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Powerful anti-LGBTQ priest caught on gay sex app at work

Grindr is a sex app. Men use it to meet other men for sex. Journalists at the Catholic news site The Pillar legally purchased Grindr data

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Jeffrey Burrill addressing the USCCB Fall 2020 General Assembly. (YouTube screen capture.)

By James Finn | WASHINGTON – Last autumn as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops actively lobbied Congress to kill a proposed national suicide hotline because it directed help to suicidal LGBTQ people, the Conference elected Jeffrey Burrill as their general secretary. He had worked as a high-level staffer since 2016. His promotion made him the highest-ranking, most powerful Catholic priest in the United States who is not a bishop.

On Inauguration Day, Burrill remained general secretary as the Conference’s senior bishop chastised President Biden for supporting LGBTQ equality, claiming the president’s policies “advance moral evils.” Many lay Catholics rolled their eyes, having long since rejected the Catholic clergy’s relentless homophobic hate speech.

Burrill said nothing.

Nobody expected him to. His colleagues knew him as a conservative and staunch traditionalist who was “all in” with Church teachings that gay people are “depraved” and “disordered” and that transgender people “annihilate nature.” He had been an enthusiastic participant for years advancing institutional homophobia and transphobia.

He continued to administer the day-to-day work of the Conference and lead its staff as the bishops took steps to religiously punish President Biden for refusing to enforce Catholic doctrine about abortion, for refusing to make abortion a crime for all women and doctors, including those who are not Catholic.

Burrill again said nothing.

The U.S. bishops are notoriously conservative, and they chose their man well, grooming him for more power and influence in the Church as he executed their homophobic policies, including promoting an official Catholic organization called Courage that claims homosexuality is a result of mental illness and that encourages conversion therapy, a practice every major mental health association in the world acknowledges is intensely harmful and likely to result in suicide attempts.

Then Burrill’s other shoe dropped. He’d been using Grindr at work. Constantly. For years.

Grindr is a sex app. Men use it to meet other men for sex. Journalists at the Catholic news site The Pillar legally purchased data Grindr sells to third-party vendors. The data included unique mobile-device ID numbers and geo-time stamps that allowed investigators to identify Burrill’s mobile phone as he used Grindr in his office, his homes, family members’ homes and on his travels.

They say that information is non-identifiable. This is another example of how it’s an utter lie.

— Professor Ari Ezra Waldman

The general secretary of the US Bishops Conference was using Grindr practically every day. He was spending time at gay bars and at The Entourage in Las Vegas, an upscale bathhouse where wealthy gay men meet one another for casual sex. He often used Grindr before and while driving to private residences he never visited again.

Three disturbing stories pop out in this scandal about a homophobic gay priest

The first implicates Grindr and other tech companies that behave recklessly as they betray user privacy. The second centers around a continuing Catholic tendency to conflate gay men with pedophiles and sexual abusers. The third is the hypocrisy of homophobic Catholic clergy pushing official Church anti-LGBTQ hate speech. Let’s break each of these stories down.

1.) Privacy implications are dystopian in scale

This story is at least as worrisome as the Pegasus spyware scandal that also rocked the privacy world this week. But while Pegasus is sold to governments for tens of millions of dollars, the techniques that outed Burrill don’t require expensive software and are available to almost anyone.

The Pillar investigators were able to legally buy aggregated Grindr data from third party sources and use it to identify Burrill based on his movements. This should trouble anyone who uses a mobile device. Grindr routinely sold highly granular location and demographic data to advertising networks and analytic firms.

Pretty much every social media app on the Internet does this.

Grindr defends its privacy policies by pointing out they “anonymize” data before selling it, meaning they strip out names and phone numbers. But that didn’t help Burrill. Pillar investigators bought the data, observed that somebody was using Grindr on a unique mobile device just about every day at USCCB offices. From there, checking to see where else that unique device popped up in their data set was trivial. They correlated the device to Burrill’s homes, his family’s vacation home and to his publicly available travel records. They had their man for the nominal price of a data set.

Experts have long warned of the potential for this sort of tracking. Some say they’re surprised privacy violations like this haven’t already become common.

They warn that this is just the beginning.

“There’s an entire multi-hundred billion dollar industry of companies you’ve never heard of,” Northeastern University Professor Ari Ezra Waldman told Slate. “Their business model is collecting info from all corners of the internet and selling it to people so they can make general conclusions about a population and advertise to it. They say that information is non-identifiable. This is another example of how it’s an utter lie.”

Indeed, The Pillar suggests they have more stories on tap, more gay priests to out.

2.) Religious news sources are falsely framing this story as a fight against pedophilia and sex abuse while morally condemning LGBTQ people at large

The Pillar story itself is rather breathless, making one illogical leap after another to correlate consensual gay sexual activity with risks of predatory abuse. The authors describe Burrill as having engaged in “serial and illicit sexual activity” immediately after writing “he is widely reported to have played a central role” in coordinating the U.S. Church’s response to the ongoing clerical child sex abuse scandal.

Their plain implication is that sexually active gay men are incapable of protecting children from predators and present a heightened risk of being predators themselves.

The authors are not not coy about linking Grindr to the risk of child sexual abuse. They cite three examples of priests using Grindr to meet teenagers for sex but fail to make any case that Burrill himself is attracted to minors or has any track record of predatory behavior. Instead, they write, “There is no evidence to suggest that Burrill was in contact with minors through his use of Grindr. But any use of the app by the priest could be seen to present a conflict with his role in developing and overseeing national child protection policies.”

They quote Thomas Berg, a professor of moral theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary, to make their point more directly: “When it becomes evident that a cleric is regularly and glaringly failing to live continence, that can become only a step away from sexual predation.”

This assertion, repeated by many other Catholic publications in the past two days, shocks the conscious of LGBTQ people everywhere, many of whom work with children as teachers, social workers and community leaders — overseeing child protection policies without the least conflict with their private adult sexual lives.

Religion News Service jumped on the gay-bashing wagon fast, Steven P. Millies opining, “I am a sinner. So are you. So is Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill. Not one of us has a personal life that would withstand the sort of scrutiny The Pillar has applied to Burrill. Every single one of us has had a shameful moment we regret, and I suspect most of us must be caught up in cycles of sinfulness that we repeat less because we want to than because we are sinners and cannot help being sinners.”

Notice how Millies appears to defend Burrill even as he heaps hate speech on gay people, calling us shameful and sinful while implying that our sexuality is regretful.

I choked on story after hateful story like his while preparing this piece, both in nominally liberal and more conservative religious publications. The Burrill scandal has prompted a tiring and toxic wave of overt homophobia from religious writers who seem more interested in targeting gay people for moral condemnation than in focusing on the hypocrisy that should be the center of this tale.

3.) Jeffrey Burrill is a hypocrite who worked to hurt LGBTQ people while living his off hours as a sexually active gay man

First, let’s shoot down a disingenuous liberal Catholic talking point. The accusations The Pillar printed are not innuendo. They are not mere gossip. Look, I’m angry Grindr sold private data, but the data is out there now and it’s clear. Jeffrey Burrill used Grindr for years, often every day, for its intended purpose — to have sex with other men.

Gay men don’t use Grindr to talk about the weather. We don’t use it to idly chat. We use it to have sex. That’s what it’s for. Gay men don’t go to The Entourage and other bathhouses to have a steam and a cup of tea. Gay men go the Entourage for only one reason — to have sex with other men.

That’s not innuendo. It’s reality. It’s truth.

So let’s stop playing silly games, liberal Catholic press. Jeffrey Burrill, the highest ranking Catholic priest in the United States who is not a bishop, has been having sex with men for years, on purpose, on a regular basis, and often while traveling on the Church’s dime.

He did this while working for The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, arguably the most cruel homophobic organization in the United States. You don’t get more cruel, more immoral, than trying to stop a suicide hotline because it reaches out to queer people in crisis. American Catholics and Americans in general reacted with shock and horror when they learned of the moral depravity of the U.S. Catholic bishops in that episode.

But LGBTQ Americans have long understood the Conference’s moral depravity. The fact that the USCCB website (under Burrill’s direction) actively promotes Courage International’s conversion therapy is just another example of moral depravity. PFLAG and ILGA, respected LGBTQ human rights organizations of long standing, group Courage with extremist anti-LGBTQ hate groups.

Rightfully so!

Conversion therapy hurts people. Badly. It causes suicide. Which makes the USCCB’s effort to stop suicide-prevention outreach to LGBTQ people even more despicable.

