Priest Leads Opposition to Queensland’s “Gay Panic” Defense

May 27, 2016
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Fr. Paul Kelly

A Catholic priest in Australia has been leading efforts to eliminate the “gay panic” defense in his state.  The “gay panic” defense, which allows defendants to claim that a victim’s sexual advances motivated a criminal violence, is responsible for letting two men escape murder charges in a 2008 killing.

Fr. Paul Kelly launched an online petition in 2012 to repeal the “gay panic” defense law, which is still allowed in the states of Queensland and South Australia. In that petition, which now has nearly 248,000 signatures, Kelly explained his powerful reason for being involved:

“I’m a Catholic Priest and 8 years ago a man called Wayne Ruks was bashed to death in my Brisbane churchyard. Unbelievably, his killer’s convictions were downgraded to manslaughter, using ‘gay panic’ as a defence. . .

“I’ve made it my mission to see this revolting law abolished – it belongs in the dark ages. I have no words to describe how offensive, harmful and dangerous it is that two of our governments uphold that a person can be panicked enough by gay people to justify murder.”

Wayne Ruks was killed by John Meerdink and Jason Andrew Pearce in July 2008, his body found at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Maryborough. Extensive video evidence revealed the assailants beat Ruks for fifteen minutes, leaving him to die from internal bleeding. They avoided murder charges by claiming Ruks made sexual advances on them.

Father Kelly renewed efforts around the petition because the “leisurely pace” of change had been so slow.  He told News.com.au that eliminating this legal issue is “such a no brainer. . .It should’ve changed with one signature, not [240,000].”

Thanks to the efforts of Fr. Kelly and others, Australian government officials have finally promised to act. Premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill replied to the petition, describing the “gay panic” defense as an “outdated and offensive notion.” He promised legal reforms to remove it. Yvette D’Ath, attorney-general for Queensland whose government promised to eliminate the defense in 2015, said change was forthcoming so that the state’s criminal code would not be perceived to “condone violence against the gay community, or indeed any community.”

Fr. Kelly’s activism show how Catholic thought can help bring about justice for LGBT people.  Unfortunately, not all church leaders in Australia are standing with the LGBT community, though. The nation’s bishops have chosen the occasion of upcoming elections to reiterate their opposition to marriage equality proposals.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 12.43.47 PMThe Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) released a two-page statement in advance of federal elections to be held July 2. The statement included two paragraphs about marriage that imply expanded LGBT rights would victimize marriage and family in the “throwaway culture” criticized by Pope Francis. The bishops wrote that political decisions can end up “undermining marriage” and, alluding to a proposed plebiscite on marriage equality, said future decisions could further undermine marriage:

“Support for marriage and the family does not look a big vote-winner, so that even the most basic human institution, upon which the health of a society depends, can become part of the throwaway culture or at best an optional extra.”

These remarks intensify the Australian bishops’ collective opposition to marriage equality, as political reporter James Massola wrote in the Brisbane Times

“The remarks about same-sex marriage are significantly stronger than in the 2013 statement – which simply stated there ‘must be legal recognition of the unique nature of marriage between a man and a woman’ and 2010, when the issue was not mentioned and underscores concern in the Church.”

Whichever party wins in the July elections, it appears marriage equality is an inevitability for Australia. The nation’s residents overwhelmingly support it, with recent polls showing approval ratings above 60%. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic supportive of LGBT rights, said a plebiscite on the issue first proposed by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic who opposed marriage equality, would proceed if his Liberal party is re-elected. The opposition Labor party has promised to pass marriage equality in its first hundred days.

In a final related note, a discrimination complaint against the Australian bishops over an anti-marriage equality booklet they published last year has been withdrawn. Transgender advocate and politician Martine Delaney voluntary withdrew her complaint against ACBC and Archbishop Julius Porteous of Hobart after mediation efforts by the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in Tasmania ended in futility. She explained to 9 News:

” ‘My primary reason [for withdrawing the complaint] is the tribunal process is a very long and drawn out process and during that time the message of this booklet is going to continue to be spread. . .My intention was to force (the church) to understand the gravity of their actions, but they refuse to do so and the damage has been done.’ “

The booklet, titled “Don’t Mess with Marriage,” was released last year to widespread criticism. In the Diocese of Hobart schoolchildren were controversially used as couriers to bring it to their parents. LGBT advocate Michael Bayly even called booklet and its dissemination a “new low” for the Australian bishops.

Australia’s bishops should reconsider how invested they will be in opposing the seemingly inevitable passage of marriage equality when real and pressing issues of justice beckon. They could learn well from Fr. Paul Kelly’s example, and focus instead on how they can help protect the lives and well-being of sexually and gender diverse people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Posts

August 17, 2012: “Australian Priest Meets with Attorney General to End ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

July 13, 2012: “Australian Catholic Priest Re-Launches Campaign to End ‘Gay Panic’ Defense

January 26, 2012: “News Notes: January 26, 2012

January 2, 2012: “Catholic Priest Speaks Out for Equality in the Law

 

 


Complicating Catholic Understandings of Sex and Gender

May 23, 2016

SR-Church-Easter-candle-01 (2)Respecting LGBTQI people should be a “fairly simple thing to do,” as Jesuit Fr. James Martin remarked in an interview earlier this week. But understanding the diversity of gender identities can be complex even for committed allies, given how broad and nuanced transgender and intersex issues are. And sometime the consequences of not understanding and respecting can be deeply damaging.

Christians, including Catholics, have spearheaded anti-LGBT efforts like North Carolina’s HB2 law, ignoring the concrete reality that non-discrimination protections definitively improve LGBT people’s well-being. These opponents opt instead for faulty religious arguments to justify their opposition, arguments which theologian Katie Grimes took on at Women in TheologyShe posed a difficult challenge to anti-transgender Christians, asking:

“[W]hat in your life has lead you to believe that love, which God epitomizes perfectly, means wanting anything but happiness, in every sense of the word, for other people?”

Christian opposition to transgender identities is often rooted in literal readings of Genesis. They interpret creation story texts to mean God creates people only in the male/female binary. To such thought, Grimes responded:

“They twist the word of God in the shape of their own preconceptions.  They do not think to ask, ‘how do we know what makes a male a male and a female a female?’  They instead assume that God defines masculinity and femininity in the same way they do.”

Against arguments rooted in biological determinism, Grimes criticized how some Christians “deify the bodies . . we receive at birth.” She wrote:

“Besides turning natural law into a cliché (so babies with cleft palettes or heart defects ought not undergo corrective surgery?), this theory ends up unwittingly celebrating the very queerness it seeks to contain.  If we take this view seriously, then we would have to also say that God naturally creates many human beings (about 1 in 2000) whose bodies do not fulfill our socially constructed definitions of man and woman.”

Ultimately, Grimes concluded that anti-transgender Christians “sell God short” because they “assume that God’s imagination and creativity is no bigger than their own.”

Catholic opponents specifically, including some U.S. bishops, have cited supposed church teaching  in their objections to transgender equality. They claim there is clear and defined church teaching on gender identity that simply needs to be promoted. Melinda Selmys questioned the validity of this claim at her blog Catholic Authenticity, writing:

“Whenever I hear this, I suspect that the person making the comment has had little to no experience actually dealing with the transgender, queer or intersex communities. It’s basically a position that you can arrive at only if you’re taking the problems home, painting them out of their context and looking at them in a theological laboratory where everything is very simple and clear-cut.”

