high school students and the proven impact LGBTQ+ student groups have on high school campus climates. 

Educational Consequences of Unsafe Environments

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network’s (GLSEN) 2015 National School Climate Survey Executive Summary spelled out the problems students face

op-story-lgbt-safety-300x250“A hostile school climate affects students’ academic success and mental health. LGBTQ+ students who experience victimization and discrimination at school have worse educational outcomes and poorer psychological well-being.” Additionally, the GLSEN document said that unsafe school environments also lead students to drop out of school early, “42.5% of LGBTQ+ students who reported that they did not plan to finish high school, or were not sure if they would finish, indicated that they were considering dropping out because of the harassment they faced at school.” 

LGBTQ+ students who experienced discrimination were “more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month, had lower GPAs than their peers, and had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression,” according to the GLSEN report. 

“We see that LGBT youth are being deprived of an equal education based on these hostile school climates,” Emily Greytak, GLSEN Research Director.

School climate directly impacts how well students learn and socialize. Heightened stressors like bullying, discrimination, victimization, and lacking a sense of community are proven to make LGBTQ+ students more likely to have negative educational and developmental outcomes. LGBTQ+ student groups provide a space for students to create a sense of community and support so they can better perform as students as they develop into adulthood. 

Do LGBTQ+ student groups work? The data says, “Yes!” 

According to a report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, data from as early as 1998 shows that LGBTQ+ students attending schools with LGBTQ+ student groups “were less likely to report being victimized, skipping school because of fear of victimization, or attempting suicide.” The same report showed that LGBTQ+ student groups are “significantly protective” in decreasing suicidal ideation and attempts by LGB high school students. 

More recent data in GLSEN “Safe Space Kit” 2016 and GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey shows students who did have an LGBTQ+ student group were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation and gender expression, reported a greater number of supportive school staff and more accepting peers, were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault, felt more connected to their school community, and were less likely to miss school because of safety concerns than LGBTQ+ students in schools without an LGBTQ+ student group. 

LGBTQ+ student groups have even been found to benefit school climates on issues beyond sexuality and gender identity. According to the GLSEN “Teasing to Torment” 2015 document, even non-LGBTQ+ students in schools with LGBTQ+ student groups “experience less victimization based on race/ethnicity and based on appearance than students without a GSA” and reported “greater feelings of safety for the general student body.” 

Catholic Schools Need LGBTQ+ Student Groups

Some Catholic educators and administrators are worried that granting students an LGBTQ+ student group would negatively impact the Catholic identity of the school, but this fear is by no means an excuse to deny students what they need: an LGBTQ+ student group. 

rolingAccording to a GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey, barring students from forming or promoting an LGBTQ+ student group clearly sends “the message that LGBT topics, and in some cases, even LGBTQ+ people, are not appropriate for extracurricular activities.” GLSEN claimed that by denying or hindering LGBTQ+ student groups, the school administration marks “official school activities distinctly as non-LGBT” and that such discrimination prevents “LGBTQ+ students from participating in the school community as fully and completely as other students.”

In Pope Francis’ directive for Catholic education, listed on the Catholic education web page of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he calls us to care for the needs of all students, which, of course, means LGBTQ+ students, too: 

“Our generation will show that it can rise to the promise found in each young person when we know how to give them space. This means that we have to create the material and spiritual conditions for their full development; to give them a solid basis on which to build their lives; to guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be.” 

Catholic school administrators and educators cannot ignore the needs of LGBTQ+ students as they raise themselves to the promise found in their own selves. Denying them the space to grow and heal does not rise to their promise, it denies that their promise exists. 

So, paraphrasing Pope Francis, Catholic school administrators should ask themselves: “Can we rise to the promise found in your LGBTQ+ students and guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be?” 

Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, March 28, 2017


Would you like to start an LGBTQ+ student group at your school? The GSA Network has resources available here. GLSEN also has resources on how to start an LGBTQ+ student group and general resources for LGBTQ+ student groups

Come to New Ways Ministry’s symposium this April for our focus session “Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions.” Find more information on our symposium website.

Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions

Seattle’s Gay Mayor Ed Murray and His Catholic Journey

Back in 2012, when the marriage equality debate was in full swing in Washington State, one of the leading voices in the push for equality was Ed Murray, a gay Catholic state senator.   Murray, the chief senate sponsor of the marriage legislation, was tireless in his campaigning, and often spoke of his faith as one of the reasons he was working for LGBT equality.

Murray, now the mayor of Seattle, was recently profiled by Seattle Weeklyand, interestingly, the focus was not on the fact that he was a gay mayor, but a Catholic one.  As the magazine article points out, Seattle is tied “with San Francisco and Portland for the least religious city in the country.”  Only 13% of residents identify as Catholic, while 37% identify as religiously unaffiliated.

In Seattle during the 2012 marriage equality campaign, Mayor Ed Murray is flanked by New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick.

While Seattle has had Catholic mayors in the past, what makes Murray’s faith so unusual is that he speaks so openly about it:  he’s an “out and proud” Catholic.  And the magazine finds a particular detail about Murray’s depth of religious commitment very interesting:

“Indeed, Murray’s Catholic faith can seem a study in contradiction. Not only is he a practicing Catholic in a secular city, he is a gay man who has remained in a church that has been outright hostile toward homosexuality.”

So, the reporter set out to gauge “whether Murray was a ‘true’ Catholic—a question that has been raised elsewhere on account of his sexuality and stances on various public-policy issues.”  The answer to that question is the basis of the long, but interesting article which chronicles Murray’s faith development that has led to his “consideration of the priesthood, his decision to leave the Catholic Church, and, ultimately, his return to the fold and how it has helped guide his first term as mayor.”

While the article is well-worth reading for all Bondings 2.0 readers, those who are 55 years of age and older will certainly identify with Murray’s story.  He speaks poignantly of coming of age in the era of John F. Kennedy’s election as President and the transformation of the Catholic Church due to the Second Vatican Council.  Rev. Mike Ryan, the rector of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral who knew Murray as a teenager and who is still a close friend, remembers the adolescent who would become mayor:

” ‘He made an impression, which is unusual,’ says Ryan, who at that time was involved in youth outreach and meeting a large number of young people. ‘Normally you meet high-school kids, they’re not thinking about the big picture. Then here’s someone who cared about issues of justice, peace, world issues, that was not typical of his contemporaries. He took a Catholic point of view [on those issues], the Catholic social teaching, which is some ways is one of the best-kept Catholic secrets.’ “

Ed Murray and his husband Michael Shiosaki at their 2013 wedding.

The article also recounts Murray’s coming out as a gay man, and how Catholic pastoral ministers supported him in that process:

“After graduating from high school, Murray attended St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore, exploring the priesthood. After a year there, he decided against it, and finished his college studies at the University of Portland, a Catholic institution. There he got to know Trappist monks who introduced him to monastic worship, and counseled him on, among other things, his homosexuality, which he began to acknowledge in college. Far from the pious recriminations one might expect, Murray says that in college he was encouraged by priests to embrace that part of himself, rather that feel shame about it. It was further evidence, for Murray, that the Catholic Church, especially in its social-justice form, was a home for him, rather than the prison many people considered it.”

In the 1990s, Murray was a state representative and working for an LGBT anti-discrimination bill.  The Seattle Archdiocese, under Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, had originally supported the measure.  But in the 1990s, the new Archbishop Thomas Murphy opposed it, causing a crisis of faith for Murray, as he explains:

“After sticking with the Church for years, despite its poor record on many gay-rights issues, Murray says he couldn’t take it any more.

” ‘Most of my friends would die by the time I was 40 of AIDS, [and] we had a pope [John Paul II] who was pretty horrible on the issue of HIV/AIDS,’ Murray says. When the archdiocese reversed its stance on the anti-discrimination bill, “you had a Church that was opposing my civil rights.

