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‘Unprecedented’: Vatican official apologizes to LGBTQ Catholics

Synod of Bishops deleted, reposted link to pro-LGBTQ video



Pope Francis wrote two letters to New Ways Ministry.

In a development that Catholic Church observers consider to be unprecedented, a high-level Vatican official apologized last week to LGBTQ people and to the Mt. Rainier, Md., based LGBTQ Catholic group New Ways Ministry for removing from a Vatican open forum website a link to an LGBTQ supportive video on New Ways Ministry’s website.

The apology by Thierry Bonaventura, communication manager of the Vatican-based General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, came five days after New Ways Ministry released excerpts from two letters that Pope Francis sent to New Ways Ministry in May and June of 2021 praising the organization for its work in support of LGBTQ Catholics.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, conservative Catholic media outlets reported that Bonaventura removed the link to the New Ways Ministry video from the Synod’s website on Dec. 7 after he learned that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops censured New Ways Ministry in 2010 because of its support for civil marriage for same-sex couples.

Supporters of New Ways Ministry believe Bonaventura may have issued his apology and subsequently reposted the video link to the Synod website after learning that the Pope himself had expressed a favorable opinion of New Ways Ministry in his recent letters to the LGBTQ ministry.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said in a statement that the New Ways Ministry video, among other things, encourages LGBTQ people to participate in Synod consultations. The Synod provides advice to the Pope on a wide range of church-related matters.

DeBernardo said it was someone from the Vatican, not New Ways Ministry, who placed the link to the LGBTQ group’s video on the Synod’s website.

“In recent days, I have personally taken the initiative to de-publish a post promoted by the reality ‘New Ways Ministries’ for internal procedural reasons,” Bonaventura says in his apology, which he posted on Facebook. “This brought pain to the entire LGBTQ community who once again felt left out,” he said.

“I feel I must apologize to all LGBTQ people and to the members of New Ways Ministries for the pain caused,” Bonaventura said. He added that he reposted the link to the New Ways Ministry video on the Synod website. He also posted in his Facebook message a link to the Synod’s resources web page, suggesting that LGBTQ Catholics should submit messages on the site.

“Certainly, LGBTQ groups and those groups who feel they live on the ‘margins’ of the Church can direct their contributions, resources, or what they want to share with the whole people of God to [this website],” he wrote.

“New Ways Ministry warmly accepts the apology of Thierry Bonaventura,” DeBernardo said in a Dec. 13 statement. “Apologies are powerful in their ability to build bridges of reconciliation and justice,” DeBernardo said. “Mr. Bonaventura’s kind words and his reposting of the video will be effective in helping to repair the rift that exists between LGBTQ people and Catholic institutions,” he said.

“We appreciate that apologies are never easy to make,” DeBernardo continued. “New Ways Ministry had not requested one, making this gesture all the more authentic,” he said. “Vatican officials rarely apologize, and they almost certainly have never apologized to LGBTQ people or an LGBTQ Catholic Ministry,” said DeBernardo.

“This action signals that Vatican officials are becoming aware of how their decisions impact LGBTQ lives,” he said. “It also reveals a desire to repair damages they may have caused. In these respects, this is an historic moment.”

DeBernardo said Pope Francis’s two letters to New Ways Ministry came in response to messages that he sent to the Pope discussing problems LGBTQ people and New Ways Ministry have faced with Catholic Church officials, including the Vatican.

“We wrote to the Pope in April, introducing ourselves as an organization, providing him with a brief history, including two major censures by church officials,” DeBernardo told the Blade.

Among the issues he said his group raised with the Pope was a 1999 decision by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith to prohibit the two co-founders of New Ways Ministry – Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent – from engaging in pastoral work with gay people.

The National Catholic Reporter, which published a story about the Pope’s letters to New Ways Ministry, reports that the 1999 action against Gramick and Nugent was based on claims by Vatican officials that the two LGBTQ supporters promoted “ambiguities and errors” in their ministerial work.  

The newspaper, which operates independently from the Catholic Church, points out in a Dec. 8 story that the notification sent to Gramick and Nugent prohibiting them from providing pastoral support for homosexuals was signed by then Cardinal Joseph Razinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI.  

DeBernardo told the Blade New Ways Ministry decided to release excerpts of the Pope’s two letters rather than the entire letters because some of the content “were pastoral and personal messages which it was not appropriate or relevant to release.”  He said the decision to release the excepts was made after a National Catholic Reporter journalist contacted the group for comment after the newspaper learned that the link to the New Ways Ministry video had been removed from the Vatican based Synod’s website.

“We made the decision that we would let him know about the papal correspondence as a way to show that Pope Francis was indeed genuinely interested in LGBTQ people, as evidenced by the fact that he was in supportive correspondence with New Ways,” DeBernardo said.

“In two letters to New Ways Ministry this year, Pope Francis commended the organization for its outreach to the LGBTQ community and referred to one of its co-founders, Loretto Sister Jeannine Gramick, as ‘a valiant woman’ who suffered much from her ministry,” the newspaper reports.

“Written in Spanish on official Vatican stationary, Francis’ letters mention that the Pope is aware that New Ways Ministry’s ‘history has not been an easy one, but that loving one’s neighbor is still the second commandment, tied ‘necessarily’ to the first commandment to love God,” the National Catholic Reporter story continues.

“Thank you for your neighborly work,” the newspaper quoted Francis as telling DeBernardo in a June 17 letter. In that same letter, the Pope also expressed praise for Sister Gramick. “I know how much she has suffered. She is a valiant woman who makes her decisions in prayer,” the newspaper quoted the Pope as saying.

“It helped me a lot to know the full story you tell me about New Ways Ministry’s history,” the newspaper further quoted the Pope as saying in a May 3 letter. “Sometimes we receive partial information about people and organizations, and this doesn’t help. Your letter, as it narrates with objectivity its history, gives me light to better understand certain situations,” National Catholic Reporter quoted the Pope as saying to DeBernardo in the May 3 letter.

“In ongoing communications with us and with others, it is clear that Pope Francis wants LGBTQ ministry to thrive,” DeBernardo said in a Dec. 13 statement. “He has publicly emphasized that he wants all people to participate in synod discussions, especially those who have been marginalized or alienated from the church,” he said.

“This unprecedented apology from a Vatican office corrects the earlier mistake and amplifies, even louder, the welcome that Pope Francis has extended to LGBTQ people,” said DeBernardo.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge blocks White House from ending Title 42

Advocacy groups say policy further endangered LGBTQ asylum seekers



The Mexico-U.S. border in Mexicali, Mexico, on July 22, 2018. A federal judge in Louisiana has blocked the Biden administration from terminating Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policy that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic. The previous White House's policy was to have ended on May 23, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic was to have ended Monday, but it remains in place after a federal judge blocked the Biden administration’s plans to end it.

The White House last month announced it would terminate Title 42, a policy the previous administration implemented in March 2020.

U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays in Louisiana on May 20 issued a ruling that prevented the Biden administration from terminating the Trump-era policy. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement announced the Justice Department will appeal the decision, while adding the administration “will continue to enforce the CDC’s 2020 Title 42 public health authority pending the appeal.”

“This means that migrants who attempt to enter the United States unlawfully will be subject to expulsion under Title 42, as well as immigration consequences such as removal under Title 8 (of the U.S. Code),” said Jean-Pierre.

Advocacy groups and members of Congress with whom the Washington Blade has spoken since Title 42 took effect say it continues to place LGBTQ asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups who seek refuge in the U.S. at even more risk.

Oluchi Omeoga, co-director of the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, last month described Title 42 as a “racist and harmful policy.” ORAM (Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration) Executive Director Steve Roth said Title 42 “put asylum seekers in harm’s way in border towns and prevented them from seeking safety in the United States.”

Title 42 was to have ended less than a month after five members of Congress from California visited two LGBTQ shelters for asylum seekers in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.

The Council for Global Equality, which organized the trip, in a tweet after Summerhays issued his ruling described Title 42 as a “catastrophe.”

“The Biden administration cannot breathe a sign of relief until it’s a matter of the past,” said the Council for Global Equality on Saturday. “We remain committed to end Title 42.”

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

U.S. Army considers allowing LGBTQ troops to transfer from hostile states

Proposed guidance remains in draft form



Top Army G-1 officer & enlisted advisor speaking with Joint Base Lewis-McChord single and dual military parents (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

A draft policy is circulating among top officials of the U.S. Army that would allow soldiers to be able to request a transfer if they feel state or local laws discriminate against them based on gender, sex, religion, race or pregnancy.

Steve Beynon writing for reported last week the guidance, which would update a vague service policy to add specific language on discrimination, is far from final and would need approval from Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. But if enacted, it could be one of the most progressive policies for the Army amid a growing wave of local anti-LGBTQ and restrictive contraception laws in conservative-leaning states, where the Army has a majority of its bases and major commands.

