Catholic School’s New Policy Excludes Transgender Students from Enrolling

March 5, 2016

Students at Mount Saint Charles Academy

A Catholic school in Rhode Island explicitly is denying admission to transgender students in a new policy which also says it will no longer allow any current students who identify as transgender to continue attending the school.

Mount Saint Charles Academy, a co-ed middle and high school in Woonsocket, issued the policy in its Parent-Student Handbook for the 2015-2016 school year. Under the “Philosophy of Admissions,” the Handbook notes:

“Mount Saint Charles Academy is unable to make accommodations for transgender students. Therefore, MSC does not accept transgender students nor is MSC able to continue to enroll students who identify as transgender.”

Administrators at the Brothers of the Sacred Heart school are refusing to comment, and the Diocese of Providence said these policies are handled on a school-by-school basis. It is unclear if any applicants had been denied admission or if any students had been asked to leave due to this policy, according to Go Local Providence. This policy does appear to contradict the school’s mission statement, however, which states that, “Each and every student is known, valued, treasured and taught in partnership with the family.”

Alumni have organized themselves to protest the policy, forming a group on Facebook called Concerned Alumni Against Mount St. Charles Trans-Exclusive Policy, which already has 700 members.  They  launched a Change.org petition, available here. In a statement, reported at RIFuture.org, alumni expressed their disappointment and said this policy was “wholly uncharacteristic of the institution.” They continued:

“We love Mount Saint Charles and what it meant to us. . .This is an opportunity to learn, grow, and come together to push past our differences. We look forward to speaking further with administration to find a resolution to this painful decision.”

Concerned alumni questioned what was meant by “accommodations” in the policy, and they suggested that solutions for trans students existed “beyond outright expulsion and refusal of admittance.”

Many questions arise when an administration remains silent. Is this policy a response to a transgender applicant or to a student’s coming out? Is it preemptively released to exclude trans students? Is it an honest acknowledgment the school is not a safe space for trans students?

Whatever the answers to these questions and the intentions behind such a ban, the policy itself is not rooted in Catholic teaching or sensibility. Gender identity is a pastoral, not doctrinal issue, as Msgr. Keith Barltrop, a liaison for Cardinal Vincent Nichols to London’s LGBTQI Catholics, said last year. Barltrop affirmed further that the church should be “fully supportive” of people who transition. Catholics in the U.S. overwhelmingly support transgender protections in law and historically Catholic nations have led global progress to protect people with diverse gender identities.

In view of this reality, the policy at Mount Saint Charles reads as simply apathetic. Administrators seems unconcerned to make the extra efforts. This school’s puzzling decision raises two points. First, gender identity is complex. The church’s response must be informed and humble, listening to the lived experiences of trans people and acknowledging scientific and cultural advances in understanding. 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. This type of ministry is particularly needed in Catholic education as a way to support youth in coming to know themselves as God intended.

Second, administrators have a responsibility to trans students, to all students, to the school community, and to the church’s mission to expend the time, energy, and resources necessary to live out their mission statement. Their new policy fails to do so. Thankfully, there are hundreds of alumni —and perhaps even students, parents, faculty, and staff–willing to contribute to this effort and ensure appropriate accommodations can be provided.

Today, LGBT advocates will gather for a peaceful witness outside the school as applicants sit for the entrance exam. Let us hope Mount Saint Charles’ administrators listen to their alumni and reverse this policy by next fall so that students of all genders may truly be “known, valued, and treasured” by then.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


U.S. Catholics Overwhelmingly Reject LGBT Discrimination by State Legislatures

March 4, 2016

RuizNondiscrim.jpgMarriage equality’s legalization in the United States last year has prompted an anti-LGBT backlash at state and local levels. Bills ostensibly defending religious liberty  allow legal discrimination for opponents of equality. Conversely, ordinances to expand non-discrimination protections  for LGBT people face strong religious opposition. Where are Catholics amid these debates?

New polling from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows 73% of U.S. Catholics support LGBT nondiscrimination protections, two points higher than the 71% U.S. average. 61% of Catholics oppose allowing business owners to deny service to LGBT people. Even those opposed to marriage equality are far more approving of non-discrimination protections, according to PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones.

This widespread Catholic support for civil rights is driven by strong support from the lay faithful. For instance, James Rowe, a Catholic who is and the executive director of Believe Out Loud, said it is the mission of LGBTQ Christians and allies to “mobilize love” when anti-LGBT religious groups seek to institutionalize their discriminatory theologies. Rowe reflected on his own Catholic faith in view of South Dakota’s HB 1008 which would have mandated students use restrooms and locker rooms according to their assigned at birth sex:

“The very idea behind this harmful law is discrimination, plain and simple—and discrimination has no place in Christianity.

“My Catholic teachings tell me that Jesus stood in solidarity with those who are most often bullied and ostracized by others—and I believe today, Jesus would have been in Pierre, South Dakota, standing at the steps of the Capitol building demanding that Governor Daugaard veto this harmful bill.”

Believe Out Loud joined LGBT, educational, and civil liberties organizations in delivering 80,000 signatures opposing the bill, which was thankfully vetoed by the governor earlier this week.

Buzzfeed reported at least 105 similar pieces of legislation at the state level which seek to curtail civil rights rooted in sexual and/or gender identity, or allow the denial of services to LGBT people. None have yet passed, but there is momentum in at least eight states.

Unfortunately, the church’s leadership differs from the faithful, despite Catholic teachings which say every sign of unjust discrimination must be opposed. South Dakota’s bishops, Robert Gruss of Rapid City and Paul Swain of Sioux Falls, released a letter expressing their support for HB 1008. Religious leaders’ opposition and legislators’ questionable coupling of Church and State can create a belief that LGBT and religious belief are at odds with one another in these debates. It is a frequent refrain here at Bondings 2.0 that Catholics support LGBT justice because of their faith and not in spite of it.

Mychal Copeland, who co-edited Struggling in Good Faith, an interfaith anthology about LGBTQI inclusion, challenges the idea that LGBT justice and religious belief are at odds.  In Copeland suggested that currently “every American religious tradition is engaged in a struggle about LGBT inclusion” and there are changes happening, even if quite slowly. He continued:

“[T]here is a prevailing assumption that individuals will hold anti-LGBT religious doctrine above other religious ideals. More and more religious leaders and lay people are prizing overarching principles of faith, such as compassion, love, dignity, and welcome over negative religious legislation. . .Americans are more likely to see that [LGBT] individual as someone who should be able to rent an apartment, keep a job, and even marry the one they love.”

Church teaching does not allow for discrimination, meaning it should be unthinkable that Catholics would support any “right to discriminate” bills or oppose nondiscrimination protections. Sadly, this is not the case. If church teaching does not suffice, then perhaps we need to appeal to the deeper love expected of Christians by Jesus. It is Jesus’ kind of love which led early Christian writer Tertullian to note how his pagan contemporaries said, “See how those Christians love one another.” Catholics are certainly supportive of LGBT communities because of this love, but we must keep working to ensure that our church and our Christian faith are not used any further to deny the civil rights due to LGBT communities.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Gay Church Worker Says Being Fired Was a “Kick in the Stomach”

March 3, 2016
john_murphy_and_partner

John Murphy, right, with husband Jerry Carter

A former church worker who is gay said being fired was like being “kicked in the stomach,” and, in a new video, he reaffirmed his commitment to seek justice.

John Murphy filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last year, reported The Washington Blade. The complaint now being investigated claims sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Murphy was fired for being gay and married after serving just a week as executive director for St. Francis Home, an assisted living facility operated by the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, for low-income elders.

In an interview with The Washington Blade, Murphy presented new details about the firing:

“Murphy said Tina Neal, president of the St. Francis Home’s board of directors, told him that the fact he is a married gay man was not a problem because ‘this is 2015.’

“The EEOC complaint alleges that Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo ordered the board to fire Murphy once he learned about his marital status. The diocese sent McGee and Mahanes [respectively the diocese’s Chief Financial Officer  and Human Resources Officer] to do so because the board refused. . .

“He told the Blade that at least two board members have resigned since the diocese fired him. Murphy said the consultant hired to help fill the position at the home said she was ‘appalled at discrimination like this.’ “

Murphy said the board agreed his firing was “not right,” and Neal even met with DiLorenzo the following day to seek a reversal. The Diocese of Richmond sustained its decision, and is now keeping quiet on the matter. Inquiries from the Blade were referred to an old statement about the EEOC complaint, but Murphy said there have been changes made since he was fired:

“Murphy said the diocese has implemented a policy since his termination that says prospective employees ‘must be a Catholic in good standing.’ He pointed out to the Blade that the home’s website now contains several references to the ‘ministerial role’ that its employees ‘play in the operation of St. Francis Home.’ “

Murphy denied any discussion of ministry during the hiring process and said he was honest about having a husband.

A new video from the Center for American Progress tells Murphy’s story as a way of  highlighting the workplace discrimination too many LGBT people and their allies face, including some 60 church workers since 2008. You can watch the video below or by clicking here.

John Murphy’s case is now being investigated by the EEOC, whose findings may allow him to sue the Diocese of Richmond for wrongful termination.

