Semesters End with a Hate Crime, a Walkout, and a Lavender Graduation

Yet another academic semester is in the books. Today’s post features news highlights from around Catholic higher education.

Creighton University Responds to Hate Crime

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Note found at Creighton University with anti-gay slur blurred out at the top

Community members at Creighton University were shaken when a gay student, Joseph Gray, discovered a hateful note pinned to the door of his dorm room. The note said:

“Kill yourself. Leave our school. Gays are not welcome in Nebraska or Creighton.”

Gray reported the note to University officials, saying he “shouldn’t have to come back to where I sleep and worry about what I’m going to see” when he and other gay students have to worry about on-campus bullying in the daytime.

Fr. Daniel Hendrickson, S.J., the University’s president, released two statements. In the first statement, he said the note was “a breach of the Jesuit values we all share as the Creighton community, values which bind us all in the common mission of ensuring Creighton is a safe, respectful, inclusive place.”

Following up, Hendrickson said he was “very troubled” by the note and confirmed it was being investigated by the administration.

Gray told WOWT 6 News, a television station in Omaha, that while the note was only frustrating to him, similar acts could be far more damaging to other students. He wants administrators to help the note’s author understand the harm such hate speech causes.

Notre Dame Graduates Walk Out on VP Pence

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Students walking out of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony as Vice President Pence speaks

As Vice President Mike Pence began addressing the University of Notre Dame’s commencement last week, more than 150 graduates and their families silently walked out in protest. They were greeted outside the ceremony by some 300 additional protestors, reported the South Bend Tribune.

Xitlaly Estrada, a graduate who participated in the walkout, said the protests were because students were “for racial justice, for immigrant rights, for LGBT rights, for every marginalized group that’s been targeted by Pence’s actions.”

Student organizers with We Stand for ND cited Pence’s opposition to LGBT rights as a key part of the protests. The statement said:

“During his time as governor of the state of Indiana and now as a Vice-President, Pence has targeted the civil rights protections of members of LBGT+ community. . .Pope Francis has bestowed upon the world a call. . .to acknowledge and respect the humanity of sexual minorities, and to bring down all walls that separate us.”

Georgetown Students Celebrate Lavender Graduation

Students at Georgetown University once again celebrated a Lavender Graduation organized by the LGBTQ Resource Center by recognizing the achievements of some 120 LGBTQ graduates, according to the campus newspaper, The Georgetown Voice.

Fr. Greg Schenden, S.J., the Catholic chaplain, said the University supports LGBTQ students “precisely because we are Catholic and Jesuit.” The Voice reported that “University President John DeGioia spoke about the activism that led to the founding of the LGBTQ Resource Center.”

Georgetown University has hosted a Lavender Graduation each year since 2009, and there are at least seven other Catholic colleges who have held such ceremonies in previous years.

Holy Cross Students Share Campus Experiences

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Sample posters that were part of Holy Cross’ students listening campaign

Student leaders at the College of the Holy Cross recently displayed posters with quotes from LGBTQ+ community members about what it means to be a sexual and/or gender minority on the campus.

The Student Government Association said the project sought to raise such voices because, according to the campus newspaper, The Crusader, “In order for us to become more welcoming to people in the lgbtq+ community, we need to listen closely to what those already here are saying.”

Responses were gathered through an anonymous survey, and were mixed between positive and negative statements. Some students said they felt supported, while others said they could not be out at Holy Cross or had to begin commuting. One poster read, “Being queer at Holy Cross means you’re an activist simply by existing whether you want to be or not.”

Fordham University Raises Trans Awareness

Students at Fordham University celebrated the Transgender Day of Visibility in late March by hosting a screening of “The Trans List,” a documentary about prominent trans people like Laverne Cox and Bamby Salcedo, founder of the TransLatin@ Coalition. A discussion followed and student journalist, Sam Deassis, raised questions in the campus newspaper, The Fordham Observer, about the practical implications of trans awareness for their campus community.

Fordham has already taken steps to be more supportive of transgender students by implementing gender-neutral restrooms and hosting a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in 2015.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 26, 2017

Newman University Recognizes LGBTQ Group; The Catholic University of America Holds Out

As another school year wraps up, students at Newman University, Wichita, Kansas,  are celebrating a new LGBTQ student group. Today’s post shares this story and an opposite one from The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.  Both stories highlight the importance of such groups.

Newman University Welcomes LGBTQ Group

Facing student pressure, Newman University administrators approved an LGBTQ student group this spring.