“Some states are becoming untenable to live in; there’s a rise in hate crimes and rise in LGBT discrimination,” Lindsay Church, executive director of Minority Veterans of America, an advocacy group, told “In order to serve this country, people need to be able to do their job and know their families are safe. All of these states get billions for bases but barely tolerate a lot of the service members.”

This policy tweak to the existing Army regulations pertaining to compassionate reassignment would clarify the current standard rules, which are oft times fairly vague.

A source in the Army told Beynon the new guidance has not yet been fully worked out through the policy planning process or briefed to senior leaders including the Army secretary or the office of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“The Army does not comment on leaked, draft documents,” Angel Tomko, a service spokesperson, told in an emailed statement. “AR 600-100 and 600-200 establish the criteria for which soldiers may request for a compassionate reassignment. The chain of command is responsible for ensuring soldiers and families’ needs are supported and maintain a high quality of life.”

A base member wears rainbow socks during Pride Month Five Kilometer Pride Run at Joint Base Andrews, Md., June 28, 2017.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valentina Lopez)

The Crystal City-based RAND Corporation had published a study on sexual orientation, gender identity and health among active duty servicemembers in 2015 that listed approximate six percent of LGBTQ troops are gay or bisexual and one percent are trans or nonbinary.

A senior analyst for RAND told the Washington Blade on background those numbers are likely much lower than in actuality as 2015 was less than four years after the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and prior to when the Trump administration enacted the trans servicemember ban in 2017, which has had a chilling effect on open service.

The Biden administration repealed the Trump ban.

Another factor is that the current 18-24 year old troops colloquially referred to as “Gen Z” are much more inclined to embrace an LGBTQ identity and that would cause the numbers to be higher than reported.

Also factored in is uncertainty in the tweaking of policy in light of the recent leak of the draft U.S. Supreme Court decision that would effectively repeal Roe v. Wade.

According to it’s unclear whether the Army’s inclusion of pregnancy on the list would protect reproductive care for soldiers if Roe v. Wade is overturned. That language could be intended to protect pregnant service members or their families from employment or other discrimination, but could also be a means for some to argue for transfers based on broader reproductive rights.

One advocacy group pointed out that the current wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation will negatively impact the moral of service members:

“What we’re seeing across the board is a small group of elected officials who are trying to politicize and weaponize LGBTQ identities in despicable ways. They’re not only doing that to our youth, but the collateral damage is hurting our service members,” Jacob Thomas, communications director for Common Defense, a progressive advocacy organization, told “[Troops] can’t be forced to live in places where they aren’t seen as fully human.”

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How a pro-transgender memo sneaked through the Trump administration

2020 memo an outlier amid otherwise hostile policy



By the time the Trump administration ended, it had solidified a reputation for being hostile to transgender people — barring them from military service and reversing regulations aimed at ensuring non-discrimination protections regardless of gender identity — but one minor policy decision managed to sneak through affirming the acceptance of employees going through gender transition.

Top officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency, a company support agency for the U.S. government, outlined in a memo dated June 15, 2020 the process for employees and supervisors to “navigate transitioning while employed at the DIA.” The document, which was not previously made available to the public, was obtained earlier this month by the Washington Blade through an appeal of a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

“Transitioning in the workplace is a personal decision,” the memo says. “DIA encourages transitioning employees to openly communicate during the transitioning process; discuss plans for workplace transition with their supervisor or manager; and, as appropriate, include any steps that will prompt workplace changes (e.g., transitioning employees may begin using a different name or pronoun).”

Because the fundamental nature of a memo outlining steps to help employees in the workplace transition is contrary to the overwhelming anti-transgender outlook of the Trump administration, the DIA memo appears to have been an internal effort shielded from the White House at the time as opposed to a government-wide initiative.

The DIA guidance for transgender employees runs contrary to other sweeping Trump administration policies that sought to enable discrimination against transgender people, including the military policy former President Trump issued via Twitter in 2017 outright banning them from service “in any capacity.”

Other anti-trans actions include the Department of Health & Human Services rescinding an Obama-era regulation that barred health care providers and insurers from discriminating against transgender patients, including the denial of transition-related care, which was orchestrated by then-director of Office of Civil Rights Roger Severino and came just days before the DIA memo.

Both the military ban and the health care rollback have since been reversed under the Biden administration.

