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A professional singer was fired for criticizing the Cleveland Diocese's anti-LGBTQ policies
Daniel Kenworthy condemned the Church's anti-trans rules. Quire Cleveland got rid of him.
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Shortly after passing an anti-transgender policy, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland retaliated against one of its most vocal critics by getting him fired from one of his secular jobs.
The problems began a few weeks ago after the diocese published a new policy telling its 84 Catholic schools and churches how to deal with trans people. The new rules, enacted by Bishop Edward C. Malesic and Chancellor Vincent Gardiner and which went into effect on September 1, said staffers must:
Ban schools from using a trans student’s pronouns or name.
Ban trans kids from using the correct bathrooms.
Ban trans girls from participating in sports (though that rule doesn’t apply to trans boys).
Ban trans kids from attending a single-sex institution that doesn’t match the gender on their birth certificate.
Ban all kids from going to a school dance with someone of the same gender (unless that person is a “platonic friend”).
Ban kids from wearing clothing that’s “inconsistent with the person’s God-given biological sex.”
Ban symbols promoting “LGBTQ pride” (including rainbows and flags).
Ban trans kids from taking puberty blockers or hormones meant to help with transitioning
Out trans students to their parents. If that might lead to “physical abuse” at home, staffers must get in touch with the “Diocese Legal Office and the Bishop’s designated moral theologian” to determine next steps.
In some ways, these rules aren’t surprising. The Catholic Church condemns same-sex relationships, same-sex marriage, and same-sex sex—even saying homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”—but the institution has mostly walked away from condemning people just for being gay and lesbian (assuming they’re celibate).
It’s a different story, however, when it comes to trans people. The Vatican says trans identities “annihilate the concept of nature.“ Pope Francis has called “gender ideology… one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations.”
To be clear, most practicing Catholics in the U.S. are far more tolerant than the pope or the Vatican. In the United States, 61% of Catholics support marriage equality while 76% believe society should be accepting of homosexuality. When it comes to trans people, practicing Catholics are less accepting, with only 37% of U.S. Catholics acknowledging the existence of trans people. Still, that’s in line with Americans as a whole and it’s 37% higher than the Vatican wants to see.
But if practicing Catholics in Cleveland held out any hope that their beloved local institutions might buck the trend, these top-down rules prohibited more compassionate Catholic leaders from acting against the Vatican’s wishes.
Even Cleveland’s Mayor Justin Bibb weighed in against them:
“As a Christian, the new Catholic Diocese of Cleveland anti-LGBTQ+ policy is a shocking betrayal of the Church teachings that have shaped who I am today,” Bibb said in an Instagram post.
“For me, faith is about universal love and acceptance. Instead, the new policy forces LGBTQ+ kids to hide their authentic selves and attend school in fear of persecution for who they are,” he added. “I extend my heartfelt solidarity to our LGBTQ+ friends and students. Rest assured that this policy, along with any expressions of hatred, doesn’t go unnoticed.”
That’s a nice sentiment… but it’s a complete misunderstanding of the Catholic Church, which has never hidden its contempt for homosexuality or trans people. These policies don’t mark a “betrayal” of Church teachings. They’re merely reinforcing what the Catholic Church has been saying for years. People who call themselves Catholic and give money to the Church are endorsing these views whether they know it or not.
The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland launched a petition calling for the diocese to reverse the policy… but again, the diocese is merely reaffirming what the Catholic Church teaches. Will the policies hurt children? Of course they will. The Church doesn’t care. (That’s not news either.)
The problem lies with the Catholic Church itself, not the diocese. Any criticism targeting the diocese rather than the institution is missing the point.
One reason these policies are concerning, even beyond all that, is that taxpayer dollars can now be funneled into Catholic schools. As noted by Cleveland.com, “Ohio lawmakers increased eligibility and the value of private school vouchers in the two-year state budget that it passed in late June.” So public dollars will ultimately be used to enforce this faith-based hate. It’s irrelevant that many practicing Catholics don’t agree with this bigotry. By supporting the institution itself, they’re complicit in the policies.
Someone who was personally troubled by all this was Daniel Kenworthy, a trained opera singer who often performs in Catholic churches.
He responded to the diocese’s policies last week with a frustrated rant against the Church. Kenworthy pointed out the predictable harm that LGBTQ students would face as a result of these rules while acknowledging that the people in the pews didn’t always support what the Church leaders were doing.
After passing such an egregious edict as your bigoted organization did today, I ask you:
How very dare you?
Why has this venerable institution, in defiance of a majority of its congregation, decided to prohibit expression of LGBTQ+ identities within its walls?
I have been teaching for eighteen years, and I have saved lives, because I was NEVER ASHAMED to admit my identity as a gay man. I have given my students the HOPE that can only come from an authority figure who offers them the space to exist as their true self.
Your edict on this day of solemnity and reflection almost feels like it was calculated to appeal to the throngs of citizens who are currently thinking about the political response to 9/11. Authoritarian rule, which the Catholic Church has always sought, requires an appeal to its followers that causes them fear. What great timing.
Your antiquated playbook is killing children. It always has. The binary, cisgender, heterosexual, patriarchal norms that you practice as a governance, are so offensive to me that I am ashamed and frightened to show my face within your churches' walls.
I will be in three of your most beautiful and welcoming churches in greater Cleveland over the next couple of weeks. I know that your congregants oppose your message of hatred by a significant majority.
I will be sure to express myself, and I will advocate for the needy, despite your hateful demand for compliance.
Your quasi-Christian actions are a threat to humanity.
I ask you again:
How very dare you?
He wasn’t wrong about any of that. The Church’s rules hurt children. It’s that simple.
When Kenworthy said he would be “in three of your most beautiful and welcoming churches in greater Cleveland over the next couple of weeks,” he was referring to scheduled performances with Quire Cleveland, a “professional vocal ensemble established in 2008 to showcase the vast and timeless repertoire of choral music from the medieval and Renaissance periods.” Kenworthy, whose musical résumé is extensive, had been performing with the group for five years. He’s been in many churches that host their concerts. The fact that he’s in a same-sex relationship was never a problem because he was working for a secular non-profit that receives public funding, not the Church itself.
But the Church’s new rules struck a nerve with him. It really took him aback emotionally when one of his students who planned to attend his concerts reacted to the Church’s new rules by saying to him, “So I guess I shouldn’t go.”
That’s why he made the post. He went even further the next day, calling for all local musical ensembles to boycott congregations that went along with the diocese’s plans:
It's time for Pope Francis to fire the bishop of Cleveland, Edward Malesic. It's also time for all musical ensembles in Cleveland to boycott any congregations who practice the nonsensical hatred that Mr. Malesic has decided to enforce. No parish with blood on its hands deserves to host the concerts or even hear the incredible music that so many LGBTQ+ musicians contribute to. I have huge, legitimate reservations about performing in venues whose dogmatic principles include *not recognizing my marriage to my husband*.
I am absolutely disgusted right now, knowing that I'll be supporting the failing, hateful Catholic Church by rehearsing and performing in their myopic mental prisons over the next couple of weeks.
I’ll freely admit I let out an audible sigh at that first part. Every parish, by virtue of being Catholic, promotes anti-LGBTQ bigotry, and they wouldn’t have the power to ignore the Diocese’s decree. Pope Francis would never punish the bishop of Cleveland because the bishop of Cleveland is simply echoing and enforcing Vatican beliefs. They’re on the same side.
But Kenworthy was thinking about practicing Catholics, who are more tolerant and more accepting than the Church’s leaders. His positive personal relationships with those Catholics outweighed the institutional hatred. He also knew that the music he performs is meant for everyone, and the people who attend those concerts are typically much more tolerant and accepting of LGBTQ people, even if those concerts are held in a church.
He added in a separate post (that has since been made private) that he planned to push back against the policies by “wearing pride gear to every rehearsal while I am in those buildings” and that anyone who asked him to “remove my rainbows and gay swag” would be sorry. That last bit was obviously facetious. It was a low-stakes response to a high-stakes policy. He also urged potential concert attendees to “Wear the most ostentatious Pride swag they can get their hands on.”
So how did the Catholic Diocese respond to Kenworthy’s messages?
They forwarded the messages to Quire Cleveland.
The group, which described his posts as “threatening” and encouraging “disruption” in an email, responded by firing him.
They seemed more worried about ruining their working relationship with the Diocese that hosted their performances than standing up against anti-LGBTQ bigotry.
Kenworthy took it all in stride:
As someone who took a stand and got fired:
No contract, no job, and no concert series is worth sacrificing your dignity. Stand up, be proud, and know that there is strength all around you. At this moment, I am truly happy.
I may have lost a singing job, but I will NEVER LOSE MY VOICE.
Kenworthy told me the group urged him to adopt something akin to a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy when it came to the Church’s beliefs. Basically, stop criticizing the people who allow us to use their space.
He refused to do that, which is why he made his posts.
When I asked Quire Cleveland to explain their decision, they told me, “Your understanding of the situation is incorrect.”
They didn’t elaborate. (Also, my understanding is pretty damn right.)
While the Church’s new policies in Cleveland are both predictable and troubling, it’s disturbing that a secular, publicly funded institution would take the Church’s side rather than defend one of its own members in the wake of an explicitly bigoted document.
On Saturday morning, days after Kenworthy’s firing, Quire Cleveland announced that, in the wake of calls for a “disruption of the concerts” as a protest against the Church, it would be canceling a series of performances in order to “protect the safety and well-being” of everyone involved.
We regret to announce that Quire Cleveland has canceled its final concert series, "Churches of the Same God: Mass Settings of Byrd and Tallis," scheduled for September 29, 30, and October 1, 2023, in the aftermath of the release of “Parish & School Policy on Issues of Sexuality and Gender Identity” by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.
While Quire Cleveland does not agree with or support this policy, the decision to cancel the concert series was made solely to protect the safety and well-being of Quire’s singers, concert attendees, and hosting churches in the context of ongoing social media activity encouraging disruption of the concerts as a means of protesting the policy. All contracted singers will be compensated for the full concert series according to the terms of their singer agreement.
Since this was to be Quire’s final concert series, these concerts will not be rescheduled.
That statement is hard to believe… To begin with, if the group openly opposes the Church’s policy, then why the hell was Kenworthy fired for saying the same thing?
They knew full well that Kenworthy’s supposed “protest” wasn’t going to hurt anyone. (Why would a performer want people to disrupt a show he’s involved in?!) There’s no reason to think the singers or attendees would have been in any danger because some people in the crowd might have worn Pride gear. It’s also unclear what the Catholic Church would’ve done if attendees showed up with rainbow shirts.
The only people who should be worried about their safety are the LGBTQ people the Church’s policies discriminate against.
Kenworthy told me at least one other singer also left the group in the wake of his firing, which raises another possibility. Given that this was a relatively small ensemble to begin with, were the concerts canceled because Quire Cleveland didn’t have enough singers who could fill the complex musical parts? I don’t know. I’ve been told my understanding of the situation is apparently “incorrect.”
For his part, Kenworthy had nothing but kind things to say about the people who run Quire Cleveland. He felt they had their hands tied, given their working relationship with the Catholic Diocese, so they had no choice but to let him go. It wasn’t personal; it was business. It’s hard enough for a community-based music program to thrive without the Catholic Church picking a fight with you.
“I’m going to be fine,” he told me last night. As a lifelong musician, he’s never relied on concerts for his income, but he did rely on those concerts as a performer. He was worried that his posts may have black-listed him in the music community, though that may not be true given how much positive feedback he’s received from other performers in the community. I hope this doesn’t come back to haunt him.
The saddest thing about all this is that none of it needed to happen. The Church didn’t need to explicitly go all in against LGBTQ people, and Quire Cleveland didn’t need to listen to the Church when it came to Kenworthy.
Ultimately, he said, “nobody wins.”
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