Top Cardinal: Transgender Rights Are ‘Demonic’; Marriage Equality Is ‘Poison’

May 18, 2016
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Cardinal Robert Sarah speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast

A top cardinal at the Vatican attacked transgender civil rights as “demonic” and compared marriage equality to “poison” during a speech before high-profile U.S. Catholics.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, keynoted the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast yesterday morning in Washington, D.C. His address about family and religious freedom in the contemporary world narrowed into particularly harsh LGBT condemnations. Sarah attacked transgender equality in his speech, saying family is threatened:

“[T]hrough a demonic ‘gender ideology,’ a deadly impulse that is being experienced in a world increasingly cut off from God through ideological colonialism.”

Sarah said efforts towards “tolerance” were really religious persecution, part of an “insidious war” in the U.S. and worldwide to dismantle Catholic teaching. He criticized transgender non-discrimination legislation being debated in many states by his denial of trans identities altogether. He said “nothing could be simpler” than people assigned male at birth using a men’s restroom.

Sarah used portions of his address to attack marriage equality, too. He said the devil is “intent on destroying the family” through “distorted impositions of the family,” including same-gender relationships. The cardinal said non-traditional family arrangements “cause damage to little children” such that children experience “a deep existential doubt about love.” Marriage equality and other legal recognition of non-traditional arrangements is comparable to “putting bandages on an infected wound” while the wound “continues to poison the body.”

In addition to Cardinal Sarah, the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast featured Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, and Fr. Paul Scalia, a priest of the Arlington diocese who is son of late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Pope Francis appointed Sarah as the Vatican’s top liturgist in 2014. These are not the cardinal’s first or even worst negative words in relation to LGBT people. During the 2015 Synod on the Family, Sarah said the LGBT rights movement had “demonic origins” and compared it to Nazism and fascism.  Bondings 2.0‘s Francis DeBernardo, who covered the meeting from Rome, deemed Sarah’s comments the Synod’s “most homophobic remark”. The cardinal previously said marriage equality supporters sought to “destroy the family in Africa.

Is there a rational response to such repeated and irrational comments by Cardinal Sarah? I offer two thoughts.

First, contextual differences may account for a certain, limited amount of his remarks’ intensity. Speaking about spiritual warfare, including the demonic, is far more normative in Guinea, where he was archbishop, and other African contexts. Referencing the demonic is absolutely jarring in a U.S. Catholic context. Cultural differences, Guinean and Roman alike, may also account for the ways in which he misconstrues religious liberty in the U.S. and feeds a narrative of persecution proposed by this nation’s bishops. Sarah should have avoided partisan politics and spoken in a pastorally-sensitive manner during his address.

What is truly inexcusable are Cardinal Sarah’s metaphors about LGBT people and their relationships as a “deadly impulse” and “poison,” as well as his failure to engage contemporary understandings of gender and sexuality before issuing such harsh condemnations. His address shows almost no attention to pastoral realities, nor even the realities of public policy in the U.S. about which he ostensibly is commenting. Cardinal Sarah’s remarks about LGBT people and their civil rights are inconsistent with Pope Francis’ desire for a church of mercy. Rather, his remarks are dangerous words which he should retract and for which he should apologize.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Weigh In On Obama Administration’s Directive for Schools’ Bathrooms

May 16, 2016

Catholics have entered the national debate concerning transgender people using the bathroom of their identified gender.  This week, the debate spread nationally as President Obama’s Education and Justice Departments issued a directive to all public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room for the gender with which they identify.

Two Catholic dioceses have already weighed in opposing the debate, but a columnist for a national Catholic magazine is calling for a more compassionate response.

Bishop Thomas Tobin

Bishop Thomas Tobin

Rhode Island’s Bishop Thomas Tobin weighed in on Obama’s directive, saying to NBC 10 News:

“This seems to becoming just a politically driven agenda where is all this coming from, this transgenderism, affecting something as basic as the use of bathrooms and shower rooms and sports teams.”

Tobin called for compassion for transgender people, but at the same time denied their identity by quoting Scripture.  He told the news program:

” ‘I have no doubt there are some people for physiological or psychological reasons, and those people deserve all the support, respect, cooperation and assistance we can offer them.’

“But he finds the situation challenging.

” ‘I go back to the very basics and in the book of Genesis we read, ‘God created the human family.’ Male and female, he created them. There was no third option.’ “

By quoting Scripture out of context,  Tobin disregards the gender-diverse people mentioned in the Bible, such as the Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Philip (Acts 8:26-40).  The Ethiopian eunuch’s story is the first account of a Gentile converting to Christianity.  Moreover, Tobin fails to recognize that transgender people are not a “third option.”  They are living true to their experience of gender, beyond the biological markers, in their psychological, emotional, and spiritual lives.

Although Catholic and private schools are not included in the Obama administration’s directive, one school in Tobin’s diocese, Mt. St. Charles Academy, Woonsocket, has already made provisions for transgender students to use the facilities appropriate for their gender.

The Diocese of Lafayette, Indiana, also issued a statement concerning the new federal regulations, again, even though Catholic schools are not affected by it.  WFLI 18 television news quoted from the diocese’s opinion:

“Our first thought is that our Catholic schools are caring for other people’s children. Our Church-sponsored institutions (health care, universities, Catholic Charities) are rightfully upset when government agencies do not account for our concerns prior to issuing regulations. By the same token, Church leadership understands how upset our school parents might be if we changed important practices before accounting for their concerns.

“We should be cautious about the unintended effects that can arise when certain aspects of student sexuality or gender traits are spotlighted at ages where this might not be helpful to them. Given that both science and law are still hunting for adequate definitions of gender identity, it appears that the government is asking educators and parents to go along with a ‘best guess’ strategy.”

Much is wrong with the Diocese of Lafayette’s statement.  It is wrong to say that parental concerns were not accounted for.  Parents of transgender children have long had concerns for their youths’ safety, self-esteem, and identities.  Raising the specter that this policy will confuse other children is simply irresponsible.  The new bathroom policy provides an opportunity for education and sensitivity-training to help children better understand and respect their peers and themselves.  Finally,  science currently has a good, solid understanding of gender identity, and law is attempting to catch up with that.  This last argument by the diocese is clearly a red herring:  science and law have been clear about understandings of sexual orientation for decades now, but the diocese has not changed their views or policies on that topic yet.

Judith Valente

Judith Valente, who writes for America magazine, penned a column on the bathroom debate, noting that although Catholic schools are exempt from the regulations, these institutions should be prepared that changes may come their way in the future.  Unlike the two Catholic responses quoted above, though, Valente argues for a more compassionate response to transgender people.

Valente quotes Curt Richardson, an attorney and human resources director for Illinois’ Unit 5 school district, which has already confronted the bathroom issue and made appropriate accommodations for transgender students.  Richardson said that he tells parents who oppose the decision:

“If you’ve ever been around trans individuals, the amount of harassment they receive is just tremendous and then [there is] the correlation to suicide rates among transgender individuals. So you have to ask yourself, why would anyone subject themselves to that kind of harassment just to get in the girl’s restroom?”

Valente also recounted the painful experiences of a transgender student at an Illinois Catholic high school:

“I recently spoke with a student from an Illinois Catholic high school who was born female and now identifies as male. The student said administrators were uncomfortable discussing the transgender experience, let alone changes to bathroom or locker room policies. He said he had been sent home on one occasion for wearing a suit and tie to a school dance. Many teachers and students, he said, continue to call him by his female given name, though he had asked to be called by his preferred male name.

” ‘It’s really hard to be in class and just trying to learn, and somebody calls out your birth name and it’s like, oh, that’s not my name,’ the student said. ‘It’s really embarrassing and it makes me feel bad. And even though it’s all the time, it still hurts.’

“The student is active in several school clubs and has many friends among classmates but says he is considering transferring to another school for senior year. He wishes he could stay. ‘This is not something that is new, this is not some phase or fad that is going on right now. These are my feelings, this is who I am, this is part of me and part of the world,’ the student said. ‘There are so many people that are like me that are normal, people who just want to live their lives and not be hurt every day.’ “

Valente also interviewed Cameron Hurley, who graduated from Unit 5 schools, and who was one of the people who worked to change that district’s policy to accommodate transgender students.  Hurley underlined some reasons for the policy which are not often mentioned in the public debate:

“Hurley says one of the biggest arguments for giving transgender individuals the right to choose their restroom is that they put themselves at risk if they use a bathroom that corresponds with their anatomy but not how they look.

” ‘I pass as male, and if you’re going to force me to use the women’s restroom because I haven’t changed my anatomy to your liking that could be reported as a man in the women’s restroom, and then it becomes dangerous when police become involved in things like that,’ Hurley said.

