June is Pride month across the U.S. and in many areas of the globe. Parades, festivals, and other programs fill this month’s calendar, as people, gay and straight, take a moment or two to celebrate and affirm LGBT people. Many parishes have taken part in these events (see “Related posts” at the end of this essay for links), as a witness to Catholic support for the human dignity and equality of LGBT people. And some have done so in the face of ecclesial pressure not to participate.
This year, the inspiring story of Catholic participation comes from Ontario, Canada, where an educators’ union, the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association (OECTA), has decided to march in Toronto’s World Pride parade. As we have already reported, the group seeks to show support for LGBT students, teachers, and others, even while they have been criticized for their plans.
Their example brings to mind what is probably the top story these days in the United States concerning Catholic LGBT issues: the unjust firings of LGBT people and allies from Catholic schools and parishes and the adoption of restrictive employment contracts which forbid any public support of same-gender couples.
Many Catholics have felt helpless in the face of these repressive measures, and they have longed for a way to show their support for these fired workers. U.S. Catholics should follow their Canadian brothers and sisters and take to the streets by marching in their local Pride celebrations in support of Catholic LGBT and ally employees.
We’ve seen petitions, letter-writing campaigns, and protests, and these have been wonderful ways of creating awareness. Marching in Pride parades provides one more possible way to keep this issue alive in people’s minds. Such displays of support would likely garner media attention, which would put the message of non-discrimination in front of the Catholic leaders in a local area. Even if your area has not witnessed repressive employment actions yet, it is important to make your views known to the public and to church leaders so that all will know that not all Catholics are okay with these decisions. In situations like this, prevention is truly the best intervention.
Take heart from the example of these Canadian teachers. The criticism of their decision continues, according to The National Post, but they have stayed firm. OECTA’s President, James Ryan, met with Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins and St. Catharines’ Bishop Gerard Paul Bergie, both of whom expressed displeasure at the teachers’ union’s plans. A petition by some parents has been circulated to get the teachers to withdraw. Yet, the teachers are still resolute in their decision to march.
The teachers’ attitude was summed up nicely in The National Post article:
“The fact the union still plans to participate in the parade despite criticisms ‘says to me that these people have the courage of their convictions and that they are true supporters and allies of the diversity in our city, including sexual diversity,’ said Kevin Beaulieu, executive director of Pride Toronto, which is organizing the World Pride parade. ‘It’s a wonderful message of acceptance and love and welcome.’ ”
Exactly. The teachers’ message is a message of acceptance and love and welcome which is entirely consistent with Catholic principles. And if U.S. Catholics marched in support of fired church employees, they can express that same very Catholic message.
Bishop Fred Colli of the Diocese of Thunder Bay told the newspaper that he thought that the parade marchers would “cause confustion” among Catholics. This seems unlikely. What most people find confusing is the fact that Catholic leaders seem to have an obstinate refusal to showing any support for the human dignity and equality of LGBT people.
Similar to Bishop Colli, Cardinal Collins expressed dismay that the teachers would be marching in a parade where there have sometimes been been displays of nudity and distribution of condoms. The newspaper quoted him:
“ ‘I find it very troubling and strange that [the union] would choose this particular event as a way of expressing that, when it seems to be going completely against what we believe in many ways,’ said the cardinal. ‘That’s the point at which I would say, “Really? What are you thinking’” ‘ “
His remark seems to echo those in the Gospel who challenged Jesus’ authenticity because he associated with tax collectors and prostitutes. The Church should never restrain itself from showing love and acceptance just because some of those to whom they are extending a hand do not conform to all values we may hold.
And as for “going completely against what we believe in many ways,” I think the cardinal is forgetting some of the other ways that Catholics believe concerning LGBT people: that they should be affirmed and respected.
I’m not the only one who thinks the OECTA is right in their decision to march. Catholic school boards in Ontario were asked to issue statements of reprimand to the union, and to apply heavy penalties if they continued to march. So far, the response has been less than enthusiastic to penalize them:
“One such motion failed at Halton’s Catholic school board May 20 because it could not get a seconder. Another, simply asking the union to withdraw, was passed at York Region’s Catholic school board April 29. Waterloo’s Catholic board passed a motion May 26 stating it respects the union’s right to make its own decision on how to show support for the gay community.”
I hope that this outstanding example of Catholic support for LGBT people that the teachers are demonstrating will be emulated by many Catholics in the U.S. who want to show support for fired church employees. Just think of the message it would send to LGBT youth, as well. What a witness of faith it would be if Catholics showed up in numbers to support our LGBT siblings!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
(For all posts concerning firings, click on “Employment Issues” under “Categories” in the right hand column of this page.)
July 14, 2013: “Catholic Pastor Explains Why He Marched in Pride Parade”
March 24, 2014: “Catholic League’s Publicity Stunt Helps No One, Harms Many” (see photo of parish marching in New York Pride Parade)
May 24, 2014: “Brazilian Bishops Endorse Legal Equality, Promise to Accompany LGBT Community” (see section on Sao Paulo Pride March)
June 6, 2014: “Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues”