“The Lost Flock” Film Profiles LGBT Ministry in Baltimore

February 4, 2016

The good work done by the LEAD Ministry of St. Matthew’s Church in Baltimore has been profiled before on this blog, but a new video series gives even greater insight into the ways this ministry serves the people of God. Filmmaker Eric Kruszewski produced “The Lost Flock,” the seven-part series on LEAD, which stands for LGBT Education and Affirming Diversity.  He told Out Magazine:

“I was raised Catholic, but have not practiced my faith in years. And before this project, I had never heard of Saint Matthew Catholic Church. . . It was clear that there was something special within this congregation.”

Though not an LGBT Catholic himself, Kruszewski hoped the documentary could “accurately capture their thoughts, feelings and experiences” and advance the discussion about acceptance of sexual and gender diversity in the church.

The series covers diverse perspectives when it comes to LGBT identities in the church. One part documents the baptism of a same-gender couple’s daughter, with one of the dads saying that St. Matthew’s is a place which honors their relationship and which supported them during the adoption process.

In another, a lesbian woman named Gigi describes first being disowned by her adoptive parents but then coming to see God through her partner, Ashley, and through the church community which quickly welcomed her.

In a third part, Henry, who comes from Kenya where homosexuality is criminalized, explains why he participates with the LEAD Ministry. He says the LGBT communities need support like anyone else, and further:

” ‘I always ask myself: What would I do if one of my daughters or one of my sons came out? Do LGBT people need to be accepted? To be heard? Yes. We have got to find a way to give them everything they need.’ . . .Gay or straight. We are together.”

But “The Lost Flock” is not simply positive stories. It also explores the harsher realities of LGBT Catholics’ experiences. In a segment about Rachel and Vania Christian dos Passo, the film highlights that their marriage cannot be recognized in the church and for this reason, Vania explains:

“We made a serious decision to leave the church. We want to have a family where our children don’t feel pointed out because we are gay. . .W still go to LEAD because its family for us. But unfortunately we have to live this exile until one day, maybe in another lifetime, gay people will be equally recognized in the church.”

Then there is Carolyn’s story, the Catholic mother of two gay children, Renee and David. Though there were no difficulties with Renee’s coming out, her husband was unable to accept David’s sexual orientation and kicked their son out of their home. Carolyn now says she wants the same opportunities for my gay and straight children in the Catholic Church.” She says further that it was this idea that “was the foundation for LEAD” and expresses her own growth since joining LEAD as a Catholic led by her conscience.

Those profiled have helped foster the safe and affirming space that is LEAD.  Supporting the ministry is Fr. Joe Muth, the pastor, who, in his own video segment explains why, as a Catholic priest, he supports this LGBT work, saying:

“I don’t think the institutional church realizes how hurtful they are to homosexual people when they come across so harshly on that issue. The institutional church says, in a sense, you can be a part only so far.”

Muth acknowledges that LEAD struggles with being an LGBT support and outreach group, while at the same time worrying about being closed down by higher church officials. Despite that threat, these Catholics have managed to build up a more and more affirming community. They host parish events and have even participated in Baltimore’s Pride celebrations the last few years. As Bondings 2.0 has written previously, LEAD is a model for the Catholic Church when it comes to LGBT pastoral care.

To learn more and view all seven videos that compose “The Lost Flock,” click here. To read Bondings 2.0‘s previous coverage of the LEAD Ministry, click here.

To learn more about some of the hundreds of parishes across the U.S. which offer a welcome to LGBT people, click here.

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog that highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Malawi Bishops’ Comments Fail to Defend Marginalized LGBT People

January 26, 2016

President Peter Mutharika, left, with Archbishop Thomas Msusa

As Malawi debates whether to repeal its laws which criminalize homosexuality, the nation’s Catholic bishops are lobbying heavily for the keeping such laws on the books.

Most recently, the Catholic bishops conference of the nation, called the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), sought an audience with U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People, Randy Berry, who visited the country this month. ECM Chair Archbishop Thomas Msusa of Blantyre explained why the bishops wanted such a meeting, as reported by Nyasa Times:

“Any discussion affecting the social and moral fibre of Malawi should at its best be as inclusive and accommodative as possible. Our teaching and a majority of our faithful have spoken clearly against the bullying of our international partners on issues of constitutional change to accommodate homosexuality in our laws.”