That all this morally despicable behavior happened under the watch of a sexually active gay (or possibly bisexual) man is jaw dropping. The English language has words for vicious hypocrites like Burrill, but I won’t use them here. I already have in private, and I’ll leave the color and depth of my vocabulary as an exercise for the reader.

Can we stop feeling sorry for this homophobic gay priest, please? Patheos suggests we should “feel bad” for Burrill given he was doing nothing illegal and nothing to feel ashamed of. But this overlooks the critical fact that Burrill was complicit with oppressing and persecuting LGBTQ people, including working to pass laws to hurt gay and transgender people. (LGBTQ Nation has published a summary of the USCCB’s recent homophobic track record.)

No, there’s no shame in using a gay hookup app. There’s nothing shameful about visiting gay bars and bathhouses. That goes without saying. Anyone who suggests otherwise is indulging an ancient human habit of reviling and hurting members of gender and sexual minorities.

The shame here lies in Burrill’s complicity with evil.

He IS a member of a reviled sexual minority and he chose to climb into the highest ranks of an ancient organization that has been making life hell for LGBTQ people for centuries. He lived well. He enjoyed a luxurious (rent free) residence in Washington DC while maintaining a luxury apartment in Wisconsin and jetting around the world on Church business.

His shame lies in his fronting for a Church that pillories gay people for engaging in the very “acts of grave depravity” he indulged in all the time. His shame lies in living with one foot in a Catholic clerical world that constantly flings hate speech at LGBTQ people even as his other foot danced in a world of gay men who know the Church is dead wrong in its baseless moral condemnation and scientifically absurd diagnoses of mental disorders.

I’m glad The Pillar exposed Burrill. It needed to be done.

I’m not happy that Grindr and other tech companies make privacy invasion easy. I’m deeply troubled by the probability that meaningful privacy is no longer possible in today’s high tech world.

I’m equally troubled by the motivations of the conservative Catholic journalists at The Pillar. I know they are engaged in a witch hunt. I know they printed their story to hurt gay people and to strengthen the false notion that gay men are likely to be predatory.

But nobody in their right mind is buying that nonsense, not outside Catholic clerical circles and small numbers of extremist lay Catholics.

Lay Catholics in the United States as a group are fed up with the hierarchy’s homophobia. Unlike members of the clergy, U.S. lay Catholics are slightly more likely than the average American to support LGBTQ equality measures like equal marriage and the proposed federal Equality Act.

It’s a mystery to me why lay Catholics keep funding the Church as it works so hard to stop equality and so hard to hurt queer people, whether those queer people be Catholic or not.

This exposure of extreme hypocrisy elegantly underlines how out of step the all-male, toxically homophobic Catholic clergy are with the flock they say they lead.

American Catholics are good, decent, moral people who don’t put up with injustice. The same cannot be said for their nominal leaders. This episode of hate and hypocrisy underlines that perfectly well.

Isn’t it time for the flock to fight back against the morally depraved shepherd? Isn’t it time to end the Church’s extremist anti-LGBTQ hate speech? If not now, when?

James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

The preceding piece originally appeared at Prism & Pen, ‘Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling,’ and is republished by permission.

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U.S. Catholic bishops must recuse themselves from politics

An archbishop complains Speaker Pelosi is a source of “scandal” harming the Church. So, let’s talk about scandal & who’s really causing it

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Nancy Pelosi (L) by Gage Skidmore. (CC BY-SA 2.0). Salvatore Cordileone from YouTube screenshot (CC BY 3.0)

By James Finn | DETROIT – A powerful U.S. Catholic bishop is at it again, forcing himself into politics trying to make an elected leader knuckle under to Church “discipline.” Enough! It’s bad enough this guy is a notorious anti-LGBTQ bigot reviled by many San Francisco Catholics.

It’s bad enough he’s defying Pope Francis’s directive not to use Church sacraments as weapons. But when he tries to force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to change how she represents her constituents, he’s gone more than just a bridge too far.

The archbishop complains Pelosi is a source of “scandal” harming the Church. So, let’s talk about scandal and who’s really causing it. But first, a rundown on the facts:

The Archbishop of San Francisco bars House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from communion because she opposes criminalizing abortion

Salvatore Joseph Cordileone, the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, tweeted yesterday that U.S. House Speaker Pelosi “is not to be admitted to Holy Communion” because of her opposition to criminalizing abortion in the United States. In details reported by the New York Times, the archbishop ordered Pelosi in a letter not to present herself for communion and ordered archdiocese priests to deny her the sacrament should she request it.

Speaker Pelosi calls herself a “devout Catholic” and “regular communicant,” telling C-Span that if she were ever denied communion, “that would be a severe blow to me.” She acknowledges conservative forces in the Church would like throw her out over her insistence that the U.S. government must not mandate reproductive decisions for women, but she insists she’s not going anywhere.

Cordileone wants to talk about scandal, so let’s talk about scandal

“Scandal” has a special meaning in Catholicism. It’s a “sin,” a statement or act that “leads people to move away from Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers us.” Scandal in its most straightforward Catholic sense might consist of a Catholic leader claiming Church teachings are wrong. In a more nuanced sense, scandal could be a truthful statement that lead people away from the Church.

If anyone is guilty of the sin of scandal here, the archbishop is. Nancy Pelosi IS a faithful Catholic. She hasn’t had an abortion. She doesn’t encourage women to have abortions. But as the elected representative of U.S. citizens from all over the San Francisco area, she says criminalizing abortion must be off the table. She has to represent all her constituents, not just the Catholic ones. She refuses to impose her religion on people who practice other religions or no religion.

Know what else Pelosi doesn’t support criminalizing?

  • Contraception
  • Oral sex
  • Masturbation
  • Divorce
  • Same-sex marriage

Cordileone teaches that all of those are grave moral evils, and he’s tried to enforce them for San Francisco Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Seriously.

In 2015, he forced staff at Bay Areas Catholic schools and charitable agencies to sign employment contracts agreeing to refrain from all the above (plus much more) and publicly affirm they are “grave moral evils,” or face dismissal.

Even if they aren’t Catholic.

Hundreds of prominent Bay Area Catholic leaders responded, sending a letter (read the full text here) begging Pope Francis to replace Cordileone with someone who would not cause scandal to the Church. Francis did not respond. Cordileone then mounted a massive witch hunt against LGBTQ Catholic employes — from teachers, to counselors, to social workers, to clerical staff. He disingenuously claimed custodial workers are “religious ministers” exempt from protection from California’s employment equality laws.

Many Catholic lay people resigned from Catholic agencies. Some said they would leave the Church for greener religious pastures where they were free to exercise their personal moral consciences. Many have questioned why Cordileone focuses so hard on rooting out gay/trans staff or staff who support gay/trans equality. He hasn’t mounted a witch hunt, after all, against Catholic staff who limit family size. He’s not grilled couples about their private bedroom practices. Divorced staff haven’t been fired. It’s curious, say San Francisco Catholics, that only LGBTQ people seem to be in Cordileone’s crosshairs.

Speaking of scandal, the archbishop continues scandalizing Bay Area Catholics by refusing to release a list of hundreds of archdiocese priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse, something the vast majority of U.S. bishops have already done. He’s even defying California law to keep the list from Catholic parents who insist they have a right to know.

Scandal? Well, pews are emptying out fast and the drop is sharper every year. Donations are down precipitously. I’d call that the result of scandal, wouldn’t you?

Catholic scandal aside, Cordileone threatens U.S. democracy and pluralism

Whether Nancy Pelosi remains a member in good standing of the Catholic Church is an important question for many Catholics, but a larger issue presents itself. Can U.S. Catholics meaningfully serve as government leaders if Church patriarchs try to dictate positions on issues that impact the nation as a whole?

This tweeted comment to Cordileone sums things up very well: “Speaker Pelosi follows her religion. You are punishing her because she does not believe in forcing her religion on others. As a public servant she took an oath to the Constitution, not the Church. You are not our government, but you are the reason people will leave your Church.”

If the archbishop wishes to teach women that abortion is a grave moral evil, then he should do that. He should write books, he should speak in public, he should persuade and convince. He should encourage or even require other priests in his archdiocese to do the same. He should focus on being a faith leader.

But when he steps into politics, when he tries to twist a politician’s arm with religious discipline, he crosses a red line. The United States does not and must not tolerate religious leaders forcing their beliefs on people who don’t share them. The Roman Catholic Church has a terrible track record of doing exactly that, and the American people must not stand for it.

