Three years after an LGBTQ+ society was prohibited from renting a Catholic parish’s community center for an event, the organization has received an apology for the exclusion by the local archdiocese.
Back in 2019, the White Rock Pride Society (WRPS) of Vancouver submitted a rental application to use the Star of the Sea Community Center, which is owned by the Star of the Sea parish. The Society hoped to use the space to host a “dinner-and-dance” fundraiser, but the request was denied. The parish told the Society that they could not approve the rental request because the LGBTQ+ society is “diametrically opposed to the Church’s teachings.”
Now, three years later, the Archdiocese of Vancouver has apologized to WRPS for the previous actions of the parish. According to the CBC, the two groups had multiple meetings to “repair the relationship between White Rock Pride and the Parish” before the “complaint went to tribunal.” The apology, which is posted on the archdiocese’s website, states:
“We acknowledge that these actions have resulted in increased divisiveness between our faith community and the LGBTQ2+ community, as well as with the individuals, including friends and family members, who support them.”
According to Ernie Klassen, WRPS’ president, both groups are working on making the church more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. One action that has been taken is making church-owned spaces more accessible to WRPS. If the Society would like a rental space, they now go through the archdiocese to process the request.
But preceding the apology, the discrimination was developing into a growing legal dispute. Klassen had filed a complaint to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal after the request was denied. Klassen claimed that there was “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” since the rental space was available on the requested dates.
In 2020, the Human Rights Tribunal ruled that WRPS could proceed with a lawsuit against the Star of the Sea parish. WRPS argued that the parish “did not make any effort to communicate with representatives of the Society“ to address their concerns about the proposed event. In addition, they acknowledged that the Star of the Sea parish accepts venue requests from other non-Catholic organizations, yet their group was banned from renting the space.
The case did not make it to the tribunal, and now it is moot. Instead, this new collaboration between the LGBTQ+ society and the archdiocese has already had a large impact. Klassen speaks about the response that he has received from the community:
“We had a lot of members of the Catholic Church who reached out to us and thanked us for our work, to address the fact that the LGBTQ community did not feel welcome within the Catholic Church.”
The formal apology from the Archdiocese of Vancouver is hopefully a starting point for change. A lot of the issues between the LGBTQ+ community and the church stem from a lack of communication. In this case, the Star of Sea parish’s leaders automatically assumed that the WRPS’s values contradicted Catholic teaching, without taking the time to evaluate this assumption. Through future education, dialogue, and open-mindedness, the church has the opportunity to become an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. Based on the archdiocese’s apology, there is hope that the church will one day get there.
—Sarah Cassidy (she/her), July 19, 2022