New Ways Ministry Hosts Dialogue With LGBT Advocates from Belarus

Back row, left to right: Patrick Wojahn, Aliaksandr Paluyan, Kiryl Prasniakov, Irina Solomatina, Bob Shine
Front row, left to right: Sr. Jeanne Gramick, FrancisDeBernardo, Natallia Mankouskaya

New Ways Ministry welcomed a delegation of LGBT advocates from Belarus yesterday who are currently touring the United States to learn about LGBT leadership in this nation.  They visited New Ways Ministry’s office in Maryland because they wanted to connect with a religious organization that works for LGBT equality.

Staff members Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine joined co-founder Sr. Jeannine Gramick and supporter Patrick Wojahn in explaining the ministry’s purpose and programs. The New Ways Ministry representatives set the work within the broader context of LGBT rights advocacy, giving particular emphasis to the role that Catholics have been playing in marriage equality victories in recent years.

Kiryl Prasniakov, Aliaksandr Paluyan, Natallia Mankouskaya, and Irina Solomatina then explained their struggles in Belarus to support the LGBT community. Free speech and assembly rights are severely limited with public demonstrations frequently leading to arrests and police brutality. Police have raided four gay clubs in the last two months and travel restrictions imposed by the government have limited international fact-finding delegations.  However, all spoke positively of progress being made, and they remain optimistic and undaunted by their struggles.

Belarus is a less religious nation than the US.  Eastern Orthodox Christians are the dominant denomination, and this church has close ties to the government. The delegation seemed curious that US Catholics so freely speak their minds.  They were particularly intrigued that US Catholics speak earnestly with their bishops and clergy about supporting the LGBT community.

Sister Jeannine said of the morning meeting: “I was delighted to know that the women in the delegation were strong feminists and were glad American Catholic women were likewise. That was a highlight for me that they really perked up over feminism.”

Bob Shine commented: “The dangers these human rights activists confront daily gives me a helpful perspective for our work in the United States. While the challenges from the Catholic hierarchy and anti-equality activists in this nation are frustrating, the freedom we have to dialogue openly and honestly cannot be understated.”

Francis DeBernardo observed:  “I was amazed at their courage in working under such a harsh and oppressive legal system.  These men and women are doing important and heroic work, and it was an honor to meet with them and be inspired by their example.”

The Belarusian delegation will be hosted at the White House this week before traveling to California, Texas, Alabama, and New York through February. LGBT advocates, like these from Belarus, are sponsored through a newly-implemented leadership program administered by the US State Department.

New Ways Ministry sends our new friends many blessings as they continue their travels and for the work that lies ahead of them in their homeland!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Uganda Anti-Gay Legislation Stirs Student Action at Yale and Notre Dame

The Ugandan Parliament will reportedly vote on the “Kill the Gays” bill in coming days and this development has stirred two university communities to take action against the infamous legislation.

In Connecticut, the LGBT Coalition at Yale Divinity School commenced a petition drive calling on Christian religious leadership worldwide to speak publicly against the legislation. The group’s statement addresses Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York among other religious leaders, and reads, in part:

“We urge you to call on your Ugandan counterparts to resist coopting Christian language in support of such a hateful cause. Claiming defense of religious values can never be an adequate justification for the degradation of human life. As we all know, faith in a loving God is wholly inconsistent with support for such cruel and malicious policies…

“Regardless of your place on the spectrum of theological opinion regarding homosexuality, please reject the unconscionable measures proposed in this bill which are antithetical to any conception of Christian morality.”

Alumni of the University of Notre Dame are similarly asking that institution’s administration to condemn the Ugandan bill with their own petition drive. The sponsors cite the University’s deep relationship with Uganda through study abroad programs and commitment to act justly with partner nations when engaging in educational initiatives.

Others, including several students interviewed by campus newspaper, The Observer, speak to the Catholic identity of the University as a driving impetus. Katie Day, class of 2009 and participant in a research project in Uganda, claims she’s “mystified” by the silence of Catholics and especially the praise of Uganda’s Catholic bishops for the bill. She told The Observer:

“‘As the universal Church, Catholic leaders elsewhere in the world need to let the Ugandan Catholic Church know this bill is completely contradictory to our faith’s core beliefs,’ she said. ‘I cannot think of anything more dehumanizing and degrading than this bill.’

“Day said Notre Dame’s mission statement pledges that the University looks to nurture in its students, ‘a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many. The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.’

“‘As the students and alumni of Notre Dame stand up to the injustice of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, we are fulfilling this part of Notre Dame’s mission,’ Day said.”

If you would like to sign either petition, Bondings 2.0 provides links below, as well as our previous coverage on Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Petition to Religious Leaders from the Yale Divinity School LGBT Coalition

Petition to Fr. Jenkins at the University of Notre Dame

Previous Posts

November 14, 2012: Catholic Leaders Must Speak Out Against Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” Bill

August 13, 2012:  Former Ambassador to the Vatican Speaks Out Against Ugandan Discrimination

July 25, 2012:  Catholics Among Christian Leaders Supporting LGBT Rights in Uganda

July 25, 2012:  New Report Identifies Catholic Suppport for Africa’s Anti-Gay Movement

June 15, 2012: More Details on Catholic Support for Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill