1) A ranking church official in Zimbabwe has affirmed LGBT-negative comments made by the country’s aging dictator, Robert Mugabe, a Catholic. The Archdiocese of Bulawayo’s vicar general, Fr. Hlakanipha Dube, said the church was grateful for the government’s support of limiting marriage to heterosexual couples only, according to Chronicle. In 2015, Mugabe told the United Nations in 2015: “We are not gays. . .Same-sex marriages have no place in Africa. Such behaviour is worse than pigs and dogs.”
2) A spring newsletter from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association highlighted its new partnership with Egale Canada Human Rights Trust to help teachers in Catholic schools be more supportive of gender diverse students. These efforts include an awareness project, “Drawing the Line – Against Transphobic Violence,” and LGBTQ training workshops for teachers.
3) A teacher in India was allegedly fired because he is gay, a charge officials at St. Joseph’s Autonomous College (a high school) deny. The teacher, Ashley Tellis, said the school’s principal told him students “were disturbed by my ‘personal opinions.” The principal, Victor Lobo, claimed Tellis was fired for breach of contract, reported The New Indian Express.
4) A controversial bishop in Switzerland who has made anti-gay comments in the past has resigned on the occasion of his 75th birthday. In 2015, Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur cited Scripture passages that suggest lesbian and gay people should be executed, and said a priest who blessed a lesbian couple should resign.
5) The Vatican has named Fr. James Martin, S.J. as a consultor to its Secretariat for Communications, a department newly created under Pope Francis. Martin authored the forthcoming book, Building A Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, based on his address upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in October 2016.
6) Marking the National Weekend of Prayer for Transgender Justice last month, Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, wrote a piece in The Huffington Postabout why she supports the cause as a lesbian Catholic.
Today is the International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to raise awareness about trans people’s accomplishments and fight back against transphobia. But amid celebrations is the sad reality that hate crime-related killings against transgender people in El Salvador are on the rise. Disturbingly, LGBT activists have claimed the Catholic Church in that country, and elsewhere in Latin America, contributes to this tragedy. But the people of God in that country can choose another path.
In February, Reutersreported, three trans people were murdered in just the town of San Juan Talpa, bringing the total number of trans people murdered in 2017 up to seven. Of one murder, the news service reported:
“The town’s latest victim was Elizabeth Castillo, a transgender woman, who police say was kidnapped in February after attending the funeral of two transgender women. Her body, showing signs of torture, was then found dumped on the roadside.”
Another 40 trans people, said Karla Avelar, director of group Communicating and Training Transwomen, “have been forced to migrate to other countries to safeguard their own lives.” Teresa, a trans woman in San Juan Talpa, has considered fleeing because of her fears, saying:
“‘I think that someone is coming to kill me. . .I live in constant fear. . .With a doubt, I’ve thought about being far away from this country because staying here the gangs find you.”
“The gangs don’t accept lesbians, gay boys or transgender people. Diversity doesn’t fit into their rules.”
Anti-LGBT violence is closely affiliated with the gang violence ravaging the country, which Reuters described as “one of the world’s deadliest countries outside a war zone.” Gangs maintain control of many communities through extortion, violence, and rape. But social stigma is also contributing greatly to the suffering now endured by LGBT people in El Salvador, and activists claim the Catholic Church is complicit in this regard. Humanosphere reported:
“Advocates say LGBT people face a double threat from such violence. They say anti-LBGT rhetoric from religious figures and politicians perpetuates already entrenched social prejudices, and that the influential Roman Catholic Church furthers anti-LGBT sentiment by publicly condemning gay marriage and sex.”
LGBT-negative stigmas are widespread in El Salvador. Reuters said a “2013 survey by the U.S.-based Pew Research Centre found nearly two-thirds of Salvadorans believed society should not accept homosexuality.” Reparative therapy is also commonplace; another survey found two in five LGBT people had experienced it. Given the church’s considerable, and at one time dominant, influence in El Salvador, these stigmas are derived, at least in part, from LGBT-negative statements and actions of Catholics. Avelar, herself the survivor of two attempted killings, summarized the situation:
“‘They are criminalizing us. . .They use the word of God and the Bible to judge us. It’s destroying us.'”
“Destroying” is not hyperbolic. Twenty-five LGBT people were murdered last year in a nation with a population equivalent to that of the U.S. state of Massachusetts. After the first quarter of 2017, El Salvador is on pace to exceed that number.
But the Catholic Church in El Salvador has another option: a liberationist tradition already being taken up by some Catholics in regard to LGBT people. The Universidad Centroamericana, where six Jesuits were martyred in 1989, hosted El Salvador’s first LGBT rights conference in 2013 (to read a reflection on this event from Bondings 2.0’s editor Francis DeBernardo, click here).
This liberationist tradition is rooted in the nation’s martyrs, including Blessed Oscar Romero who was not beatified, due to conservative opposition, until Pope Francis. Shortly before his assassination, Romero told a reporter:
“If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. If the threats come to be fulfilled, from this moment I offer my blood to God for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. Let my blood be a seed of freedom and the sign that hope will soon be reality.”
Trans Salvadorans murdered are themselves martyrs; they were killed for walking the path of holiness, for living openly as their authentic selves. In their blood, new seeds of freedom and hope take root to flourish. These children of God should have never faced violent deaths in the first place, but their murders now compel Catholics to be a leading voice for LGBT human rights and as a defender of crucified LGBT communities.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 31, 2017
Nicole Santamaria, an intersex woman and LGBT rights activist from El Salvador, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium,Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. She will join an international focus session panel of transgender and intersex advocates. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who heads Sexual Minorities Uganda, will be a plenary speak on “The Catholic Church, Criminalization Laws, and the LGBT Experience in Uganda.” For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
In January, Bondings 2.0 reported about Indian Catholics’ involvement in starting the country’s first school inclusive of trans youth. This week, The Atlantic posted a more in-depth look at the women religious who helped make the school a reality, and who have remained involved as key allies.
Transgender educator Vijayaraja Mallika had a dream was to start a school for trans people and to give it the name “Sahaj,” which in Hindi means “natural.” But Mallika lacked a proper space for the school until Carmelite sisters, having become aware of the activist’s efforts, invited her for tea. The article continued:
“Splitting themselves between an auto-rickshaw and a public bus, the sisters and the activist rode past palm trees, tech offices, and paddy fields to the spot they had in mind: an unused building that the CMC convent had once intended to turn into a dormitory.
“Mallika looked at the size of the structure, the roomy kitchen and sunny terrace. She was so overwhelmed that she burst into tears. The building was not only a concrete way to get her school started, it was also indicative of an entirely new support system. The Carmelites, she realized, could become unlikely allies for transgender activists pushing for education and acceptance in [the state of] Kerala.”
The Carmelites spent $8,000 to help outfit the school, and there are now two sisters living on the property. Sr. Pavithra, who helped connect the order with Mallika, said there is potential for more support, too. The sisters have “conceived of a new initiative to help trans youth by educating children in Carmelite-run schools about what it means to be transgender.” Through this awareness-raising program and through financial support for trans youth, the Carmelites goal for the students is “to ensure that they never drop out of school to begin with” and will not have to enter the sex trade. Sr. Pavithra said:
“We are 6,000 sisters. We have so many institutions. We are known to the society. Unless and until we take them up, how will [trans people] come up?”
Yet, establishing Sahaj itself has been a struggle. The initial excitement of establishing the school has ceded to frustrations. At present, there are “no teachers, no accreditation, and no students.” The building, instead, is functioning as a shelter. But despite administrative challenges, Sr. Pavithra and the Carmelites remain hopeful:
“‘Any new beginning has got its own problems. It takes time, even for a normal school. A transgender school? We have miles to go ahead. . .Of course it can happen in Kerala. . .These are all the initial struggles to take up a new responsibility. I said, “Mallika, you are the first generation. Us sisters, we may be part of it, and maybe [by] the third generation, we will see the fruits. It will take.”‘”
The sisters’ commitment is important because the needs of trans people in Kerala are great. Approximately 25,000 trans people live there, and their outcomes are impaired by the high levels of discrimination, harassment, and violence that they and other trans communities in the world face. The Atlantic compared education outcomes:
“Kerala boasts a higher literacy rate for both men and women than any of India’s other 28 states. But 58 percent of transgender students in the state drop out before completing 10th grade and 24 percent drop out before ninth grade.”
Kerala’s 2015 Transgender Policy and the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to legalize a third gender option have done little to mitigate these oppressions, said Mallika. Indeed, a trans advocate named Faisal said Kerala is a worse place to be trans than other states. Hijras, who are “transgender, intersex, and transsexual people who live within a strict hierarchical community” found elsewhere in India, are less present there. And Kerala has fewer Hindus and far more Christians than the overall demographics of India, with Christianity being far less accepting of non-binary genders than Hinduism.
Thankfully, the Carmelite sisters are paying attention to voices on the peripheries, and have been quite accepting of trans people in their state. The partnership began when Sr. Pavithra encountered Mallika at a social work gathering:
“There, Mallika spoke about how she had looked at almost 700 properties to no avail; some were too small, while others closed their doors when the owners learned what would be done with the space. Sister Pavithra took up the issue with her convent’s administrative council and advocated that they retrofit one of their vacant buildings into a school. . .The six council members approved the lease, with the blessing of the local bishop.”
The partnership is not, however, without its own problems. In an effort to protect trans people with whom they are working, the sisters have, at times, enforced strict curfews to keep people staying with them from going into sex work. They also “occasionally try to persuade trans people to wear clothing associated with the gender they were assigned at birth,” though one sister said this is so trans persons will “blend in, gain acceptance, and avoid ridicule” in society. She explicitly rejected that there have been any attempts at “conversion therapy.”
And there are intra-church hiccups, too, with some Catholics critical of the sisters’ work and of trans outreach generally. To them, Sr. Pavithra simply said, “If we consider everybody’s opinion, nothing will take place in the world.”
Church officials have had a leading and largely positive role when it comes to LGBT people in India. Last fall, the bishops’ official development agency, Caritas India, announced trans-specific outreach programs (though, it must be noted, the director’s approach to gender identity has been criticized). Virginia Saldanha, a leading lay person who was once executive secretary of the Office of Laity for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, said the church must bring LGBT people “in from the cold.”
A particularly bright light is Bombay’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias who, in a message to LGBT people conveyed through a personal interview with Bondings 2.0’s Francis DeBernardo, said the “church embraces you, wants you, needs you.” Gracias has said repeatedly that homosexuality should not be criminalized.In fact, he was the only religious leader in India to criticize the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate criminalization in 2013.
The witness of these Carmelite sisters and other Indian church officials to the dignity and worth of LGBT people can be an inspiration and model for the church universal.
To learn more about Catholics involvement in international LGBT human rights, attend New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium,Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who heads Sexual Minorities Uganda, will speak on “The Catholic Church, Criminalization Laws, and the LGBT Experience in Uganda.” An international panel of transgender and intersex advocates will speak during a focus session. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has made an appeal for transgender youths’ well-being, involving himself in the national debate about on trans equality. Biden, the nation’s first Catholic vice president, adds his voice to other Catholics’ calls for respecting such youth and all trans persons.
Biden, who is Catholic, said, “Every single solitary person, no matter who they were, was entitled to be treated with dignity,” according to The Advocate. He continued:
“‘As much great work as we’ve done, we face some real challenges ahead. We thought things were moving in the right direction. . .But there’s a changing landscape out there, folks, and we have a hell of a lot of work to do.’
“‘Instead of focusing on the fact that 40 percent of the homeless youth on the street are identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [and] rejected by their families out on the street, and what do we do about that, we’re now focusing on whether or not a transgender child, which bathroom they can use.'”
The misguided focus Biden identified is seen in North Carolina’s passage of HB2, an anti-trans bathroom law last year. More recently, the Trump administration rescinded federal education guidelines aimed at protecting transgender students. At the time, Catholic bishops applauded Trump’s decision, while some Catholic clergy offered mixed reactions to it.
Biden made his remarks while receiving a humanitarian award from Help USA, a nonprofit that assists people experiencing homelessness.
The former vice president’s recent address reflects the growing sentiments of many U.S. Catholics who support equal rights for transgender persons. In an op-ed for theIllinois Times. John Freml, coordinator of Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic organizations that work for justice for LGBT people, appealed for more Catholics to become supporters for trans people. Freml was responding to “multiple falsehoods about transgender people” made by Springfield’s Bishop Thomas Paprocki, who said there is “no physical basis for a person claiming to be transgender” and that transitioning is immoral and medically suspect.
In making such claims, Freml said the bishop was “ignoring multiple studies indicating a biological basis for transgender identity due to physical differences in the brain” and “exposing his lack of understanding of the transgender experience and the fluidity of gender.” Paprocki’s claims also contradicted mainstream medical understandings. Freml stated:
“There is actually no definitive Catholic teaching on transgender identity. . .Our bishop insists that the church must ‘reject the false ideologies being promoted in our secular culture and stand for the truth revealed to us by God,’ but I challenge him to recognize the face of Jesus revealed in the transgender members of our human family. Perhaps these individuals have something to teach all of us: The common thread in the diversity of transgender experiences is that transgender people, and especially transgender Catholics, seek to overcome what they experience as a barrier to living, loving and interacting from an authentic place. They seek wholeness in body, mind and spirit, something that Jesus certainly affirmed in his own ministry.
“As Catholics, we too are called to offer healing and wholeness to the world. If we fail in this regard, then we fail to live up to what God expects from us.”