But, while Berry met with government offices and civic organizations, he did not meet religious leaders who wanted to defend homosexuality’s criminalization or believed international aid was tied to LGBT laws. Berry said assertions that U.S. aid is conditioned upon LGBT rights are “completely false,” but that these human rights could not be separated from broader concerns about governance in Malawi, reported Nysasa Times.

Five ECM bishops also brought up the idea of alleged international pressures about homosexuality in their mid-January meeting with President Peter Mutharika. They told him to “resist pressure” on LGBT human rights because these are “alien to most Malawians” and are “being championed by foreigners,” said Archbishop Msusa. He continued, according to All Africa:

” ‘As the Catholic Church, we say “no” to supporting these gay activities and we will follow strictly our church doctrine.’ “

President Mutharika recently said LGBTI people’s rights “should be protected,” but believes ultimately the populace should decide on whether to repeal Malawi’s anti-homosexuality law.

Malawi’s church leaders have spoken publicly against homosexuality from the pulpit, too. Bishop Mathews Mtumbuka of Karonga told a Catholic women’s gathering that gay people are “sinners who need to repent.” Bishop Montfort Sitima of Mangochi applauded a Catholic musician for cancelling his concert when questionable reports surfaced about two men kissing in the audience.

Being gay in Malawi is illegal, and a conviction could lead to up to fourteen years hard labor for men and up to five years imprisonment for women.  The government dropped charges in December against two men, Cuthert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani, after their arrests for being gay drew widespread criticism.

Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu has issued a moratorium on enforcement of the anti-gay law,until further notice, though anti-LGBT politicians are challenging the legality of this moratorium. Homophobia is still quite prevalent in the nation’s politics. A spokesperson for minority party, People’s Part, said earlier this month that lesbian and gay people should be killed rather than jailed

Malawi’s bishops are promoting misinformation when they claim first that homosexuality is “alien” to Malawians and second that foreign aid is being used to pressure donor nations to adopt LGBT rights. Misinformation is problematic, but doubly so when used to endorse, implicitly as well as explicitly, anti-LGBT prejudices that have and can lead to discrimination, imprisonment, and violence.

Though Catholics are only 20% of the population, Malawi’s bishops possess tremendous authority in the country due to their critical role in the nation’s transition to democracy in the early 1990’s. Their voices weigh heavily in this debate about repealing the criminalization laws which, it should be noted, are not supported by church teaching.

The bishops should be defending the human rights of all people, even if disagreements about sexual ethics exist, instead of providing cover for those politicians and public figures whose homophobia and transphobia has and will have dangerous consequences. But as it stands, the bishops in political and ecclesial arenas alike are failing to defend and may even be causing harm to marginalized LGBT communities in Malawi.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Martin Luther King’s Words Call LGBT Catholics and Allies to Action

January 18, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 4.38.03 PMRev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is honored today in the U.S. for his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. His many stirring words and ideas provide a lens through which to reflect on how we set Catholic LGBT issues in a broader context while re-committing ourselves to LGBT justice in our church.

Bondings 2.0 covers news on Catholic LGBT issues, but in preparing posts I often come across the tensions over sexuality and gender experienced in other Christian denominations and faith traditions.

For instance, headlines last week suggested that the Episcopal Church here in the U.S. had been suspended from the Anglican Communion by the denomination’s Primates Meeting, the body of senior bishops from the Communion’s member churches. While talk of suspension is overblown (see this post from gay Episcopal priest Mike Angell for an in-depth explanation), the Primates’ statement remains painful because it was sparked by U.S. Episcopalians’ affirmation of LGBT people and same-gender relationships.

In another case, after the government of Greece approved allowing civil unions for lesbian and gay couples, Metropolitan Ambrosios of Kalavryta in the Greek Orthodox church called for Greeks to “spit on” and “beat” gay people, and saying “they are not human.” Metropolitan Chrysostomos Savvatos of Messinia responded by saying LGB people, “like all humans are a creation of God and they deserve the same respect and honor, and not violence and rejection.”

What is the relevance of these stories and other faith communities’ experiences for Catholic LGBT people and their loved ones and advocates? I offer three points, guided by Rev. King’s words (in italics).

“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

First, these two stories set Catholic LGBT issues in an ecumenical and global context. We understand that religious leaders of all types can be prone to promote anti-LGBT sentiments in their words and in their deeds, just as others in their denominations promote equality. Homophobia and transphobia are rooted in human prejudices common to all people rather than being specific to any religious tradition. The divide about homosexuality that exists between Western and African Catholic bishops is present in the Anglican Communion, too. Disputes between individual bishops about civil unions trouble the Greek Orthodox church, too. Yet, people of faith worldwide also are prophetically witnessing for communities to respect and affirm LGBT people–and, at times, prophetically suffering for that witness. Liberation’s path is a universal journey, playing out locally, meaning there are many commonalities despite the differences.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Second, because the quest for LGBT equality is a universal journey, we must keep a broad perspective in mind for our local work. Rev. King’s exhortation for an ecumenical and global perspective can be easily lost if we don’t intentionally cultivate it. Whether we are Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican, our deeper belonging is to the Church of Christ which extends beyond any particular church’s parameters. This greater Church, rather than our own denominational churches, is what we must ultimately make fully affirming and inclusive of all sexual and gender identities. Injustices against LGBT people in any faith community hurt all faith communities.

Parallels also exist with LGBT advocacy being done in Jewish, Islamic, Sikh, Hindu, and other faith communities. The movement for civil rights which King helped lead united those of all faiths and no faith behind a common cause. There are parallels, too, with other justice movements like Black Lives Matter or fighting injustices facing immigrants and refugees. King’s desire for racial justice meant he opposed the Vietnam War and also sought economic justice. It is poignant to remember that he was assassinated organizing the Poor People’s Campaign, a racially-unified call to action on behalf of all who are poor.

When our Episcopal siblings hurt because they face exclusion, we must reach out with prayer and companionship. When a religious leader promotes prejudice, we must stand in solidarity against such messages. When police violence brutally afflicts black communities, LGBT people must stand against these crimes. When undocumented trans women are housed in unsafe detention facilities, LGBT and Latina/o advocates must act united. Intersectionality demands collaborative responses oriented towards global justice for all. Solidarity actions are a constitutive part of our LGBT Catholic advocacy.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

Third, this call to an ecumenical and global perspective is concurrently a call to recommit ourselves to the existing local work we are doing in the Catholic Church–and to make our Catholic work fundamentally about reconciliation as the means of creating just conditions. Catholicism remains conflicted when it comes to LGBT issues. Splits exist between the hierarchy and laity, between different geographical regions, between generations, and between ecclesial camps. While these divisions remain in the church, there can never be true LGBT justice. Therefore, our work must balance positive outreach and necessary challenge, always with an eye to reconciling people. Expanding parish LGBT ministries, meeting with church leaders, protesting church worker firings, deepening LGBT-affirming theologies in Catholic circles are the day-to-day ways by which we contribute to healing and to universal liberation–and we must do them all with love.

As we remember the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. today by reading his words and recalling his witness, it is a moment to look at our own lives and our current efforts. We must ask if we live up to Rev. King’s call for a universal perspective in our local work.  If we fall short, we need to ask where we can build and grow towards that goal. Today is a day of remembrance, but equally for advocates of justice it is a time of re-commitment for the coming year.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Nebraska Bishops Blast Trans Athletics Policy, Promote “At Birth” Proposal

January 16, 2016

Bishop James Conley

Catholic officials in Nebraska balked at state education officials’ newly approved policy on transgender athletes, and they called attention to a church-proposed by-law change that would determine participation by a student’s assigned sex at birth.

On Thursday, the Nebraska School Activities Association Board of Directors approved, by a vote of 6-2, a policy that allows transgender high school students to play sports according to their gender identity. Evidence would be required of hormone therapy or gender confirming surgery to be reviewed by a state-level gender-eligibility committee, reported Omaha.com. LGBT advocates criticized the policy for creating a “rigorous and expensive process” and the ACLU warned it may violate federal non-discrimination law.

Regarding Catholic schools ability to exempt themselves from the policy, Omaha.com explained:

“Under the policy adopted by the NSAA board Thursday, a local school would determine whether to seek state permission for a transgender student to participate. That means that a parochial school with objections to transgender participation could decide not to forward an application to the NSAA. It would also mean that the local school would be the primary target for any litigation.”

The Nebraska Catholic Conference criticized the Board’s policy by issuing a joint statement from the state’s three bishops which called the new directive an “arbitrary, non-collaborative decision.”

Catholic leaders prefer the “at birth” bylaw change, which would override the Board’s policy if approved. This past week four of six regional NSAA districts voted for the “at birth” proposal, meaning it will considered in April by the Association’s Representative Assembly. It needs three-fifths approval from the 51 members to be implemented.

