“I’d like a pretty bra.”
Our homeless outreach team had developed a relationship with this guest, so when she told them she’d reached the point in her transition when she wondered if our clothes closet might have a bra in her size, it wasn’t an unexpected request. And since Care For Friends is committed to meeting the needs of anyone who comes to our door with dignity and respect, the worker wanted to make sure we got it right — asking if she wanted a pretty one, or a more utilitarian athletic style?
Twenty years ago, I began volunteering with the program when it was still run by a local church. When I saw the scope of homelessness in Chicago, the financial need it would take to address correctly, and the strain the small program was already putting on this parish, I suggested we spin it off as a stand-alone 501c3 nonprofit organization.
Surveys said that people in the wealthy Lincoln Park neighborhood cared a lot about helping the poor, and that weekly church attendance was rapidly falling from their priority list. I felt that they might be more encouraged to give money to the program once it was completely unaffiliated with a religious organization.
Plus, I argued, it might make it easier to qualify for government funding for critical housing and food security programs. This particular church had a decades-long practice of affirming all people as beloved children of God. It naturally followed that their program served Chicago’s poor without any question about their sexual or gender identity — but I felt that creating a truly independent agency would eliminate a lot of questions and lengthy explanations with potential grant makers.
Looking at the Supreme Court’s docket for Wednesday, I wonder if I needed to bother making this distinction.
As they weigh Fulton vs. The City of Philadelphia, the Court will be considering whether an adoption agency can deny potential same-sex couples from fostering or adopting on religious grounds, even when receiving taxpayer funding.
In their landmark rulings this summer, the Court ruled that an individual can’t be fired from their job on the basis of their sexual orientation, making it easier for LGBTQ people to stay employed. This has already helped in the quest to eradicate homelessness by allowing good workers to stay employed.
It will be one of the first cases the newly-confirmed Amy Coney Barrett will hear, however, and we know that her advice to Notre Dame graduates to was to
“always keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end, and as Father Jenkins told you this morning, that end is building the kingdom of God.”
It would not be surprising, then, for Justice Barrett to join a 6–3 conservative majority in a Fulton ruling that creates a precedent for a wide variety of social service organizations to deny services to LGBTQ people, and cite their religious beliefs as an excuse.
Justice Barrett rises to the Court from the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In this city, Care For Friends has joined with a variety of organizations to reduce the homeless population by 22% over the last 5 years.
Our experience in that work tells us that continuing to make advancements requires extending service to LGBTQ people.
We know that 25% of LGBTQ teens are thrown out of the house after coming out to their parents, and that 1 in 5 trans identifying people will experience homelessness at some point in their lives.
If the court allows social service organizations to receive public money and still use religious grounds as a reason to deny help to a part of that community which is most in need, they risk undoing the progress we have made in Chicago over the past five years.
When Justice Barrett considers how best to advance the Kingdom of God through Fulton v Philadelphia, I hope she also considers words from the book of Deuteronomy:
“lf among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need.”
If she talks with conservatives on the Court about how to advance the goals of the Republican Party, I hope that she also recognizes that anti-LGBTQ stances aren’t just out of step with Deuteronomy’s directives, they are out of step with the sentiment of the American people. The most recent study from the Public Religion Research Institute found that more than 8 in 10 Americans (including nearly 7 in 10 Republicans) favor laws that would protect LGBT people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing. Substantial majorities in every major religious group did, too.
So I wonder — can Amy Coney Barret and the Court succeed in protecting LGBTQ people who need support, advance the Kingdom of God, and still be loved by a majority of Republicans? I believe the answer is yes.