On March 1, the EEOC announced  it had filed its first lawsuits against private business which discriminated against LGBT employees under Title VII, which bans gender discrimination.  The Advocate explained how a case such as Murphy’s may be considered under this statute:

“The EEOC determined last year that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination based on sex. Sexual orientation as a concept cannot be understood without reference to sex, the agency noted at that time, and sexual orientation discrimination is often rooted in whether an employee complies with stereotypical gender norms. The agency had previously held that the sex discrimination provision also applies to gender identity.

How religious employers, like St. Francis home, will be handled remains a question.

The experience of being fired has taken its toll spiritually, Murphy explained:

” ‘I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. . .I’m not sure where to go or religiously what the next step would be for me. . .

“Ironically this happens at the time where we’re led to believe that [Pope] Francis is creating a new environment, ‘Who am I to judge?’. . .[His message] hasn’t trickled down and it isn’t consistently applied from diocese to diocese. . .That of course dictates a lot of what people hear and what happens in the churches.”

Though not all church workers fired are Catholic, many have been faithful church members. Being expelled and excluded does tremendous damage. Jerry Carter, who is married to Murphy, said he watched his husband’s “very sad and disturbing reaction” in the days after the firing, with Murphy losing the optimism he once held and doubting his career and sense of worth. Murphy himself explained further:

“I have spent a lifetime believing that I am a person worthy of God’s love and, a lot of times, I’m getting a contrary message. This firing message seemed to reinforce that.”

In previous posts, Bondings 2.0 has highlighted the damage to communities and to the church’s mission which these firings inflict. John Murphy’s words highlight the pastoral and spiritual damages which should not be understated. Legal victories, like Colleen Simon’s settlement reported earlier this week, are worth seeking and celebrating when they happen. But the work of healing our church and those it harms should not be forgotten, too.

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.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Making Compassion and Kindness Our Response to Anti-LGBT Faith Leaders

November 11, 2014

One of the most common questions that I have been asked by people in my years of ministry in the LGBT Catholic community is “Why are some bishops so stubborn against changing policy and practices in the church concerning LGBT people?”

It’s a good question, and one that I wish I knew the exact answer to.  Many people speculate that the reason is because bishops who espouse anti-gay attitudes are, in fact, gay themselves.  There’s good research to show that homophobic people are actually fearful of their own homoerotic feelings.  But I think that this answer, while certainly true of some bishops, is not the complete answer.  It can sometimes be a satisfying answer because it seems to fit in with popular notions of psychology, but I think it misses some other dynamics which are at work in their attitudes.

Australia’s GayNewsNetwork.com.au recently posted an essay entitled “How to Approach the Abominable ‘No’-Men” in which author Rob MacPherson tries to make sense of why some Catholic bishops remain so anti-gay.  I think he offers some interesting analyses.

Taking the recent synod as his jumping off point for his discussion of Catholicism, MacPherson tries to make sense of a group he calls ” ‘The Abominable “No”-men”…privileged folk who are reflexively conditioned to find “no” an easier response to ANY change toward social equity, because it has fewer letters than “yes.” ‘ ”

Summarizing the thesis of Dr. Robert Ciardini’s study Influence, MacPherson states:

“. . . [P]eople have a strong psychological tendency to stick to what they’ve always said and done, fearing they otherwise might appear, weak, vacillating, scatter-brained, or even mad. Neither logic nor evidence can shift this (witness the current climate change debate). If they appear inconsistent, they stand to lose trust and respect, and therefore social status. ‘

MacPherson claims that strong and vocal opposition actually reveals “vulnerability and fear,” not strength and courage:

“. . . [W]hen they splutter and roar, what we are witnessing is not so much simple chest-beating aggression, but what we might call ‘privilege erosion’—the sense that their barely-acknowledged privileges are slipping away from under their feet, and their own self-inflicted blindness to that privilege opening up like a sink-hole.”

Social change reveals something to these fearful leaders that they were not even aware of beforehand:

‘Because they have never noticed their unfair advantages, all they see is that they are worse off, and therefore threatened. A society that once was ordered for their convenience alone, no longer fits. Thus they are apt to feel persecuted.’

I think we can’t underestimate the fear that people have about any changes in society or any institution that deal with gender, such as sexual orientation or gender identity.  I don’t think such fear excuses these negative attitudes, but I think it is important to be aware of these forces.  For whatever reason, gender is a powerful force.  This is particularly true in an institution like the church which has for so long valued men over all other gender identities.  I think it’s important to be aware that these forces often play powerful unseen roles in people’s behaviors.

