Catholic Families in Detroit Launch Fund to Support Fired LGBTQ Church Workers

Linda Karle-Nelson, left, and her husband, Tom Nelson.

A group of Detroit-area Catholics, who experienced discrimination because of their support for LGBTQ people, are now raising funds to support LGBTQ church workers fired from Catholic institutions in their archdiocese.

Families with Dignity, a group for family members of LGBTQ people in the Archdiocese of Detroit, launched the fund, which is called “Love Always Wins.” According to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR)

“In 2020, Families with Dignity identified five people who had lost their jobs. [Linda] Karle-Nelson, like other members of the leadership team, wanted to do something ‘to make a statement and to offer support.’

“‘These people have given so much to the church and to their parishes and their schools, and they’re being thrown out,’ Karle-Nelson told NCR. ‘They’re not baggage. They’re people that we value.’

“The organization met its $5,000 goal, which allows them to give $1,000 to each recipient.”

The fundraising for “Love Always Wins” continues with the expectation that more LGBTQ church workers will lose their jobs over their sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. More than 100 church workers have lost their jobs in LGBTQ-related employment disputes over the last decade. NCR explained:

“Karle-Nelson said she hoped her organization’s fundraiser can serve as ‘a role model for actions and programs which call attention to these dismissals and cause church leaders to think again about the message they are sending.’

“‘We would love it if the program is a one-time venture, and no more teachers or ministers get fired because they are LGBTQ or allies,’ Karle-Nelson told NCR.

“However, she fears otherwise. Although the first phase of their program is completed, ‘Our fundraising is not closed,’ she said.”

Sadly, Karle-Nelson is likely correct that more church workers will face employment discrimination. But Families with Dignity’s efforts are a hopeful sign,  Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told the NCR. He said of the Families with Dignity group”

“‘[It is] amazing that an independent group has taken it upon themselves to do the work of the church.’

“‘This group has been faithful and courageous for decades now. They’ve withstood a lot of pressure from church leadership but they remain steadfast in their staying power and in their ability to find new and creative ways to fight injustice and to help people.’

“‘They are being the church because they’re doing the works of mercy. . .'”

Families with Dignity has faced some trouble in the Archdiocese of Detroit. In 2020, Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Battersby banned the group from meeting on church property. A press release from Families with Dignity linked their experience of discrimination with the plight of church workers, stating, in part:

“In 2020 the church fired us, too! Our archdiocese (Detroit) told us we were forbidden to meet anywhere within its territory. We were Fortunate Families Detroit then – a group of parents with LGBTQI+ children – and now we’re Families with Dignity, affiliated with the well-known and beloved Dignity USA. The Detroit chapter of Dignity was also “fired” by the Archdiocese around the same time. When the news got out, messages of support and offers of help came to us from Catholic organizations and individuals around the world. It was great to know we weren’t alone!

“Now, it’s our turn to offer moral support and more to fired Catholic employees. . .”

In each case of discrimination against LGBTQ church workers, there is a fixation on sexual ethics defines how employment issues are handled. Julie Hanlon Rubio, a professor at Santa Clara University, commented to NCR:

“‘Think of all the ways that people violate Catholic social teaching,’ Rubio said. ‘Engaging in ecological sin, giving into the vices of greed and luxury, there are so many ways that we all fall short.’

“Rubio said LGBTQ people appear to be singled out for violating Catholic teaching.

“‘People aren’t being fired for using contraception or being divorced or cohabitating or having premarital sex,’ she said. ‘A special case seems to be made for certain kinds of violations rather than others.'”

The witness of Families with Dignity is remarkable, and is a model for other Catholics to follow in their local communities. If you would like to support the “Love Always Wins” fund, more information is available here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 3, 2021

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