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In defense of Chick-fil-A

Freedom of speech more important than feel-good attacks on restaurant

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What’s worse than the president of a large national company denouncing marriage equality and donating millions in company profits to anti-gay causes?

How about government officials using homophobia as an excuse to deny that company the right to operate?

That’s exactly what’s happening in the debate over Chick-fil-A, whose president Dan Cathy backs the “biblical definition of family,” according to remarks he made in two recent interviews.

“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about,” Cathy said.

Of course Cathy’s views are repugnant and backward, but there’s an easy, sensible response: Don’t eat at Chick-fil-A. Unfortunately, some well-meaning politicians have jumped into the fray and are taking their good intentions to dangerous extremes.

Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno threatened to block the opening of a Chick-fil-A restaurant there unless the company adopts an anti-discrimination policy, according to an AP report.

In Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino wrote a letter that went viral last week in which he offers passionate support for marriage equality before taking that support too far. “I was angry to learn on the heels of your prejudiced statements about your search for a site to locate in Boston. There is no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.”

Predictably, some LGBT rights groups gushed in support of this frightening overreach. The Human Rights Campaign issued a press release commending Menino’s rebuke of Chick-fil-A titled, “HRC Commends Boston Mayor Thomas Menino for Saying No to Chick-fil-A.”

“We applaud Mayor Menino for calling out Chick-fil-A’s anti-gay policies,” HRC’s Fred Sainz said in the statement. “… Chick-fil-A is on the wrong side of history, and we look forward to seeing more and more elected officials and businesses speak out against their discriminatory practices.”

Meanwhile, in Chicago, an LGBT group called The Civil Rights Agenda, offered similar praise for Moreno.

“We applaud the statements made by Alderman Moreno and Mayor Emmanuel regarding Chick-fil-A,” said Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda. “… The statements made by Dan Cathy show that this restaurant has no place in Chicago. We will continue to work to ensure that Chick-fil-A is not welcome in this city until they see the value of acceptance and diversity.”

These tactics are mindboggling in their shortsightedness. Leave it to LGBT activists to render Chick-fil-A’s hate mongers the victims.

It’s true that the bigots at Chick-fil-A are on the wrong side of history, but unfortunately so are HRC and the groups that support government retaliation against a citizen on the basis of his political views. Does the LGBT movement really want to find itself on the losing side of a debate over freedom of speech? Sure, criticize Cathy and his views. Organize boycotts and protests of the restaurants. And use this ugly episode to make the case for the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, because surely Cathy’s LGBT employees lack job security. But endorsing government attacks on a business over its president’s views — however offensive and wrong — is reckless and ignores our community’s long, painful history of being victimized by government officials.

This government intrusion on free speech rights is a double-edged sword. Have we forgotten the days when police raided our bars? When the White House ignored the exploding AIDS epidemic because gay men were the ones seen as suffering? When writers for this newspaper were forced to use pen names because they feared for their day jobs working in the government?

Members of the LGBT community ought to be the most aggressive in defending the freedom of speech. We continue to use it in powerful ways to advance our equality. To now applaud politicians who would deny business licenses to companies based on the political views of their owners might feel good, but are we so desperate for validation that we want to stoop to the ugly (and unconstitutional) practices of our opponents?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got it right when he said, “trampling on the freedom to marry whoever you want is exactly the same as trampling on your freedom to open a store.” Dan Cathy deserves the right of free speech. He’s entitled to his views and welcome to spend his money funding our enemies. It’s ultimately a losing fight so his money is wasted. We should counter his message of hate and intolerance by pressing for justice. This controversy should be Exhibit A in the case for ENDA.

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35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. sillyone

    July 30, 2012 at 10:51 am

    “Of course Cathy’s views are repugnant and backward.”
    In this great world of science and knowledge, I was wondering if you, Kevin Naff, the author of this article, could point me to the study that had determined the Dan Cathy’s views as “repugnant and backward”? There must be something somewhere that proves your value statement to be true for you to make that statement? Please do not make value statements as absolutes truths, when you it is likely that you do not believe there are such things as absolute truths.

    • Patrick J Hamilton

      July 30, 2012 at 7:31 pm

      Um, not sure “repugnant and backward” in this case REQUIRES a study. It just is.

      As for the mayoral bans, it’s a slippery slope. But making this ONLY about Freedom of Speech is deceiving.

