Catholics and Joe Biden Can Find Common Ground for Equality, Writes Lay Minister

Yunuen Trujillo

Catholic social teaching can provide common ground for President Joe Biden and U.S. Catholics to work together on LGBTQ issues, Yunuen Trujillo suggested in a recent op-ed for the National Catholic Reporter.

Trujillo,“an immigration attorney, a faith-based community organizer and a lay minister,” started the Instagram account @LGBTCatholics, which posts queer Catholic news and resources for ministry.

Catholic social teaching calls for a preferential option for the poor—which often includes LGBTQ people. Trujillo explains:

“LGBTQ persons are, have been and continue to be a vulnerable group, a part of the body of Christ that is hurting. While only 7% of youth in America are LGBTQ, as many as 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. LGBTQ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than non-LGBTQ youth. This high level of homelessness is the result of family rejection, abuse and poverty. Once homeless, LGBTQ youth are also at an increased risk of being targeted by human traffickers.”

Trujillo’s call for policies to help LGBTQ people is founded in other principles of Catholic social teaching, as well. She writes:

“Catholic social teaching’s principle of the dignity of the human person tells us that all human beings are created in God’s image and likeness regardless of race, sex, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, employment, economic status, health, intelligence, achievement or any other differentiating characteristic. Because we are all created in God’s image and likeness, we all possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected. . .

“LGBTQ persons are dehumanized when we frame their lives and life experiences solely as a political agenda, when we fail to see the human being in front of us and to recognize their needs.”

She praised the Biden administration for hopeful statements that address the needs of LGBTQ people, particularly transgender women. She explains:

“Transgender people, in particular, suffer even more discrimination, violence, social marginalization, economic marginalization and abuse, with transgender women of color being more likely to be murdered in the United States and worldwide. The LGBTQ Essential Data Act [proposed by the Biden administration] would improve data collection that can help determine leading causes of violent death among the LGBTQ community. In addition to collecting data, Biden has committed to directing federal resources to prevent violence against transgender women and prioritize prosecutions against offenders.”

But beyond freedom from physical violence, Catholic social teaching also recognizes that everyone has the right to a dignified life, including access to health care, housing, and work.

Catholics should be able to encourage Biden to pass comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing, credit, health care and education,” says Trujillo. One way she suggests providing such protections is passing the Equality Act, and she warns against the bishops opposing it outright:

While religious institutions have the right to ask for religious exemptions to laws that run afoul of their beliefs, we must be careful not to invalidate the Equality Act as a whole; otherwise we risk running afoul of our own doctrine. Furthermore, even when using religious exemptions, we must discern the way the exemption is used so as to avoid discrimination that is unjust and unethical. Finally, we must also be careful not to use scare tactics to gain religious exemptions.”

Government initiatives like the Essential Data Act and LGBTQ non-discrimination protections found in the Equality Act are a positive step. But, as Trujillo points out, LGBTQ people need a more comprehensive plan that will provide access to employment, housing, and health care. Universal housing, universal health care, and universal basic income are policies that would help not just LGBTQ people, but all those who are economically marginalized. Catholic social teaching provides grounds for Catholics not just to support initiatives for LGBTQ rights, but to push the Biden administration towards economic justice for all.

While Trujillo’s op-ed provides an optimistic perspective, a recent statement from the USCCB on Biden’s inauguration could impair collaborative efforts, saying that Biden’s policies on “gender” (i.e. trans people) would “advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity.”

The bishops’ message certainly doesn’t reflect the views of all Catholics or even all bishops. The Biden administration can easily find other Catholic leaders, individuals, and organizations with whom to work on non-discrimination legislation. When the bishops’ conference uses extreme language, they not only harm LGBTQ people, but they also make themselves irrelevant to the LGBTQ discussion. Trujillo offers a different way forward:

LGBTQ persons are a vulnerable group, but we often fail to recognize the vulnerability because we have failed to walk close enough beside them, and we have failed to listen to their life experiences the way Jesus would.”

Mac Svolos, New Ways Ministry, January 30, 2021

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