Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sweetwater, TN Goes To Rome: Now CATHOLIC BISHOPS Tell HUD To Take A Hike!

My Own Story Re: HUD, Housing and Compassion

Who'd have thought that little Sweetwater, TN could garner such an august following! The Sweetwater Housing Authority may have started a revolution amongst faith-based agencies in regards to housing discrimination and sexual orientation. Below is part of the letter to HUD by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

" ... the proposed addition of these new classifications (“sexual orientation” and “gender identity”) in HUD regulations may, perhaps unintentionally, cause a type of discrimination not contemplated in the proposed rule.  Specifically, the regulations may force faith-based and other organizations, as a condition of participating in HUD programs and in contravention of their religious beliefs, to facilitate shared housing arrangements between persons who are not joined in the legal union of one man and one woman."
In other words, "we're compassionate, but not that compassionate." 

I'll admit that I have a somewhat personal stake in all of this, so please bear with me and keep in mind that there is a point to this anecdote: 

In 1999, while not exactly "riding high" on life, my situation was good: I had married a wonderful man named Michael (the ceremony and reception composed one of the biggest gay weddings you've ever seen), we lived in a loft in San Francisco that I was able to remake into a "victorian," I hosted a syndicated radio program interviewing authors and celebrities (e.g. Steve Allen and William F. Buckley) while promoting books and publishing them as well. In the meantime, Michael produced and directed plays (twelve years later - next week, in fact - he will be receiving the Bay Area Critics Circle Gene Price Award for his contribution to theater). We had a black "diva kitty" named Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside who preened for guests in his white rhinestone collar. Yes, life was more than good. 

By 2002, however, the DotCom Bust had taken a toll on us: the loft went into foreclosure and we were thankful for the Housing Authority's Section 8. True, we were placed in the most dangerous section of San Francisco (pastime: reporting gunshots at night), but we knew we were lucky that the City of San Francisco and the State of California were more compassionate than other places in instituting their non-discrimination policies regarding sexual orientation. The 5 years we were in the Bay View district saw a deterioration in Michael's health (and mine, for a while) and our typically kind San Francisco neighbors helped us through my pneumocistus  and his three forms of cancer. We tried to give back to our community by helping the local kids  (I was honored with a Jefferson Award) and engineering outings to places like Great America. 

Fast forward to the present: although not partners any longer, Michael and I live together in a Section 8 that is quiet and beautiful ( necessary elements since he has been declared terminal with liver cancer) and I have been his IHSS caregiver for more than five years. He is now in his final stage of his cancer and doctors are stressing "comfort care." 

Looking back to our situation in 2002, neither of us would have survived this long if we'd been in a place like Sweetwater, TN.* You know it. Nine years of care and support, love and compassion would never have existed. Places like Sweetwater demonstrate to us all that compassion has its limits when it comes up against certain tenets of "faith." 

Now even the Catholic Church is setting limits on compassion. The letter to HUD proves it. When George Bush's Faith-Based Initiative passed, this is the kind of thing many of us knew would come to pass: "we're doling out dollars and charity on OUR terms, not yours!" 

Sweetwater and Rome. God helpe us if this epidemic of righteousness becomes a pandemic of inhumanity. 

* The Sweetwater Housing Authority Executive Director, Vicki Barnes, might take the advice of Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abbey) who, when asked by a homophobe what he could do to help improve the quality of his neighborhood after two gay men moved into it, she replied:

 "You could move."


Rebecca said...

There's no reason to ask a potential client/tenant what their sexual relationship is with anyone else in the household. It shouldn't matter if someone is your friend or your "friend."

I work for an agency that lets anyone live with anyone. You're a single woman with 5 kids and you have a friend with children who is about to be homeless? You can have them move in; not a problem.

Lots of clients are single, some are in heterosexual couples but not all of them are married. Is there a crisis of conscience there for the Church, when a man and woman aren't married but want to live together?

I don't understand what everyone's problem is. Also, this is why many people are embarrassed to identify as Catholic.

DFV said...

Thanks so much, Rebecca!

What we need is for more people like you and your agency to speak out! "Compassion" isn't like it used to be.

One definition of TRUE compassion: giving change to the homeless when they ask for it (or especially when they don't ask for it). True compassion is unqualified acceptance. No judgment of any kind. The good Samaritan was truly compassionate: he only saw the Jew as a human being who needed help. And he didn't scream "I'm a SAMARITAN! You MUST believe what I believe to be saved!!"