Each week, there are more and more examples of Catholics seeing Christ in transgender people and acting in solidarity. A Jesuit priest in Canada recently spoke out for transgender equality legislation. Catholics in India helped found a school for transgender youth. More theologians are exploring gender identity in positive ways. Most recently, Fr. James Martin, SJ, spoke out in defense of transgender youth, in the midst of the U.S.’s latest “bathroom debate.”
The conversation about transgender issues in the Catholic Church is evolving, and it is exciting to see priests, politicians, and active lay people coming out in support of trans communities.
If you would like to engage the conversation more deeply, considering attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium,Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. There will be a focus session on “Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family,” featuring Deacon Raymond Dever and his trans daughter, Lexi, as well as intersex advocate Nicole Santamaria. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
You can find more of Bondings 2.0’s coverage of gender identity issues in our “Transgender” category to the right or by clicking here.
A bus decorated with physically explicit anti-transgender messaging has been impoundedin Madrid, per a judge’s ruling. Hazte Oir (translation: Hear Yourself), a Catholic group, owns the bus which was set to tour Spain with slogans like, “Boys have penises, girls have vulvas. Do not be fooled.” But until the offending messages are removed for violating a civil code against public advertising, the bus will remain in police custody.
Marriage Equality Sought in the Philippines
Due to its strong Catholic culture, the Philippines is the only nation besides the Holy See to ban divorce. This prohibition, coupled with difficulty attaining annulments, has led many Filipinos into long-term partnerships, including bearing children, that are not recognized by the state. Against this situation, LGBT activists have joined causes with persons seeking legalized divorces to attain reforms in marriage law.
Ariel Guban, a gay Catholic man in a relationship, said he believes in the sanctity of marriage, but as “as a union defined by common respect, acceptance and love—all of which are what gay people desire and are capable of giving.” Beyond legal protections and financial stability, allowing same-gender marriages Guban said:
“‘I will [probably] be able to better understand the concept of marriage and die knowing that I have been married, loved and enjoyed life without the undying threat of discrimination. Marriage is for everybody. It is not and should not be limited by gender preference.'”
Despite Catholic Opposition, U.S. LGBT Envoy Kept On
President Donald Trump will retain the U.S. special envoy for LGBTI rights, Randy Berry. Retaining Berry’s office was opposed by right-wing Christian groups, including some Catholics, who hoped the Trump administration would vacate former President Obama’s efforts towards global LGBT equality.
Catholic Prime Minister Attends “Big Gay Out”
New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English, a Catholic attended the nation’s largest pride celebration last month. English had been opposed laws proposing civil unions and marriage equality until changing his position in 2013. The pride celebration, known as the “Big Gay Out,” is now a mainstay on political calendars. English’s appearance comes after he softened his views on LGBT rights, and apologized for anti-equality votes. His National Party has moved to support equality in recent years as New Zealand voters became more supportive.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 11, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.
Today is International Women’s Day. Catholics believe that people are equal in dignity, and that no one should be discriminated against or harmed. These are principles on which all in the Church can agree. But how these principles are lived out concretely is a trickier issue, as the movements for equality in the church for women and LGBT communities have made clear.
New Ways Ministry’s Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, explored this challenge in a recent essay for The National Catholic Reporter’sGlobal Sisters Report.She reported on her experiences at an international church reform gathering last fall in Chicago. Sr. Jeannine linked the two movements, saying lessons from efforts to ensure women’s equality can readily inform efforts for LGBT equality.
The gathering in Chicago included priests’ groups and lay organizations from about a dozen nations. She explained that the representatives have had difficulty agreeing on liturgical worship that would be consistent with the values expressed and comfortable for all attendees, The issue of women’s liturgical leadership became a sticking point. Gramick commented:
“Did [the debate about liturgy] have any implications for my particular ministry for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people? The group had easily adopted a resolution ‘to stand against violence in all its forms — physical, emotional, spiritual and temporal — toward LGBT people’ and to ‘encourage the Church’s leaders and individual members to make the same commitment.’ There were some minimal questions about this resolution but not the angst felt in discussing women’s liturgical participation.
“Was equality for women a thornier issue than equality for LGBT people? No, not really. The LGBT resolution was expressed in general terms of equality, without specific actions. The group had also called for, and agreed upon, progress on full equality for women in the church; but the proposal about women, like the one about LGBT people, was broad and did not include particular examples of equality.”
Gramick acknowledged “people of good will can agree on general principles, but it is in specific applications that the rubber meets the road,” thus the challenges at the gathering of church reformers. She continued:
“At the next international conference of priests and reform organizations in 2018, when we discuss concrete actions that affirm the dignity and rights of LGBT people, I need to be prepared for similar resistance, hesitations, and concerns when these human rights and civil liberties are spelled out. . .
