Soulforce Letter to Bishop Gregory, President of the USCCB

January 23, 2004

Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, President
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 4th Street, N.E.,
Washington, DC 20017-1194

Dear Bishop Gregory:

Peace and blessings to you in this new year. I wanted to take a moment to first thank you for coming out during the USCCB Bishop’s meeting in D.C. and speaking with our Soulforce* members as we stood in prayerful vigil outside of the conference. It was indeed a reconciling moment, and hopefully the beginning of a real dialogue between the U.S. Catholic Bishops and your gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) Catholic families. We do recognize this as an initial step. I am also sending a copy of this letter to Bishop Skylstad, as we understand that November will be the end of your term as President of the USCCB, and that Bishop Skylstad as Vice President will most likely be the next President.

We are heartened by the letter of the two dozen courageous and prophetic priests from the Chicago diocese calling for an end to the abusive and violent language that is being directed at our community. They asked a question that we have asked for the last four years – "Has any other group of people within the Body of Christ been violated by such mean-spirited language?" They went on to ask, "Does anyone consider this vile and toxic language invitational?"

We join them in their request "that all those in official positions of teaching authority in the Church refrain from any more statements directed AT the gay and lesbian members of the Body of Christ, and instead begin an earnest dialogue WITH those same members of the Body of Christ." Soulforce would broaden that to also include in the dialogue bisexual and transgender people, who are also members of the Body of Christ.

Among other things, we wish to discuss with you the recent decision by the USCCB to support the Federal Marriage Amendment. As I mentioned to you on the vigil line that evening, I do not believe the USCCB is aware of just how dangerous this proposed amendment is.

There is so much good that can be accomplished in beginning this conversation. We implore you to meet with us, in your role as pastor, to begin this much needed dialogue as quickly as possible. I will be in Iraq for several weeks, but I will try to reach you, either at the USCCB office or your chancery office in Bellville, when I return, to see if we can set up a time to continue this discussion.

We continue to pray for and with you and ask you do the same for us as we all try to live Jesus message of love. We remain ever faithful to the gospel of Jesus.

Yours in Christ,

Kara Speltz,
Chair of the Soulforce Catholic Denominational Team

Soulforce Signs on to "Friend of the Court" Brief in Massachusetts Calling Civil Unions "Separate and Unequal"

Press Release, Jan 14, 2004
For Immediate Release
Media contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
717-278-0592

(January 14, 2004) – GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders) and other legal experts filed “Friend of the Court” Briefs yesterday, arguing that the recent decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) granting equal marriage rights would not be satisfied with a “civil unions” bill. Soulforce signed on to the “Amici Curiae Brief of Civil Rights Leaders.”

The expert briefs were filed in response to the Massachusetts Senate’s request for an advisory opinion from the SJC as to whether a civil unions bill would satisfy the SJC’s ruling that granted equal marriage rights in the state of Massachusetts to same-gender couples in the case of Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health.

“The Amici Curiae Brief of Civil Rights Leaders” states that creating a separate status for same-sex couples is not equality, and separate is inherently unequal. The Massachusetts Constitution strictly forbids any system that creates a separate, second-class status of citizens.

“Soulforce, Inc is pleased to have signed on to this brief, written on behalf of John Lewis, one of the original speakers at the 1963 March on Washington, the Boston Bar Association, and 27 other local and national civil rights groups,” said Karen Weldin, Soulforce Director of Operations. “We look forward to the day when all people will be treated equally, with dignity and respect, and no one will be regarded as a second class citizen in a country that guarantees the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Soulforce is a national interfaith network committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teaching against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Soulforce teaches and employs the nonviolent principles of M. K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities.

Founded in 1978, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) is New England’s leading legal rights organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status and gender identity and expression. Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) were lawyers for the seven same-sex couples who won an historic court victory on Nov. 18, 20-03, in the case of Goodridge v. Dept of Public Health which granted equal civil marriage rights in Massachusetts.

For more information on GLAD, see www.glad.org

Coming Out 蔘 A Moral Duty for Gays in America

Jamie McDanielI recently read a short, albeit controversial, religious book – one in which the author declined the opportunity to mention God or even make reference to a higher power. This narrative gave the account of a beautiful young orphan girl who got involved with a group of women sexual partners providing services for one man. And this man happened to be a prominent political leader.

The young woman was befriended by another man who had a flair for fashion and a mastery of cosmetics. With his help, she received a makeover fit for a queen.

Eventually, the night came for her to sleep with this high-ranking official. She showed up at his bedroom and he became absolutely infatuated with her – so much so that he married her and advanced her into a place of political leadership.

But the now-married woman kept a closely guarded secret – a fact she could work to conceal, but one that was very much tied up with her identity.

She had a male cousin who also shared her secret. And when a wave of oppression against their community swept across the country, he pleaded with her to come out to her politically powerful husband, stating she had a duty to not keep silent in a time such as this.

She initially hedged. But ultimately she came to a decision. Despite the possibility of serious repercussion, her secret would be a secret no more.

You should read this book. Many of you probably own it already. It is the book of Esther and it is found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Esther was a closeted Jew who risked much when she “came out” to King Ahasuerus. But in turn this brave woman saved her people from bitter persecution.

In the course of human events, there are times when our stand can make the most difference. Martin Luther King, Jr. explored that theme in the last speech he would ever give. He imagined God asking him, “Martin, which age would you like to live in?”

King then proceeded to take his listeners on a mental flight through history. At great points in time he would elaborate on the wonders of that age and the notable people who occupied it. Then he would pause and say to the audience, “But I would not stop there.”

“Strangely enough,” King continued, “I would turn to the Almighty and say, ‘If you will allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.’”

The crowd in Memphis, alive with energy, erupted into applause. Certainly none were contemplating that, by the end of the next day, the great civil rights leader would no longer be with them.

The course of history has now reached the first half of the twenty-first century. And if you have not looked up, a great movement is underway for gay Americans to be fully embraced by a society that has largely kept us second-class.

For much of our history, GLBT Americans have been asked to keep silent about our orientation or gender identity in exchange for acceptance in the larger community. Our society has asked us to lie in order to keep a job, maintain family harmony, or membership in a church.

To be sure, there are many challenges facing gay people who want to live openly. But I submit to you that it is not an option for the moral individual to remain in the closet forever. We simply cannot be apathetic to the journey of young gays and lesbians growing up in a country that denies them equality and in churches that tell them they are sick and sinful.

Sexual orientation is an aspect of one’s being that can be concealed. Like Queen Esther, who initially concealed her Jewish identity, we too can decline to live openly. But when we make that choice, we forfeit much.

I am mindful that there are legitimate reasons for not coming out in the present moment. But these are few in number. One example might be a gay teenager, without any financial means, whose parents have given a strong impression that they would throw him or her out of the house if the teenager’s sexual orientation was anything other than heterosexual.

Once we have stability in our lives, however, we are called to stand in our truth. As we start the New Year, I ask you to resolve to take another step out of that closet which has held so many of us. For your own freedom, and for those who follow you, tell the truth about who you are with pride.