Opposition to any policy which would support and protect trans students is seemingly rooted in misunderstanding, even ignorance, of gender identity. A letter to the editor by Lincoln’s Bishop James Conley claimed any criteria besides assigned sex allows students to identify by a “gender identity of their own choosing.” He promoted the vicious myth that allowing trans people to use restrooms or locker rooms according to their gender identity is unsafe for others. He mentioned “respect, understanding, and compassion” for trans people–a phrase which is often used in relationship to lesbian and gay people.

Earlier this week,  I recommended that the church not accept simple answers on these complex matters. Bishop Conley’s line of thought, however, is a simple, reductionist critique of gender identity. His views do not engage the lived experience of trans communities, including Catholics, or to consider modern knowledge which contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of gender identity.

Each of the policies currently considered by the NSAA would leave trans students and Nebraska school athletics in a troubling uncertainty. If the “at birth proposal” loses in April, the Board’s flawed but marginally better policy would become permanent (barring legal challenges). If the “at birth” proposal advocated by church leaders succeeds, trans students will be further discriminated against and marginalized, in part, because of Catholics actions. All students in Nebraska’s schools, public and Catholic alike, deserve better policies than those proscribed by uninformed clerics and their staffs.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Catholics Must Avoid Simple Answers on Gender Identity Questions

January 14, 2016

Barltrop_Final (2)

As transgender advocacy increases in civil society, there are inevitably going to be responses in the Catholic Church. Unlike homosexuality, there are no Catechism paragraphs or well-developed theologies to which the leaders or laity can readily appeal for understanding gender identity questions.

This vacuum has lead to quick assumptions by some people strongly opposed to trans justice because they, incorrectly, conflate the issue with sexual orientation, or morph episcopal opinions into authoritative teaching.

But finding a more nuanced understanding is essential because trans issues demand Catholics’ attention more and more as several recent incidents reveal. They touch upon civil matters, as well ecclesial, pastoral, and sacramental ones. For instance, bishops in Bolivia struck out against a new law passed in December that would allow trans citizens to change their gender on national identification cards. Bishop Aurelio Pesoa, president of the Bolivian Episcopal Conference, said in a press conference:

“That bill is inspired by a gender ideology that has been pushed by an international lobby and aims to subvert one of the foundations of our human lifestyle by denying the fundamental truth of masculine and feminine genders. Living as male or female would not longer be a biological truth but the result of a simple personal choice. That ideology is totally alien to the indigenous cultures of our country. As a result, this initiative is a clear attempt of cultural colonization.”

There are examples elsewhere, too. Belmont Abbey College, which is Catholic, exempted itself from federal nondiscrimination guidelines designed to protect trans students. A Canadian Catholic school board called for “just discrimination” of trans youth. Nebraska’s bishops are working hard to stop protections for trans high school athletes in that state.

Evident in the Bolivian bishop’s comment and the other enumerated incidents is a lack of education about gender identity and a seeming failure to encounter trans people before issuing such pronouncements. Generalizations about gender ideology or gender theory are thrown about without foundation. In developing nations, trans rights are cast as neo-colonialist ideals being imposed from the outside. Pope Francis and the Synod on the Family are themselves guilty of wading into these ambiguities without providing clarity. This confusion is detrimental to LGBT persons’ well-being–and even their lives.

Some recent articles have attempted to explore the intersection of gender identity and Catholic theology. Though often problematic, such journalism at least admits the complexities involved. In The Catholic HeraldDan Hitchens asked “What’s the truth about transsexuality?”surveying thoughts from trans and cis Catholics alike. He explained the state of this question as such:

“There are many opinions about trans people’s identity and possible vocations – and little has been officially taught on this subject. What is uncontroversial is that the Church could do better at making space for trans people. ‘Right now,’ [transsexual Catholic Aoif Assumpta] Hart observes, ‘the debate seems to be “everything goes” or “nothing goes.’ ”

“While some are entirely permissive, others are hostile to trans people. . .Hart hopes that a middle ground might emerge – ‘a balance between good theology and treating people compassionately.’ “

Anna Magdalena of the blog, The Catholic Transgender, emphasized the diversity of thought about gender within the trans community itself, noting that trans Catholics share in this difference of opinions. But, as she told the Herald, behind the theories and the theologies, “there are concrete people, real experiences.” What can emerge for trans Catholics who find inclusion are positive experiences.  For example, Anna says hers is “a story of redemption, a story of integration” after her transition. If acceptance is not found, however, the results can be devastating, proven by the exceedingly high rates of self harm and suicide in trans communities. Hitchens concluded his article by stating the church is only “just beginning to form its answer” to this pressing issue.

But given that the “Transgender Moment” has arrived in civil society, as one Commonweal blogger termed it in an otherwise negative piece, the church is required to offer an initial response. Will trans Catholics be accepted to the sacraments? Will trans church workers keep their jobs? Will bishops oppose civil rights legislation? Will the church affirm the dignity of all people in its actions or just in its words?

Thankfully, developments in a positive direction are evidence that a Gospel way forward is possible. For instance, University of San Diego students intentionally included the needs of transgender and queer students in their demands for reform. One Sr. Monica, a Discalced Carmelite, ministers to trans women in the pope’s home nation of Argentina, while another “Sr. Monica” continues her decade-plus ministry to trans Catholics in the U.S.  Studies have shown that historically-Catholic nations are leading on trans legal equality. And, in some cases, even traditionally-inclined Catholics are advocating for trans justice.

These pastorally-wise and welcoming responses should guide Catholic engagement with gender identity, avoiding both easy judgments and noncommittal responses. Church officials, theologians, and ministers should also heed William Lindsey’s caution that tepid columnists should avoid:

“[A] perspective that moves not in the direction of understanding the struggles of those on the margins and listening respectfully to their testimony about their own self-understanding, but towards self-congratulation and the conclusion that one’s own hermetically sealed, privileged club represents the norm by which everyone else in the world is to be judged.”

Before rushing to definitive answers, all Catholics would be wise to first listen to the real,lived experiences of trans people.  Catholics should be particularly attentive to the intense marginalization trans people face and the suffering they endure–suffering which is too often caused by church ministers. Pope Francis desires a culture of encounter, and gender identity questions in the church are a perfect opportunity in which to practice that culture.

And while we listen, the best approach pastorally is that of London’s Monsignor Keith Barltrop who said the church should be “fully supportive” of those who decide to transition because this question of gender identity is a pastoral, not doctrinal matter. There is, perhaps, the essential starting point for this whole discussion.

What are your thoughts about trans issues in the Catholic Church for the coming year? Leave them in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Dominican Catholic Officials Again Attack Gay U.S. Ambassador

January 13, 2016

Ambassador James Brewster, left, and husband Bob Satawake

Church leaders in the Dominican Republic have issued an open letter against LGBT human rights efforts, and they included an attack on openly gay U.S. Ambassador James Brewster.

The letter, whose two dozen signatories includes Catholic and Evangelical leaders, is written to the nation’s president and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It claimed the United States and the United Nations seek to invite Dominican children “to begin practicing gay and lesbian practices” through educational literature on sexuality and gender. It said further:

” ‘This initiative to turn our adolescents gay early on is an initiative of the U.S. government that is run by a homosexual and represented by another homosexual in the Dominican Republic.’ “

That second figure is Ambassador Brewster, whom the letter criticized for participating in Pride celebrations last year and further slandered, reported The Washington Blade.

Brewster has faced repeated attacks from Catholic officials since his appointment, particularly by Santo Domingo’s Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus López Rodriguez. The cardinal most recently said Brewster was “wife to a man” and should stick to housework. López used an anti-gay slur to refer to the ambassador in 2013 and said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.”  The Washington Blade reported that López once described LGBT tourists as “social trash” and “degenerates.” Cardinal López’s remarks made Bondings 2.0’s lists of Worst Catholic LGBT News in both 2013 and 2015.

Despite these attacks, the State Department is standing beside Ambassador Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake. Spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala said they “disagree in the strongest terms” with the letter’s claims and that Brewster advances U.S. policy on LGBT human rights “like all U.S. ambassadors.” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois appealed to Pope Francis on behalf of Brewster, asking the pontiff to curtail Cardinal López and the severe homophobia he pronounces in the church’s name.

When Catholic leaders attacked Ambassador Brewster last December, it was pointed out that Cardinal López was 79 years old, four years past 75, the church’s official retirement age for bishops.  Vicious attacks on any person should be grounds for such a dismissal; his prominence only augments their damage. It is far past time for Cardinal López to resign.

More action is needed, however. Intervention by Pope Francis in this severe case would not undermine his efforts towards decentralization. It would, rather, send a clear global message that such overt prejudice by Catholic officials will not be tolerated.  Words from Pope Francis’ latest interview are also instructive:

“[P]eople should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.”

