Candidates, LGBTQ Advocates Challenge Use of Catholic Parishes for Election Events

Two disputes, one in British Columbia and one in Kansas, have arisen about whether Catholic parishes are suitable locations for local politics given the church’s LGBTQ-negative stance.

Candidate Forum Moved from Catholic Parish Over LGBTQ Exclusion

The venue of a recently held candidate forum on October 4, 2019 in South Surrey-White Rock, British Columbia was moved from a local Catholic parish – White Rock’s Star of the Sea Parish – to the White Rock Community Center after candidates  raised concerns pertaining to LGBTQ inclusion.

Candidate Gordie Hogg expressed “a real moral dilemma” with participating in the forum at the parish because earlier this year, Star of the Sea Parish pastor Fr. Glenn Dion would not allow the White Rock Pride Society (WRPS) to use the church hall for its fundraiser benefiting LGBTQ youths and seniors.

Hogg relayed his concerns to Green Party candidate Pixie Hobby, who expressed similar concerns of inclusion with the selection of a venue that would not be welcoming to local businesses and members of the community. The venue was changed to the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce and White Rock Business Improvement Association.

Regarding the earlier incident at Star of the Sea, WRPS President Ernie Klassen was initially informed that the space was available for the requested date, but the Society’s venue application was subsequently denied. Because of the earlier incident, the WRPS has filed a human rights complaint against the parish, “alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” It should also be noted that although the pastor made the decision to exclude the LGBTQ group, WRPS received a wealth of support from the parishioners from White Rock’s Star of the Sea Church.

LGBTQ Advocates Ask for Polling Location to Be Moved from Catholic Parish

LGBTQ advocates and politicians near Roeland Park, Kansas, have questioned a decision to move a polling location to a Catholic parish ahead of November elections. U.S. News and World Report explained:

“Critics also worry that relocating the Ward 2 polling place in Roeland Park to St. Agnes Catholic Parish will confuse voters and decrease turnout . . .The new polling place is outside of Ward 2. City Council candidate Leonard Tocco is a St. Agnes parishioner and his wife teaches at the parish school. His opponent, Benjamin Dickens, is openly gay and doesn’t attend that church.

” ‘I don’t have a problem with it being a Catholic church,’ said state Rep. Brandon Woodard, a Lenexa Democrat and one of the state’s first openly gay legislators. ‘But when you move it to a church that one of the candidates attends, and when the church has a history of being anti-LGBT, the optics themselves are eyebrow-raising.’ “

The report noted that in 2006, the church “did not renew its music director’s contract after he refused demands to pledge celibacy and proclaim homosexuality a disorder.”

Local officials said St. Agnes already serves as a polling location for another ward and the move was necessary due to issues at the former site.

The shift in venue for the White Rock candidates forum and the pushback of the polling relocation in Roeland Park demonstrate important examples of community engagement in furthering LGBTQ equality. An inclusive venue for candidates to discuss contemporary issues is indeed critical for engendering a welcoming environment for all, as is a neutral polling location. It is disappointing that Catholic parishes could not provide that kind of welcoming and inclusive space the communities in White Rock and Roeland Park needed.

Brian William Kaufman, October 19, 2019

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