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Nuns blast bishops over gay teen suicide

Catholic leaders’ conference silent on bullying, reiterates opposition to gay marriage

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An organization of American Catholic nuns has denounced the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for reiterating its opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage at its annual meeting in Baltimore this week while remaining silent on anti-gay bullying and gay teen suicide.

In a statement released Tuesday, the National Coalition of American Nuns accused the bishops of acting like “blinded Pharisees” for waging a fight against marriage equality while failing to speak out on gay teen suicides brought about by school bullying and harassment.

“More than a month has gone by since the media broke the news about a series of gay suicides,” the nuns’ statement says. “During that time, the U.S. Catholic Bishops failed to make a single statement regarding these tragic, preventable deaths.”

The statement adds, “Not one bishop’s voice was raised to condemn a culture where youths are bullied for being who God created them to be and are sometimes pushed by society’s judgments to attempt suicide.”

The Conference of Catholic Bishops, which represents Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S., held its annual fall General Assembly meeting this week in Baltimore.

Don Clemmer, a spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., the newly elected vice president of the bishops’ conference, gave a presentation on the marriage issue before the conference’s Ad Hoc Committee on Defense of Marriage.

He said Cardinal Frances George of Chicago, the outgoing president of the conference, announced to the gathering that the ad hoc committee was being elevated to an official subcommittee of the Conference of Bishops.

Clemmer said he was not aware of any discussion or agenda items at the Baltimore meeting addressing gay teen suicide or anti-gay harassment or bullying. He said the final two days of the meeting set for Wednesday and today were closed to the public and it was possible that items not posted on the public agenda could be discussed.

“The National Coalition of Catholic Nuns calls on all U.S. Catholics to rise up and say, ‘Enough, enough!” says the nuns’ statement. “No more discriminatory rhetoric and repressive measures from men who lay heavy burdens on the shoulders of others and do not lift one finger of human kindness and compassion,” it says “We all need to work for a holy and just society and church.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, a longtime supporter of LGBT rights from the D.C.-Baltimore area, is a board member and executive coordinator of the National Coalition of American Nuns.

In a separate statement, the LGBT-supportive group Catholics for Equality expressed concern that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops broke a long-standing tradition this week by not electing its current vice president, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., as the new president.

Kicanas, who Catholics for Equality describes as a “social justice champion,” was bypassed for the president’s position when the Conference of Bishops elected instead Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage equality and LGBT rights, according to Catholics for Equality.

The group noted that the bishops’ conference elected Archbishop Kurtz, the head of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage, as its new vice president.

“Archbishop Kurtz … has led the Catholic hierarchy’s national campaign to deny marriage and family rights to gay and lesbian citizens,” Catholics for Equality said in a statement released Wednesday.

“That campaign has been financially assisted by the national office of the Knights of Columbus, most recently through the production of videos that demean and discredit gay and lesbian relationship, as well as single parent and extended family households,” the statement says.

“In his report from the Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage, Archbishop Kurtz makes it clear that our bishops are waging a new political campaign to change the laws in our country,” said Ariello Alioto, a Catholics for Equality board member.

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Frankie James

    November 18, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Did you ever notice that women of the world most always seem to get it right?

    First they say there is 0% child abuse in the households of Lesbian parents and now this…

    You go ladies!

  2. Robert Giannini

    November 18, 2010 at 11:14 am

    The National Coalition of Catholic Nuns shows outstanding courage in coming out against the Bishops’ stand. The are to be commended and supported for their stand on teen suicides and bullying. Opposing the official position of the Catholic Church will surely bring them under fire by the Vatican and others who are still lviing with their heads buried in the sand.

  3. FlexSF

    November 18, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Dear Nuns, thanks for your half way effort, but the bishops didn’t address gay suicide because it aligns with their message of intolerance. According to them, teaching of tolerance will lead to gay marriage, so they don’t have any interest, whatsoever, in gay suicide.

    If the bishops did pretend like they gave a damn about gay suicide, it would be a huge contradiction with their anti-gay marriage bigotry that is central to the existence of the catholic church.

    If you support the marriage bans, you cannot be considered a serious advocate for young gays who are troubled, and you shot at a target that requires an elephant gun with a bb gun.

    • JoeyRepo

      November 18, 2010 at 6:24 pm

      I agree. The only way the Catholic church will ever listen to the people is when the people have simply had enough and just walk out. If the people continue to put up with a few bishops’ rule, the Church will never change.

  4. Steve

    November 18, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    This is all so wonderful, it gives me shivers. You go girls!

  5. Bill

    November 18, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    The silence of the American Catholic Bishops is nothing short of cooperation with the bullies who foster the environment that results in gay youth killing themselves. It is scandalous that not ONE bishop spoke out against this shame. These nuns are very brave women and will, most probably, be investigated by the Vatican.

    Instead below, you will find the link to a wonderful “It Gets Better” video by Bishop Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. You’ve got to watch this (2:33 min). It made my heart happy.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJOhjLXJmaY&feature=player_embedded

  6. Tony de New York

    November 18, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Those nuns r a buch of LOOSERS!

  7. Peter the saint

    November 18, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Wow :D They GET it!! *sniff sniff* so cool. But— I really like that Scissor Sisters song “Fight Fire with Fire”. So, da “church” produces videos that demean and discredit gay and lesbian relationships? We produce videos that demean and discredit your farcical “authority” which you pretend to have in this world. “God” gives you power? Ha! Hahahaha – no.. I know he & she gives US power. You think people will keep following you and your hate? No, I say people will start to follow US and OUR message– of Love… remember that message? Didn’t think so…

    Suffer the little children unto me, he said?? Well, to Jesus maybe, but the “church”? No, little children, stay far far far away from da church. Turn away, turn away, if you want TRUE salvation, cultivate faith in what your heart tells you is true. This will make you strong. Have faith! :-*

  8. t.lewis

    November 18, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    No wonder the vatican is investigating the sisters of this nation…they are a disgrace, with the exception of those in convents.

    • Bill

      November 19, 2010 at 3:29 pm

      These nuns are the very best in a dark church. Their voices are prophetic. Their example should be honored not mocked. Are you part of Opus Dei?

  9. Newark

    November 19, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Fighting bullying is something the Church has done for all persons being bullied, not only the Homosexuals. Can the dear sisters suggest additional techniques for preventing bullying? Those dear sisters end their involvement with finger pointing. Perhaps they can go out into the streets and “clubs” to exercise their brand of social justice.

  10. Scott

    November 19, 2010 at 8:09 am

    These ‘nuns’ should have the courage to come out themselves. Come out as liberal protestants that is.
    The bishops won’t say anything about gay suicide and bullying because they are are concerned about spiritual suicide of the souls of gay people. One would think that nuns might be as aware of the spiritual life and superiority thereof.

    • customartist

      November 20, 2010 at 9:41 am

      I think that they have done quite sufficiently with this very firm statement, and I for one, am very appreciative.

  11. Bill

    November 19, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    These nuns are a wonderful example of a prophetic voice in a challenging time. The bishops’ silence is the real scandal and certainly not the example of the Jesus in the Gospels who stood firmly with the downtrodden, and the marginalized.

  12. Steve

    November 20, 2010 at 8:44 am

    The male Catholic hierarchy were silent about the Shoah and are silent about their fellow believers driving homosexuals to kill themselves. I think their silence is testimony to their eliminationist Christian agenda. Had they learned the lessons of the Second World War or the Rwandan genocide they would have spoken out. Their silence speaks volumes about their real beliefs and their callous, eliminationist agenda.

    • Bill

      November 22, 2010 at 4:26 pm

      Steve – There is great truth in what you write and in the RCC’s shameful silence during the Holocaust and similar genocide.

  13. customartist

    November 20, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Although I am not Catholic, nor inclined toward supporting religious entities, I am appreciative of the Nuns’ statement and I will be making a contribution conveying my sentiments.

    http://www.ncan.us/

  14. scotty501

    July 8, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Why are people on here so critical of these Nuns. Their heart is in the right place and they seem to be making steps in the right direction. They have a powerful voice inside the organization. If they dont do it perfectly they get slammed

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Minnesota

Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag

Critics ramped up attacks on the career educator- some compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students

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Screenshot via Marshall Public Schools, YouTube Channel

MARSHALL, Mn. — A former middle school principal in Minnesota who lost her job after displaying a Pride flag alleges in a federal lawsuit that the school system retaliated against her for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

Mary Kay Thomas filed the complaint against Marshall Public Schools in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota Tuesday after anti-LGBTQ+ middle school staff, parents, students and local clergy began efforts to remove the Pride flag that she put up in her middle school’s cafeteria in 2020 as a part of an inclusiveness effort.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas has been a teacher and principal for more than three decades with a long track record of success. She held the principal position at Marshall Middle School for 15 years, receiving contract renewals, pay raises and praise for her performance.

“But when Thomas decided to display an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the school cafeteria in early 2020, everything changed,” reads the complaint. 

Thomas refused to take down the Pride flag as critics ramped up attacks on the career educator. The lawsuit alleges that some even compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students. 

“Sadly, the Marshall School District has sided with these critics,” her lawyers wrote. 

What followed was an “escalating series of adverse actions” taken by the Marshall School District, said the lawsuit. She claims that the school targeted her by threatening her employment, conducting a “bad-faith” investigation, putting her on indefinite involuntary leave, suspending her without pay and putting a notice of deficiency in her personnel file. 

The complaint says that the deficiencies were “false, distorted, and/or related to Thomas’s association with members of the LGBTQ community.”

Thomas also claims that the District attempted to get her to quit by removing her as principal and assigning her to a “demeaning ‘special projects’ position.”

At one point, Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, who is named as a defendant in the case, told Thomas he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down, according to the complaint. 

The school removed the Pride flag in August 2021 after settling a lawsuit brought by residents who opposed it. 

The Blade reached out to Williams for comment but did not receive a response. However, according to the Marshall Independent, Williams did release a statement on the matter. 

“Marshall Public Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination, against both students and staff members. The school district is committed to creating a respectful, inclusive, and safe learning and working environment for students, staff and our families,” Williams said. “While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct. The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

In addition, Thomas alleges that she resisted unwanted sexual advancements from school board member Bill Swope. She claims she told Williams about the sexual harassment.

As of Thursday, the school has not filed a response, and no hearing has been scheduled yet. 

Thomas is seeking a jury trial, damages and reinstatement as principal of Marshall Middle School.

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National

Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral

Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday

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Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade
Matthew Shepard Thanksgiving and Celebration at the National Cathedral in 2018. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The parents of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a 1998 hate crime that drew international attention to anti-LGBTQ violence, were among those attending a day of religious services commemorating Shepard’s 45th birthday on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral.

The services, which the Cathedral organized in partnership with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, included tributes to Shepard at the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where his remains were interred in a ceremony in 2018.  

“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, said at the time of Shepard’s interment.

“In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place,” Hollerith said.

The first of the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard began at 7 a.m. with prayers, scripture readings, and music led by the Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan. The service was live streamed on YouTube.

An online, all-day service was also held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Cathedral officials said was intended to “connect people around the world to honor Shepard and the LGBTQ community and pray for a more just world.”

The Shepard services concluded with a 5:30 p.m. in-person remembrance of Shepard in the Cathedral’s Nave, its main worship space. Among those attending were Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who have said they created the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue their son’s support for equality for all.

A statement released by the Cathedral says a bronze plaque honoring Matthew Shepard was installed in St. Joseph’s Chapel to mark his final resting place at the time Shepard was interred there in 2018. 
Following the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard, the Adams Morgan gay bar Pitchers hosted a reception for Dennis and Judy Shepard, according to Pitchers’ owner David Perruzza.

One of the two men charged with Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to the charge after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for him. The second of the two men charged, Aaron McKinney, was convicted of the murder following a lengthy jury trial.

