“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s new feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues. We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.
Once a month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years. We will comb through editions ofBondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings, New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format. We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases.
1991: “The Murder of Paul Broussard”
In 1991, the gay-bashing death of a young Houston banker sparked a strong reaction from the local Catholic bishop in which he stated that to hate homosexuals “is to offend God.”
Paul Broussard was brutally beaten by ten youths–nine of whom were high school students–when he and his friends were leaving a nightclub in the Montrose section of Houston, known as a gay neighborhood, in the early morning hours of July 4, 1991. Broussard was just blocks away from his home. He was fatally stabbed twice during the attack.
First responders were slow to arrive at the scene, which was seen as a common practice for incidents in the Montrose neighborhood at that time because of fear of the AIDS virus. The medical examiner indicated that “delay in treatment” was a cause of Broussard’s death. In the days that followed, the city’s police chief declared that he had no intention of solving the crime, sparking days of protest marches at the mayor’s home by the gay community. The protests went on to become the largest gay rights demonstration in Houston’s history. Eventually, the attackers were apprehended and plea bargained to receive prison time.
On August 9th of that year, in the midst of all this turmoil, Houston’s Bishop Joseph Fiorenza took the unprecedented step of speaking out to condemn the brutality of this attack. No bishop had ever spoken up against a gay bashing in such a public way. In a column in The Texas Catholic Herald entitled “The Death of Paul Broussard,” Fiorenza stated:
“To hate homosexuals is to offend God whose creative love gives life to every person and it is a violation of the Church’s teaching that every human being has immeasurable value and dignity which is to be respected by others. “
Fiorenza provided a theological basis for this claim:
“. . . [I]t is a religious truth that every person, regardless of lifestyle, is a child of God , formed in His image. The ‘image of God’ in every person, whether a homosexual, a bisexual, or a heterosexual, is what gives dignity and worth to each individual, and is the reason that every person is th subject of human and civil rights.”
The bishop also got more specific in his instructions about how to eradicate the homophobia which caused such cruel acts:
“Any hatred of homosexuals or jokes about gay bashings or calling homosexuals by common epithets is clearly a violation of our responsibility to love as Christ loves every human person. To hate or to violate another person, no matter whoo he or she is, continues the cyle of violence that can lead to other Paul Broussards’ being brutally killed just because they were thought to be homosexuals. Please God, this will never again happen in our community. “
Fiorenza also explained some recent experiences which brought the Broussard murder into a clearer focus for him:
“Shortly after Paul’s murder, I visited Central Europe and Berlin where I saw evidence of neo-Nazi anti-semitism We must not forget that the demonic evil of Nazism also targeted homosexuals for the gas chambers. Hitler wanted them eliminated. God forbid that the Nazi hatred for homosexual would ever infiltrate into our community. It is possible, however, if we are not alert to its dangers, and if we fail to teach the God-given dignity and worth of every human person.”
In an interesting move, the bishop also acknowledged that the failure to proclaim this teaching was part of the problem which caused gay bashing:
“. . . [O]ur tradtional mediating institutions [religious congregations, schools and homes] have failed society if anyone thinks ‘gay bashing’ is an acceptable form of diversion. Or what is worse, if any member of our religious congregations and schools has developed a hatred for homosexuals.”
He stressed that the church’s teaching about human dignity needed to be proclaimed more strongly:
“The Church has always made an important anc clear distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual genital activity. The Church has not and does not condemn those with a homosexual orientation. Furthermore, every religious faith teaches that homosexuals are to be respected and loved as brothers and sisters in the human family and any attack upon them is a violation of religious principles.
“In view of the tragic death of Paul Broussard, it is timely for all faiths to recall this teaching to that it will be clearly understood and hopefully prevent a repeat of deaths resulting from ‘gay bashing.’ “
Bishop Firorenza’s example stands as a witness which should motivate Catholic bishops around the world to speak out against violence inflicted on the LGBT community. This lesson is particularly important for the bishops who continue to support laws which criminalize and severely penalize LGBT people. The teaching on human dignity is clear and unambiguous. Application of this teaching to these situations should be similarly clear and unambiguous.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry