Vigil for Victims of Pulse Massacre And Murdered Transgender People
USCCB Meeting November 15, 2016
Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director, DignityUSA
We gather here today, outside the building where the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting, to honor the lives lost to anti-LGBTQI violence, and to call on the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church—on our bishops—to acknowledge them, and us, by the names we call ourselves. Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender. Intersex. Queer.
In the early morning of June 12, 2016, a lone gunman began shooting the patrons of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. This club was established as a haven and community space for the LGBTQI community by a Catholic woman to honor her gay brother who had died of AIDS. Those inside of Pulse were subjected to hours of terror, intense pain, and the horror of witnessing the murder of friends and lovers. The news reports and images were beyond imagination. In the still-dark Florida morning, police cars and ambulances ringed a nightclub in Orlando that served the LGBTQI community. Dozens were dead, many more injured, and it was said that cars in the parking lot had been rigged with bombs. As the day wore on, the numbers of wounded and dead climbed. By mid-afternoon, we knew that 49 patrons and the perpetrator had been killed, and 53 people were being treated in area hospitals. Most were young, Latin@ LGBTQI people.
In the hours and days following this unspeakable violence, Pope Francis, many Catholic bishops and our national bishops conference issued statements about the shooting. All condemned the violence and expressed condolences to the families of the victims. However, fewer than 10 out of nearly 300 bishops acknowledged that this horrific event targeted people who were LGBTQI. A handful. The worst mass shooting in modern US history occurred at a gay club, and the leaders of our Church failed to explicitly link this violence and the homophobia and transphobia so rampant in our society and in too many religious communities. They hid behind words like “innocent victims” and “tragic loss of life” – certainly true, but sinfully incomplete. One bishop, Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, did dare to link the shooting to teachings and statements by Catholic leaders. He said, “Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.” Very soon, he was soundly chastised by Bishop Wenski of Miami, his Metropolitan, for his comments.
Sadly, it is not only the Pulse shooting, but nearly all anti-LGBT violence, which is ignored by the leaders of our Church. Thus far in 2016, 23 transgender people, almost all trans people of color, have been murdered in the US, a record number of deaths. The Transgender Murder Monitoring project documents 166 murders of transgender people globally in the first 10 months of 2016. Unfortunately, that number is certain to rise. How many bishops have publicly addressed this tragic loss of life, or the other degradations transgender people face on a daily basis? I don’t know of any. Instead, we hear from Pope Francis that “gender ideology” represents “ideological colonization,” is “demonic”, and even is a threat to marriage. Does he realize he is fueling discrimination and hatred? As our bishops push for expansion of the exemptions to laws already afforded to religious institutions, do they realize the very real harm that LGBTQI people face when we lose legal protections in employment, housing, insurance, and access to health care?
Murder and physical violence are the extreme, but each of us and LGBTQI people all around the globe have encountered violence many times. We experience cruel taunts, exclusion, threats, loss of employment or housing, rejection, frequent insults from some religious leaders, malicious lies about us that go unchallenged, and much more. Each of these encounters leaves a wound, a trauma. In the aftermath of the Pulse massacre, enormous numbers of LGBTQI people report feeling more vulnerable. I still flinch every time the door of the church where my community meets after the Mass has begun. I am on heightened alert, and I know that mine are not the only eyes darting to see who is entering.
The results of last week’s election have made this sense of being unsafe even more pronounced. An atmosphere of increased polarization, and a sense that it is permissible for those in the dominant culture to taunt and target the “other” has permeated the LGBTQI community. The Vice-President Elect’s history as a champion of restrictive, anti-LGBTQI religious liberty laws raises tremendous concerns about the future of the civil liberties advances our community and supporters have achieved. Reports that the bishops conference may amend the ERDs, the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care facilities, to prohibit the provision of any gender reassignment services means that many Americans could lose any access to appropriate, respectful health care.
We are here to remember and honor the lives of all of those lost to anti-LGBT violence. These are beloved children of God. They are daughters and sons of loving parents, siblings, cousins, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, parents, friends, colleagues, neighbors to us all. They were Army veterans, students of literature, finance, health care, package delivery workers, artists, store managers, and bouncers. They had survived cancer, car accidents, addictions, and traumatic childhoods. One young woman was in Orlando to celebrate graduating third in her Philadelphia Catholic high school class, and being awarded a basketball scholarship that would have enabled her to attend a Catholic college. They are remembered as outgoing, energetic, passionate, loyal, and full of life. They had amazing gifts and talents of which the world is now deprived.
We honor them, not only is ensuring their names and their lives are not forgotten, but in recommitting ourselves, as people of deep and enduring faith, to ending all hatred and violence rooted in misunderstanding, ignorance, and inflammatory religious rhetoric. We will continue to remind the leaders of our Church that LGBTQI people and our families are numbered among the people of God, that we members of their flocks, and that we deserve and demand pastoral care and policies from our Church that respect our dignity, humanity, and the reality of our lives. They can start by naming us as LGBTQI people, using the names we use, and the terms that honor the communities with which we identify. Our bishops can talk with us, rather than about us. Our bishops must take a clear, unequivocal stand against any violence—physical, verbal, theological, emotional—directed towards LGBTQI people or our community. They must work with us and with our families to develop pastoral care programs and protocols that are appropriate and respectful. This is what we call for in the name of LGBTQI people whose lives have been lost to violence.