Somewhere, along the way, it seems a handful of Catholic clergy in the nation lost that message (they are not the first, nor likely last). This development does not mean Dominican Catholics cannot use the Year of Mercy to promote greater respect for and inclusion of LGBT communities and undo some of the damages so far inflicted.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Nebraska Bishops Promote Anti-Transgender Policy for High Schools

January 8, 2016

Nebraska School Activities Association logo

Nebraska’s Catholic bishops are actively opposing a state education association’s draft policy aimed at protecting transgender athletes in the state’s high schools. And instead, they are supporting an anti-trans proposal offered by Catholic schools in the state.

The Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) is currently considering three trans-related policy proposals, one which would be a policy implemented by the NSAA board, and two others, proposed by member schools, which would be by-law changes .

The NSAA board will vote on the first policy on January 14th. This policy would “put the initial decision [about gender identity issues]. . .in the hands of parents and local school districts.” If questions arose, an NSAA “gender identity eligibility committee” could review a student’s request and require documentation of at least one year of hormone therapy or gender-confirming surgery.

Each side of the debate in Nebraska has criticized this draft policy. Natalie Weiss of the Nebraska Trans Community told the Journal Star she thinks the policy is incoherent and unfair to trans students. A single vote on any such committee could deny a trans applicant access to high school athletics; religious schools could simply deny transgender athletes. All transgender students would beforced to use either private locker rooms and bathrooms or those matching their assigned sex at birth. Danielle Conrad, executive director of ACLU of Nebraska, said any policies which disregard gender identity as a civil rights issue are legally questionable.

Nebraska Catholic schools announced a second proposal in response to this first draft policy. Known as the “at birth proposal,” this bylaw change would define athletic participation according to assigned sex at birth. It is supported by the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), the state bishops’ policy arm.

A third proposal amends the “at birth” proposal to allow for “birth certificates legally altered to reflect gender change after surgery,” according to the Lincoln Journal Star. This third proposal, coming from schools friendlier to trans concerns, would allow athletic participation only to those trans students whose legal documentation corresponds with their gender identity.

NCC is urging Catholics in the state to support the “at birth” proposal by contacting educational officials.  They oppose the first and third options. A joint statement in December from Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, and Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island called even minimally trans-inclusive policies “unjust” and said they would “allow a harmful and deceptive gender ideology” into the state’s schools, both public and private. NCC Policy Director Sheri Rickert said gender identity issues are “really a rejection of God,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.

The current discussion was prompted by two transgender high school students near Omaha who expressed interest in athletic participation. If the first draft policy is approved by the NSAA board, it would be immediately effective, but it could then be overturned if the bylaws are change in April. Regional votes on the second two proposals, which are bylaw changes, will be held on January 6th and 13th, reported the Lincoln Journal Star. Three of six NSAA districts must approve a bylaw change for it to be then considered during the Association’s general assembly in April, where it would need a two-thirds vote to be formally approved. If neither the “at birth” proposal nor its modified form receive approval by three of six NSAA districts this January, then they will be shelved. District VI voted last Wednesday in favor of the “at birth” proposal backed by church leaders.

Transgender students in Nebraska deserve to have their gender identity respected,  and should be allowed to participate in athletics according to their identity. Catholic principles of justice, human dignity, and equality mandate that Catholics support policies which advance the good of LGBT students rather than diminish their identities, as the “at birth” proposal does.

Catholics, particularly Nebraskans, can contact NSAA representatives in the coming week to oppose the “at-birth proposal” and demand policies which protect transgender students. To take action, fill out the form below. For a sample message, which you can copy and paste into the ‘Message’ box, see below a sample letter based upon a message sent by Nebraskan Catholic and former NSAA participant John Noble.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Sample Letter:

Dear NSAA Member,

I am writing you today as a Catholic opposed to the “sex at birth” bylaw proposal currently before the NSAA. This proposal disrespects the dignity of transgender Nebraskan students and would bar their participation across the state.

As a Catholic, I believe in the life and dignity of all persons, including our transgender siblings. This proposal disrespects these fundamental tenets of Catholicism by denying transgender students’ life and dignity, opting instead to let fear help creater unsafe environments for such students.

Please oppose the “sex at birth” bylaw proposal and support the Gender Participation Policy. The safety and dignity of transgender Nebraskans depend upon your support.




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