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.

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

 

Easter: “Why Look for the Living Among the Dead?”

“Jesus no longer belongs to the past but lives in the present and is projected toward the future; Jesus is the everlasting “today” of God. This is how the newness of God appears to the women, the disciples, and all of us: as victory over sin, evil, and death – over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human. And this is a message meant for me and for you, dear sister, you, dear brother. How often does Love have to tell us, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness…and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive!”
     ― Pope Francis, “The Church of Mercy

Holy Saturday: The Great Silence

“Christ in the Tomb” by Philip Agius

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying:

‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.’

                                                                        –from an ancient homily on Holy Saturday

Good Friday: Outcast, Oppressed, Abandoned

“Crucifixion” by Emil Nolde, 1912

The symbol of the cross in the church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city. It does not invite thought, but a change of mind. It is a symbol which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing into the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned. On the other hand, it is a symbol which calls the oppressed and godless into the church and through the church into the fellowship of the crucified God.                                                                                                                                                                                         –Jürgen Moltmann                                                                                                                                              The Crucified God