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Ruben Lerma

Ruben Lerma led efforts for a recognized group at the school, which he decided to attend because it offered him generous financial aid despite his lack of U.S. citizenship. But being gay, Lerma was skeptical of attending a Catholic institution. The Witchita Eagle reported:

“He overheard other students on campus talk about how gay people should go to hell, he said, and how the legalization of gay marriage would lead gays to want to get married to animals. Some of his friends would point out other students on campus who, he was told, hated gay people.”

These experiences propelled Lerma to make a public speech his junior year, acknowledging that he was not the only gay person on campus and, “If for their sake, if not mine, you should make [the campus] more amiable, make the environment better.”

Student interest in an LGBTQ group spread quickly, building on existing alumni support and a more general overhaul on campus about how the school handles diversity.

In response to this pressure, administrators formed a committee to figure out how the school could better support LGBTQ students like Lerma. The Eagle reported that the committee, “which included nuns, priests, students, faculty, and administrators,” is modeled on the University of Notre Dame’s pastoral plan for LGBT students.

The plan, supported by Newman University staff, recognizes a new student group called Kaleidoscope. Student Adviser Ami Larrea, who helped form the group, explained the name:

“‘A kaleidoscope has all these different colors and shapes, but they somehow come together to make this really awesome picture and it’s beautiful even though it’s all different. . .That was important for us. We are LGBTQ, but we are different colors, different shapes and sizes, and it all looks great.'”

The plan, unfortunately, reveals the compromises which LGBTQ students are often required to make in more conservative Catholic environments. The Eagle reported:

“The Notre Dame-type model included language that emphasizes that the club cannot contradict the Catholic view that LGBTQ students should be ‘chaste,’ because sex is condoned only in marriage between a man and a woman.

“‘The University exhorts all to hear and live the Church’s teaching that ‘the deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage (between man and woman) is essentially contrary to its purpose’ and is considered gravely sinful,’ the plan reads.”

Dean of Student Affairs Levi Esses affirmed this mission, saying the group would be a “very supportive atmosphere” for students to remain celibate outside of heterosexual marriage. Nonetheless, students are celebrating the plan even with its compromises:

“Kevin Clack, who will be the group’s first student leader, said he doesn’t think the language in the pastoral plan means the group won’t be able to talk about dating and romance. But LGBTQ students have a lot of concerns, and Clack said he doesn’t expect the group to focus on sexuality more than any other group on campus, including the Black Student Union, of which he is also a member.

“Clack doesn’t agree with the language about what constitutes a true marriage but thinks compromise was necessary to get the group started.”

Catholic University of America Denies LGBTQ Group Again

Meanwhile, administrators at The Catholic University of America again denied students’ application for a recognized LGBTQ group, CUAllies.

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John Garvey

Speaking at a town hall with students, President John Garvey explained his rationale, according to campus newspaper The Tower:

“‘We’re not going to officially sponsor CUAllies. But that should not, I hope, be the measure of our support. . .We do not want to endorse a whole set of propositions that our culture insists on sexuality and gender. . .Neither do we want to ignore the needs of our gay and lesbian students. We ask all freshmen to take a pledge when coming here, we offer a counseling center, and Father Jude has a chaplet initiative.'”

Earlier this spring, the University hosted lesbian Catholic speaker Eve Tushnet who promotes celibacy for lesbian and gay people. In response, CUAllies President Carly Tomaine told The Tower that in keeping with Tushnet’s message about inclusion, “[The university] needs to publicly acknowledge [CUAllies] because no one wants to be pushed to the side.”

Administrators have rejected student and alumni requests for CUAllies to be recognized since 2008, leading one alumnus to publish a post on Buzzfeed recently titled “Reasons Queer Youth Should Not Attend Catholic University of America.”

Student demands at both Newman University and Catholic University make clear the importance of recognized LGBTQ student groups that act both as safe spaces and campus educators. Thankfully, more often than not, we report on Catholic institutions which are recognizing, not rejecting such groups.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 21, 2017

 

 

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.

On Gilbert Baker’s Passing, Why Rainbow Flags Are Needed in Catholic Spaces

Gilbert Baker, the person who designed the rainbow flag used as a symbol of LGBT identity, passed away last week. Despite his flag first appearing in 1978, controversy about its presence continues, including a recent spate at a Catholic university in Australia. As we remember Baker’s contribution, this additional unfortunate incident is a reminder of why pride flags are so essential for Catholic spaces.

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The flag sticker in dispute

Rainbow flag stickers have twice been posted, and twice torn down, at the University of Notre Dame Australia’s campus in Fremantle. The stickers were posted by the Student Association on their office windows as an expression of welcome, given the general absence of LGBTQ supports on campus. Buzzfeed reported:

“’We took it upon ourselves to do stuff for our LGBTIQ students, because there was nothing,’ student association president Dylan Gojak told BuzzFeed News. ‘One of the first steps was putting up these ally stickers.’ . . .But the vandalism has placed the stickers in the spotlight – and prompted complaints to university management arguing the ‘divisive’ rainbow flag has no place on campus.”

