Family Equality Council board member Frank Bua, Diverse Elders Coalition National Managing Coordinator Ben de Guzman and gay Garden Grove (Calif.) Mayor Bao Nguyen are expected to attend what the White House describes as an “arrival ceremony” that is scheduled to take place at the Executive Mansion on Sept. 23.
Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, received an invitation for the event. Frank DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based group that ministers to LGBT Catholics, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive coordinator of the National Coalition of American Nuns who has publicly supported marriage rights for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific issues, are also expected to attend alongside Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera of the Human Rights Campaign.
DeBernardo described the invitation to attend the event with Obama and Francis as “a great honor and thrill that has” left him “nervous, excited and humbled.”
“The presence of a number of LGBT Catholics and advocates at the White House reception sends a strong message that LGBT people are a great concern of this administration,” DeBernardo told the Blade. “It also shows that the White House thinks Pope Francis is concerned about this community too.”
Bua expressed similar sentiments.
“The pope and the president appear to be kindred spirits, visionary leaders playing the long game, working incrementally to move the needle with otherwise recalcitrant institutions,” Bua told the Blade earlier this week. “It will be humbling to be in the presence of two men whom history will undoubtedly view as transcendent reformers.”
De Guzman, who is the former co-director of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, pointed out to the Blade that he is an American of Filipino descent and that Catholic roots “run deep in my community.”
“I recognize the privilege I have been given to be able to attend an event like this,” he said.
Team D.C. board member Miguel Ayala had a similar childhood, recalling to the Blade that he attended the Mañanitas Mass for the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, each year on Dec. 12.
“As my gay identity evolved it was difficult for me to pair that with what the church taught on various social matters,” said Ayala. “Pope Francis has transformed how many people see the Catholic Church and helped me feel welcomed to the church. I am humbled at the opportunity to be a part of welcoming him to D.C.”
LGBT Catholic organizations and their allies have welcomed the Vatican’s more moderate tone towards homosexuality, marriage rights for same-sex couples and other social issues since Francis became pope in 2013. They are quick to note that church doctrine on these issues has not changed.
Knox told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview that his organization is “always ready to stand with” Francis on economic justice-related issues. Knox added the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is also “willing to be a voice for change and greater compassion within the church.”
“This pope’s tone is different, but behind this tone is still condemnation,” Knox told the Blade.
De Guzman said he thinks the president during the event will discuss LGBT-specific issues as they relate to church teachings. DeBernardo told the Blade that the Obama administration is “building a bridge between” LGBT people and the Vatican hierarchy.
“President Obama and the White House are doing what Catholic bishops should be doing and should have been doing for a long time,” said DeBernardo.