SPIRITUALITY: Restoring some Dignity to Dallas

Mirroring a national trend, local LGBT Catholic group finds itself in a rebuilding stage

Jim Davis

Jim Davis

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Dignity Dallas, the LGBT Catholic organization, is in a re-forming stage, according to leader Jim Davis.

Davis said he’s been out “beating the bushes to let people know who we are.”

Dignity is not formally recognized by the Catholic Church.

Jon Garinn, Dignity Dallas’ former spiritual leader, said the group once attracted 25 to 35 people to weekly Sunday mass.

But Davis said the group, on the verge of folding, now meets just once a month as it tries to rebuild. One problem, Davis said, has been finding local leaders willing to identify themselves openly and actively promote the group.

“The bishop already doesn’t like us,” Davis said. “What do we care what he says? I want my name out there.”

DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said the role of the organization has changed, and the Dallas chapter’s situation isn’t uncommon. She said at one time, Dignity was the first connection a gay Catholic made to the LGBT community.

The organization was often a place of sanctuary — a safe place for LGBT Catholics who were verbally attacked in their parishes. That’s not true anymore.

“The LGBT community has blossomed,” she said. “As Dignity re-forms across the country, it’s taking many shapes and forms.”

But she said that Dignity is still a place for LGBT Catholics to take refuge from the mounting attacks by bishops and the pope that have hurt so many.

“We’re the group who will affirm who you are,” she said. “We’ll marry the couples. We’ll baptize their kids. Dignity is there to support the majority of Catholics who support LGBT rights.”

Duddy-Burke said a study last year indicated that Catholics are less likely to hear anti-LGBT messages from the pulpit than mainstream Protestants or Evangelicals.

A New York Times/CBS News poll released this week showed that more than two-thirds of Catholics believe same-sex couples deserve some sort of relationship recognition, while 44 percent support marriage equality.

But the message from the upper hierarchy is still negative and even getting worse.

“Dignity is the anti-hierarchy,” she said.

The national organization helps local chapters with quarterly leadership calls, a chapter-relations support team, leadership training programs and general exchanges of ideas.

Duddy-Burke said some chapters continue to offer weekly mass while others perform their own service monthly. Some attend a parish together and then go out to brunch as a group. Others maintain activities such as a book-discussion group or supper club.

Davis said the Dallas Dignity group has maintained its monthly supper club at Revlon House, one of the housing units of AIDS Services Dallas.

Duddy-Burke called that “more Catholic than the liturgy” in living the values that the church teaches.

Davis said that many Dignity members attend mass at Holy Trinity Church on Oak Lawn Avenue, where a large portion of the congregation is gay and lesbian. To explain what Dignity means to him, Davis coined the chapter’s motto — “The traditions you love. The acceptance you deserve.”

“I started attending Dignity when I began hearing edicts from Rome,” he said. “My church [parish] wasn’t welcoming either. At the time, I was ready to walk away from the [Catholic] Church.”

He agreed with Duddy-Burke that Dignity speaks for the values of the majority of Catholics who believe in equality for the LGBT community.

“We think it’s important as gay Catholics to hold a mirror up to the Catholic Church and say, ‘There’s no conflict there,’” he said.

Because the local bishop doesn’t support Dignity, Davis said the group has had trouble finding clergy to lead mass. Currently, a monk who lives in the area but is still affiliated with an order in another state and a priest from the Polish National Catholic Church with a parish in Oak Cliff act as its spiritual leaders.

“If the chapter is going to have any effect,” he said, “we have to be in your face.”

Davis wants new members who will let the group’s leaders know what the new Dallas Dignity should do.

Duddy-Burke said that the increasingly hostile rhetoric from the church hierarchy isn’t playing in the pews. DignityUSA is receiving stronger and stronger support from Catholics across the country.

“I’m giving 25 bucks to Dignity,” she said people write her after hearing anti-gay messages from the church, “because I’m not giving it to my parish.”

Dignity Dallas meets the first Sunday of the month at Cathedral of Hope at 5 p.m. For more info, visit DignityDallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

BREAKING: GOP pledge may doom DADT repeal

CBS News reports that Senate Republicans intend to block all legislation that isn’t related to tax cuts and government spending during the lame duck session. GOP leaders are quietly collecting signatures pledging to carry out the strategy:

If carried out, it would doom Democratic-backed attempts to end the Pentagon’s practice of discharging openly gay members of the military service and give legal status to young illegal immigrants who join the military or attend college.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made both measures a priority as Democrats attempt to enact legislation long sought by groups that supported them in the recent midterm elections.

—  John Wright

Did Chef Gordon Ramsay’s harsh criticism drive Oak Cliff’s Rachel Brown to suicide in 2007?

Rachel Brown

More than three years ago we published this short story about the apparent suicide of Rachel Brown, an Oak Cliff-based personal chef who’d been a contestant on the Fox reality show Hell’s Kitchen.

This Tuesday, we noticed that for some strange reason, our story about Brown’s death was experiencing a remarkable surge in online readership (with now more than 3,000 page views in the last two days). When we looked into it, we discovered that the main “entry source” for recent readers of the story is the Google search phrase, “Rachel Brown Hell’s Kitchen.” But why, we wondered, is everyone all of a sudden searching this? Well, for one thing the new season of Hell’s Kitchen began last week. But a much bigger factor has surely been this story from CBS News, prompted by the recent suicide of another cooking show contestant:

Joseph Cerniglia, 39, of Pompton Lakes, N.J., apparently leaped to his death yesterday from the George Washington Bridge, the New York Post reported. The owner of a restaurant in suburban New York, Cerniglia had appeared in 2007 on “Kitchen Nightmares,” a show that subjected struggling restaurateurs to harsh criticism from English foodie Gordon Ramsay.

In 2007, 41-year-old Rachel Brown reportedly shot herself to death after appearing on “Hell’s Kitchen,” another show that featured Ramsay.

Ramsay is famously tough on contestants.

“Your business is about to f – - king swim down the Hudson,” Ramsay told Cerniglia, the married father of three, according to the Daily Mail.

Does that kind of talk drive people to kill themselves?

Probably not, says the former president of the American Academy of Suicidology, Dr. Robert Yufit.

“My guess is that both of these people had major problems before appearing on the show,” Yufit told CBS News. “I would almost bet that the show itself should not be held responsible. I would say say that the show might have tripped off something else that was going on in their lives.

—  John Wright

CBS News featured locals from the Bully Suicide Project and Campus Harmony


Watch CBS News Videos Online

Locals Beaux Wellborn of the Bully Suicide Project and Audrey Newsome of Campus Harmony both weighed in on Don Teague’s piece on the trend of bullying among youth. It aired last week on CBS News. One of the kids in Teague’s package committed suicide for being taunted and called “gay.” Tragic stuff.

The Bullying Suicide Project was started last December by Campus Harmony in conjunction with Youth First Texas.

—  Rich Lopez