” ‘Trans people are like everyone else. They want to go into the bathroom, do what they have to do and get out,’ Hurley added. In states that have anti-discrimination laws, there have been no reported incidents of anyone being attacked by a transgender person in a public restroom, he said.”

Bishops and diocesan officials would do well to be more like journalists:  actually going out and interviewing the people involved in and affected by proposed policies.  If these Church leaders would listen more, they can be educated to the reality that people experience.  Listening and accompanying, two traits that Pope Francis said bishops need to practice, really need to be used in the bathroom debate.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Strongly Catholic Philippines Elects Its First Transgender Lawmaker

May 15, 2016

The heavily Catholic nation of the Philippines this week elected their first transgender person to the House of Representatives, while at the same time electing to the Senate a boxing star who made a vicious anti-gay comment during his campaign.

The Tablet reported that the transgender woman won the congressional seat by a wide margin of votes:

“Liberal Party candidate Geraldine Roman, who has been living as a woman for more than two decades, trounced her closest rival in the congressional district of Bataan, winning 62 per cent of the unofficial vote.”

Geraldine Roman

During the campaign, Roman, a Catholic, answered critics who said she should not be running for office.  She told the AFP:

“If Jesus Christ was alive today, he would not approve of discrimination. I firmly believe that.”

Roman, who succeeds her mother as representative of their home district of Bataan, campaigned saying that her first loyalty was to the people of her district.  But she also did not downplay LGBT issues, making them an integral part of her platform. On the campaign trail, AFP reported:

“Roman said, if elected, she intended to back an anti-discrimination bill that has been languishing for 16 years that would give the LGBT community rights, such as equal treatment in the workplace, hotels and schools.

“She will also campaign to make changing gender legal.

” ‘I am living proof that such a law will allow transgender people to pursue happiness and become productive citizens,’ she said.”

Roman transitioned her gender in the 1990s, legally changing her name and her gender on certificates.  Yet in 2001, the Philippines made it illegal to make gender changes on official documents. She campaigned to overturn this law, as well as to extend non-discrimination protections for employment, education, and public accommodations.

Manny Pacquiao

In a separate race for the Philippines’ Senate, Manny Pacquiao, a boxing star who had made a vicious anti-gay slur during the campaign, won the seat.  In February, Pacquiao said that people involved in gay and lesbian relationships were “worse than animals.”  Initially, he defended the remark, saying he was “just telling the truth,” but after much criticism, including a rebuke from Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, he apologized.

The Philippines is the third-largest Catholic nation in the world, and it has not legalized same-sex marriage.  In his January 2015 visit there, Pope Francis coined the term “ideological colonization” to refer to social and legal changes taking place in marriage, which many commentators saw as a criticism of marriage equality.

In Roman’s campaign, her family’s political legacy was seen as an important positive, yet LGBT leaders in the Philippines still see the win as an important victory:

” ‘Even if she’s just one, she will create noise,’ Anastacio Marasigan, spokesperson of the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network, told AFP.

” ‘That will help us in mainstreaming or highlighting issues often ignored, like HIV and sexual violence.’ “

Roman’s gender identity was attacked during the campaign, but she was confident that her transgender status would not be a detriment to her election:

“My life has not been a secret. . . .I grew up here. People know me. (Gender) only becomes an issue when you try to keep it a secret. It’s nothing bad. I never hurt anyone in the process. I’m so happy so why should I be ashamed?”

The Voice of America reported Roman’s reaction to the news of her victory:

“Roman said her experience showed that the ‘politics of hatred, bigotry and discrimination did not prevail,’ adding that what triumphed was ‘acceptance, love and tolerance.’ “

She also expressed the hope that more LGBT Filipinos would follow her example and enter political races.

Congratulations to Ms. Roman and to the Philippines for this historic victory!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Key Figures in Transgender Teacher Story Reflect on Their Experiences

May 14, 2016

Three of the main figures in the recent story about a Catholic school’s decision to continue employing a transgender teacher have spoken with The San Francisco Chronicle, sharing some of their thoughts about this landmark case.  Their reflections provide important information which could help other Catholic institutions follow their example when dealing with LGBT employment issues.

Sister Laura Reicks, RSM

The newspaper account says the Sisters’ decision to keep Gabriel Bodenheimer, the teacher in question, on the staff of Mercy H.S., San Francisco, was “the only decision that aligned with their values.” Sister Laura Reicks, RSM, the president of the West-Midwest Region of the Sisters of Mercy, the sponsors of Mercy H.S., San Francisco, told the newspaper that though there were many facets to this case, one idea quickly surfaced as most important:

“Supporting the dignity of each person — regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identification — was paramount, Reicks said.”