Prosecutors said McKinney repeatedly and fatally struck Shepard in the head with the barrel of a handgun after he and Henderson tied Shepard to a wooden fence in a remote field outside Laramie, Wy., on Oct. 6, 1998. Police and prosecutors presented evidence at McKinney’s trial that McKinney and Henderson met Shepard at a bar in Laramie on that day and lured him into their car, where they drove him to the field where authorities said McKinney fatally assaulted him.

Shepard died six days later at a hospital in Ft. Collins, Colo., where he was taken after being found unconscious while still tied to the fence.

In a dramatic courtroom scene following the jury’s guilty verdict for McKinney, Dennis Shepard urged the judge to spare McKinney’s life by not handing down a death sentence. He said that out of compassion and in honor of his son’s life, McKinney should be allowed to live. The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the same sentence given to Henderson.

(VIDEO COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL VIA YOUTUBE)
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National

‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men

Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age

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Mark Glaze's death by suicide is bringing into focus mental health issues faced by gay men.

The death by suicide at age 51 of Mark Glaze, a gun reform advocate who was close to many in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, is striking a chord with observers who see his struggles with mental health and alcoholism as reflective of issues facing many gay men as they enter middle age.

Glaze’s story resonates even though much of the attention on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community is devoted to LGBTQ youth going through the coming out process and transgender people who face disproportionate violence and discrimination within the LGBTQ community in addition to a growing focus on LGBTQ seniors entering later stages of life.

Randy Pumphrey, senior director of behavioral health for the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, said Glaze’s story was “very familiar” as a tale of mental health issues facing gay men in the middle stage of life.

“You’re talking about a gay-identified man who is in his 50s, somebody who has struggled with alcohol misuse — or maybe abuse or dependence— and also depression,” Pumphrey said. “I think that there has always been a higher incidence of suicide for men in general in their middle age 50 and above, but this increases when you’re talking about gay men, and also if you’re talking about gay men who suffer with mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues.”

Several sources close to Glaze said his death did not come as a surprise. His family has been open about his death by suicide last month while he was in jail after allegedly fleeing the scene of a car accident in Pennsylvania and a long history of depression and alcoholism.

Pumphrey said Glaze’s situation coping with mental health issues as well as the consequences for his role in the accident, were reflective of someone who might “begin to perceive that this is an issue that they can’t get away from, or the consequences they can’t get away from exposure and that can lead somebody to a fatal outcome.”

“My experience is that there have been gay men that I have worked with over the years — particularly in their 50s and early 60s — it’s taken them a long time to recognize the severity of the problem, whether it’s their depression or their substance abuse, and then they find themselves in a very precarious situation because of shame, and so they may not necessarily seek help even though they need help.”

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found the prevalence of depression among gay men is three times higher than the general adult population, which means they are a subgroup at high risk for suicide.

The study found “scant research exists about gay men’s health beyond sexual health issues,” most often with HIV, which means issues related to depression and suicidality “are poorly understood.”

“Gay men’s health has often been defined by sexual practices, and poorly understood are the intersections of gay men’s physical and mental health with social determinants of health including ethnicity, locale, education level and socioeconomic status,” the study says.

The study acknowledged being male itself is one factor incorporated in addressing mental health issues in this subgroup because “regardless of sexual orientation, men can be reluctant to seek help for mental health problems.” Another study quoted in the report found 23 percent, less than one quarter of gay men, who attempted suicide sought mental health or medical treatment.

In addition to mental health issues facing gay men in Glaze’s age group, others saw his situation as a common story in the culture of Washington, which is notorious for celebrating and prioritizing success with little tolerance for personal setbacks.

In the case of Glaze, who had sparred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson as executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, the threat of exposure and threat to his career may have seemed overwhelmingly daunting.

Steven Fisher, who knew Glaze since the 1990s and worked with him at the D.C.-based Raben Group, said one factor that contributed to Glaze’s condition was “he could only see upward in terms of his career trajectory.”