Selmys then listed eight scenarios drawn from her experiences as a Catholic which reveal the many complexities of gender identity, asking after each one what the reader would do. For instance, an intersex person assigned male at birth identifies as a woman upon reaching adolescence and feels called to religious life as a nun. Is this person accepted? Or a woman religious who cares for survivors of human trafficking knows she must minister to the trans survivors according to their gender identity if she is to be successful. How does the sister proceed? Or parents consult a canon lawyer about their intersex child. The canonist recommends corrective surgery while intersex adults criticize such surgeries as painful and violating. What do the parents do? Each of Selmys’ scenarios contains many intricacies that defy simple answers.

Failing to engage gender identity issues in their fullness has negative pastoral, as well as political, consequences. For instance, a Catholic priest in New York said being transgender is the same as considering oneself a chicken because “something has gone wrong in my feelings. . .I need help.” Fr. Andrew Carrozza’s op-ed continued in this vein, attacking transgender people in the name of faith. The priest’s approach is unfortunately similar to other Christian opponents who have refused to listen to transgender people’s experiences, and relied upon the same faulty religious thought critiqued by Grimes and Selmys.

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly criticized Carrozza in Commonweal, and her comments are broadly applicable to Catholic opponents of any form of LGBT equality. While affirming a place for the church in conversations about sexuality and gender, Wilson O’Reilly wrote:

“Carrozza is making the gentlest version of the church’s basic claim that we have nothing left to learn about human sexuality. This claim is simply not plausible to a growing number of people, especially young people, and volunteering it with placid confidence in the face of something as complicated as gender identity and public accommodations for transgender people is not doing anything for the church’s credibility.”

She added that ” ‘naive’ [is] the kindest word that comes to mind” for pastoral ministers like Fr. Carrozza who believe “gentle ridicule” is an appropriate response.

The writer H.L. Mencken once said, “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  Catholics must resist the temptation to reduce transgender and intersex issues, even if such distillation is well-intentioned. And it is worth asking, too, whether the questions raised about gender identities are themselves even complex enough. We have to ask and keep asking the right questions–and answer and keep answering in dynamic ways to avoid simple and wrong answers.

As Katie Grimes made clear, this debate matters beyond correcting the wrongness of simple answers. Simple answers employed in the name of the church are actively harmful in justifying prejudice, discrimination, and, at times, even violence against LGBT people. We must commit ourselves to complicating constantly our understandings of gender and of sexuality to ensure we are always reading the signs of the times in new ways, with new eyes and open hearts.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Fr. James Martin: Respecting Transgender People “Fairly Simple Thing to Do”

May 19, 2016
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Jesuit Fr. James Martin again affirmed LGBT inclusion, saying transgender people using restrooms according to their gender identity “seems a fairly simple thing to do.” Meanwhile, U.S. bishops intensified their criticism of expanding transgender equality.

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Martin was asked about the federal government’s new directive mandating transgender students be allowed to use gender-segregated facilities, like restrooms and locker rooms, according to their gender identity. Martin responded:

“I don’t know a whole lot about that issue, but I would say that I don’t understand the problem with letting transgender people use bathrooms that they feel comfortable in. Personally, I think it’s overblown and that people’s responses are really strange. I don’t know that much about transgender people but that’s all the more reason for us to try and treat them with dignity.

“I thought the comment from Attorney General Lynch was beautiful, that we are with you, we’re going to try to help you. Just as the church needs to treat gay and lesbians with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ which is in the catechism, it should be the same with transgender people. And letting them use the bathroom seems a fairly simple thing to do.”

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and on Catholic Education, called the federal directive “deeply disturbing” in a statement. They said the directive failed to balance “legitimate concerns about privacy and security” and “short-circuits” ongoing conversations about gender. Malone and Lucas quoted Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia which says youth must “accept their own body as it was created.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, pushed back against the bishops’ statement and their use of Pope Francis to justify discrimination:

“We believe, as do many Catholics, that our transgender kin reflect the immensity and diversity of God’s creativity. They challenge us to humbly re-examine traditional beliefs about sex, gender, identity, and human relationships, and to acknowledge the limitations of our current understanding in these areas. We urge the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to engage in dialogue with transgender youth and adults, as well as their families, so they can better understand the pastoral and practical needs of these communities.”