Gojak said for LGBTQ students like himself “there’s nothing, there’s no public statement, there’s no sign that you’re welcome here.” No action thus far has been taken on recommendations made by the Sexuality and Pastoral Care Working Party. The repeated vandalism against the flag stickers has only intensified awareness that such supports are absent.

Administrators initially asked the Student Association to remove the flag stickers, though a compromise was reached which allowed them to remain. After the stickers were vandalized a second time, Vice Chancellor Celia Hammond sent an email, saying:

“‘While I believe the symbol is divisive, and the University does not support all that has come to be associated with the Rainbow flag, the University does not condone the sticker being deliberately taken down in the way that it was. . .This only aggravates the situation and has the potential to cause additional distress.’ . . .

“‘To that end, while the University does not endorse the Rainbow flag, and does not approve it being displayed on any other parts of the University campus, the University is not seeking for it to be removed from the two windows of the Student Association Office at this time.'”

According to Hammond, “the display of the politically charged stickers” could imply the University is not in full compliance with Catholic teaching. She acknowledged there may be people on campus with homophobic views that are “inconsistent with our Catholic teachings,” but that there were others with “legitimate concerns” about the flag stickers.

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Gilbert Baker

Over time, the rainbow flag has come to signify inclusion, acceptance, and pride in embracing the sexual and/or gender identity.  These are all Catholic values and can lead a person on the path to holiness.

Baker’s flag, created at the request of martyred gay icon Harvey Milk, was to be more celebratory than the pink triangle symbol then in use, which has ties to Nazi Germany. And, according to Gay Star NewsBaker imbued the flag with even more meaning:

“Each stripe on the original eight-color flag had a meaning starting with hot pink which represented sexuality. Red represented life, orange was healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic and art, blue for serenity and harmony and violet for spirit.”

These facts make it hard to understand what “legitimate concerns” could be lodged against the posting of rainbow flag stickers. Rather, it is very disturbing that the University of Notre Dame Australia offers no formal support to LGBTQ students, and, in this recent situation, administrators could not express unqualified solidarity with such students.

As the world remembers Gilbert Baker, church officials should remember that church teaching backs the value of each stripe on the rainbow flag, as well as the flag’s symbol of welcome and acceptance. Given how important LGBTQ visibility can be for youth and young adults, every Catholic institution should fly the rainbow flag with pride this spring.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 10, 2017

 

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!

Catholic University Students Again Seek LGBTQ Group Recognition

Students at The Catholic University of America (CUA), Washington, DC, are again seeking official recognition for their campus LGBTQ group, but whether their proposal will be approved or again denied is not clear.

16681740_1385224528176201_1053160779331066292_n.jpgLeaders of CUAllies (in which I participated during college) submitted their proposal to the administration last Wednesday, the culmination of a week of actions to make visible the support they have on campus.

Events included an “I am an Ally” photo campaign, wearing rainbow pins to a town hall with University President John Garvey, and a social media blitz using the hashtag #RecognizeAllies.

This latest drive began with a petition that generated 1,900 signatures, promoted on Twitter by CUA alumni like former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and actress Susan Sarandon. The petition read, in part:

“All students, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity, deserve to be accepted and treated with respect. . .We seek to create a respectful, compassionate, and understanding community at CUA by providing resources, a safe environment, and a voice for LGBTQ+ students on campus.”

CUAllies President Carly Tomaine told Metro Weekly that official recognition is not only about using University spaces or receiving funding:

“‘[I]t’s that Catholic University needs to acknowledge the fact that the LGBT community has been marginalized and discriminated against, and are still, to this day, fighting for their rights . . . And because of that they deserve an outlet to feel safe and feel at home, and that’s what CUAllies is to so many people.'”

But CUAllies is facing resistance from not only the administration. A small group of students is now opposing the group. A student government resolution to support the group, which passed unanimously last year, failed in a recent vote. And The Tower, the campus newspaper, once unabashedly supportive, was critical of the group in its latest editorial.

For now, CUAllies is continuing to hold meetings, offer support, and fundraise for expanded programming as they wait for a response from an administration that has been dismissive of students’ desires for an LGBTQ group on campus.

Similar proposals for official recognition were denied in 2009 and 2012 (the day after the University of Notre Dame finally approved an LGBTQ pastoral plan) despite the fact that CUA had a recognize student group from 1988 to 2002.

In 2014, administrators cancelled a screening of the film Milk about the life of gay rights icon Harvey Milk, and have the school has hosted LGBT-negative speakers.