  2. Will Vander Linden

    July 30, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Incredibly well put.

  3. TJK

    July 30, 2012 at 11:12 am

    This editorial is unnecessary and rather silly. The heroic officials who proclaimed outrage and threatened to deny “right to operate” would not have been able to follow through. They have backtracked their statements acknowledging the laws that prevent such retaliation. However, the fact that religions continuously successfully lobby governments and deny our rights should be an outrage for every LGBT citizen in the world. I’m thankful that a few leaders spoke before thinking and drew attention to CFA’s political maneuvers. Cathy and other corporate leaders have been operating under the radar for far too long and have been complicit in some of the most hateful efforts to eliminate homosexuals from the earth. (Research the funded trips to Uganda to encourage “kill the gays” laws.) I hope the outrage never stops until our rights are secured. Good luck getting them by playing nice and fair! There are far more laws to protect CFA and Dan Cathy than any LGBT person. You should compare the legal protections and get a grip on reality.

  4. dstop

    July 30, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Not sure what biblical definition Dan Cathy refers to. I’m all in for concubines, but my wife doesn’t approve.

  5. GODISLOVE

    July 30, 2012 at 11:22 am

    If your Homosexual dont eat at chick fil la.

  6. Lisa

    July 30, 2012 at 11:25 am

    The thought that some one defending their religious view through free speech is not hate mongering. Cathy in his public comments did not call upon similarly minded groups to rise up and protest, he has not threatened any one’s employment within that company. What ever happened to agree to disagree? Why does it have to be such a raucous outcry to take up arms against a company. In a tme of econmic uncertainty do you want to push some issue that is personal, not political, to the point you would possibly negatively impact some one’s ability to make a living and possibly spport their family? Where is the “political correctness ” in that? Cathy’s views would no doubt cover sex outside of marriage as well. Why not gather up all the single parents to boycott? Get over it and focus on issues that protect our society as a whole and collectively allow it to exist, thus allowing all the protection of free speech. To be proud is often diminished by being loud.

    • nate

      July 30, 2012 at 8:00 pm

      He cannot operate a public business, using tax deductions, public utilities, and community sponsorship, and state that his company operates with traditional values. Moreover as Americans we don’t by nature support companies that discriminate against any minority. Would you be supportive of this company if he said, due to his values and beliefs he would hire blacks, or maybe divorced women or single parents. No, you would not! You just feel more at ease with Gay discrimination…it’s easier for you!

      • rom mittney

        August 4, 2012 at 3:48 am

        “official list of political and social opinions that I must hold in order to open a business in Chicago.”
        Your opinions don’t matter, but don’t fund government genocide in other countries. Your christian ‘charitable generosity’ may bring in lines of conservative teahadist christian customers, but genocide is still immoral out here in the real world.

        “permitted to earn a living”
        That’s another problem. Remove teapublican thugs from office. That will put the fear of democracy into the buyers of the remaining politicians.

        “Those who repeatedly expressed views contrary to the government could be given special training and re-education”
        You’ll want to stay away from WinShape’s reeducation camps, because they actually exist.

  7. Keith

    July 30, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Wow. Really impressive and really well written. As a very socially liberal Libertarian I agree fully with your position and was upset when the mayor of my city, San Francisco, took a similar position to Boston’s mayor. I don’t want the SF government deciding which chains can and can’t open in my city based on the beliefs of their management… as you said… the customers can make that decision… if people don’t like it, they shouldn’t eat there. (sadly, of course, SF interferes with which businesses can open in many ways already)

  8. Eaker

    July 30, 2012 at 11:55 am

    First off I wonder if he stoned his kids when they were disobiedent…..cause thats what it says just a couple of verses over from his “biblical definition of family,” Can’t pick and choose just because you want to be hateful.

    Secondly He is the CEO of a FAST FOOD Company making stances on political views that have nothing and i’ll repeat NOTHING to do will the company. If he was lobbying of voiceing concerns about mad cow disease, the way chickens are raised, organic vs regular meats then sure thats something to listen to but you just F’d up your company for being a retard. If a company was against black would you eat there? If it was for communism, or the killing of children, or hated jews, or hated white people would you eat there? probably not

  9. BobH

    July 30, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    @sillyone&will: Naff did not use the word “scientific” or “absolute truth”. He used the words “of course” indicating he expected a consensus around this topic. Nobody ever cited scientific studies to prove that racism is a bad thing either (at least not in terms of proving that it is absolutely wrong.) There is a condescending tone in your statement about the writer not believing in absolutes- and that IS my opinion, not based on any absolute truth.

  10. LL

    July 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    You write, “It’s true that the bigots at Chick-fil-A are on the wrong side of history, but unfortunately so are HRC and the groups that support government retaliation against a citizen on the basis of his political views.” Chick-fil-A is first, not a citizen but a coproration. Second, the corporation is not being blocked, retaliated against, or otherwise targeted by local governments because of it’s “political views” but because of its policy-making efforts with regard to Civil Rights. I’m not a gay-marriage advocate because I think the gay rights movement is missing the point about marriage (we should want the state out of ALL marriage rather than want to be included in a government institution that has oppressed women, poor people, people of color and all those who fall into all of those categories); HOWEVER, local government can and should stand against any business that actively seeks to discriminate in ways that local government does not sanction. I believe the marketplace would have done the job of putting Chick-fil-A out of business without local governments stepping into the fray but I also think local governments have a right and an obligation to exclude companies that do not fit into local communities. We prevent gun shops from opening next to school, strip bars from opening next to churches, etc. Seems perfectly fitting to prevent gay-hating businesses from opening in communities that value gay people.

  11. Jim Guinnessey

    July 30, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    If Chick-Fil-A bigot Cathy denounced Jews and Blacks, I wonder if its heterosexual fans like Republican phonies Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee would change their tunes. Gay bashing, I guess, is okay as long as bigoted heterosexual and religious right politics dominate the scene. The tyranny of the majority against minorities in the USA is a sad daily occurence that needs to always be challenged. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The organized bigots in the USA are counting on citizen indifference. They may be winning.

  12. I'm just sayin

    July 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Dan Cathy deserves the right of free speech? To the best of my knowledge, that right continues unabridged. Free however has never meant without consequences or responsibility for its impact.

    Chick-fil-A is suffering no different treatment than Target received for similar behavior. Anybody think that the Target we see today is not a result of the public flogging that they received? Dan Cathy, the individual may not care about LGBT sensitivities but Dan Cathy the CEO surely cares about his brand image and that has plummeted in the days since his flippant, arrogant remarks. He’s lucky his Daddy gave him the company and he is not facing the wrath of shareholders and a Board of Directors for a stock price that would surely be falling as well.

  13. Jayson

    July 30, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    I made it my business to go to a Chik-fil-A this weekend and eat. I love the place! Don’t care about what the owner does with his own profits, it’s his business, at least for now. What he believes does not inhibit the quality of the food, or the level of service I was given, as an openly Gay man. No one jeered, no one taunted me and I was not denied service. I will make it a point to eat there regularly. The views of a Fast Food owner/CEO has about as much importance on politics and policies as do those of the Hollywood elite, but I haven’t stopped going to anyone’s movies because of their politics, although I’d prefer not to hear them, and probably disagree simply based on the source.

    • Julian

      July 31, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      Wow. Seriously Jayson ? Have you done any background research on this case since it exploded on to the news ? It makes no difference what his views are or what he does with the money you spend there ? He uses your money to fund groups that support the death penalty for gay men and women in Uganda!!!! The next time an LGBT charity posts about one of our Ugandan brothers or sisters being hanged, stoned to death or beheaded and inside you cry a little about the struggles other gay men and women face on a daily basis, be happy in the knowledge that some of your money was used to help fund organisations that make this a common occurrence !

    • Heidi

      August 1, 2012 at 9:52 pm

      Jayson,
      I too, went to Chick-Fil-A this week for the first time to see what the fuss was about. And you are right. There are a lot of whack jobs posting on here in blind lamb style political dribble. But, I’m with you. The place was nice, really clean, and everyone was super nice, polite, and happy to help. I was happy to hand my hard earned money over and the chicken really was good. I’m a new fan of Chick-Fil-A. And a long time fan of The First Amendment. In America, you can be a jerk with an awesome product or service, or a person that everyone loves with a lousy product, in the end, we care about the product man. Don’t push the limits too far, we aren’t all going to jump on the bandwagon everytime it rolls by. LOL!

  14. Citizen of the US

    July 30, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    I believe he has the right to voice his opinion just as everyone else is doing now. Just because he voices his opinion does not make him wrong. It makes everyone who disagrees with his opinion a hypocrit.