Trying to stop a suicide hotline? Here’s why religious leaders need to stay in their lane.

A year ago, the National Catholic Reporter revealed that “The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has hit a stomach-churning new low,” in lobbying to stop Congress’s bipartisan national suicide hotline. The bishops (a majority of all U.S. Catholic bishops) worked behind the scenes to torpedo the law because they opposed the hotline providing services specifically to LGBTQ people.

The bishops were apparently blinded by dogma, rejecting love and compassion in favor of a convoluted theology of refusing to label LGBTQ people as LGBTQ people.

I have no idea why the bishops believed the national suicide hotline was any of their business. It doesn’t impact the Church, and they have no possible interest in how it operates. But they made it their business like Cordileone is making civil abortion law his business.

Can you join me in asking him to back off?

Can you raise your voice demanding that he stay in his lane? That he stop trying to force Catholic beliefs and practices on people who don’t share them? That he stop trying to dictate to democratically elected leaders?

Better yet, can you join me asking Pope Francis, once again, to replace Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone? Faithful Catholics have been asking for years, and the time has come.

Here’s how to communicate your message to the pope:

Email the Office of the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre at [email protected] or phone his office at 202–333–7121.

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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Gay, Trans, Black, Woman: Voluntary segregation heats up across U.S.

Christian nationalism has already made racism and xenophobia respectable again. White Christian nationalism promises more division

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Human rights banner licensed from Adobe Stock

By James Finn | DETROIT – Know what delights me about trans and gay young people these days? They no longer presume they must uproot themselves from family and community to thrive and find love. They can be happy where they are…..

I wrote the above paragraph six years ago. I broke into online writing with a viral essay on another platform titled, “Have You Seen My Yellow Brick Road?” I described my journey from closeted teenager to happy middle-aged gay man, remembering fleeing my suburban Iowa home in search of “Oz,” a metaphor for love and acceptance, only to find that while I wasn’t looking, Oz had come to me.

“Please,” I wrote in conclusion, “if anyone finds a pair of ruby slippers, burn them!

Wow, have things changed since I wrote that

Somebody asked me a question on an LGBTQ Facebook group yesterday: “Where do you see the struggle for queer equality going in the next decade?” I hated what my answer had to be, because it means the borders of Oz are retreating.

“We’re going to have to focus” I wrote, “on building strong communities in cities and states where Democrats are in charge, and we’re going to have to reach out to our queer siblings in red states. We’re going to have to make space for them to join us, and we’re going to have to work to get life-saving/sustaining services to queer people, especially kids, stuck where they are.”

What I meant is, we’re going to end up segregated again.

Maybe that won’t mean a return to the densely populated gayborhoods we used to rely on — that had been emptying out as we perceived less need for them — but we’re already witnessing the beginnings of what could turn into a great migration. In my own circles of queer friends, people are already leaving southern/heartland/red states… or they’re talking about it seriously. Prism & Pen writer Logan Silkwood is selling his house and moving 1,719 miles in search of his and his wife’s personal Oz.

A queer exodus from red states has already started

Not a day goes by that I don’t see social media posts from queer people in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, or Idaho searching for jobs or housing in blue states, or announcing they’re moving. And why not? According to Brody Levesque in the LA Blade yesterday, “child abuse” investigations of parents of trans kids in Texas are back on again after a court had struck them down. What parent is going to live with that fear? The U.S. Air Force is even cooperating by allowing families with trans children to transfer early out of Texas with no strikes against their service records.

Where I live in rural Michigan, trucks roar up and down highways every day with Confederate battle flags snapping in the wind.

LGBTQ people are leaving Florida even though Miami has a reputation as LGBTQ friendly. South Beach is actually on of our gayborhoods. Gay couples are speaking up about leaving or trying to leave because of a hostile state government with its Don’t Say Gay law, and with the probability things are going to get worse.

Yesterday, for example, The Washington Post featured a story about Nicolette Solomon, a young lesbian who just quit her job with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She says her marriage to her wife led to so much workplace suspicion and hostility that “it no longer felt possible to be lesbian and a teacher in Florida.”

And that’s in liberal Miami!

Will she move to a different state to seek the happiness and fulfillment she used to find in teaching? She doesn’t know yet.

Solomon is one of several queer teachers who have already resigned in Florida, citing the recently passed Don’t Say Gay law. Several of them are actively seeking jobs in blue states.

