At LGBT picnic, a pope's words - if not his presence

Andrea Vettori, Margie Winters, and Mark Segal (right) present Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney with Papal artwork promoting social equality LGBT Family Papal Picnic on Sept. 26, 2015. ( AARON WINDHORST / Staff Photographer )
Andrea Vettori, Margie Winters, and Mark Segal (right) present Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney with Papal artwork promoting social equality LGBT Family Papal Picnic on Sept. 26, 2015. ( AARON WINDHORST / Staff Photographer )

Pope Francis did not accept an invitation to Saturday's "LGBT Family Papal Picnic" in Philadelphia, but his words still rang out there.

Educator Margie Winters, who drew national attention in July after she was fired by Waldron Mercy Academy in Merion for being in a same-sex marriage, quoted the pontiff's speech at the White House on Wednesday.

There, Francis told President Obama that Catholics are committed "to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination."

At Saturday's picnic, Winters told about 100 people gathered in the courtyard of the John C. Anderson Apartments that the church should reflect on the firings of LGBT employees for "who they are and who they love."

Jim Kenney, the Democratic nominee for mayor, told the building's residents, who are LGBT senior citizens, that their struggle for civil rights helped set the stage for future gains.

"Without them and what they endured, we would never be in a situation where we have same-sex marriage in this country," Kenney told the crowd.

Over hot dogs, burgers, and ice-cream sandwiches, LGBT activists at the picnic told of visiting the World Meeting of Families last week, challenging in workshops what Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA called the "horrible dogma" they hear.

'Real yearning'

The real work for activists was in hallways, she said, where other Catholics approached with questions. "I think there was a real yearning for our presence there because of just how narrow the teachings were and how exclusionary they were to many people," said Duddy-Burke, who lives in Boston.

Deb Word said the church has mistakenly viewed her son and other gays as somehow broken.

"My son's a music teacher," said Word, a board member of Fortunate Families, a group of Catholics with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender children. "He's a happy person. There's nothing I would do to change this kid."

Francis seemed to signal a shift in church thinking when he told reporters in 2013, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?"

The church message that evolved after that comment: A gay person who repents and prays should be accepted. "We shouldn't marginalize people for this," Francis told reporters.

Cabaret show

Still, the world meeting became a point of contention for LGBT activists, who faulted the conference for scheduling just one panel on homosexuality, led by a celibate gay man who spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 750 people.

The picnic was staged partly in response. Also, national LGBT Catholic groups had planned workshops at a parish in Center City, until its pastor withdrew the invitation. A spokesman for the archdiocese said parish events are expected to feature content "in line with the church teaching."

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput had said the world meeting was not a chance "to lobby for positions contrary" to church doctrine. Still, LGBT groups used the occasion to lobby from the outside.

Wilson Weinberg, a composer of Broadway-style musicals and LGBT activist who with his husband shares custody of two children with a lesbian couple, put together a cabaret-style show for Saturday night at the William Way LGBT Center, in the heart of the city's "gayborhood."

The show's 19 songs are witty takes on various permutations of families he's encountered; Weinberg even tried to get the show listed on the world meeting's website. The penultimate number credits Francis with open-mindedness.

"There's hope for this pope, let's hope," goes the refrain. "We'll count our blessings and embrace our transgressions."

brennac@phillynews.com

@ByChrisBrennan

Staff writer Inga Saffron contributed to this article.

Continue Reading