Fr. Martin also commented on Pope Francis’ impact on LGBT issues  generally. Martin said it is “hard to overstate the impact” that Francis’ papacy has had in welcoming LGBT people. But the Jesuit priest criticized the institutional church for not providing more outreach to LGBT people, and offered three points to enhance pastoral care and improve ecclesial inclusion:

“First, by listening to their experience. Usually LGBT people are preached at instead of listened to. Second, by going out [of] their way to make them feel welcome. Third, by including them in leadership positions as anybody else would be, as Eucharistic ministers and lectors and things like that. But the first thing is listening to them. What is their experience?”

What is readily apparent from these Catholic responses to the federal directive protecting transgender students in public schools is who has listened to and come to know LGBT people–and who has not. Too many bishops have not asked themselves nor informed their ministry with the question proposed by Martin, “What are the experiences of LGBT people?” Pope Francis’ own deficiencies on matters of gender and sexuality, readily apparent in Amoris Laetitia, seem to stem from a failure to ask this question more publicly and proactively.

LGBT non-discrimination protections, for students and for everyone else, can be readily defended using Catholic teaching. But personal stories and relationships are perhaps more powerful sources for our theology and our advocacy today. So before another top Vatican official condemns trans identities as “demonic” or more U.S. bishops keep opposing LGBT civil rights, perhaps a pause for listening and for dialogue would be an appropriate next step. After that, respecting LGBT people should easily become a “fairly simple thing to do.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Top Cardinal: Transgender Rights Are ‘Demonic’; Marriage Equality Is ‘Poison’

May 18, 2016
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Cardinal Robert Sarah speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast

A top cardinal at the Vatican attacked transgender civil rights as “demonic” and compared marriage equality to “poison” during a speech before high-profile U.S. Catholics.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, keynoted the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast yesterday morning in Washington, D.C. His address about family and religious freedom in the contemporary world narrowed into particularly harsh LGBT condemnations. Sarah attacked transgender equality in his speech, saying family is threatened:

“[T]hrough a demonic ‘gender ideology,’ a deadly impulse that is being experienced in a world increasingly cut off from God through ideological colonialism.”

Sarah said efforts towards “tolerance” were really religious persecution, part of an “insidious war” in the U.S. and worldwide to dismantle Catholic teaching. He criticized transgender non-discrimination legislation being debated in many states by his denial of trans identities altogether. He said “nothing could be simpler” than people assigned male at birth using a men’s restroom.

Sarah used portions of his address to attack marriage equality, too. He said the devil is “intent on destroying the family” through “distorted impositions of the family,” including same-gender relationships. The cardinal said non-traditional family arrangements “cause damage to little children” such that children experience “a deep existential doubt about love.” Marriage equality and other legal recognition of non-traditional arrangements is comparable to “putting bandages on an infected wound” while the wound “continues to poison the body.”

In addition to Cardinal Sarah, the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast featured Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, and Fr. Paul Scalia, a priest of the Arlington diocese who is son of late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Pope Francis appointed Sarah as the Vatican’s top liturgist in 2014. These are not the cardinal’s first or even worst negative words in relation to LGBT people. During the 2015 Synod on the Family, Sarah said the LGBT rights movement had “demonic origins” and compared it to Nazism and fascism.  Bondings 2.0‘s Francis DeBernardo, who covered the meeting from Rome, deemed Sarah’s comments the Synod’s “most homophobic remark”. The cardinal previously said marriage equality supporters sought to “destroy the family in Africa.

Is there a rational response to such repeated and irrational comments by Cardinal Sarah? I offer two thoughts.