” ‘I reached a point where it’s like, this does not work. This does not work for me.’ At 40 years old, he quit practicing Catholicism.”

But that wasn’t the end of the story:

“. . . [F]or Murray, life outside the church proved less tenable that his life within it. Strangely, what brought Murray back to the church was the work of a Protestant, Kathleen Norris. In 1997, during Murray’s second full term in office, the South Dakota author published The Cloister Walk, a memoir of her time spent at Benedictine monasteries. A bestseller, it reminded Murray of his time with the Trappist monks in Oregon. ‘I read it, and it really was like a glass wall shattered. Here was a Protestant woman from the Dakotas introducing my tradition back to me. … I didn’t feel spiritually whole until I came back to the church as a practicing Catholic. There’s no other explanation I can give for it: As a spiritual home and a spiritual experience, it’s where I belong.’ “

Though most of his contemporaries have left the Church because of gender issues, he remains. Faith still presents a challenge to him, and he sees that as a good thing:

“If you read the Gospel, it is not about being together with a bunch of people you feel good about. It’s about being places that are uncomfortable with you. So am I challenging myself more as a Christian if I sit in a congregation where everyone believes the same as I do, or am I being more of a Christian if I’m sitting in the congregation where the nun in the pew ahead of me goes down and testifies against marriage equality and sometimes I want to throw a missal at her head?”

In another interview, Murray acknowledged that, in terms of church, he is “kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop … I always have one foot in the door and one foot out the door. I never know if I’m going to stay or if I’m out.”  Yet the Pope Francis papacy seems to have given him hope.  The Seattle Weekly  story concludes:

“Murray says he was skeptical of Francis at first as well. But he was soon convinced that Francis was true to his hype—a fact underscored in 2015 when Francis released his encyclical on climate change as a social-justice issue. Shortly after publishing the teaching, Pope Francis invited 40 mayors from across the world to the Vatican to discuss ways to fight climate change. Among them was Murray, the man who had considered the priesthood, left the Church in a rage, and more recently been made to feel like such a pariah that he feared being denied Communion.

“Murray says he was unsure at first whether the Vatican had made a mistake. ‘When they sent the invitation, we had folks call the Vatican and say, “Are you sure you understand who I am, and that you’re inviting me?” ‘ Murray says. ‘They said, yes, they wanted me to come.’ “

On a personal note, I had the pleasure of meeting Ed Murray in Seattle in the summer of 2012, when Sister Jeannine Gramick and I were in Washington State for Catholics for Marriage Equality events (see photo above).   He struck me then as someone whose faith identity was evident in the way he spoke and listened to people.  Reading about his journey of faith gave me a deeper appreciation for the many ways that LGBT Catholics and their allies are using their religious heritage to renew the world and the Church.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 28, 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. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.    

Bondings 2.0  posts about Ed Murray:

February 2, 2012: “N.Y. Times Reports Incorrectly on Catholic Opposition to Marriage Equality

August 26, 2012:  “New Ways Ministry Supports Marriage Equality Efforts in Washington State

October 17, 2012: “Marriage Debate Brings Out Deep Faith and Thought in Catholics

October 31, 2012: “Prayerful Vigils and Reflections Highlight Lead Up to Election Day in Washington State

 

Does Pope’s Anti-Bullying Message Apply to the Church and LGBT Youth?

TODAY IS MARCH 27th: LAST DAY TO REGISTER TO AVOID A LATE FEE!

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. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.   REGISTER BY MARCH 27th to avoid a late fee. 

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Pope Francis exhorted youth to avoid bullying others last week, saying they must “promise Jesus to never bully.” But given the pope’s mixed record, does his message mean not to bully LGBTQ youth, too?