Milk_FinalWhat is different this time is that the human rights law in the District of Columbia has changed. The Armstrong Amendment, which allowed religiously-affiliated colleges to discriminate against LGBTQ student groups, was repealed in 2015, opening the school to a potential lawsuit if CUAllies is again denied.

Approving CUAllies would be entirely consistent with church teaching, and it would enhance the University’s Catholic identity. New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities includes dozens of schools who have chosen to support LGBTQ members in their communities. It is far past time to #RecognizeAllies.

To read Bondings 2.0’s interview with CUAllies leaders last year, click here. For the blog’s full coverage of LGBT issues in Catholic higher education, see our “Campus Chronicles” category to the right or by clicking here.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 4, 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.

 

Creating a Church Revolution By Making Friends and Allies

Recently, a panel discussion on LGBT issues and Catholicism was held at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana.  The event, sponsored by Campus Ministry, the Gender Relations Center, and PrismND (the LGBT and allies student organization), was covered by the campus student newspaper, The Observer. The article ended with a quotation from one of the participants, Dana Dillon, a theology professor at Providence College, Rhode Island.  Dillon said:

Dana Dillon

“I want to suggest that however you identify — gay, Catholic, both, neither — try to find ways to actively give people permission to be your friend and ally without agreeing on everything.”

This idea struck me as eminently helpful advice, especially when LGBT and religion issues can cause so much division among people from differing opinions.  I thought it was a good new year’s resolution to adopt.

Dillon’s advice struck me in another way, too.  Using different language, she seems to be expressing the teaching that Pope Francis has been promoting for the church.  The pope, especially this past year, has been so hard to pin down on LGBT issues.  He’s said some good things and some bad things.  But one idea has come through in even his most ambiguous statements:  we need to treat each other with respect, even if–maybe especially if–we disagree with each other.

That’s a hard thing to do.  Many of us here in the United States are trying to learn that lesson in the past month, following the results of what was probably our most divisive presidential election in history.

Politics, religion, sex.  Three of the most explosive topics for any group to discuss.  And LGBT issues always involve all three.  It seems that in each of those three areas,  it takes a tremendous effort to see an issue from an alternative perspective.  It just seems impossible to imagine that someone could possibly think differently than we do.

But, I think that is the key to Pope Francis’ strategy.  He wants Catholic people to put themselves in other people’s shoes, and maybe walk a mile or two in them.  Granted, Pope Francis does not always do this himself.  Despite questioning himself about his authority to judge, in fact, judge he often does.  To me, that’s a human quality.  Pope Francis himself is a work in progress, as are we all.

His message of accompaniment and encounter with people we disagree with seems to be a simplistic and unsubstantial way to deal with complex issues.  But, I think there is revolutionary power in such actions.  Allowing oneself to enter into a dialogic encounter with someone opens a person up to the possibility of change.  And when people change, institutions change.

The Notre Dame panel also included Dr. Patrick Beeman, an Air Force gynecologist and obstetrician, who underwent a personal transformation because of an important event in his life. The Observer article stated:

Patrick Beeman

“. . . Beeman talked about how his initial ‘knee-jerk reactions’ against gay marriage and other LGBT issues changed when he went through a divorce, another act formally condemned by the Catholic Church.

” ‘I ran in circles that were uber-Catholic and I thought, “What am I going to do?” ‘ Beeman said. ‘Then I realized that it doesn’t matter; I’m still called to be a Catholic.’

“Beeman said he was able to apply this same logic to those in the LGBT community, who he said could still seek Christ despite the Church’s official opposition to their actions. He said he moved more toward becoming an ally of LGBT people as a result of this experience.”

Beeman went to say that supporting LGBT individuals (and, really, all individuals) means supporting them even if we disagree with them.  The Observer article reported:

“Beeman said he thought Catholics ought to be better in helping gay or lesbian couples when they choose to start a family.

” ‘Yes, we don’t think that artificially produced pregnancies are a good idea for lesbian couples or for anyone, but couples who are going through pregnancy … we must be supportive of their health,’ he said.”

That kind of support can be difficult to express, but I think our challenge as Catholics is to work at it in the best way we can.  Of course, many readers of this blog find it easy to support LGBT people.  How willing are we to support people whose actions disagree with, though?

I admit I’m not great at that last challenge.  Maybe in the new year, I can work at it a bit more. Imagine if we, as a church, became a community of friends and allies who don’t always agree on things.  That would be a revolutionary community.  And I think it is the vision that Pope Francis has for the church.

newwayssymp-draft_03-01To learn more about how the Church is responding–or not–to Pope Francis’ new vision, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, in Chicago.   For more information and to register, click here.   Early bird discounts for registration are in effect until December 31, 2016.  So don’t delay!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 17, 2016