New #LGBTmercy Campaign Focuses on LGBT Catholics’ Good Works

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 2, 2016

LGBT Catholics, their families, and their allies are gathering in New York City today for a “Pilgrimage of Mercy.” And around the world every day, LGBT Catholics perform works of mercy for the needy in their communities.  These works sometimes get overlooked by church leaders who don’t take notice of the good that LGBT people do. #LGBTmercy, a new campaign by New Ways Ministry, highlights the many ways by which LGBT Catholics and those who support them act mercifully.

Today’s Bondings 2.0 post invites readers to participate in this campaign, while also highlighting one lesbian woman whose Catholic roots have propelled her to do good.

#LGBTmercy

Building on the Vatican’s #BeMercy initiative in early September, which asked Catholics to share information about the works of mercy they perform, #LGBTmercy recognizes the many gifts and contributions which LGBT Catholics, their families, and their allies offer to the church and to the world.

You are invited to participate in this campaign in three ways:

  1. Post on social media the acts of mercy yourself or others have done and use the hashtag #LGBTmercy
  2. Submit photos and/or text about the acts of mercy yourself or others have done to info@newwaysministry.org.
  3. Send this blog post to your family and friends, and ask them to help spread the good news of #LGBTmercy

New Ways Ministry will begin posting photos, videos, and text submissions in early November, leading up to  Christ the King Sunday, November 20th,  when the Year of Mercy concludes.

One Lesbian Woman’s Story

Covenant House, a leading non-profit with Catholic roots that aids youth experiencing homelessness, has named a lesbian woman as interim director of its newest shelter, which is located in Chicago, reported the Windy City Times.

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Teresa Cortas

Teresa Cortas, who herself has Catholic roots, began working with Covenant House after graduating college. She spent a year in Anchorage, Alaska, and then Los Angeles, before eventually ending up in Chicago. There, she worked with homeless populations and with HIV-positive women and children for nearly two decades.

Early on, Cortas worked with youth around her age who were questioning their sexual identity and some who had suffered for coming out. She had journeyed herself, and explained that in adolescence church teachings had “essentially ‘shut down’ the exploration of her own sexuality.” Cortas grappled with questions of faith and sexuality while attending The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC,saying:

” I was sorting out what my attachment was to the faith. . .as opposed to ‘is there a faith separate from the church and, if so, what does that look like?’ I lived a lot in my head. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I really began to realize who I was. Prior to that, even though I was approached by many women, it never really occurred to me.

“Then it was conversations of ‘God punishing drug addicts and homosexual men’. . .At the time, I was confused because you could have said the same thing about God giving a person cancer to punish who they were. I was also intrigued to find out more about the [HIV/AIDS] epidemic.”

Cortas eventually came out to her traditionally Catholic family, her parents expressing concern she would get HIV/AIDS or be damned for leaving the church. While she no longer identifies as a practicing Catholic, Cortas still struggles with being forced to leave because “the church has asked me not to be” a member.

Years later, Cortas’ connections with the church have made possible a Covenant House shelter in Chicago. She knew President Kevin Ryan from college and had connected with former president Sr. Mary Rose McGeady. DC, in her earlier work. Cortas pushed them to bring a shelter to Chicago, and now that it has finally happened, she expressed hope and readiness about this new venture:

“Is it going to be an easy process? Not at all. . .I think Chicago has extraordinary youth agencies. My experience with them has been phenomenal. The problem is there is not enough. There is not enough space. The number of homeless kids . . . is astonishing and unacceptable and we have to do something about that.”

Cortas added that it “takes a lot of courage for us to be something other than our families. . .I don’t think enough LGBT [people] realize that. But when you do, you can really begin to fight.”

 

Covenant House Finds Its True Colors in Helping Homeless LGBT Youth

In the late 1970s, the name “Covenant House” was synonymous with Catholics caring for runaway and homeless youth in the then-sex-business-ridden Times Square neighborhood of New York City.  By the mid-1980s, the name had become tarnished by what were considered credible accusations of sexual abuse of some clients against Fr. Bruce Ritter, the Franciscan priest who founded and ran the burgeoning organization.   Fortunately, the ministry of Covenant House survived the crisis, and the organization grew to having 27 centers in the cities of six nations around the world.

