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Catholics for Equality Organizational Meeting

DignityUSA was requested to participate in a seminal and hastily organized gathering of Catholic LGBT advocates in Washington, DC on January 30 and 31, 2010. I represented DignityUSA in lieu of Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke, who was unable to clear her calendar on short notice. I was joined by Board members Mark Clark and Tom Yates, both of Dignity/Washington. Ray Panas, President of Dignity/Washington was also present.

The meeting was convened by Phil Attey, a Washington attorney, and Rev. Dr. Joe Palacios, a Jesuit priest from Los Angeles currently on the faculty at Georgetown University. The purpose of the meeting was to address the increasing role of the U.S.Conference of Catholic Bishops and state Bishops’ conferences on LGBT political issues, and to coordinate efforts to shift Catholic public opinion and voter behaviors.We joined the following individuals and organizations.

DignityUSA was warmly welcomed by the organizers as a thought leader and long-time advocate for LGBT Catholics. We significantly influenced the conversations that weekend. The group resolved to create a new educational and political organization to educate and mobilize fair-minded Catholic voters to advance LGBT equality issues at the federal, state, and local levels. The new group will address both immediate political concerns and long term social-cultural change through public awareness campaigns and grassroots mobilization efforts. The new organization is called Catholics for Equality. It will build on the talents and resources of already existing LGBT political and progressive Catholic organizations and coordinate strategies and resourcesin our united campaign. I see it as a Catholic equivalent to HRC (Human Rights Campaign).

If the organizers’ aspirations are well grounded in the skills and contacts they described, I see this organization evolving into a very significant ally in DignityUSA’s mission to “amplify the voice” of LGBT Catholics, their families, and friends. They are experienced political organizers with access to “deep pockets”, and are being actively supported by HRC. Catholics for Equality will focus on influencing legislation and the behavior of Catholic voters in a way that DignityUSA cannot with our 501(c)(3) designation. It will address issues affecting the LGBT community, including discrimination in employment, military service, housing and public accommodations, and legal recognition of family – civil marriage, adoption & custody, immigration, insurance, hospital visitation, etc.

The group decided to create an interim development board that will oversee work leading to the organization’s official launch on Ascension Thursday – May 13, 2010. The Catholics for Equality Development Board was assigned the following tasks:

  1. Develop a strategic plan for the organization.
  2. Incorporate Catholics for Equality as a 501(c)(4) organization.
  3. Develop a communications strategy and program to orchestrate the organizational launch which will involve institutional branding and the creating of both online and print materials.
  4. Identify and solicit initial funding.
  5. Develop an outreach strategy for bringing in community including influential theologians.

DignityUSA will hold two seats on the board, represented by Marianne Duddy-Burke and myself. We will be working to ensure the group evolves in a fashion that complements our own mission and vision, rather than competes with it. We will keep you posted on developments.

Peter Montgomery, Senior Fellow at People for the American Way, facilitated theweekend discussion. Cathy Renna, Media Relations Director, Renna Communications,
advised the meeting attendees on communications strategy. She spoke very highly ofthe work by DignityUSA’s Executive Director, Marianne Duddy-Burke—referencing
lobbying in Massachusetts related to the sexual abuse scandal, and later at a Bishops’National Conference meeting in Dallas featured in USA Today.

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