The U.S. bishops have continued to support the Trump administration’s erosion of rights for LGBTQ people, this time decrying the Equality Act’s recent passage in by the House of Representatives and endorsing a new federal anti-transgender guideline. Catholics are again left wondering just how far Church leaders will go in their crusade which they describe as protecting religious liberty but which shows little concern for LGBTQ lives.
On May 17th, five top U.S. bishops, in their capacity as chairs of episcopal conference committees, released a statement claiming they were “gravely disappointed” that the Equality Act, which would enshrine LGBTQ non-discrimination protections into federal law, had passed the House. The bishops’ commented:
“Rather than offering meaningful protections for individuals, the Equality Act would impose sweeping new norms that negatively impact the unborn, health care, charitable services, schools, personal privacy, athletics, free speech, religious liberties, and parental rights. The Act’s unsound definitions of ‘sex’ and ’gender identity’ would erase women’s distinct, hard-won recognition in federal laws. Its sex-based nondiscrimination terms would end women’s shelters and many single-sex schools. It would close faith-based foster care and adoption agencies that honor children’s rights to a mother and father. The bill would even act as an abortion mandate. We must pursue justice and equality for anyone denied it; but this is a regrettable approach.”
The bishops issuing the statement were Kansas City, Kansas’ Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Louisville’s Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Venice, Florida’s Bishop Frank Dewane, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Lincoln Nebraska’s Bishop James Conley, chair of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Oakland, California’s Bishop Michael Barber, chair of the Committee on Catholic Education. Previously, Church leaders have written that the Equality Act would be a “detriment to society as a whole” and would have “devastating consequences” for religious liberty.
These bishops, minus Barber, issued another statement on May 24th applauding the Trump administration’s latest assault on transgender rights. The bishops expressed gratitude for the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) proposed guidelines that would prohibit “sex” from being interpreted as inclusive of “gender identity” and thereby erase trans healthcare protections which President Barack Obama had sought to implement. Earlier this month, Naumann and Kurtz celebrated another set of HHS guidelines that would allow healthcare providers to deny care to LGBTQ people if such denial is based in the provider’s religious beliefs.
As of May 26th, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had posted six policy-related statements to its website for the month of May: one gently chiding the Trump administration for its most recent immigration proposal, one celebrating the passage of anti-choice laws in states like Alabama, and four opposing LGBTQ rights.
Is there a point when the U.S. bishops will reevaluate their unyielding religious liberty campaign which aligns them with the Trump administration’s worst anti-LGBTQ impulses, even if unintentionally? One test case involves proposed guidelines from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would allow religiously-affiliated, federally-funded shelters for people experiencing homelessness to discriminate against transgender clients. If approved, these guidelines would further inhibit an already difficult situation for trans people without stable housing, reported The Washington Post:
“One in three transgender people have experienced homelessness — including one in eight in the last year alone, putting them at risk of physical and sexual violence and being forced into sex work, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
“Seventy percent of transgender people who tried going to a shelter in the last year were kicked out for being transgender, were physically or sexually assaulted, or faced another form of mistreatment because of their gender identity, the center said.”
It is unclear if the bishops will release a statement on the proposed homeless shelter guidelines, too.
Given the range of social injustices under Trump that the bishops should be focused on–like caged children at the U.S.-Mexico border and climate change–their focus on religious liberty at the expense of LGBTQ civil rights appears narrowly and obsessively focused. The bishops risk abandoning the very faith tradition which they are tasked with upholding, a tradition that prioritizes solidarity with the marginalized as a Gospel mandate. Catholics must keep vocally and vigorously defending LGBTQ civil rights because, once again, our bishops clearly are not.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 30, 2019