    • Satan

      July 30, 2012 at 6:07 pm

      Excuse me? How does disagreeing with his opinion make me a hypocrite? Being in opposition to gay marriage is absolutely your right, but it IS still homophobic and reprehensible when you feed a political machine that seeks to legally bar gay people from enjoying the same rights as heterosexual citizens.

  15. Satan

    July 30, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    As absolutely reprehensible as moralists are in their insistence that marriage is between a man and woman ONLY (and their unabashedness about putting people in political office to promote their values), I don’t think local governments blocking the establishment of franchises based on the ignorant and sheltered viewpoints of their Christian managers. If you want to hate gay people and disapprove of them being treated equally under the law, you’re a terrible person. You shouldn’t be legally barred from trying to earn a buck. Economics will take care of that better than the government ever could. Chick-Fil-A can open as many stores as they want in Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, or anywhere else…they simply won’t make any money because CONSUMERS CAN discriminate against a business. Thankfully. If the government just stays out of it what will happen is Chick-Fil-A’s business will fall off a cliff most likely and they will retreat back to the Bible Belt where they are accepted. It’s a problem that fixes itself without government intervention.

  16. Amber Thompson

    July 31, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    The first amendment, does not apply.

  17. George Dom

    July 31, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    I am sick and tired of straight people telling us, the members of the LGBTQ community, what to do and how to respond to those that persecute us. Mind your own business; you have NO SAY in the matter WHATSOEVER concerning OUR PERSONAL LIVES!
    OUR LIVES – NOT YOURS. Stick your idiot “morals” where the sun don’t shine.

  18. John Selig

    July 31, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Nobody is attacking Chick-fil-A’s right to free speech. Freedom of speech, however, doesn’t provide freedom of responsibility from those comments. Somebody that screams hate against gays be it Dan Cathy, Laura Schlessinger, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins (Family Research Council), the Boy Scouts of America or the Salvation Army or any politician or preacher should be taken to task for their hateful behavior. I hold each and every one of them directly responsible for every gay teen that is bullied in school, abused, bashed, murdered or tossed out of their home.

    Do I think they should not be all.owed to operate a business, no but they should be held accountable. There is nothing wrong with pushing the United Way not to have the Salvation Army or the Boy Scouts in their program. It is perfectly okay to work to get Chick-fil-A thrown out of university food courts or elsewhere. Preventing them from entering a city is probably going too far but again hate should have consequences. By the way gays should get just as upset when hate is directed towards African Americans, Latinos, Jews, Muslims, women, Asians or any other minority.

    When hate has a financial cost attached companies and organizations will think twice when attacking groups and working to deny them civil rights.

  19. Doctor Whom

    July 31, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    In addition to the First Amendment, there’s the matter of “me today, you tomorrow.” In case anyone thinks that conservative local politicians will not try to use the same power against companies that take pro-gay positions, guess what: They already have. Who would like to articulate a principled position that it’s okay for one side but not the other?

  20. iameverywhere

    July 31, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Poor, poor Dan Cathy. Being victimized by previous patrons who have decided enough abuse is enough.

  21. Lee sonoflaw

    August 1, 2012 at 12:08 am

    The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects the right of free speech for individuals. But contrary to recent court decisions, free speech is NOT a protected right of corporations or businesses. We must correct this error made by the courts within the US.

  22. You Who

    August 1, 2012 at 1:13 am

    I am going to raise hell against every known establishment in the USA because my son is a twice convicted felon for simple possession of marijuana. He has never harmed anyone and no, there is no more to his “criminal” history other than what I just stated. He struggles to find employment and is “bullied” by society everywhere he goes because he wears the label of “Convicted Felon”. He is becoming suicidal as a result of being smeared and rejected even after paying his debt to society. The ACLU has no interest in helping him and thousands just like him to rise above, hypocrits they are. People do not have to be married to love each other and be happy but my son desperately needs employment in order to survive and rise above. Put Chick-fil-a and the likes of Cathy out of business and you are hurting many other people at the expense of one right. What about my son and so many other people just like him, or is it really just about your own selfishness? He paid his debts in full. “Convicted Felon” is still the big, red stamp he wears. This is state and government involvement at it’s finest so let’s invite even more! Wonderful idea! Oh, excuse me, I forgot. Homosexuality is legal but weed in this state is not so hang him high. (Meditate on the pettiness of it all. Just think about it… )

  23. Mark

    August 1, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Freedom of speech is entirely different than funding hate groups that do all in their power to eliminate and prevent the rights of LGBT people. THAT’S what Chick-Fil-A does; not just make mention that they don’t like same-sex marriage because of the Bible. Get off you high horse and wake up to the truth. (You’re part of the problem, by the way). No one is questioning their right to free speech. However, their free speech opened up their own can of worms that many people were unaware of. Would government be intruding on free speech if Chick-Fil-A was owned by the KKK or Neo-Nazis who did the same kind of funding to their perspective groups? What a ridiculous sanctimonious article.

