No, a lesbian can’t be pope, it’s still tough to be gay and out in the military (and now well-nigh impossible to be transgender), and the GOP-led Congress isn’t passing the federal LGBTQ rights bill. But while Donald Trump’s election and right-wing victories from Britain to Brazil unleashed a wave of open bigotry, it also seems to have shamed representatives of the Catholic Church, the military, and the Republican Party to come out with more positive positions on LGBTQ and racial issues in order to distinguish themselves from a president who sees “fine people” among the murderous neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.
The Vatican earlier this summer cleared the publication in La Civiltà Cattolica of a scathing article by two men close to Pope Francis against American fundamentalism, accusing then-Trump chief adviser Steve Bannon, a Catholic, of pushing an “apocalyptic geopolitics” akin to Islamic jihadism. It also warns US Catholics against aligning themselves with evangelical fundamentalists, the heart of Trump’s base, in a shared “nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state.”
It’s not as if the Vatican is abandoning its own conservative interference in world politics — especially at the United Nations when it comes to LGBTQ and women’s issues. But the Trump embrace of walls, rejection of refugees, reversal of Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and denial of climate change are too much even for the leader of a patriarchal religion.
In Brazil on July 30, Catholic Bishop Antônio Carlos Cruz Santos of Caicó gave a stunning sermon, calling homosexuality “a gift from God.”
“If it is not a choice, if it is not a disease, in the perspective of faith it can only be a gift,” he said. “When you look at homosexuality, you cannot say it’s an option,” but rather something that one discovers about oneself “one day.” His only caution was that while sexual orientation is not a choice, homosexuality can be lived “in a dignified, ethical way, or in a promiscuous one. But promiscuity can be lived in any of the orientations.”
The bishop also said, “Just as we were able to leap, in the wisdom of the Gospel, and overcome slavery, is it not the time for us to leap, from a perspective of faith, and overcome prejudices against our brothers who experience same-sex attraction?”
Like Francis who appointed him in 2014, Cruz ministered in the slums as a priest. And while his pronouncement was not directly a response to Trump, it comes from a nation also roiled by the right, with its leftist government usurped a year ago by an opposing party that used the judiciary to remove President Dilma Rousseff. Challenged by the Catholic right, Cruz said he was moved by reading about the high suicide rates among LGBTQ people and that his purpose was to “save lives, contributing so that we can overcome the prejudices that kill.” He acknowledged his Church’s official teaching in the Catechism, which treats homosexual activity as sin, but emphasized its condemnation of “unjust discrimination” against gay people as well — something few Catholic bishops do.
Father Bernárd Lynch, an out gay Catholic priest and therapist who lives in London and County Clare, Ireland, wrote in an email that Cruz’s homily was “a powerful act of generosity from a Catholic Prelate in a country that I believe has the largest Catholic population in the world. The crimes committed there against LGBTQI people are horrendous… Bishop [Cruz] Santos is taking a brave stand on the part of the ‘Queer’ so that this murderous behaviour can be at the very least questioned by those who see it ‘as normal.’ I believe it is a roundabout way of addressing the Trans issue of ignorant, prejudiced, and fanatical Christians (Fundamentalists). These latter group — funded by American Evangelicals — are the threat to our freedoms in South America and Africa.”
Lynch added, “While I am pertinently aware that Bishop [Cruz] Santos is operating within the Catholic Catechism, I support him working from within the Institution — and staying within — as I have always done myself, all be it in a more radical way. He has real power and he is using it well.”
Here in the US, when Trump initially tweeted his desire to ban transgender troops, it was amazing to read how many deeply conservative Republicans criticized him for it. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah — third in the line of succession to this precarious president — told USA Today, “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone. Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them.”
Senator John McCain of Arizona, one of three Republican saviors of the Affordable Care Act (surely in reaction to Trump’s constant attacks on him), said, “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity.”
Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama said, “I don’t believe the laws would let you discriminate against anyone.”
And Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that “we need to have a hearing, not a tweet.”
All surprising sentiments from GOP senators with records of opposition to gays in the military and LGBTQ rights in general. The Congress has the power to overturn Trump’s ban with a law allowing open transgender service — just as Congress blocked President Bill Clinton from allowing openly gay people to serve in 1993, forcing him to opt instead for the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. This Congress, which overruled Trump by imposing harsher sanctions on Russia recently, has not shown any inclination to stand up to him on LGBTQ issues, whether it is overturning the recent move toward a transgender ban or blocking his anti-LGBTQ nominees to the federal bench. They are not backing up their words with action.
Then there are the generals themselves. The military was slow to accept open gay service and was had only acceded to a process for allowing transgender people to serve at the end of the Obama administration. When Trump tweeted against transgender service, however, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said that while he would have to follow the orders of the commander-in-chief, “any patriot that wants to serve and meets all the requirements should be able to serve in our military.” Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft pledged not to “break faith” with transgender servicemembers.
And when Trump went on his tirade about the “fine people” among the neo-Nazis and Klansmen in Charlottesville, five members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff broke fully with that outrageous stance.
“Events in Charlottesville unacceptable and musn’t be tolerated,” tweeted Navy Admiral John Richardson. “No place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC,” tweeted General Robert B. Neller. “The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our Values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775,” tweeted General Mark A. Milley.
It’s enough to make you ponder the advantage of a coup in the face of this increasingly unhinged presidency — something we would have to stand firmly against as we hope against hope for GOP congression- al action and work for electoral change.
Trump’s unilateral order to end DACA, the Obama program to allow immigrants brought here as children to stay, has led to similar dissent among congressional Republicans, with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joining many of their party’s rank-and-file in arguing against the president taking that step. Whether they will now produce legislation to rescue these Dreamers remains very much up in the air, especially with their far right members wanting more draconian anti-immigrant legislation — not what they consistently label “amnesty.”
None of this has proven the least bit chastening to Trump. With the storm over his Charlottesville comments still churning, he went on to pardon the racist former sheriff from Phoenix, Joe Arpaio, further subverting the Constitution and challenging the independence and integrity of the judiciary. There, too, the president’s action was met with criticism but no action.
For all those Republicans who are finding more and more occasion to distance themselves from Donald Trump, it is way past time for words to be translated into deeds.