While I certainly understand the anger that some people feel toward church leaders who have been so virulently anti-LGBT, lately my dominant feeling towards these prelates has been sadness.  In not being able to allow themselves to simply learn about LGBT people, they are missing out on some of the holiest and most positive acts of faith, liberation, and love in the world today.  So sad that they are missing the joy of this most Christian party.

MacPherson offers some very wise and Christian advice to those who witness these “no”-men.  He says the best thing for people to do is:

“. . . to approach these seemingly dangerous creatures, not judging or vilifying them, but challenging ourselves to recognize their fear as genuine and understandable, mustering what compassion we can for their feelings of distress, and remaining patient and persistent in offering a better way forward.

“Once upon a traditional time, qualities like understanding, compassion, patience, and persistence were called ‘virtues’. We’re going to need them as we try to approach our own Abominable ‘No’-men as their familiar world melts away, and a new, more just one, evolves into being.”

In an unrelated story this weekend, MacPherson’s advice was exemplified by a Catholic lesbian woman in Houston, Texas.  When faith-based anti gay protestors demonstrated this weekend, in that city, a counter-demonstration to negate their hate emerged, and KHOU-TV  reported on the response of Tiera Ortiz-Rodriguez, chapter president of Dignity Houston, a Catholic community of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics.:

“We want to have compassion and kindness as our response.”

Yes, we must never give up speaking out and advocating for justice, but we must do so in such a way that our opponents do not become our enemies.  We must be committed to work for their enlightenment and liberation from their own fears.  Not easy work, but like everything else, it can be accomplished by little and by little.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Religious Leaders, Including Catholics, Call on Obama to Oppose Religious Exemption in Upcoming Executive Order

July 9, 2014

President Barack Obama’s expected executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has sparked a controversy because some religious leaders have asked him to include a broad religious exemption in the order.

But, yesterday, Obama heard from a different group of religious leaders, this one asking him not to inscribe discrimination into his executive order by including a religious exemption.  Over 100 diverse clergy, academic, and lay leaders wrote to the president asking him to truly protect LGBT people by not providing language that would exempt religious institutions.

At least seven Catholics were among the letter’s signers:  Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, Dignity/USA; Jim FitzGerald, executive director, Call To Action; Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive coordinator, National Coalition of American Nuns; Mary Hunt, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual; Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice; Deb Word, President, Fortunate Families.

The letter argues the case against religious exemptions from a variety of perspectives.  First, there are practical considerations:

“Requiring all federal contractors to operate according to the same set of non-discriminatory hiring practices is more than fair; it is a critical safeguard that protects all parties. If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes. Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”

There is also the religious perspective:

“Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.”

The letter also argued from logic:

“An executive order that allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people contradicts the order’s fundamental purpose, as well as the belief shared by more and more Americans every day, which is that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens. An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.”

The letter also argued from the perspective of American cultural values:

“In a nation as diverse as the United States of America, it is critical that the federal government be trusted to follow—and indeed, to role-model—equitable employment practices. We believe that our mutual commitment to the common good is best served by policies that prohibit discrimination based on factors that have no relationship whatsoever to job performance. We are better and stronger as a nation when hiring decisions are made based on professional merit   rather than personal identity.”

You can read the entire text of the letter, with a list of all signers, here.

In addition to the letter, more than 30,000 U.S. Christians have signed a grassroots petition urging President Obama to oppose those who would use their faith to justify anti-gay discrimination. The petition, organized by Faithful America, reads, in part:

“There’s nothing Christian about firing someone just because they’re gay or lesbian. Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t fund discrimination.”

The letter from faith leaders and the Faithful America petition were in part a response by last week’s Hobby Lobby decision, which many feared would become a slippery slope to expand religious exemptions.

As a person of faith, what are your thoughts about religious exemptions?  Offer your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter: “Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination”

ThinkProgress.com: 100 Faith Leaders To Obama: Religious Liberty Shouldn’t Be Used To Discriminate Against LGBT People

New York Times: “Faith Groups Seek Exclusion From Bias Rule”


On Spirit Day, Catholics Chart New Course for LGBT Youth

October 17, 2013

SpiritDay13_Graphic_FinalToday is Spirit Day. Millions across the nation will wear purple as a sign of their of their love and support for LGBT youth and for their opposition to bullying. We join GLAAD, the main sponsoring organization, in spreading this message of inclusion and well-being.

LGBT teens and young adults suffer greatly from bullying by peers in person and, increasingly, on the internet. Homo- and trans-phobic harassment against youth leads to vastly higher rates of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide than the general population.