LGBTQ people are thinking twice about purple states too

Yesterday, The Advocate featured a story about an elite private school in “purple” Maryland that denied admission to 11-year-old Brayden Stratton. Megan Stratton and Jennifer Dane applied to the non-denominational Christian school because their son has friends there and because the school has an excellent academic reputation. They wanted him to have a head start in life, but the school turned him down because his moms are engaged to be married.

Would you stay in a community that rejected you? I think that’s an important question, because this family is the tip of a growing iceberg. Ever since same-sex marriage became legal, certain institutions, usually conservative Christian ones, have used it to reject LGBTQ people, and the problem is getting worse. I don’t know what Megan and Jennifer are planning, but I imagine they’ve at least thought about what it would be like to live where they aren’t strangers in a strange land — where their high-achieving kid would be welcome or even recruited to an elite school his friends attend.

Abortion will soon separate us too. It’s already begun.

Supreme Court watcher and legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern wrote an important article in Slate yesterday, detailing how the the fight for women’s reproductive freedom is moving to the state level. He says legislatures in blue states, after years of relative inaction, have snapped into focus passing laws to make abortion easier to access and pay for:

This is the irony of our current moment: The most immediate impact of the Supreme Court’s imminent assault on abortion rights has been … an expansion of abortion rights.

But he warns that comes at the cost of a greater national divide. Authorities in red states are already (as in Oklahoma) gearing up to outlaw abortion from as early as “the moment of conception” and seeking to impose punitive legal consequences on women who leave the state for an abortion.

Faced with that, will some women in Oklahoma and similar states decide to move? Certainly not every woman will have that economic freedom, just like not all LGBTQ people can afford to leave red states, but some undoubtedly will. I think the only real question is: How significant will the exodus be?

Christian nationalism has already made racism and xenophobia respectable again

The same White Christian nationalism driving anti-LGBTQ persecution and the war on women’s reproductive freedom drives racism. “Replacement Theory” nonsense, regularly featured on Fox News and extremist corners of the Internet like 4chan, used to be fringe. But as Fabiola Cineas explored in Vox on Wednesday, “replacement theory” has gone mainstream in the Republican Party. White Christian nationalists are panicking over a dearth of “white babies,” and unapologetic racism is back in fashion.

Where I live in rural Michigan, trucks roar up and down highways every day with Confederate battle flags snapping in the wind. We share a border with Canada. I can only get grits from Amazon. Nobody thinks those flags stand for Southern heritage.

We all know they mean racism. We know they mean Christian nationalist militias, Proud Boys and insurrection, increasing national division. Most of my neighbors excuse or defend that.

I haven’t seen a person of color in weeks. Black people don’t live up here in western Michigan villages. I’d have to drive more than an hour to Grand Rapids to find Black families and Black-owned businesses, and even then, only in certain neighborhoods.

That’s not unusual.

In New York last week, “Replacement Theory” led to mass murder — a young white man motivated by racist hatred entered a supermarket full of Black people and shot as many to death as he could.

That’s the kind of division I’m talking about.

The United States may have ended legally enforced segregation, but voluntary segregation never went away. That New York shooter? He left his predominantly white community to kill Black people in a majority Black neighborhood.

Voluntary segregation doesn’t mean freely chosen

When Black people, queer people, immigrants, and women end up divided from important parts of the nation, living apart from conservatives, Christian nationalists, or racists, it’s not because we want to or choose collectively to do so.

Individual human beings like Nicolette Solomon, Megan Stratton, and Logan Silkwood make rational, practical decisions. They don’t have the luxury to base life choices on strategy or activism. They have to do the best they can for themselves and their families.

Division and segregation stem from failure to protect human rights

If Congress had ever managed to pass the LGBTQ Equality Act, the Don’t Say Gay laws burning through red states would be unenforceable. Texas wouldn’t be permitted to hound parents of trans kids as “child abusers.” If the Supreme Court weren’t about to strike down Roe and thereby deny basic human rights to women, women wouldn’t be making hard choices about where to live. If the Supreme Court hadn’t eviscerated voter protection for Black people, political power would be more evenly distributed.

The Right in the United States is now largely the Christian Nationalist Right, up to the very highest levels of Republican leadership, even though they don’t and can’t have a majority of the American people on their side.

What that means in the short term is conflict, physical separation, and increasing political division.

It means all of us are going to need to figure out where our personal Oz is, and which road leads to it.

The United States of America are less united than they’ve been in a long time, and a lack of commitment to liberty and human rights explains a lot. Where do we go from here?

Can the Democratic Party take decisive control of Congress in November? Can the radically conservative Supreme Court be reformed and brought back into step with the majority of Americans? Can liberty and human rights enter the public stage as important values?

Yes, if we all work hard to make it happen! Yes, if we surge to the polls in November!

I’ll be working for that, you can bet your ruby slippers. But in the meantime, I’m keeping my eyes on Oz. What about you? Where is your Oz?

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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Trump Judge: Christian public school teacher can out Trans kids

What do you do when you’re a trans teen & your teacher is the bully? Judge gives a religious-liberty nod to out students to parents

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By James Finn | DETROIT – In an apparent fit of pique, Pamela Ricard, a math teacher at Fort Riley Middle School in Kansas, told her supervisors that if they made her use transgender students’ chosen names in class, she would use those names with parents too, even if the students fear for their safety and have requested privacy. She’s getting her way, arguing “religious liberty.”

Yes, you read that right.

A teacher takes it upon herself to out trans kids against their will, claiming a religious duty. She says that since she has to use their preferred names in class, using their legal names in correspondence with parents would be a lie, which would violate her “sincerely held religious beliefs.” So, she sues in federal court.

And she wins.

According to an article in yesterday’s Topeka Capital-Journal, “District Judge Holly Teeter issued a preliminary injunction on Monday blocking the school from disciplining [Ricard] if she reveals preferred names and pronouns of her transgender students when communicating with their parents.”

“Plaintiff believes that addressing students one way at school and a different way when speaking to their parents is dishonest,” wrote the the judge in her injunction opinion. “Being dishonest violates her sincere religious beliefs.”

Judge Teeter, a Trump appointee, declined to rule on Ricard’s main request — that the school be barred from disciplining her for refusing to use preferred names and pronouns, saying the school district had already reached an accommodation with her.

Pamela Ricard originally sued over using students’ preferred names and pronouns in class

This story first broke in March, when CNN reported that Ricard was suing the Geary County Schools Unified School District in Kansas after being briefly suspended for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred name and pronoun. She claimed that using a name for a student that differed from the student’s enrolled or legal name would force her to violate her “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

She claimed the same with respect to pronouns but later reached an accommodation: she would use a preferred name for any student expressing a name preference, and she would not use pronouns for any student, regardless of sex or gender.

Teeter ruled that the accommodation properly respects Ricard’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” and makes an injunction unnecessary.

But then the judge ruled in favor of Ricard’s second request — that if she used a preferred name in class for any student, she could not be disciplined for using that name (or the student’s preferred pronoun) to the student’s parents against the student’s wishes, even though district policy forbids outing students without their consent.

Let’s talk about religious liberty and lying, because Ricard is lying.

Ricard’s claim that she’s being forced to lie is disingenuous, logically tortuous. Taken together, her two separate arguments constitute a lie of her own. On one hand, she claims using a chosen name violates her sincere religious beliefs. She claims calling a transgender boy (assigned female at birth) by a name customarily reserved for boys would violate her religious freedom because God created male and female as distinct and different, and her speech must reflect that.

Remember, pronouns are not at issue; she’s okay not using them.

One wonders what she thinks about gender-neutral names like Stacey, Bellamy, Dakota, Denver, Emerson, Finley, Justice, or River. When names don’t carry gender, does she have a religious-liberty problem? Does she really believe God has dictated gendered names that people in 21st century United States must choose from?

So, after Ricard makes a literal federal case over refusing to use names in class that don’t communicate gender in a way she agrees with religiously, she turns around and claims she MUST use the same names to parents, for a different religious reason.

Huh, a judge bought this? Is your head spinning as fast as mine?

Ricard has to be lying about something in her lawsuit, and I suggest it’s her motivation for filing. I suggest she does not actually believe speaking a student’s chosen name harms her religiously. I suggest she’s religiously opposed to the existence of transgender people. I suggest that despite having accepted a reasonable accommodation over names and pronouns, she’s intent on crusading to force her religious beliefs on people who don’t share them. She’s determined to out transgender teenagers to their parents against their will, damn the consequences, however statistically likely they are to be severely harmful.