First, contextual differences may account for a certain, limited amount of his remarks’ intensity. Speaking about spiritual warfare, including the demonic, is far more normative in Guinea, where he was archbishop, and other African contexts. Referencing the demonic is absolutely jarring in a U.S. Catholic context. Cultural differences, Guinean and Roman alike, may also account for the ways in which he misconstrues religious liberty in the U.S. and feeds a narrative of persecution proposed by this nation’s bishops. Sarah should have avoided partisan politics and spoken in a pastorally-sensitive manner during his address.

What is truly inexcusable are Cardinal Sarah’s metaphors about LGBT people and their relationships as a “deadly impulse” and “poison,” as well as his failure to engage contemporary understandings of gender and sexuality before issuing such harsh condemnations. His address shows almost no attention to pastoral realities, nor even the realities of public policy in the U.S. about which he ostensibly is commenting. Cardinal Sarah’s remarks about LGBT people and their civil rights are inconsistent with Pope Francis’ desire for a church of mercy. Rather, his remarks are dangerous words which he should retract and for which he should apologize.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Are Already Absent LGBT Voices Being Further Silenced in Conversations About ‘Amoris Laetitia’?

May 17, 2016

 

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Craig Ford

Have Catholics’ analyses of Amoris Laetitia, the recently published exhortation on family by Pope Francis, been dismissive of LGBT communities’ reaction and concerns?

Craig Ford, a theology doctoral student at Boston College, claimed on the blog Catholic Moral Theology that liberal Catholics who are not LGBT have too often jettisoned queer and transgender concerns to uphold a belief that Pope Francis is bringing progress to the Church.

“[Q]ueer relationships seem to be beside the point,” Ford wrote in post that not only challenges his academic colleagues in theology but other Catholics who identify as LGBT advocates and allies. Ford noted that when liberal Catholic pundits comment on homosexuality and related issues in the document, these pundits frequently suggest:

“[LGBT people’s] disappointment with respect to development of doctrine on these issues should be tempered by our understanding of Francis’ goals, or by an understanding of Francis’ style, or by the overall context of Francis’ papacy. . .This sort of reaction to issues involving queer persons is positively insulting, particularly when it comes from queer persons’ strongest allies: presumably straight, well-meaning, liberal theologians.”

Dismissing LGBT concerns in this way has helped liberal theologians uphold the idea that there is an “arc of a progressive future towards which Francis is (hopefully) steering the church,” Ford asserted. Such a reading of Amoris Laetitia allows a heterosexist view  drawn from Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, employed by Pope Francis in the new document, to pass unchallenged in liberal analyses. Ford also wrote that reactions from people who are otherwise quite supportive of LGBT equality have suppressed Amoris Laetitia’s problematic treatment of gender identity. He continued:

“[Liberals] decided not to critique Francis’ deployment of what is used to malign the entire field of gender studies—the term ‘gender ideology’. Instead, we sit by with great hope and expectation while Francis and other bishops continue to shame and marginalize the beautiful existences of trans- and genderqueer persons [Ford cited AL section 56 as evidence].”

Ford wondered why liberal theologians who are not queer or trans have allowed Amoris Laetitia’s clear failure on LGBT issues to be treated less critically. In a critique applicable to all LGBT allies, Ford challenged his colleagues in academic theology:

“The entire point of the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable is to remind all Christians that, among others, the concerns of queer persons are never beside the point.”

Sadly, not only this latest apostolic exhortation but the entire synodal process preceding it have too often treated LGBT people and their experiences of family as “beside the point.” No LGBT Catholics addressed the assemblies, and access to pre-synodal questionnaires were quite limited globally, further restricting LGBT Catholics’ input.

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Annie Selak

Annie Selak, also a theology doctoral student at Boston College, is curious about the missing voices in Amoris Laetitia and what impact greater input from these voices, like LGBT Catholics, might have had. She wrote in the blog Political Theology Today:

“There are many statements and examples in Amoris Laetitia that are not incorrect, but rather miss the mark in fully capturing the realities faced by families. . .voices from people who experience the lifestyles under discussion would enrich the document, and thus add to the robust teaching of the church. What might it look like for church documents to include voices of people throughout the world, most especially those marginalized whose voices are too often excluded?”

