Black Catholic scholars have signed on to a new statement proclaiming the “unique gifts” of transgender and nonbinary persons and calling for anti-discrimination efforts throughout the Church and the wider society.
Drs. M. Shawn Copeland, professor emerita at Boston College, and Craig A. Ford Jr. of St. Norbert College are included among the notable signatories on “Beloved by God: A Declaration of a Catholic Commitment to Trans-Affirmation,” released on November 11 by the Catholic LGBTQ+ advocacy group DignityUSA.
The 12-point pledge, hosted on a dedicated website and broken down into sections on justice, equity, and affirmation, is co-sponsored by the Tyler Clementi Foundation—which has received support from numerous US Catholic bishops—as well as FutureChurch, TransCatholic, New Ways Ministry, Call to Action, and Catholics for Choice.
Within the statement is a core declaration, to which DignityUSA invites prospective signatories:
“As Catholics, we firmly believe our transgender and nonbinary community members are beloved by God. We recognize that these individuals are living into the dream God had for them long before their birth. Their unique gifts remind us that God's love is dynamic and transformative. We feel called to openly state our support for this marginalized community during these times when they are increasingly faced with violence and criticism for their identities and experiences. We pledge to make an open commitment to supporting justice, equity, and affirmation for transgender and nonbinary individuals throughout the Catholic Church and the world.”
The new efforts come in the wake of various anti-transgender pronouncements from Catholic jurisdictions in the United States, including a sharply worded policy instituted this fall in the Archdiocese of Denver for its Catholic schools, and earlier releases from the Archdiocese of Omaha, the Diocese of Sioux Falls, as well as the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and its suffragan dioceses of Green Bay and Marquette.
Additionally, Bishop William Joensen of Des Moines and Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque have similarly criticized gender ideology this year, in letters released to their flocks apart from any new restrictions in their dioceses.
A number of Catholic prelates, including Pope Francis, have also spoken out recently in support of anti-discrimination efforts, even while maintaining that Catholic facilities must have religious freedom and that the Church’s teachings reject modern gender ideology.
“Transgender and nonbinary people are being targeted by our church and society like never before,” said DignityUSA’s executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke.
“We have become tired of responding to every new diocesan policy that bans transgender kids from Catholic schools, every hospital directive making it impossible for trans and nonbinary people to get critical care, or every state law that puts trans youth and their families in jeopardy.”
The two African-American signatories on the new trans-affirmation statement have been longtime advocates on LGBTQ+ issues, for which they have at times been heavily criticized. Copeland, who has previously headed both the Black Catholic Theological Symposium and the Catholic Theological Society of America, advocated for queer solidarity in her 2010 text “Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being” and was later disinvited from at least one university following public backlash.
Ford, a professor of theology and religious studies, is himself a member of Queer Catholic Theologian of Color, the 2022 recipient of the Catherine Mowry LaCunga Award from the CTSA, and a board member of the College Theological Society. Ford identifies as gay and “writes at the intersection of the Catholic moral tradition, queer theory and critical race theory.”
Both scholars have been advocates against violence facing transgender and nonbinary persons, as well as the larger LGBTQ+ community, issues which the new statement from DignityUSA aims to highlight.
“We know of at least 32 transgender people who have been murdered so far this year,” Duddy-Burke said.
“This is a tragic sin. We need to do our part to prevent this from becoming something we accept, as a society or as a church. Each of these people is Beloved by God. We have failed them. Let us not fail another nonbinary or transgender soul.”
Also included on the declaration website is merchandise from DignityUSA, clothing emblazoned with the “#BelovedbyGod” hashtag. 100% of proceeds from purchases will support the nonprofit’s operations.
Those interested in singing on to the document can do so on the DignityUSA website, which is down for maintenance at the time of this writing, and organizations (including religious communities) interested in having their names included on the website can contact DignityUSA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).