Kevin Ryan

In a story that is filled with hope for the way Catholic organizations and LGBTQ groups can partner together around shared values, The Windy City Times, Chicago’s LGBT newspaper, recently profiled Covenant House, just as the organization is poised to open its 29th center, the first one ever in that Midwest metropolis.  Prominently featured in the article is Kevin Ryan, the first lay President of Covenant House International. Ryan spoke proudly of the organization’s ability to help youth living on the streets and involved with drugs and the sex trade turn their lives around.  He was even more proud, it seems, at how the Catholic organization has overcome its earlier soiled reputation, and how it is now seeking to improve its services and image for LGBTQ youth.  He may be uniquely positioned to make this latter transition. Ryan, a heterosexual, has a gay brother, Owen Ryan, who is the head of the International AIDS society in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Windy City Times pointed out:

“While Covenant House is not an LGBTQ organization, any institution serving homeless young adults is aware that anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of their clients are LGBTQ. Ryan said ‘there are more LGBTQ young people sleeping under a Covenant House roof than any other entity, because we are in six countries.’ “

But the accusations against Ritter, which developed into a law suit that ultimately was not pursued because of Ritter’s decision to leave the organization, hurt the group’s image among LGBTQ youth and foundations.  Under Ryan’s leadership, that image has begun to change.

The True Colors Fund, the foundation set up by pop-star Cyndi Lauper to help homeless LGBTQ youth, has begun working with Covenant House to make it a safe space for this population.  Jama Shelton, deputy executive director of True Colors, told the Windy City Times:

“There have been accounts, historical accounts, of young people reporting some extreme mistreatment. This is from LGBT young people, from staff and other young people in the space. They earned a reputation of not being safe. … I think part of it was, yes, practices that were not safe and not affirming, and environments that were not safe, and a recognition of that, and wanting to move past that and change that. And also try to repair that history and change the reputation.

“When we entered into this partnership, there were some people that were upset. I understand that because I understand the history of what had happened, and I also feel as a social worker, and from a solutions-focused perspective, my response was I hear you and validate that, but if there are people who want to do right by our young people, should I not try to facilitate that? I will say Kevin and everyone have come to the table and wanting to learn. That’s excellent. … Different sites have different degrees of understanding of LGBT and competency and learning. There are many hopes that through this process there will be some pretty clear understanding of policies and procedures to make LGBT young people safe.”

Shelton acknowledges that the religious background of Covenant House sometimes serves as a barrier for youth seeking help, especially for youth who have been abused by religious messages. But, she also stated that other religious service groups have the same problem, and that Covenant House’s religious roots generally affect only their mission and core values, rather than the way they interact with clients.

Ryan sees the Catholic background of the Covenant House actually helping it to be more inclusive of LGBT youth. The article described:

“Ryan said those religious roots provide the agency with a mission of social justice and helping the poor. ‘This movement is about celebrating young people for exactly who they are,’ he said. ‘Gay, lesbian, transgender, straight, for who they are. We don’t use the narrative of tolerance. It is about connecting kids to their authentic selves.’ “

And the agency is expanding its  LGBTQ dimension on a variety of levels:

“Ryan said he believed Covenant House has moved far beyond its past. They have support from LGBTQ individuals and organizations. They have openly gay people on their international board of directors. “I don’t feel I have to prove anything to the city,” Ryan said. “I have to earn that with the homeless young people of Chicago. Will young people who are desperate, and trying to make a decision, whether it is better on the street or if they are better off inside, will they come inside. I hope they come inside, that they will view it as a safe place to turn their life around.”

There’s just so much hope in this story!  It shows the power of a Catholic agency to turn itself around from a reputation tarnished by sexual abuse accusations.  It shows how a Catholic agency can partner with LGBTQ groups to learn how to be of better service to all God’s children.  It shows how LGBTQ groups can learn to put aside past failings of religious organizations to create a bright future for youth.  It shows the power of family relationships helping to create new knowledge and awareness.   The rest of the Catholic Church has a lot to learn from the Covenant House example.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

NEWS NOTES: December 24, 2012

News NotesHere are some news items which may be of interest:

1) Read the inspiring Huffington Post story of Sister of Charity Margaret Farrell who works at Los Angeles’ Covenant House, a shelter and social service agency for homeless teenagers.  Of her work, Sister Margaret says:

“Some say, how can I, as a nun, surround myself with such people — gays, transsexuals, HIV-positive clients?”I usually respond: Read the Bible. Look which people Jesus surrounded himself with.”

2) According to a LGBTQNation.com story, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has called upon the Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC) to publicly denounce Michael Peroutka’s $10,000 donation to the Maryland Marriage Alliance (MMA), the coalition which organized the state campaign to overturn marriage equality.  Peroutka is a member of  the League of the South, a neo-Confederate, secessionist organization labeled an “explicitly racist” hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.The MCC was a founding organizer of the Maryland Marriage Alliance. HRC is also calling on the MMA to return the donation.

3) The Supreme Court of Mexico, a heavily Catholic nation, has issued a decision that paves the way for marriage equality to become legal in the entire nation, according to the AfterMarriage blog.   Marriage equality is already legal in Mexico City, the nation’s capital district.

4) Joseph Amodeo, a Catholic writer who blogs at HuffingtonPost.com, offers “A Catholic Reflection on HIV/AIDS and the Call to Love,” which was originally presented as a talk on December 1, 2012, World AIDS Day,  at St. Augustine Catholic Church, Brooklyn, New York.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry