by Francis DeBernardo
Executive Director, New Ways Ministry
Ed. Note: This article is part of our continuing series of posts in support of the Pax Christi USA Statement of Principles for the 2020 Elections. To read more about the 2020 elections, visit our Elections 2020 – #VotePax webpage.
Equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are on the ballot this November, with recent gains at risk and necessary strides potentially stymied. We as Catholics must consider equal rights for all, including gender and sexual minorities, in our discernment about how to vote, not in spite of our faith, but because of it.
Pax Christi USA’s “Statement of Principles: Election 2020” lays out this movement’s solidarity with LGBTQ people as “one of society’s most marginalized populations.” The document states:
“As a community of conscience, we affirm the right of LGBTQ people to equality, which includes an end to criminalization laws, passage of non-discrimination protections and other laws necessary for legal equality to be realized, and a culture and religious transformation to celebrate every person’s sexual orientation and gender identity as being made imago Dei.”
This commitment has been given new prominence organizationally this year, but it is not new. Following the brutal, targeted murder of a young gay man, Matthew Shepard, in 1998, New Ways Ministry, a Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBTQ people where I serve as executive director, joined with Pax Christi USA to publish “A Catholic Pledge to End Violence Against Gay and Lesbian People.” Over 2,000 Catholics, including nine bishops, added their names to this signature ad.
Now, as members of Pax Christi USA in 2020, we must act upon this commitment as we vote.
When we read the signs of our times that relate to LGBTQ lives, we see that prejudice and violence remain too common realities. We witness transgender people, particularly women of color, face hate crimes, which are too often fatal, at alarming rates. We know that 40% of young people experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ-identified, and are usually without housing because religious families have rejected them.
We count more than 70 countries where homosexuality remains criminalized, including a dozen where the death penalty is a possible sanction. We listen to the stories of LGBTQ people who face discrimination in many areas of their life, including employment, housing, social services, and medical care. As intersectional practitioners of nonviolence, we must be conscious of how sexual orientation and/or gender identity intersect with race, class, (dis)ability, and other lines of difference to compound these oppressions.
What does our faith speak to us about these signs? Vatican II issues a call that “every kind of social or cultural discrimination … must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (Gaudium et Spes 29). This call is echoed in the Catechism, which writes of lesbian and gay people, “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (2358).
The teachings of our faith on non-discrimination, human dignity, and civil rights are the tools which we can use to combat that discrimination. Despite what some church leaders insist, LGBTQ equality is not primarily about sexual ethics; it is fundamentally about social justice. Washington State’s Catholic bishops stated it well in a 1983 letter: “…prejudice against homosexuals is a greater infringement of the norm of Christian morality than is homosexual…activity.”
Much is at stake this November 3rd.
As we discern how we will vote, we must consider the historical struggle of LGBTQ people to live a life with dignity, stop discrimination, and achieve equal rights.