Reicks also explained that the Sisters examined their congregation’s charism and traditions, and they realized that though this case was new to them, they had guidance from the principles upon which their community was founded:

” ‘We have not had any other teachers ask for any kind of coming out before,’ Reicks said. ‘This is just our way of continuing to live out what our founders of Sisters of Mercy had always said, that regardless of what type of prejudice or feeling in society, we have to take a higher road and look at the person and how we can be supportive of each person.’ “

In addition to seeing the decision as one based in moral principles, it sounds like the Sisters also saw their decision as a good professional policy:

“Reicks said the decision exemplified an overarching position within the order to hire teachers without considering gender identification, race, religion or sexual orientation.

” ‘Their personal lives are completely separate from their qualifications as teachers,’ she said. ‘We are concerned about the education of young women and we do not consider personal criteria when we hire the best person for each position.’ “

Also offering comments on the case was Diane Lawrence, board chair for Mercy H.S., who noted that so far no one from the school community has protested the decision.  Lawrence also saw the educational value of such a decision, saying:

“We work with the girls on being respectful, respecting the dignity of others. In my mind, this exemplifies what we’re teaching.”

Gabriel Bodenheimer

And, finally, there is Gabriel Bodenheimer, the transgender teacher, who is Jewish, but says that he loves teaching at Mercy H.S.  Bodenheimer said the he “never sought to break ground in transgender rights,” but also that “after four years it was time to come out.”  He added:

“It was very important to speak, and name myself, and not be silent. The response I got was tremendously positive.”

Bodenheimer described one small incident over the last few days which seems to have touched his heart.  The newspaper recounted the event:

“. . . [O]n Wednesday night, he received an email from a student — a simple, mundane note about rescheduling a meeting because of a doctor’s appointment.

“It started with, ‘Dear Mr. Bodenheimer.’

” ‘That was really a great moment,’ he said, noting that students, concerned about final exams, were largely unfazed by the announcement. ‘This is consistent with who I am. This is not some shocking information.’ “

So many lessons to be gleaned from this entire case:

  • the importance of religious leaders being true to their values
  • the realization that gender identity does not affect a teacher’s professional effectiveness
  • the recognition that a school teaches not only in through its classroom lessons, but through its administrative decisions, too
  • the necessity to be true to one’s self
  • the next generation’s amazing acceptance of diverse gender and sexual identities

Leaders in other Catholic institutions should take the time to reflect on these ideas and facts, so that when they are faced with similar situations, they, too will be able to respond authentically and justly.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles and posts:

Associated Press:  “Catholic school lets transgender teacher keep job”

Queering The Church: “New Ways” Welcomes Trans Employment at Catholic School”

Bondings 2.0: Thank the Sisters and Archbishop for Protecting the Job of Transgender Teacher

Bondings 2.0: New Ways Ministry Thanks Sisters of Mercy and Mercy H.S. for Continuing Employment of Transgender Man

 


Thank the Sisters and Archbishop for Protecting the Job of Transgender Teacher

May 13, 2016

San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has issued a statement which indicates that he will not oppose the Sisters of Mercy’s decision to continue to employ a transgender teacher at Mercy H.S. in that city.

The National Catholic Reporter said they received a statement from the archdiocese which said Cordileone sees that the decision is within the “legitimate range of prudential judgment.”

The newspaper quoted other sections from the archbishop’s statement:

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

“In his May 12 statement, Cordileone said he was ‘grateful that leadership of the Mercy Sisters spoke to me in advance and explained their reasoning and their plan on how to address the situation. In so doing the sisters strongly affirmed our Catholic beliefs and values and that they and the school do not advocate for policies or causes that contradict these values and beliefs.’

“Cordileone continued, ‘Often in such situations a balance must be struck in a way that distinct values are upheld, such as mercy and truth, or institutional integrity and respect for personal decisions affecting one’s life. In this particular personnel matter I am thankful to the sisters for seeking a response consistent with mercy and Gospel values and the corporate identity of the school as a Catholic institution of secondary education.’ “

Yesterday, New Ways Ministry congratulated and thanked the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy H.S., and Gabriel Stein-Bodenheimer (the transgender teacher) for their courage in handling this situation so justly and faithfully.  You can read New Ways Ministry’s statement here.

Today, we invite Bondings 2.0 readers and all New Ways Ministry supporters to send letters of support to the Sisters, the high school, and the teacher, so that they know Catholics appreciate what they have done not only for their school, but for the entire Church.  Send a copy of your letter(s) to Archbishop Cordileone so that he knows that Catholics are glad that he has not intervened in the Sisters’ faith-based decision-making process. (All addresses are listed below.)  Please consider sharing parts of your letters with other Bondings 2.0 readers by posting excerpts from what you write in the “Comments” section of this post.

In writing your letter, you may use some of the ideas from New Ways Ministry’s statement and make them your own. Write from your heart, and tell your personal reaction to this decision.  Your heart-felt and faith-filled message will be very powerful.  Short letters are very effective.  Honest, plain language will be most powerful.  Thank you!

Addresses:

Sister Laura Reicks, RSM, President
Sisters of Mercy, West-Midwest Region
7262 Mercy Road
Omaha, NE 68124
Email: sgoetzinger@mercywmw.org (assistant)

Diane Lawrence, Board Chair
Mercy High School
3250 Nineteenth Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132
Email: zwan@mercyhs.org (office manager)

Gabriel Stein-Bodenheimer
Mercy High School English Department
3250 Nineteenth Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132
Email: gbodenheimer@mercyhs.org
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone
Archdiocese of San Francisco
One Peter Yorke Way
San Francisco, CA 94109
Email: info@sfarchdiocese.org
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

New Ways Ministry Thanks Sisters of Mercy and Mercy H.S. for Continuing Employment of Transgender Man

May 12, 2016

The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director

New Ways Ministry congratulates and thanks the Sisters of Mercy and the administrators of Mercy H.S., San Francisco, for their Gospel-based decision to continue employment of one of their teachers who identifies as a transgender man. This decision stands as a beacon of hope in the midst of the terrible darkness of the recent trend of firing LGBT employees from Catholic institutions. The decision was announced in a letter to parents of students, which, after describing the teacher’s situation, stated:

“This afternoon, we informed students, faculty and staff about our resolve to support the dignity of each person—regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identification.”

We applaud, too, the courage of English Department chair and teacher Gabriel Stein-Bodenheimer for honoring his gender identity, as well to his commitment to educate students in the Mercy tradition. His personal example will be a most powerful lesson to all in the school’s community, especially because his decision involved a large degree of risk.

This story reflects a true Catholic commitment to respecting the dignity of LGBT people—a principle which is shared by millions of Catholics across the U.S. The experience of this school will help our Church to heal from the pain of too many past negative decisions regarding LGBT people. Our Catholic Church will only be strengthened by this decision.

The Sisters of Mercy offer a courageous example of inclusion and equality that could be replicated by so many other Catholic schools, parishes, and social service agencies when they learn of an employee’s gender identity, sexual orientation, or marital status. This example can be a turning point in what has been a dark chapter of the U.S. Catholic Church, when over 60 faithful employees have lost their church jobs because of LGBT issues.

Their process included wide consultation, reflection, and prayer. As the letter described:

“. . . we collaborated with the Board Chair Diane Lawrence and a team of key administrators while we studied how to respond in a manner consistent with Mercy and Gospel values and your School’s Catholic Identity. We prayed for guidance. We also consulted trusted advisors as we applied these principles to this circumstance.”

Furthermore, the Sisters showed their commitment to caring for the entire school community by having counselors available for anyone–student, parent, staff–to discuss their questions and concerns.

The Sisters of Mercy grounded their decision in the principles of Mercy which form the charism of their community. These same principles of mercy are promoted by Pope Francis, particularly in this year which he declared as a Jubilee of Mercy. Pope Francis’ message of acceptance and encounter with the LGBT community have been given flesh and blood by the Sisters’ decision to continue the teacher’s employment.

New Ways Ministry calls on other Catholic religious communities of Fathers, Brothers, and Sisters–and indeed, all Catholic administrators—to rejoice in the Sisters of Mercy’s example, and to honor it by following it as a way to end employment discrimination against LGBT church employees.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 50 incidents since 2008 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.


North Carolina Bishop Distances Himself from HB2 Support

May 8, 2016
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Bishop Michael Burbidge

A North Carolina bishop has distanced himself from initial support offered by the state’s Catholic conference for an anti-LGBT law the legislature is considering. The bishop is now saying the law, which criminalizes public restroom use according to one’s gender identity rather than assigned sex at birth and bans local LGBT non-discrimination protections, raises concerns that should be remedied.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh said legislators should rework problematic parts of the law, known as HB2, and he called for mutual respect and dialogue between opposing sides. Burbidge said “another remedy to the unfortunate situation created by the Charlotte Ordinance and HB2 should be considered.” The Charlotte Ordinance is an LGBT non-discrimination law passed in the state’s largest city.