Selak proposed the integration of narrative (or story-telling) into church documents as “one way of rooting theology in lived experience and representing a diverse range of voices” and continued:

“The potential use of narrative in church teaching would not be an example of universalizing a particular instance, but rather a method that emphasizes the continued revelation of God in the lives of the people. . .A greater incorporation of voices through narrative can serve to enhance our experience of God’s continued revelation and build connections in the global church.”

If LGBT Catholics themselves addressed the synods, what impact would they have had in the outcome of those meetings and in the ensuing papal document? How would Amoris Laetitia‘s disappointing, even dismissive, approach to LGBT issues be different if Pope Francis had listened more closely to the marginalized persons of the church he leads? What if the stories of LGBT people and their families had been embedded in Amoris Laetitia’s lengthy reflections on family life?

One U.S. prelate, Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich has stated that he would have liked to hear the voices of LGBT people at the synod.  At a synod press conference, Bondings 2.0’s Francis DeBernardo asked Cupich if he felt it would have been better if the bishops heard these voices during their meetings.  Cupich’s reply:

“Yes, it may have been.  I know that myself, when I did the consultation in my diocese, I did have those voices as part of my consultation, and put that in my report, and so maybe that’s the way they were represented.  But I do think that we could benefit from  the actual voices of people who feel marginalized rather than having them filtered through the voices of other representatives or the bishops.  There is something important about that, I have found personally.”

These are questions that liberal and progressive Catholics should be careful not to ignore. If the document is to be a starting point for LGBT issues, an idea Bondings 2.0 explored a few weeks ago, then the first steps must be to include LGBT concerns as central in our analysis and to include more LGBT voices moving forward.

What do you think? Have LGBT voices been further excluded and even silenced by the reactions and commentaries of liberal Catholics? How can LGBT narratives be more included in the church’s reflections on family? You can leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

You can read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Amoris Laetitia and reactions to it by clicking hereYou can read New Ways Ministry’s response to the document by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholics Weigh In On Obama Administration’s Directive for Schools’ Bathrooms

May 16, 2016

Catholics have entered the national debate concerning transgender people using the bathroom of their identified gender.  This week, the debate spread nationally as President Obama’s Education and Justice Departments issued a directive to all public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room for the gender with which they identify.

Two Catholic dioceses have already weighed in opposing the debate, but a columnist for a national Catholic magazine is calling for a more compassionate response.

Bishop Thomas Tobin

Bishop Thomas Tobin

Rhode Island’s Bishop Thomas Tobin weighed in on Obama’s directive, saying to NBC 10 News:

“This seems to becoming just a politically driven agenda where is all this coming from, this transgenderism, affecting something as basic as the use of bathrooms and shower rooms and sports teams.”

Tobin called for compassion for transgender people, but at the same time denied their identity by quoting Scripture.  He told the news program:

” ‘I have no doubt there are some people for physiological or psychological reasons, and those people deserve all the support, respect, cooperation and assistance we can offer them.’

“But he finds the situation challenging.

” ‘I go back to the very basics and in the book of Genesis we read, ‘God created the human family.’ Male and female, he created them. There was no third option.’ “

By quoting Scripture out of context,  Tobin disregards the gender-diverse people mentioned in the Bible, such as the Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Philip (Acts 8:26-40).  The Ethiopian eunuch’s story is the first account of a Gentile converting to Christianity.  Moreover, Tobin fails to recognize that transgender people are not a “third option.”  They are living true to their experience of gender, beyond the biological markers, in their psychological, emotional, and spiritual lives.

