Labor Group Stands Up To Catholic Church, Refuses To Cut Ties With LGBT Allies


Religious, labor, and LGBT groups are speaking up in support of Voz, a Latino workers rights organization, after a funding body of the Catholic church denied it a $75,000 grant for refusing to distance itself from organizations that support marriage equality.

Voz, which primarily helps Latino immigrants find work in Portland, Oregon, announced on Tuesday that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) threatened to deny it a grant unless it cut ties with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a leading Latino rights group, because it supports same-sex marriage. Voz does not take a position on marriage equality as an organization, but when faced with the decision to either rebuke its allies or lose $75,000 of its $310,000 annual operating budget, the group’s leaders “self-disqualified” themselves from the grant by voting to continue their affiliation with the NCLR.

“Our board felt like what they were asking us to do was take a position on marriage equality,” Ranfis Villatoro, Voz’s development director, told the Oregonian. “By making this decision, we run the risk of decreasing staff size and decreasing hours.”

The CCHD is a project of the Catholic Church, making it subject to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a longtime opponent of marriage equality. The CCHD has given Voz 10 grants since 1994, but said they rescinded access to this year’s grant because Voz’s allies were “assisting in something that was contrary to the teachings of [Catholic] traditions.” Romeo Sosa, Executive Director of Voz, told ThinkProgress that unless they cobble together another $75,000, the funding dip could result in cuts to his staff’s health benefits.

“CCHD forced the question of Marriage Equality into the grant process,” Sosa wrote in a press release. “Ultimately we are an organization that does not discriminate; many of us know people who are gay, lesbian and transgender. They are our aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, friends, co-workers and neighbors.”

But as the Catholic church pulls back, local organizations are rushing in to support Voz and fill its funding vacuum. Spokespersons from the Oregon AFL-CIO and Basic Rights Oregon, an LGBT-advocacy group, hosted a news conference on Wednesday to declare their solidarity with Voz’s cause, and Basic Rights Oregon has already received nearly $10,000 in pledges from pro-LGBT organizations to help offset their loses. Meanwhile, Call To Action, a Catholic social justice group, launched an online Groundswell petition on Wednesday asking the CCHD to “Stop bullying social justice organizations with litmus tests over LGBT equality.” The petition has already accrued nearly 1,200 signatures.

The grant rejection by the CCHD is seen by some as hypocritical given that Catholic groups are currently lobbying President Barack Obama to be allowed to keep federal funding contracts — even if the administration’s policies and the opinions of taxpayers contradict their religious views. On July 1, 14 faith leaders — including Larry Snyder, CEO of Catholic Charities, another project of the Catholic Church — sent a letter to the President urging him to exclude religious groups from his forthcoming executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people. In the letter, Snyder and others complained that failing to include religious exemptions would effectively deny conservative faith-based charities federal funding, adding, “When the capacity of religious organizations is limited, the common good suffers.”