“I need to be patient because movement on issues requires time. Just as some who had opposed the proposition in Limerick had moved in their thinking about women’s liturgical role a year and a half later, there will be more movements in the future. I am pondering the words of Ecclesiastes 3:11: ‘God has made everything appropriate to its time.'”
It goes without saying that transforming doctrine and ecclesial practices about gender and sexuality is work that is almost immediately problematized. An event at the Vatican today for International Women’s Day illustrates this difficulty. The Voices of Faith gathering, an annual meeting of Catholic women from across the globe, will find participants sharing their stories around the general theme of uplifting women’s dignity and human rights. But the question of women’s ordination will not be discussed, and, in previous years, speakers have explicitly rejected ordination equality. And there are no openly lesbian, queer, or trans women speaking, despite the urgent need for such voices to be heard in our church.
Equality for women and for LGBT people in the church is, to a certain extent, a unified cause. Bondings 2.0’s Editor Francis DeBernardo, explored this pointin a post this past January. The participants from each movement can learn from one another, and support one another, too. Gramick concluded her piece on such lessons with these words:
“I am convinced that, as a church, we agree on the big picture. Each one of us may have specific ideas about the details in the painting: the colors to be used, the shape of objects, or the size of the canvas, but on the whole work of art we see eye-to-eye. As members of the church, we are united in our faith and belief in Christ and in our desire to follow the greatest commandment: to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.”
Let us then reflect this International Women’s Day on the ways we, as Catholic advocates for LGBT people, can be informed by and contribute to the movement for women’s equality in the church.
What do you think? Is Sr. Jeannine’s assessment correct? What lessons have you learned from other social justice movements that help LGBT equality? How can LGBT and ally communities contribute to women’s equality in the church? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the ‘Comments’ section below.
In the same week that the U.S. Catholic bishops praised President Trump for revoking guidelines to protect transgender students, across the border in Canada, a trans teen was honored for bringing equality to her Catholic school.
Tru Wilson, 13, a resident of the suburb of Ladner, was named a Sexual Health Champion by Options for Sexual Health, a nonprofit agency in Vancouver. The Georgia Straightreported:
“[Wilson’s] family filed a human-rights complaint when Ladner’s Sacred Heart [school] refused to allow her to attend as a girl. As a result, the Catholic Independent Schools Vancouver became one of the first Catholic school boards in North America to change their policy to support gender expression and identity.”
During an awards breakfast, the teen described what transitioning had been like, saying, “I just want acceptance. . .It’s so strange that it’s hard. Why does it have to be hard?” She discussed invasive questions she has been asked and, through tears, about losing a close friend whose family would not accept her.
Tru was honored, in part, for the positive change she and her family were able to effect in Vancouver’s Catholic schools. In 2014, when she began transitioning at age 10, Sacred Heart Elementary School barred Tru from dressing in the female uniform, using female restrooms, or being called by her preferred name. Doug Lousen, the Catholic schools superintendent at the time, said “you cannot just change your sex.”
But the Wilsons, having overcome their own struggles with Tru’s coming out, did not accept Sacred Heart’s discrimination. They filed a human rights complaint against the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese, settling for an undisclosed amount and the adoption of a new transgender education policy by the Archdiocese.
That policy, believed to be the first such policy for Catholic schools in North America, allows trans students to use their preferred pronouns, as well as wear the uniform and use the restroom associated with their gender identity. Transgender students are able to file for accommodations and work with a pastoral team of medical, spiritual, and educational experts to create individualized plans for each student.
But, there has been a downside. The Archdiocese claimed that church teaching stopped schools from supporting students who medically transition. And it has not quickly become the “template” the Wilson’s lawyer had hoped it would become in Catholic education. Disputes over LGBTQ student policies have been fierce in the neighboring province of Alberta. Lastly, Tru never returned to Catholic schools, and religion has become a mixed blessing for the Wilsons. Michelle explained during the breakfast:
“‘We thought that we could kind of ignore the aspects of the faith that we didn’t necessarily agree with and take advantage of all the really good things about it. . .For me, [this experience has] reinforced that there are some great things about faith and there are some really sad things that people use to pit people each other because of faith.”
Unfortunately, as in Tru Wilson’s case, LGBTQ youth too often experience these negative aspects of faith. A trans student at a Catholic school in England was shot with a BB gun after months of bullying. In the U.S., federal guidelines aimed at protecting trans students were repealed by the Trump administration last month.
But through the steady and courageous work of people like Tru Wilson and her parents, positive changes are happening. Catholic officials should do their part to expedite such changes by preemptively adopting supportive policies for trans students like Vancouver’s.