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Catholic Charities USA’s gay lobbyist

Sheridan Group paid nearly $500K for anti-poverty work

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Catholic Charities USA, the nation’s largest network of faith-based agencies providing services to the poor, has hired a Washington lobbying firm owned by a gay man to promote a recently launched anti-poverty initiative before Congress and the Obama administration.

In a little noticed development, Catholic Charities USA retained the Sheridan Group, founded in 1991 by social worker and gay rights advocate Tom Sheridan, to coordinate the development of legislation and related advocacy programs aimed at “starting a new national conversation on poverty and opportunity.”

Lobbying disclosure reports filed with the House and Senate show that Catholic Charities USA paid the Sheridan Group $476,750 between April 2010 and April 2011 for lobbying services and advocacy work related to the Catholic organization’s anti-poverty projects.

News of the Sheridan Group’s lobbying work for Catholic Charities USA comes at a time when local Catholic Charities agencies — including those in D.C., Massachusetts, and Illinois — have withdrawn from providing adoption services for state or local governments rather than be forced to provide such services to same-sex couples.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington spoke out against a same-sex marriage law at the time the D.C. City Council deliberated over the measure.

Executive Director Edward Orzechowski announced shortly after the D.C. Council passed the same-sex marriage law in December 2009 that Catholic Charities of Washington would discontinue providing adoption services in D.C. rather than be forced to facilitate adoptions by gay and lesbian couples.

Orzechowski also announced that his organization would no longer offer health insurance benefits to the spouses of its employees to avoid having to offer such benefits to same-sex partners.

“This allows us to continue providing services, comply with the city’s new requirements and remain faithful to our church’s teachings,” he said at the time.

Sheridan points out that Catholic Charities USA, while serving as a trade association that represents as many as 165 local Catholic Charities agencies linked to the Catholic Church, is independent from the local agencies, including those that have voiced opposition to same-sex marriage.

“They’re only together as service providers on poverty issues, which is why I have no problem representing them,” Sheridan said of Catholic Charities USA. “And I’m proud to represent them because they do such outstanding work.”

Sheridan said he began his career as a social worker. As a gay Catholic interested in social justice causes, he said he has long admired the dedicated social services work Catholic Charities groups have performed throughout the country.

Prior to founding the Sheridan Group, Sheridan worked as a lobbyist in the early 1980s for the AIDS Action Council, one of the nation’s first national advocacy organizations for people with AIDS. In subsequent years, he said the Sheridan Group has represented a number of AIDS advocacy organizations as well as other non-profit, social justice oriented groups as clients.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Catholic nun and one of the founders of New Ways Ministry, which provides support for LGBT Catholics, said Catholic Charities USA and some local Catholic Charities agencies have provided behind-the-scenes support for the LGBT Catholic community.

“Catholic Charities in general have been the most progressive wing of the church other than the nuns,” she said. “In some cases, Catholic Charities USA has supported our events. I feel they personally are pro-gay but they can’t do this publicly.”

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s executive director, said Catholic Charities agencies on the local level shouldn’t be viewed as adversaries to the LGBT community.

“I feel the homophobia is there,” he said. “But that is due mostly to the bishops, who have an immense amount of power over Catholic Charities” on the local level.

When asked to comment on its decision to retain a lobbying firm owned by an openly gay man, Catholic Charities USA issued a written statement to the Blade from its president, Rev. Larry Snyder, a Roman Catholic priest.

Snyder said Catholic Charities USA has utilized the “strategic leadership of the Sheridan Group” to launch its centennial project that “incorporates policy development as well as legislative, communications, grassroots and fundraising efforts” to prevent and alleviate poverty over the next 100 years.

“We have been pleased with the success of this project to date and will continue to work with a bipartisan team of consultants on this campaign as we see our work grow in importance and urgency every day,” he said.

Among Sheridan and his firm’s key duties for Catholic Charities USA was the drafting of a bill called the National Opportunity and Community Renewal Act. Catholic Charities USA officials say they hope the bill, if approved by Congress, will serve as a catalyst for innovative new programs aimed at eradicating poverty in America in 10 years.