  24. Mark

    August 1, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Freedom of speech is entirely different than funding hate groups that do all in their power to eliminate and prevent the rights of LGBT people. THAT’S what Chick-Fil-A does; not just make mention that they don’t like same-sex marriage because of the Bible. Get off you high horse and wake up to the truth. (You’re part of the problem, by the way). No one is questioning their right to free speech. However, their free speech opened up their own can of worms that many people were unaware of. Would government be intruding on free speech if Chick-Fil-A was owned by the KKK or Neo-Nazis who did the same kind of funding to their respective groups? What a ridiculous sanctimonious article.

  25. Brad

    August 1, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Dear Mayor of Chicago; Philly, and San Fran.
    I’m very interested in opening a business in your beautiful city and have a couple of questions and requests.
    If it’s not too much trouble, could you please send me the official list of political and social opinions that I must hold in order to open a business in Chicago.
    It’s recently become clear that merely expressing an “incorrect” opinion could lead to me being barred from doing business there…or at least having to fight Mayor Emanuel’s disapproval every step of the way. It’s hard enough to start a business and create jobs without that kind of resistance! And did I miss somewhere the same righteous indignation from Mayor Emanuel, when he worked for the President of the US, who shared the same views? Or did I miss where Mayor Emanuel has a close association with Mr Louis Farakhan, who blantanly holds an even more radical position against the LGBT folks.

    Now, I’m sure you understand. I would just try to guess which opinions the government requires that I hold, but in a recent case, you folks made clear that an opinion held by half of Americans was completely unacceptable. Guessing which other opinions the government doesn’t permit would be tough! In the case I alluded to (involving the folks from Chick-fil-A) the “illegal” opinion was the same one held by the President of the United States until very recently.
    Perhaps you could put out a “government-approved beliefs” newsletter on a regular basis so no one engaged in unacceptable speech or thought. Those who repeatedly expressed views contrary to the government could be given special training and re-education so that they wouldn’t make silly mistakes anymore!
    Again, thanks for your assistance. I look forward to being in compliance with all acceptable beliefs so that I will be permitted to earn a living.
    Regards,

  26. An Alaskan

    August 3, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Here is what I have to say. Let the LGBT people go. They will eventually die out due to the fact that biologically they can not reproduce when/if they try. You still have to have both sexes in order to reproduce and what is gained if you have the same sex marriage/partnership? My hat goes off to this Dave Cathy for taking a stand and letting people know his feelings, this is wholly support. The people that showed up in support of this belief did the right thing, in my opinion.

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National

In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries

The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date

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Governor Jared Polis and 1st Gentleman Marlon Reis exchange vows (Screenshot via CBS News Denver)

DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.

The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.

“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).

In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.

The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.

Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”

Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.

In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.

********************

Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds

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U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

Joint statement says church teachings support equality

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More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.

The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.

“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.

“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.

The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.

“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.

“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said. 

DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.

The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.

“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.

He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.

Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Fairfield, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.

Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”

The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.

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Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence

Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick

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An I Am Human Foundation billboard along Atlanta's Downtown Connector expressway on Feb. 22, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.

For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.

A tribute to Tony McDade in downtown Asheville, N.C., in June 2020. McDade was a Black transgender man who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Tallahassee, Fla., on May 27, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future. 

Uplifting voices often silenced

Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C. 

Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches. 

“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.

Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests. 

“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.

Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community. 

“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick. 

Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.

What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?

The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.

“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”

“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick. 

She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news. 

Jasmyne Cannick (Photo courtesy of Jasmyne Cannick)

Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments. 

“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago. 

Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”

“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.

As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.

The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi. 

“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago. 

“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.

He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles. 

Cannick’s focus is on the Black community. 

“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.

She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces. 

She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils. 

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