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Pope Francis at a youth gathering in Milan

Francis made the remarks at a youth rally in a Milan stadium filled with nearly 80,00 mostly young people. He was answering a catechist’s question about how educators, students, and families could communicate better. Crux reported that he told adults to be on the lookout for bullying, and then he addressed the youth:

“‘I ask you, in silence: in your schools, in your neighborhoods, is there someone that you mock? That you make fun of because they look a little funny, because they are a little fat? That you like to embarrass and hit because of this?

“‘Think about this. This is called bullying. . .Understood? Promise me: never, never make fun of, never mock a friend, a neighbor, etc. Do you promise this?'”

It is good that the pope, a former teacher,  is concerned about the bullying which afflicts many youth worldwide.  Francis might consider a call to end bullying against particularly vulnerable demographics, including LGBTQ youth. But if he is really serious about helping to end bullying, he should examine the ways the Catholic Church can and has perpetuated it.

Though it is not universally true that Catholic officials have ignored or allowed bullying, a quick survey of incidents reveals how much harm church leaders have caused:

  • In England, a transgender student was shot with a BB gun by another student after the transgender student faced months of bullying at his Catholic school;
  • Parents have accused schools of ignoring the bullying against their children, including the parents of transgender student who was shot with a BB gun and the parents of New York teenager who died by suicide.
  • Bishops in Colombia thanked the government for dropping a resource aimed at helping educators know how to combat bullying against LGBT people;
  • An anti-bullying workshop was cancelled in Ireland after school officials said it did not present the unspecified “other side” of the issue;
  • The parents of a gay teenager who died by suicide in Colombia claimed it resulted after the school’s principal outed their son in front of others at the Catholic school;
  • Updated policies in the Diocese of Little Rock threatened students with expulsion if they come out as LGBTQ.

Catholic schools have also banned a gay student from a dance, expelled a lesbian student from prom for not wearing a dress, and refused to accommodate a trans student who was transitioning. Supportive Catholic educators have been fired in New Jersey, including Warren Hall who was fired for posting about the NOH8 campaign. [Note: Hall will be presenting a workshop on gay priests and religious at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this April. Click here for more information.]

In some of these incidents, educators and church officials acknowledged a mistake or worked to rectify the situation.  These, however, are not the only courses of action. There are concrete examples of how Catholic education can work against bullying and promote the flourishing of every student:

  • Teacher in Ontario’s Catholic schools marched in Pride in show of solidarity with their LGBTQ students;
  • Catholics have participated each year in National Coming Out Day and the anti-bullying initiative Spirit Day;
  • A priest in New York even declared 2014 the “Year of Lady Gaga,” (she attended Catholic schools) showing students how to have courage in their lives.

Students and their families are increasingly looking for not only welcome, but support for LGBTQ youth. Michael Maher, who authored the 2001 book Being Gay and Lesbian in a Catholic High School, has commented that since he began studying this issue, such expectations have increased dramatically. [Note: Maher will be offering a workshop on youth and young adults at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this April. Click here for more information.]

The problem of bullying is a question of life and death. Bullying leads to self-harm and death by suicide, and the presence of so many LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness attests to the impact bullying by family and friends can have.

These realities of suffering should move Pope Francis to amplify and specify his call to stop bullying. 2017’s diocesan- level World Youth Day programs, as well as the preparations for the 2018 synod on youth offer prime opportunities for him to do so. Before these steps, Francis should sit with his own directive to the youth in Milan, and see how it relates to LGBTQ youth and the church:

“‘Think in silence if you [bully], and if you are able to promise this to Jesus: Promise Jesus to never bully.'”

To explore all of Bondings 2.0’s coverage of youth and young adult issues, see our “Schools & Youth” and “Campus Chronicles” categories to the right.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 27, 2017

Spoiler Alert: God Isn’t a Rubik’s Cube!

Angie Hollar

For Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 is presenting spiritual reflections from a diverse group of students at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California,  who either identify as LGBTQ+ or who are involved with LGBTQ+ theological research and/or ministry.  Today’s post is from Angie Hollar, who received her Master of Divinity degree from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in 2015.  She currently teaches Catholic theology at a high school in the Seattle area.

Scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent can be found by clicking here.

Whenever a gospel passage features the Pharisees, I brace myself. They are the sticklers for the rules: the finicky interpreters of all the nitty-gritty details of Judaism.  Pharisees seem to look quite easily past the raw vulnerability of the people right in front of their faces and see only legal case studies.  They ask leading questions; they attempt to pigeonhole their interlocutors; they use their institutional privilege to belittle, bully and silence others.  And so, predictably, whenever I encounter them in the Scriptures I can feel myself get riled up. I know a conflict is brewing and these guys don’t fight fairly.

The Pharisees had basically turned God into their very own Rubik’s cube. They were convinced they had worked all of the kinks out of God’s algorithm. They served a God who had clearly defined for them all of the rules of engagement. The covenants within the Hebrew Bible are not terribly complicated recipes for harmony between God and the Israelites. Do the prescribed good things and avoid the outlined bad things and all will be well. Therefore, the Pharisees were quick to take on anyone who even thought about rotating one of God’s color blocks. Their fear of losing what they perceived to be their control of God ultimately overtook their lives.

In these Pharisees vs. Outcast moments I want to identify with the outcast.  I want to read these stories through the lenses of the marginalized and oppressed. As a social worker and theology teacher, I want to diminish the power that the Pharisees wield and advocate for those who have the misfortune of tangling with them.  I fancy myself a good liberal; this is what we do, right?!

However, much to my chagrin,  this week I have been fixated on the Pharisees.  Therefore, my prayer for the past few days has gone like this: “Dear God, PLEASE don’t make me empathize with the Pharisees—especially not in public!” And yet, when I keep praying with the story of the healing of the man born blind, I find the Pharisees to be my primary point of connection.

Damn.

I feel like the Pharisees because I can relate to being fearful of a God of surprises and to desiring the same sense of predictability and stability for which they longed. I find myself wary of what God could call me to that might disrupt my life, and so I frequently attempt to keep God at an arm’s length. In my relationship with God I am sometimes the equivalent of one of my students who sits in the back of the classroom and avoids eye contact with me because she dreads being called upon to answer a question.

I wonder how many of us are standing squarely in the tension of desiring a radically more just and loving world yet are fearful of losing our privileges or comfort in the process of change. It’s ugly to admit, but it’s real.  After all, how many immigrants have been deported because they spoke out about unjust immigration policies? How many LGBTQ+ persons working in Catholic environments have been fired because of whom they love? How many people of color have been brutalized or killed because they demanded equity? How many women’s careers have been derailed because they rejected a boss’s sexual advances? How many theologians have been censured or silenced because the theological issues they explored threatened the ecclesial status quo?  The list goes on and on.  Actively discerning the ways that God might be drawing one toward greater authenticity and freedom can sometimes have very difficult and painful consequences.

Humanizing the Pharisees leads me to reflect upon more than my own spiritual challenges, though. Seeing them as individuals with their own sets of baggage also requires me to contemplate what other groups of fearful people I am called to love. I don’t know exactly what it means to love those family members, friends, acquaintances, and strangers within my speck of the universe who are completely consumed by their fear of those who look, love, speak, and think differently than they do. While I don’t know exactly how to love them, I do know that connecting to them is exactly what today’s Gospel is calling me to do right now. In this intensely divisive world, perhaps recognizing our shared humanity and shared fear is a decent starting point. But if I could be nudged to empathize with the Pharisees this week, then my hope must spring eternal that God will show us the way forward.

Angie Hollar, March 26, 2017

REGISTER BY MARCH 27TH TO AVOID A LATE FEE!                                                    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. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.    

In Higher Education, What Does “Catholic Identity” Actually Mean?

