The story of Black Lives Matter cannot be told without queer and transgender activists, who helped found and lead the movement since its beginnings in 2013. That is why it was so refreshing to see LGBTQ people centered repeatedly in a new book on the relationship between the movement for racial justice and the Catholic Church.
Olga Segura’s book, Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church, was released this month by Orbis Books. From the very beginning, Segura is clearly intersectional in her approach to anti-racism as it relates to the church. Weaving her personal narrative as a woman of color closely linked to Catholicism, she examines the different ways the church relates to anti-Blackness. Building on the work of scholars like openly gay theologian Fr. Bryan Massingale and his seminal 2010 book Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, Segura reads the signs of the times for 2021. She addresses how Catholics have been complicit in chattel slavery, racial capitalism, and other injustices. Throughout, Segura is honest about the church’s failings, in particular the bishops, even today.
A strength of the book is Segura’s unwavering inclusion of LGBTQ people, specifically those queer and trans people of color who face compounded oppressions. She acknowledges truths that many Catholics involved in anti-racist work may be uncomfortable with or remain silent about. For instance, the Black Lives Matter movement explicitly aligns itself with and has been led by queer and transgender people. Two of its three founders are queer women, and some of the key leaders in the 2014 Ferguson uprising were LGBTQ people. But, she notes, “all the U.S. Catholic bishops have demonstrated an unwillingness to engage with the work of [Alicia] Garza, [Opal] Tometi, and [Patrisse] Cullors, the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Segura is particularly attentive to transgender marginalization, noting at different points how disproportionately trans people are affected by violence, sexual assault, incarceration, and police brutality. And she attributes such violence in part to church teachings on gender, stating that some non-Catholic activists “are stronger examples of intersectional Christian witness than many bishops in our church, who often contribute to the daily violence faced by the most marginalized, particularly those in the LGBTQIA community.” Segura writes at one point, “If we are a church that constantly screams it is prolife, that it cares about human dignity, then we must care about the lives of transgender women, men, and children.”
Birth of a Movement is not, however, simply a catalogue of the church’s sins. Fundamentally, it is a hopeful read, ending with a chapter on “A Liberated and Resurrected Church.” Segura’s writing not only has urgency to it, but a sense that it is indeed possible for the church to overcome its racist history. In a concluding note, drawing on the work of theologian M. Shawn Copeland, Segura writes:
“We were to remember the pain but not fear it–for resurrection and liberation, [Copeland’s work] demonstrated require us to fight to eradicate the very ills most affecting our communities, from addiction to poverty to suicide.
“A world without these ills is a world without prisons, without police, without the very systems responsible for violence and inequity. The Catholic Church has a crucial role to play in the struggle for liberation.”
One of Segura’s suggested actions for racial justice is a step that advocates of LGBTQ equality are well versed in: dialogue and encounter. Several times she urges the U.S. bishops to meet with the Black Lives Matter founders, writing:
“By incorporatiing the work of Black, queer women, our church leaders can demonstrate that they want to create a church that vehemently condemns racism and white supremacy, centers and uplifts Black Americans, and truly believes that we ‘are the image of the Mother church.’”
The combination of her personal narrative, her exposition of the church’s sins, and her belief that another church is possible makes Birth of a Movement essential reading. And the book is a clear challenge for LGBTQ Catholics and our allies, particularly those of us who are white.
Segura’s solidarity with our cause is clear, and comes from her conviction that there is no liberation until all people are free of oppression. This truth means the work of racial justice must be intersectional with LGBTQ issues, something too many Catholics have avoided. But it also means our work for LGBTQ equality must necessarily be anti-racist, too. Birth of a Movement is both a good place to start for those new to such work and a helpful continuation for those already underway.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 22, 2021