Rejection from their faith community and religious-based discrimination only compound these problems. For Catholics, Spirit Day is also prime moment for reflection on our Church’s progress and where we are now headed in ministering to younger people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Last October, . Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s piece on Spirit Day was considered a bold statement, when he reminded Catholics of a prevalent negativity around Catholic LGBT issues from some quarters of the church:

“Many gay and lesbian Catholics have told me (in person, in emails, in notes and letters and in Facebook messages) how alienated they have felt from the church lately.  Perhaps as a result of some of the rhetoric that has been used recently, an increasing number of gay and lesbian Catholics, and gay and lesbian youth in particular, feel marginalized from the church in which they were baptized.”

Fear, hurt, and isolation persist for many LGBT Catholics who experienced decades of damaging language and actions.  Pope Francis, though, has prompted a spirit of renewal that blows through our communities which demands that we act against anti-gay discrimination, especially when it targets youth.

One bright initiative is called Anti-Bullying Learning and Teaching Resources (ALTER), sponsored by the Diocese of Wollongong, Australia. Responding to the rapid rise in bullying through cell phones and social media, the diocese’s Catholic Education Office produced a video (which you can view below) and a resource kit for adults in leadership.

Of note is the use of the word “gay” in the video, revealing an openness to the realities of the students it hopes to help. The Office explains:

“Fix You was deliberately designed to include significant contribution from Diocesan primary and secondary students. To maintain the integrity of this concept, when asked to list words commonly used to bully and to hurt, students were adamant the word ‘gay’ be included. In explanation, it was our students’ reality that this word was often used as a weapon and that verbal bullying was an experience known to most students. Consequently, this term has been included in the sequence of words depicting how bullying brands someone and how this can leave lifelong scars.”

The Office provides an improved commentary on homosexuality that focuses on respecting people’s dignity and ending injustice. They recommend that educators use the word “gay” in their classroom discussions.

This Spirit Day, Pope Francis’ handful of olive branches to the LGBT community has changed the tone by his comment “Who am I to judge?“, his America interview, or his handwritten note to gay Catholics in Italy. Leaders in the American hierarchy have been slow to follow his lead, but the Catholic laity  continue to advance into greater inclusion.

As Catholics, we at New Ways Ministry support Spirit Day, compelled by our faith to end bullying and sustain LGBT youth as they come to know themselves, their community, and God.  We’ve changed our profile picture on Facebook to purple in honor of Spirit Day, and we invite you to do the same as a sign of support.  If you use Twitter, consider using #SpiritDay in your tweets about support for LGBT youth today.

Why not share the graphic above with your friends on Facebook? You can copy and paste it from this post or you can find it on the New Ways Ministry Facebook page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Fired Transgender Teacher Scores Points in Court Case

September 12, 2013
Marla Krolikowski

Marla Krolikowski

2013 has been the year of the fired LGBT church worker.  We’ve been reporting on the plight of these unjustly dismissed people since the beginning of the year, when we let you know about the story of Mark Krolikowski (as he was then identified), a transgender teacher who was fired after 32 years of employment at St. Francis Preparatory H.S. in Queens, N.Y.   Krolikowski, who now identifies as Marla Krolikowski, brought a legal case against the school.

The Huffington Post reported that Krolikowski won a legal victory in court this week:

“On Monday, a judge reportedly rejected the school’s motion to have the case thrown out and strongly suggested that the opposing parties settle the lawsuit.”

Judge Duane Hart was skeptical that Krolikowski’s gender transition did not factor into her firing, and that the school fired her simply for insubordination, as they claimed:

” ‘Insubordination after 32 years of teaching? And the insubordination seems to coincide with the expression of being transgender?’ the case’s judge skeptically questioned. “

Perhaps more significantly related to other such firings, the judge also dismissed the school’s claim that they could dismiss an employee who acted in a ministerial capacity, known as the “ministerial exception in discrimination law:

“He also rejected a separate motion by St. Francis Preparatory School that claimed Krolikowski was essentially a minister, which would give the school the agency to hire and fire employees disregarding legal interference.”

While the judge’s comment denying insubordination and his ruling against ministerial exception are hopeful signs for Krolikowski’s case, the situation is not yet fully resolved.

Krolikowski’s case looks like it will be one to watch since the questions of religious exemption and ministerial exception are often very important concepts in cases such as this one.  These concepts, designed to protect religious liberty, become very complicated when the people being fired are not even members of the same church that runs the institution.  This happened with Carla Hale, a Methodist teacher fired from a Catholic high school this year, and also with Steav Bates-Congdon, an Episcopal musician fired from a Catholic parish in 2011.  Since their behavior and beliefs were not in accord with Catholic teachings in many areas, one wonders why their adherence to sexual doctrine becomes the deal breaker in employment matters.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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