Although Catholic and private schools are not included in the Obama administration’s directive, one school in Tobin’s diocese, Mt. St. Charles Academy, Woonsocket, has already made provisions for transgender students to use the facilities appropriate for their gender.

The Diocese of Lafayette, Indiana, also issued a statement concerning the new federal regulations, again, even though Catholic schools are not affected by it.  WFLI 18 television news quoted from the diocese’s opinion:

“Our first thought is that our Catholic schools are caring for other people’s children. Our Church-sponsored institutions (health care, universities, Catholic Charities) are rightfully upset when government agencies do not account for our concerns prior to issuing regulations. By the same token, Church leadership understands how upset our school parents might be if we changed important practices before accounting for their concerns.

“We should be cautious about the unintended effects that can arise when certain aspects of student sexuality or gender traits are spotlighted at ages where this might not be helpful to them. Given that both science and law are still hunting for adequate definitions of gender identity, it appears that the government is asking educators and parents to go along with a ‘best guess’ strategy.”

Much is wrong with the Diocese of Lafayette’s statement.  It is wrong to say that parental concerns were not accounted for.  Parents of transgender children have long had concerns for their youths’ safety, self-esteem, and identities.  Raising the specter that this policy will confuse other children is simply irresponsible.  The new bathroom policy provides an opportunity for education and sensitivity-training to help children better understand and respect their peers and themselves.  Finally,  science currently has a good, solid understanding of gender identity, and law is attempting to catch up with that.  This last argument by the diocese is clearly a red herring:  science and law have been clear about understandings of sexual orientation for decades now, but the diocese has not changed their views or policies on that topic yet.

Judith Valente

Judith Valente, who writes for America magazine, penned a column on the bathroom debate, noting that although Catholic schools are exempt from the regulations, these institutions should be prepared that changes may come their way in the future.  Unlike the two Catholic responses quoted above, though, Valente argues for a more compassionate response to transgender people.

Valente quotes Curt Richardson, an attorney and human resources director for Illinois’ Unit 5 school district, which has already confronted the bathroom issue and made appropriate accommodations for transgender students.  Richardson said that he tells parents who oppose the decision:

“If you’ve ever been around trans individuals, the amount of harassment they receive is just tremendous and then [there is] the correlation to suicide rates among transgender individuals. So you have to ask yourself, why would anyone subject themselves to that kind of harassment just to get in the girl’s restroom?”

Valente also recounted the painful experiences of a transgender student at an Illinois Catholic high school:

“I recently spoke with a student from an Illinois Catholic high school who was born female and now identifies as male. The student said administrators were uncomfortable discussing the transgender experience, let alone changes to bathroom or locker room policies. He said he had been sent home on one occasion for wearing a suit and tie to a school dance. Many teachers and students, he said, continue to call him by his female given name, though he had asked to be called by his preferred male name.

” ‘It’s really hard to be in class and just trying to learn, and somebody calls out your birth name and it’s like, oh, that’s not my name,’ the student said. ‘It’s really embarrassing and it makes me feel bad. And even though it’s all the time, it still hurts.’

“The student is active in several school clubs and has many friends among classmates but says he is considering transferring to another school for senior year. He wishes he could stay. ‘This is not something that is new, this is not some phase or fad that is going on right now. These are my feelings, this is who I am, this is part of me and part of the world,’ the student said. ‘There are so many people that are like me that are normal, people who just want to live their lives and not be hurt every day.’ “

Valente also interviewed Cameron Hurley, who graduated from Unit 5 schools, and who was one of the people who worked to change that district’s policy to accommodate transgender students.  Hurley underlined some reasons for the policy which are not often mentioned in the public debate:

“Hurley says one of the biggest arguments for giving transgender individuals the right to choose their restroom is that they put themselves at risk if they use a bathroom that corresponds with their anatomy but not how they look.

” ‘I pass as male, and if you’re going to force me to use the women’s restroom because I haven’t changed my anatomy to your liking that could be reported as a man in the women’s restroom, and then it becomes dangerous when police become involved in things like that,’ Hurley said.