Each semester, there are an increasing number of LGBT-positive developments in Catholic higher education, documented by Bondings 2.0’s “Campus Chronicles” series. But opposition to these efforts often frames LGBTQ supportive developments as undermining Catholic identity. Today’s post highlights some approaches to Catholic identity from this spring to reflect further on just what is meant by Catholic identity when it comes to Catholic higher education.

lucLoyola University Chicago Affirms Trans Students

Responding to the Trump administration’s withdrawal of federal guidelines to protect transgender students, Loyola University Chicago’s Office of the Dean of Students and Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural affairs released a statement saying they “remain committed to serving as sources for advocacy, resources, and support for all students.” It continued:

“This commitment has never been driven by federal directives or guidance, but stems rather from our Catholic, Jesuit mission, which calls us to honor the dignity and humanity of all people and to stand in solidarity with those among us who may be vulnerable to oppression or exclusion. . .we remain committed to the policies we have in place and our institutional mission, both of which fully support Loyola’s transgender, gender-nonconforming, and non-binary students.”

21231_fullMarquette University Resource Center Reopens

In January, Marquette University reopened its LGBTQ+ Resource Center, an occasion for the Marquette Wire to look at the University’s somewhat contentious history around LGBT issues. Referencing anti-transgender protestors the school faced last fall, the editors noted how two administrators explained how the school’s identity relates to the Resource Center:

“University Provost Dan Myers, who stood in counter-protest across Wisconsin Avenue from the [protestors] with members of the Marquette community, said in an email, ‘There is no question that our Catholic, Jesuit mission calls on us to be a welcoming place for all, and we strive to be that welcoming place.’

“Coordinator for LGBTQ+ programs and services Enrique Tejada III said in an email, ‘I believe that it is because of Marquette’s Catholic, Jesuit identity and values that our LGBTQ+ Resource Center is able to operate on a religious and specifically Catholic campus.’

 

georgetown20logoFor Georgetown, Catholic Identity Means Diversity 

The editors of Georgetown University’s campus newspaper, The Hoya, took up the question of Catholic identity recently. Right-wing critics have, through a petition and a lawsuit, challenged the University for not being Catholic enough. In response, The Hoya editors wrote:

“In attempting to stifle the diversity of viewpoints represented at the university through speakers and faculty, the lawsuit neglects to recognize that Catholicism does not abide by one narrow definition and that, more than any other facet, the university’s particular Jesuit tradition strives to promote authentic human understanding and compassion guided by Catholic social teaching. This includes promoting dialogue among different groups, even if official church doctrine diverges from their ideas.

“No part of the [right-wing] petition failed to grasp this more than the section criticizing Georgetown’s placement within Newsweek’s top-25 ‘gay-friendly’ colleges in the country in 2010— the only Catholic university to be included — and contending that the school’s LGBTQ Resource Center and recognition of LGBTQ student organizations countered Catholic teaching. . .

“[The U]niversity ought to ensure all students receive exposure to the rich religious tradition which informs its values. Yet, in the truest spirit of Georgetown’s Jesuit heritage, the university should not acquiesce to demands for an overly narrow interpretation of Catholicism demanded by the petition.”

Georgetown’s latest initiative is “to make single-stall restrooms in public buildings on campus both gender-inclusive and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant by the end of the semester,” a joint effort by the administration and the Student Association’s LGBTQ Inclusivity group. Reporting on the initiative, The Hoya noted that in many cases this development means only changing signs, and a feasibility study will look at other cases.

What Catholic identity means concretely in higher education, or in any institutional setting, is not always clear. The devil is in the details when determining how colleges and universities provide high-quality education that is accessible to all and integrates faith.

But investing in programs and policies which welcome, support, and educate LGBTQ students– and particularly trans students in the current climate–is clearly a key part of Catholic identity today.

What do you think Catholic identity means for colleges and universities, at it relates to issues of gender and sexuality? Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 25, 2017

THREE DAYS LEFT TO REGISTER TO AVOID A LATE FEE!

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. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org. REGISTER BY MARCH 27th TO AVOID A LATE FEE!