Sheridan said some of the money his firm received from Catholic Charities USA has gone to subcontractors that he hired in his role as “general contractor” on behalf of the anti-poverty initiative. The objective, he said, is to put together a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and community leaders to sign on to the legislation.

Although the bill has not attracted much support in Congress so far, Sheridan said its introduction last year was linked to Catholic Charities USA’s 100th anniversary and the group’s special centennial celebration.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) introduced the National Opportunity and Community Renewal Act in the Senate last year with no other senator signing on as a co-sponsor. Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) introduced the bill in the House, with just three co-sponsors signing on – all Democrats.

One congressional staffer, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said bills attracting so few co-sponsors usually have little or no chance of passing.

But Sheridan said he will be working closely with Catholic Charities USA and its allies and supporters over the next several months to build a broad-based, bipartisan coalition that he expects will prompt a sizable number of lawmakers to co-sponsor the bill.

Among other things, the bill would provide $100 million for 10 separate grants to fund anti-poverty demonstration projects on the state and local level.

 

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

“LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased”

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Florida State Capitol building

TALLAHASSEE – A Republican majority Florida House Education & Employment Committee passed HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion Senate bill SB 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the Press Secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66%) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56% of transgender and nonbinary youth said it made them feel angry, 47% felt nervous and/or scared, 45% felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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California mom claims school manipulated child into changing gender identity

Jessica Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her

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Fox News host Laura Ingraham & Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet Dhillon with client, Jessica Konen (Screenshot Fox News)

A Northern California mother is claiming teachers in a small school district in the state manipulated her daughter into changing her gender identity and name in a legal claim. 

The claim, filed by the ultra-conservative Center for American Liberty on behalf of the mother, alleged “extreme and outrageous conduct” by the Spreckels Union School District, leading Jessica Konen’s 11-year-old daughter to change her gender identity and drive a wedge between them.

Specifically, the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, names two teachers – Lori Caldera and Kelly Baraki – at Buena Vista Middle who, in addition to teaching, ran the school’s Equality Club, later known as UBU (You Be You). Buena Vista is a part of the district. 

It comes after Abigail Shrier, the author of a book widely criticized as anti-trans, quoted what the two educators said last year at the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in a piece headlined “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids.” Caldera and Baraki spoke about the difficulty of running a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in a socially conservative community. 

After the article was published, the teachers were put on administrative leave, and the district hired a law firm to investigate, which is ongoing. The UBU club was suspended. 

Spreckels is a town of about 400 people in the agricultural Salinas Valley, approximately 90 miles south of San Francisco

According to the complaint, Konen’s daughter began attending Equality Club meetings after being invited by a friend when she started sixth grade at Buena Vista. After attending one session, she decided it wasn’t for her until Caldiera convinced her to come back. At the gatherings, Caldera and Baraki held LGBTQ-centered discussions and introduced students to different gender identities and sexualities. 

During her time in the club, Konen’s daughter began exploring her own gender identity and sexuality, choosing to wear more masuline clothes. At some point, she decided to change her name and pronouns, which she has since changed back to her original name and pronouns. 

Konen said she was aware her daughter was bisexual but did not know she began using a male name and gender pronouns until she was called into the school when her daughter was in seventh grade. The meeting caught both Konen and her daughter by surprise – Konen’s daughter had said she wanted to notify her mother, but she did not know the meeting was that day. 

Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her. 

However, when Shrier’s article was published and circulated around the small town, everything changed. At this time, Konen’s daughter was again using a female name and pronouns.

In the leaked recording from the LGBTQ conference, Caldera and Baraki were discussing how they kept meetings private, among other things. 

“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”

However, Caldera told the San Francisco Chronicle that the quotes were either taken out of context or misrepresented. According to Caldera, the stalking comment was a joke. She also defended their work, saying students lead the conversation and they provide honest and fair answers to their questions.
In addition, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association criticized the group bringing the lawsuit forward, according to the Associated Press: “We are concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities for their own political gain, which is evident in this complaint. The Center for American Liberty is concerned with pushing its own political agenda through litigation and has filed multiple lawsuits against various school districts and communities.”

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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