” ‘Trans people are like everyone else. They want to go into the bathroom, do what they have to do and get out,’ Hurley added. In states that have anti-discrimination laws, there have been no reported incidents of anyone being attacked by a transgender person in a public restroom, he said.”

Bishops and diocesan officials would do well to be more like journalists:  actually going out and interviewing the people involved in and affected by proposed policies.  If these Church leaders would listen more, they can be educated to the reality that people experience.  Listening and accompanying, two traits that Pope Francis said bishops need to practice, really need to be used in the bathroom debate.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Strongly Catholic Philippines Elects Its First Transgender Lawmaker

May 15, 2016

The heavily Catholic nation of the Philippines this week elected their first transgender person to the House of Representatives, while at the same time electing to the Senate a boxing star who made a vicious anti-gay comment during his campaign.

The Tablet reported that the transgender woman won the congressional seat by a wide margin of votes:

“Liberal Party candidate Geraldine Roman, who has been living as a woman for more than two decades, trounced her closest rival in the congressional district of Bataan, winning 62 per cent of the unofficial vote.”

Geraldine Roman

During the campaign, Roman, a Catholic, answered critics who said she should not be running for office.  She told the AFP:

“If Jesus Christ was alive today, he would not approve of discrimination. I firmly believe that.”

Roman, who succeeds her mother as representative of their home district of Bataan, campaigned saying that her first loyalty was to the people of her district.  But she also did not downplay LGBT issues, making them an integral part of her platform. On the campaign trail, AFP reported:

“Roman said, if elected, she intended to back an anti-discrimination bill that has been languishing for 16 years that would give the LGBT community rights, such as equal treatment in the workplace, hotels and schools.

“She will also campaign to make changing gender legal.

” ‘I am living proof that such a law will allow transgender people to pursue happiness and become productive citizens,’ she said.”

Roman transitioned her gender in the 1990s, legally changing her name and her gender on certificates.  Yet in 2001, the Philippines made it illegal to make gender changes on official documents. She campaigned to overturn this law, as well as to extend non-discrimination protections for employment, education, and public accommodations.

Manny Pacquiao

In a separate race for the Philippines’ Senate, Manny Pacquiao, a boxing star who had made a vicious anti-gay slur during the campaign, won the seat.  In February, Pacquiao said that people involved in gay and lesbian relationships were “worse than animals.”  Initially, he defended the remark, saying he was “just telling the truth,” but after much criticism, including a rebuke from Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, he apologized.

The Philippines is the third-largest Catholic nation in the world, and it has not legalized same-sex marriage.  In his January 2015 visit there, Pope Francis coined the term “ideological colonization” to refer to social and legal changes taking place in marriage, which many commentators saw as a criticism of marriage equality.

In Roman’s campaign, her family’s political legacy was seen as an important positive, yet LGBT leaders in the Philippines still see the win as an important victory:

” ‘Even if she’s just one, she will create noise,’ Anastacio Marasigan, spokesperson of the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network, told AFP.

” ‘That will help us in mainstreaming or highlighting issues often ignored, like HIV and sexual violence.’ “

Roman’s gender identity was attacked during the campaign, but she was confident that her transgender status would not be a detriment to her election:

“My life has not been a secret. . . .I grew up here. People know me. (Gender) only becomes an issue when you try to keep it a secret. It’s nothing bad. I never hurt anyone in the process. I’m so happy so why should I be ashamed?”

The Voice of America reported Roman’s reaction to the news of her victory:

“Roman said her experience showed that the ‘politics of hatred, bigotry and discrimination did not prevail,’ adding that what triumphed was ‘acceptance, love and tolerance.’ “

She also expressed the hope that more LGBT Filipinos would follow her example and enter political races.

Congratulations to Ms. Roman and to the Philippines for this historic victory!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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