Ricard’s lawyers, the Alliance Defending Freedom, are also lying

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have a long track record as a certified anti-LGBTQ hate group. Here’s what the the Southern Poverty Law Center have to say about them, backed up by reams of documented examples:

Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has contended that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia; and claims that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. ADF also works to develop “religious liberty” legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBTQ people on the basis of religion.

The freedom that ADF lawyers defend has always meant freedom for extremist Christians to discriminate against and criminalize LGBTQ people. They’ve focused on those objectives for decades, increasingly successfully of late.

In their legal brief in the Ricard case, they claim they’re only “thinking of the well being of children,” arguing that gender dysphoria is a serious mental illness parents must be made aware of.

They aren’t being honest.

Yes, according to the APA, some (but not all) trans people suffer from gender dysphoria, “psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity.” But, the school district in this case is following best-practice mental-health guidelines, supporting students by allowing them to use names and pronouns they choose, and affording students the sole right to decide when or if they tell anyone, including parents, whether they identify as LGBTQ.

When the ADF say in their brief that Ricard is looking out for the best interests of her students, they are lying. They know what the data show — that trans teens outed to non-supportive parents are statistically at high risk of abuse, abandonment, homelessness, severe depression, and suicidal ideation. ADF lawyers know this because the school district included reams of objective data in their own legal briefs in defense of their student-privacy policies.

ADF lawyers know Ricard is not looking out for the best interests of her students. Maybe they should think about the religious implications of their dishonesty. Maybe Ricard should too.

The religious liberty “lying” claim in Ricard’s case is absurd and anti-Christian

First, I’m unaware of any Christian church or denomination that claims respecting privacy should be considered an act of lying. Exactly what constitutes a lie is hotly debated in religious and philosophical circles, but even relatively traditionalist denominations like the Presbyterians teach that failing to volunteer information usually does not count as a lie. Philosophers get into the weeds FAST when questions of lying come up, because the subject is very complex. (Anne Frank, German soldiers, knocks on doors… Ring any bells, philosophy and theology majors?)

If anyone has ever before made a legal claim that respecting privacy violates religious freedom guarantees because protecting privacy is lying, I can’t find evidence of it.

To claim that Ricard has a religious liberty interest at stake here is philosophically and theologically absurd. Using her students’ enrolled names when communicating with their parents is certainly not an act of lying. Christians protect privacy all the time in accordance with policy and law. Ricard certainly suffers no loss of liberty merely by minding her own business.

What else should Christians be exempt from?

Should Christian health care workers be allowed to violate HIPPA privacy law on the theory that not revealing certain private facts about patients constitutes lying?

Should Christian business leaders be exempt from insider trading laws because not revealing certain private business matters constitutes lying?

Should Christian human resources managers be exempt from privacy policies so they don’t have to “lie” by withholding information?

What would Jesus do? This isn’t even hard!

Esther Spurrill-Jones wrote about this case in Prism & Pen this morning from a Christian perspective. A devout Jesus follower, she writes movingly about millstones, love, legalism, and lies. She writes that no Christian should interpret the Bible in a way that they know will hurt people. I wish Ricard and her ADF lawyers could read Esther’s words with open minds.

Is Outing Transgender Students to Unsupportive Parents Christian?What would Jesus do?medium.com

This case sets no binding precedent, but the implications are disturbing.

Pamela Ricard won’t be teaching at Fort Riley after this school year. Her contract is ending, and she’s not reapplying. Even though she’s got her preliminary injunction, legal analysts say her case will probably end up dismissed because she suffered no harm and will no longer have standing.

The temporary injunction has no legal bearing on anyone but her, so no dangerous precedent has been formally set, but LGBTQ legal advocates are worried anyway. Most court watchers presumed Ricard’s religious freedom claim over lying would be ruled frivolous, that no judge would give it the time of day.

But we live in a brave new backlash, with federal courts stuffed with extremist judges appointed by Donald Trump. Absurd outcomes, like teachers being allowed to out trans kids to unsupportive parents, are becoming the rule rather than the exception.

All I know is this, if you value privacy for LGBTQ teens and real freedom for real people in the United States, you’d better get to the polls in November and vote Democratic like your life depends on it.

Somebody’s life probably does.

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James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

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The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

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