Another Trump-era policy at a comparable scope to the DIA memo to employees, however, was the U.S. Office of Personal Management deleting on a page on its website outlining the guidance for accommodating federal workers going through the transition process. The DIA memo, which facilitates those transitions within that one agency, contradicts the message sent by the deletion of the OPM resource.

Although two sources familiar with the document told the Washington Blade it was timed for Pride month (which would be consistent with the June publication date), it would also be consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of illegal sex discrimination. After all, the Bostock decision came out on the same day as the date on the DIA memo.

A defense insider familiar with the DIA memo, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was among those who said the memo went out in recognition of Pride month and said it was intended to ensure there was guidance for transition at the agency.

“We had a number of different individuals who were going through the transition process and management needed to understand what the policy as they dealt with the individuals who were going through transition,” the insider said.

The insider said production of the memo “wasn’t part of any government wide effort” and completely within DIA. The memo, the insider said, wasn’t creating any new policy for the agency, but “looking at existing policy, and then providing our manager and our workforce clear guidance.”

Asked whether there was any backlash to the memo, the insider said, “No, I would say absolutely not.” Once the guidance went out, the insider said, he “didn’t hear anything from outside the organization” about it.

In response to a follow-up question on whether the White House or Pentagon under Trump expressed any objections to the guidance, the insider denied that was the case: “No one said anything to me about it.”

Other highlights of the memo include options for diversity training to better understand transition-related issues; instructions to refer to employees by the name and pronoun of their choice; a reminder the Defense Intelligence Agency has no dress code, therefore employees are allowed to wear attire in the manner they choose; and a guarantee employees shall have access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity. Employees may transition without prior coordination, the memo says, or may do so while creating a transition plan that includes the date the transition will begin, whether time off is needed and how to discuss the situation with colleagues.

“Employees can use the restroom and other facilities that best align with their gender identity and are not restricted to use of a single-user restroom,” the memo says. “Employees are not required to undergo or provide proof of any medical procedures to use restroom facilities designed for use by a specific gender.”

Additionally, the document outlines the process for administrative record updates, including making a request for a gender marker changer through human resources, updating personnel files, and changing DIA and intelligence community badges and identification cards.

A DIA spokesperson, in response to email inquiries from the Washington Blade on the document, confirmed the memo was issued to coincide with Pride month and remains in effect to this day.

“Released jointly to the DIA civilian workforce by the DIA Chief of Staff, Equal Opportunity and Diversity Office, and Office of Human Resources, the memo titled ‘Gender Transition in the Workplace for Civilian Employees’ serves to notify DIA civilian employees of the Agency’s position on supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) employees, including those taking steps to align themselves more fully with their gender identities,” the DIA spokesperson said. “The memo was released in June 2020 to coincide with Pride Month and serves as active guidance.”

In many cases, regulations and guidance would have to go through the White House Office of Management & Budget or Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, but not necessarily, especially an internal memo to supervisors and employees to reinforce policy that purportedly was already in place.

A Trump White House official said he was unaware of the document until the Blade brought it to his attention and said it would not have come to the White House because it was never published in the Federal Register. The Office of Management & Budget didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on whether it ever was brought to the attention of the White House at the time of its publication in 2020.

While regulations within U.S. agencies go to the White House for review and consultations, government agencies as well as businesses often consult transgender groups for assistance in developing guidance for transitioning in the workforce, such as the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Mara Keisling, a transgender advocate who served as executive director of the advocacy group during the Trump administration, said she was completely unaware of the memo until the Blade brought it to her attention, although DIA would have been “required by law” to have such a policy for transgender workers after the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock.

“We would have been happy to see it, but this was not the Trump administration doing something good,” Keisling said. “This was HR bureaucrats, I don’t mean bureaucrat in a bad way at all. This is HR bureaucrats following the law, and it clearly didn’t rise to the level of the White House.”

Keisling said she was unaware of any similar guidance for gender transition coming from a U.S. agency during the Trump administration. However, she disclosed her organization was able to work with federal workers to get “a couple of sneaky things done the White House didn’t know about” consistent with the DIA memo, although she didn’t elaborate.

“And super importantly, it’s the intelligence community and defense and intelligence, which Defense Intelligence Agency obviously is both,” Keisling said. “They have a little more autonomy than others anyway, so … if you told me there was something surprising from somewhere on a personnel issue, I would have guessed that it was somewhere in the intelligence report or Foreign Service community.”

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