The bishop suggested that a remedy should be guided by a respect for human dignity, the avoidance of bigotry, and a pursuit of the common good, among other factors. He told WRAL 5 that legislators could “come up with something better” that is not understood to be bigoted or misconstrued. His statement at a media luncheon continued:

“No person should feel as though they are unwelcome in our communities of faith. The priests of this Diocese, myself included, remain committed to speaking with anyone who has concerns about how we operate or what we believe. This applies regardless of one’s gender or gender identity. Building strong relationships is fundamental to healthy faith communities. All people are made in the image and likeness of God as man and woman, and we stand ready to continue accompanying all people in their faith walk.”

Burbidge, however, defended the diocese’s policies for “gender specific multi-stall bathrooms and said organizations’ decisions about their own operations “should be respected.” He closed with an appeal for civility in what has become a most contentious debate:

“My hope and call, is that before this issue takes another step in either direction, both sides will treat one another with decency, love, and mutual respect.”

These are Burbidge’s first public comments on HB2 since it was passed in April, although it should not be considered his first time weighing in on the matter. Catholic Voice North Carolina, the bishops’ public policy arm, asked Catholics to oppose the Charlotte LGBT protections ordinance to which HB2 was responding, and said the state law had “yielded a favorable outcome for religious liberty.” Later, a spokesperson for the Raleigh diocese then said that “the Diocese does not have a position on HB2.”

Attacks continue against HB2. The U.S. Department of Justice notified Governor Pat McCrory that this law violates federal civil rights laws, specifically the rights of state workers and students who should be able to access public restrooms. The federal Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development are inquiring as to whether their civil rights policies are being violated too. Whether Bishop Burbidge’s distancing is tied to the shifting realities in law and in public opinion, or whether he is waking up the fact this law is unjust discrimination is not clear.

Thankfully, as with marriage equality, U.S. Catholics are among the most supportive religious adherents for non-discrimination of LGBT people. New polling from Reuters/Ipsos showed U.S. Catholics evenly split on the question of whether restroom use should be according to one’s gender identity or assigned sex at birth. While more education is needed to improve these numbers, Catholics are more supportive of transgender protections than religious people overall and mirror trends which find people in the U.S. overall split on the issue.

One high-profile Catholic from the Carolinas is speaking out for LGBT equality. Stephen Colbert who hosts CBS’ The Late Show shared his thoughts about the restroom controversies, saying, “And to all those lawmakers out there who are so obsessed with whose using what bathroom and what plumbing they’ve got downtown, newsflash, you’re the weirdos.” You can watch Colbert’s thoughts below or by clicking here.

Ellen K. Boegel, a legal scholar at St. John’s University, wrote in America that these anti-LGBT laws really reflect “a deeper societal divide and [illustrate] the need for reasoned use of political power.” She continued:

“Regardless, politicians and advocacy groups serve their constituents best by avoiding unnecessary controversy and looking instead for mutually beneficial solutions. . .Focusing on outcomes that are universally beneficial will not end all disputes regarding the appropriate balance between civil rights and religious rights, but it would be better government.”

Passing laws which are blatantly unconstitutional undermines government credibility and faith in the democratic process, Boegel wrote, especially when religious liberty is already well-protected. She pointed out, too, that non-gender-specific facilities benefit women, families, and persons with disabilities, in addition to trans* people.

Most bishops, led by the USCCB’s partisan fight over religious liberty, have thus far refused to admit the harm that anti-LGBT state laws can cause.  They do not see that these laws as violating the common good. Protecting LGBT people from very real and harmful discrimination is not on the bishops’ agenda. They seem to forget the many times in the 1970s and 1980s when their episcopal predecessors supported ordinances and laws aimed at curtailing discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation.

But this admission from Bishop Burbidge that HB2 is questionable and may indeed advance discrimination could be the first sign of a shift. His outreach to dialogue with people of all gender identities may open the door for further progress. Let us hope so.  In the meantime, lets keep focused on what we as Catholics can do to ensure every person is protected under the law and respected as a child of God.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: “North Carolina bishop calls for bathroom bill alternative”


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