“We saw that in him and it had me very concerned because I felt like he might end up in a place that wasn’t good once he left Everytown, and that’s tragically and sadly what happened,” Fisher said. “I think he just had trouble adjusting to what is usually a roller coaster ride, I think, in people’s careers, especially in the D.C. world.”

Along with Glaze, Fisher has worked on gun issues for Everytown, which has been a client of his since 2015 after he worked for them in 2012 after the Newtown shooting.

Compounding the challenges that Glaze faced is a culture among many gay men focused on sexuality, which prioritizes youth and appearance and presents problems as those qualities start fading when men enter middle age.

Fisher said another factor in Glaze’s condition was social media, pointing out public perception about his identity was important to him.

“If you look at his social media — I think this is instructive to the rest of us — a lot of the comments are about how Mark was so good looking and he was charming, and he was so smart and so funny,” Fisher said. “That’s all true, and that’s why he was very appealing to many people, but those qualities don’t really tell you everything about a person. In fact, one could argue they’re superficial in a way, and people have to remember people are more complicated than what you see on social media.”

One issue for gay men facing mental health issues as they enter middle age is they don’t have the same resources as those available to LGBTQ youth, who have been more of a focus in terms of mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Among the leading organizations for LGBTQ youth is the Trevor Project, which has resources and a hotline for LGBTQ youth facing mental health crises.

Kevin Wong, vice president of communications for the Trevor Project, said his organization would be receptive to an older LGBTQ person who calls the hotline, but ultimately would refer that person elsewhere.

“If an LGBTQ person above the age of 25 reaches out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services for support and expresses suicidal thoughts, our counselors will listen, actively and with empathy, and work with them to de-escalate and form a safety plan, like any other contact,” Wong said. “However, our organization has remained youth-centric since its founding and our volunteer crisis counselors are specifically trained with younger LGBTQ people in mind.”

Much attention is focused on the coming out process for LGBTQ people, a time that can upend close relationships — as well as reaffirm them — and a process more commonly associated with youth.

Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said data is scant about suicide rates among LGBTQ people, but information on suicide attempts shows they tend to be at a heightened rate for LGBTQ people as they go through the coming out process.

“What we do know is that there is a connection with the coming out period at whatever age coming out happens,” Meyer said. “And so, we see a proximity to coming out whatever age that happened, we see the suicide attempts proceeding and after that.”

Suicide attempts, Meyer said, are much higher for LGBTQ people than the population at large. The self-reported rate of suicide attempts in the U.S. population as a whole, Meyer said, is 2.4 percent, but that figure changes to 20 to 30 percent among LGBTQ youth, which about to 10 to 15 times greater.

Black and Latino people, Meyer said, have been less likely to make suicide attempts in their lifetimes, although he added that may be changing in recent years.

With the primary focus on mental health issues elsewhere in the LGBTQ community, Glaze’s death raises questions about whether sufficient resources are available to people in his demographic, or whether individuals are willing to seek out care options that are available.

Meyer said whether the resources for suicidal ideologies among LGBTQ people are sufficient and what more could be done “is the the million-dollar question.”

“It’s definitely not determined by just mental health,” Meyer said. “So many people have depression, but they don’t attempt suicide. And so, then the difficult thing is to find the right moment to intervene and what that intervention should be.”

Meyer said much of the focus on mental health is on a person’s last moments before making a suicide attempt, such as making suicide hotlines readily available, but some of the stressors he sees “are more chronic, ongoing things related to homophobia and the kind of experience that LGBT people have as they come to terms to realize their sexual identity.”

Pumphrey said another factor in mental health issues not to be underestimated for almost two years now is “dealing with the COVID and loneliness epidemic,” which appears to have no immediate end in sight with the emergence of the Omnicron variant.

“There was always this piece of sometimes the experience of being in your 50s and early 60s…we talk about the invisibility factor,” Pumphrey said. “But when there’s just this sense of being disconnected from community, especially in the early days of the pandemic, and kind of being locked down, I think that just raised the risk.”

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