A new advocacy organization debuted this month that seeks to educate Catholics on issues such as same-sex marriage and the importance of LGBT inclusion in immigration reform.
The group, Catholics for Equality, seeks to mobilize American Catholics who believe LGBT people should have rights such as workplace protections, access to marriage and the ability to serve openly in the military.
Phil Attey, executive director of Catholics for Equality, said the organization plans to give voice to Catholics who already support rights for LGBT people.
“Catholics in the pews already understand these values, but are sometimes afraid to speak out,” Attey said. “Today, we are asking Catholics of conscience to engage in honest, loving conversations in the Catholic Church, in our families and in our community.”
Catholicism is the largest religious denomination in the United States. Around 68 million people in the country identify as Catholic, according to the National Council of Churches.
Aniello Alioto, a board member charged with the group’s grassroots campaign, said the main goal for the remainder of this year is encouraging Catholics to have discussions on LGBT issues.
Alioto said the organization’s website would be a primary tool for achieving this goal.
“We’ll be providing American Catholics with role models, facts and tips on how to have family discussions, how to challenge misinformation in the parishes and to ensure, as Catholics, their voices are heard in their community,” Alioto said.
One premise of the new group is that Catholic support for LGBT rights is among the highest among religious people in the United States.
Joseph Palacios, a gay Catholics for Equality board member and a sociology professor at Georgetown University, presented polling data showing a vast majority of Catholics support LGBT rights.
Palacios said a Gallup poll recently reported 62 percent of Catholics believe homosexuality should be accepted by society, which he said is up 16 points from 2006.
Additionally, Palacios said 69 percent of Catholics believe in civil unions for same-sex couples in committed relationships while 48 percent of all Catholics support same-sex marriage.
“In short, Catholics are the largest Christian body in the United States and members overwhelmingly support basic American freedoms and rights for their fellow LGBT family members, co-workers and neighbors,” Palacios said.
But although polls show many Catholics support rights for LGBT people, church leadership is known for opposing such rights. The Catholic Church is known for its role in promoting Proposition 8 in California, which ended same-sex marriage in the state. The church also had a lead role in the campaign for the referendum in Maine that last year abrogated the state’s marriage law.
Anne Underwood, a Maine resident and board member for the organization, said she’s taking part in Catholics for Equality in part because of the church’s role in the Maine marriage referendum.
“For many Catholics in Maine like me, 2009 was a soul-searing year,” she said. “During a six-month campaign leading up to the November vote, our liberties became vehicles for the hierarchy’s political agenda.”
On one particular Sunday, Underwood said the church required priests to preach about traditional values and its incompatibility with same-sex marriage.
“Specially printed envelopes for the political action committee Stand for Marriage appeared in our pews for our weekly collection,” she said.
Underwood said Catholics for Equality will help address these issues by providing church-goers who support LGBT rights with information.
“Telling our stories and listening to others will change the lives of our gay and lesbian relatives and friends, neighbors and colleagues,” she said. “We pro-equality Catholics are neither silent nor isolated anymore.”
The group is already working in anticipation of future fights in Maine and California to restore same-sex marriage to those states.
Palacios said Catholics for Equality has already reached out to Equality California and Equality Maine to link up grassroots efforts in those states and to connect them “into larger networks of people of faith doing outreach around critical issues in our battle states.”
In addition to the marriage issue, the organization says LGBT inclusion in comprehensive immigration reform legislation is another priority for the group.
Advocates are seeking language in immigration reform that would enable Americans to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for residency in the United States.
However, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, strong proponents of immigration reform in general, has said it would withhold support for legislation inclusive of same-sex couples.
Palacios said Catholics for Equality has already started conversations with religious partners working on immigration reform and plans to be at the forefront of the issue.
“This is a really clear issue on inequality that the bishops of following,” he said. “That they would hold up comprehensive immigration reform over this is incomprehensible.”
Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said his organization welcomes Catholics for Equality as part of the faith coalition working for LGBT-inclusive immigration reform legislation.
“We have long known that Catholic parishioners are far more welcoming and affirming than groups like the Conference of Catholic Bishops would have us believe,” Ralls said.
Ralls said support from Catholics for Equality underscores that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is a group of about 425 bishops who have been “disproportionately loud and “out of step with their more than 68 million congregants.”
White House, national groups respond to nonbinary Okla. teenager’s death
Nex Benedict died after reported assault
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and national advocacy groups issued statements on Wednesday about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict after they were allegedly assaulted in a high school restroom.
Benedict died on Feb. 8. According to ABC News, officials investigating the incident said they will be interviewing students and staff “over the next few weeks” and plan to share findings with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.
The victim’s mother told the Independent that Benedict had suffered bullying over their gender since the start of the 2023 school year, shortly after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill to prohibit students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates.
“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school,” Jean-Pierre said in a post on X. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, their friends, and their entire school community in the wake of this horrific tragedy.”
Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school. Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, their friends, and their entire school community in the wake of this horrific tragedy. https://t.co/pNIkoCOD8T— Karine Jean-Pierre (@PressSec) February 21, 2024
Calling Benedict’s death a “gut-wrenching tragedy that exposes the chilling reality of anti-trans hatred,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said. “We are reaching out to the DOJ, we are encouraging the community to speak out.”
Along with Robinson’s remarks, HRC’s Press Team included a link to the organization’s blog post about Benedict and a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the HRC Transgender Justice Initiative:
“Extremist anti-LGBTQ+ hate accounts, like online troll Chaya Raichik, the woman behind ‘Libs of TikTok’, who was recently appointed to Oklahoma’s library advisory board, are perpetuating a vile and hateful narrative that is permitting these types of public attacks,” she wrote.
State schools superintendent Ryan Walters, who last year called transgender youth using public restrooms “an assault on truth” and a danger to other kids, was responsible for naming Raichik to the library media panel.
“The assault on Nex is an inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric and discriminatory legislation targeting Oklahoma trans youth,” Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma wrote in a joint statement.
“We are deeply troubled by reports the school failed to respond appropriately to the altercation that preceded Nex’s death and demand a thorough, open investigation into the matter,” the groups wrote.
Their statement also notes the organizations’ lawsuit challenging Oklahoma Senate Bill 615, the bathroom bill signed by Stitt last year.
Alito renews criticism of the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality ruling
Obergefell decision allowed same-sex couples to marry around the country
Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Tuesday renewed his criticism of the landmark 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that established the nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
His remarks came in a 5-page order that was written in connection with the High Court’s decision not to hear Missouri Department of Corrections v. Jean Finney — a dispute over whether a juror’s position that “homosexuality, according to the Bible, is a sin” can be the basis for striking him from an employment discrimination case that was brought by a lesbian.
The conflict, Alito argued, “exemplifies the danger” he foresaw in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, which was decided by a 5-4 majority with Alito among the justices who dissented.
Specifically, Alito raised concern in his statement that “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.'”
“The opinion of the court in [Obergefell] made it clear that the decision should not be used in that way,” the justice wrote, “but I am afraid that this admonition is not being heeded by our society.”
Nonbinary Okla. high school student dies after fight
Nex Benedict passed away Feb. 8
Located in Tulsa County on U.S. Highway 169 six miles north of Tulsa’s city limits, Owasso, which is home to 39,328 people, is grappling with conflict and accusations after Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old Owasso High School sophomore who was nonbinary, died after a physical fight in a restroom at the school.
However, according to school officials there was no notification or staff awareness of the fight until the young student had been taken to hospital and later died. The Owasso Police Department is now investigating the circumstances surrounding the student’s death.
According to the local newspaper, the Owasso Reporter:
“On Wednesday, Feb. 7, around 3:30 p.m., police were called to Bailey Medical Center by the parent of a 16-year-old Owasso High School student who allegedly had a physical altercation at the campus earlier that day, according to the police report.”
It states that no initial report of the fight was made to police prior to their admission to Bailey, although information was taken by a school resource officer at the hospital.
On the evening of Feb. 8, police were made aware that the student was rushed back to the hospital where they were pronounced dead from a medical episode, the report states.
KJRH in neighboring Tulsa reported that a person knowledgeable of the events leading to the teen’s death, who claimed to be the mother of the victim’s best friend, told the station regarding the teen’s death:
“I think complications from brain trauma, head trauma, is what caused it,” she said.
The woman wouldn’t say the victim’s name but said Benedict was a sophomore. Bailey said the victim was outgoing and loyal once they got comfortable and was not afraid to be outspoken. The woman said three older girls were beating on the victim and her daughter in the girl’s bathroom.
“I know at one point, one of the girls was pretty much repeatedly beating [Benedict] head across the floor,” she said. That’s when [Benedict said] a teacher walked in and broke it up.
“[Benedict] couldn’t walk to the nurses’ station on [Benedict] own, and staff didn’t call the ambulance, which amazes me,” she said.
The woman told KJRH the victim’s grandmother, who [Benedict] primarily lived with, brought [Benedict] to the hospital after the fight. She said the victim was released that evening but was brought back the next day and died.
KJRH reached out multiple times along with other media outlets to Owasso Public Schools. A school district spokesperson responded saying there would be no comment “because this is an active police investigation.”
The Owasso Police Department also declined to comment except for noting investigators still don’t know if the fight was related to the teen’s death or if a separate medical issue was the cause. OPD said they’re waiting on the corner-medical examiner’s report before releasing more information.
Owasso Public Schools released this statement about the student’s death:
“The Owasso Police Department has notified district leaders of the death of an Owasso High School student. The student’s name and cause of death have not yet been made public. As this is an active police investigation, we will have no additional comment at this time. Further inquiries should be directed to the Owasso Police Department.”
“The district will have additional counselors at the school to provide support to students and staff beginning on Friday.”
On Feb. 15, after a service was held at Mowery Funeral Service Chapel, Benedict was buried at Ridgelawn Cemetery in Collinsville.
LGBTQ advocates and others are angered by the death, the misgendering in local media and the fact that the school district, which has been previously targeted by the far-right anti-LGBTQ extremist Libs of TikTok’s creator Chaya Raichik, seems unable to grapple with anti-LGBTQ bullying.
Raichik was named to sit on an Oklahoma committee reviewing school library content by far-right leaning State Superintendent of Schools Ryan Walters.
In 2022, Raichik targeted a now former Owasso 8th grade teacher for speaking out in support of LGBTQ students who lacked acceptance from their parents. That teacher, Tyler Wrynn, was labeled a “groomer” and a predator in social media posts.
According to LGBTQ advocacy groups, Raichik’s endless targeting only seems to encourage more violence against LGBTQ youth.
Lance Preston, the CEO of the Indianapolis-based Rainbow Youth Project, which has been working to assist queer youth in the state, posted a video expressing his frustration and anger over this death and the other anti-LGBTQ violence.