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New Catholic LGBT organization launches

Group prioritizes marriage, immigration reform

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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.”

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Virginia

Va. Senate committee kills six anti-transgender bills

Democrats control chamber by 22-18 margin

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Virginia Senate Education Committee on Thursday killed six anti-transgender bills.

The committee rejected state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 960, state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Colonial Heights)’s Senate Bill 791 and state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania County)’s Senate Bill 1203. All three measures would have banned transition-related health care for minors in Virginia.

The committee also killed state Sen. John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake)’s Senate Bill 911, Reeves’ Senate Bill 1186 and Peake’s Senate Bill 962. The measures would have banned transgender athletes from school teams corresponding with their gender identity.

Equality Virginia in a tweet said committee members received more than 3,000 emails “in opposition” to the bills. The statewide advocacy group further noted 10 out of 12 anti-trans bills introduced during this year’s legislative session have been defeated.

“Thank you to everyone who has spoken up against these bills,” said Equality Virginia. “Virginia is remaining a better, more inclusive state because of your efforts.”

“The fight isn’t over,” added the advocacy group. “But we know Virginians will show up for trans youth, day after day.”

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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee essentially kills three anti-transgender bills

Measures would ban transition-related health care for minors

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Tuesday essentially killed three bills that would have banned transition-related health care for minors in the state.

Equality Virginia in a tweet noted the Senate Health Subcommittee “recommended killing” state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 960, state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Colonial Heights)’s Senate Bill 791 and state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania County)’s Senate Bill 1203. 

“We expect these bills to be officially dead after the full committee meets on Thursday,” said Equality Virginia.

Democrats have a 22-18 majority in the state Senate, and they have said they will block any anti-LGBTQ bill that reaches their chamber. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who is the first openly transgender woman seated in a state legislature in the U.S., on Tuesday reiterated this point.

“With the defeat of these bills in the Senate, our (Virginia Senate Democrats) made it clear that *any* bills in the House targeting trans kids during the final week before crossover will not become law if they make it to the Senate,” she tweeted. “Let’s focus on feeding kids, not singling them out.”

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The White House

Doug Emhoff visits monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin

Second gentleman marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz

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The Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism in Berlin on July 23, 2022. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff visited the memorial on Jan. 31, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff on Tuesday visited a monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin.

A readout from Emhoff’s office notes he visited the Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism with Philipp Braun of the Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany, a German LGBTQ and intersex rights group. Christopher Schreiber and Alexander Scheld of the Berlin-Brandenburg Lesbian and Gay Federation were also with Emhoff.

“The Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under Nazi Socialism is intended to honor the homosexual victims of National Socialism and at the same time ‘set a constant sign against intolerance, hostility and exclusion towards gays and lesbians,'” notes the readout.

Emhoff on Tuesday visited other memorials that honor the Sinti and Roma and people with disabilities who the Nazis killed. The second gentleman also visited Berlin’s Holocaust memorial before he met with five people who survived it.

The second gentleman earlier in the day participated in a roundtable with Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders and met with Ukrainian refugees at Berlin’s New Synagogue. Emhoff on Monday participated in a meeting at the city’s Topography of Terror Museum that focused on antisemitism.

International Holocaust Memorial Day, which commemorates the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in 1945, took place on Jan. 27. 

Emhoff, who is Jewish, traveled to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial and Museum and participated in ceremonies that commemorated the camp’s liberation. He later attended a Shabbat dinner with members of the Jewish community in Krakow, visited Oscar Schindler’s factory and met with Ukrainian refugees at a U.N. Refugee Agency community center before he traveled to Germany.

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