Unfortunately, there is nothing surprising when one hears of a Catholic priest protesting an LGBT event in a neighborhood. However, when the priest agrees to sit down with a drag queen and iron out their differences and come to a mutual understanding, that is both big and good news.
The Huffington Post reports on such a case that occurred recently in New York City:
“The Rev. Richard Baker walked into Lillie’s Times Square one day last week with a bone to pick. A drag queen named Epiphany and an event planner named Michael Fratz had planned to host a Sunday brunch drag performance at the Manhattan restaurant, which happened to be next door to his church, St. Malachy’s. Holding a flyer for the show in his hand, the reverend told the manager of Lillie’s he didn’t think it appropriate to have a drag show next door to his Sunday Mass.”
Though the restaurant owner acquiesced to the priest’s demand, the drag performer and event planner were, understandably, not happy. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a lesbian with a Catholic background, stepped in to mediate the dispute. Her effort was successful:
” ‘Speaker Quinn’s office brought the two parties together to discuss the matter and both sides were heard,’ said Zoe Tobin, a spokeswoman for Quinn. ‘Each party acknowledged their differences, but figured out a way to live next door to each other in peace. New York’s strength is in its diversity, and the speaker is thankful to have helped achieve a successful result.’
“After the meeting, Baker said he now has no problem with the drag show brunch. ‘Its a very innocent show,’ he said. ‘I understand that now. We were able to talk, and it was awesome.’ “
The priest acknowledged that originally he had the wrong impression about the show:
“When Baker first heard about the drag show brunch, his mind immediately went back to a Times Square of an earlier era, when pornography, prostitution and drugs ruled the neighborhood. ‘I had a concern about what this means,’ he said, when he first saw the poster for the drag brunch. Recalling his predecessor at St. Malachy’s, Baker said, ‘He worked so tirelessly to fight the crime and the drugs and the prostitution, so when these things pop up I guess I got a little too overzealous.’ “
It’s wonderful to know that dialogue helped this story to have a happy ending. The fact that it was a problem in the first place shows the strong need for Catholic pastoral ministers to learn about LGBT culture so that future clashes can be avoided. It is sad that the pastor did not realize what happens at a drag show, particularly since his parish, St. Malachy’s, is known as “the actors’ chapel” and serves the Broadway theater district. A priest in that position should be aware of theatrical traditions such as drag.
This story does have a recent precedent on the West Coast last summer, when the pastor of San Francisco’s Most Holy Redeemer parish originally banned a drag show in the church’s auditorium, but then, after discussion, agreed to allow it.
Still, it’s commendable that the individuals involved were able to work things out by speaking with one another honestly and informatively. As the Huffington Post reporter opined:
“If only the Vatican could solve its dispute with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community as easily.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry