In Sunday's El Paso Times (both print and online versions), readers heard from not one, not two, but 11 religious leaders who welcome, love and support all people without reservation and judgment. Their collective call for unity and unconditional love was "refreshing," one reader responded. It certainly is, especially in light of recent events.
Over the course of four consecutive days, August 27-30, the El Paso Times ran a series of four different highly defamatory paid advertisements in print and online, all of which were written and submitted by Father Michael Rodriguez, the parish priest at San Juan Bautista Catholic Church. Neal Broverman and Andrew Harmon at The Advocate, wrote three pieces regarding the advertisements. (Click on the dates to see The Advocate's coverage from August 29, August 30 and September 1.)
The content of the advertisements was appalling, to say the least, and had no place on the pages of any reputable newspaper. The advertisements not only expressed an opinion, they defamed an entire group of people [gay and lesbian people] using religious language. Though individuals certainly have the freedom of speech, no one is free from the consequences of their speech - especially media outlets whose responsibility is to uphold reporting and advertising standards that are fair, accurate, inclusive and responsible. The advertisements written and submitted by Rodriguez had the potential to cause great harm - spiritual, psychological, physical, etc. - and this was our primary concern.
Following the ads' appearance in the El Paso Times, GLAAD responded to incident reports and spoke with several advocates for equality in El Paso - both religious and community leaders. At the same time, we initiated a series of conversations with the publisher of the paper. During our conversations, we articulated our concerns, explaining among other things, why these advertisements never should have run in the first place. The publisher was very receptive to our feedback. Having worked with a number of local advocates, we offered to connect the paper with several local religious and community leaders who shared our concerns - leaders who have been working toward equality in El Paso for quite some time now, but who have needed a platform to share their messages. The publisher invited letters to the editor and opinion pieces; several of these ran, the most recent of which was yesterday - a piece submitted by 11 LGBT-inclusive religious leaders in El Paso.
Writing on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the group wrote of their hope for unity being renewed in El Paso.
"The unity in our country that we witnessed 10 years ago is the unity we hope for our community," wrote the group of 11 El Paso clergy.
The group also called on El Paso residents to love their neighbors unconditionally.
"We believe that God continues to be revealed in human history and in the life of each individual," wrote the group. "We believe that God calls on all of us to extend that same unconditional love to one another.
"We believe this divine love manifests itself in our reaching out to our neighbor, whoever they may be, caring for them, listening to them and ministering to them without prejudice."
The group of clergy went on to note that each of their faith communities are inclusive and pledged to welcome, love and support all people without reservation and judgment.
One week prior, on September 4, the El Paso Times also printed a letter from Marianne T. Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, a group that celebrates the wholeness and holiness of LGBT Catholics and advocates for their full inclusion in the life and ministry of the Catholic Church. Duddy-Burke was motivated to write because Rodriguez' ads "can do tremendous spiritual damage to Catholics who read it."
"I question why...any Catholic priest would put out statements as condemnatory as these ads were," wrote Duddy-Burke. "I see it as a real failure of ministry."
The paper also published a number of letters to the editor that criticized the paper for having accepted Rodriguez' ads:
See "Sold out," by Tony Ramos (2nd letter down).
See "Disgusted," by Robert McGregor (4th letter down).
See "Low point," by Sue DiCara (4th letter down).
See "Rodriguez ad," by Elizabeth Ortega (2nd letter down).
Though GLAAD certainly wishes that Rodriguez' advertisements never ran in the first place, the response to the ads indicates that the El Paso Times is learning from their readers, and vice versa. As a result of the response to these advertisements, the El Paso Times and readers (who may have been previously unaware) now know that the city's faith community is not one-sided. Let us be clear: one religious leader paid to make defamatory remarks about gay and lesbian people while no fewer than 12 in recent days have spoken through the paper to spread a message of love, welcome and acceptance.
GLAAD thanks the El Paso Times for their willingness to accept and reflect on all the constructive feedback they've received in recent weeks. More importantly, we thank the paper for sharing the feedback they've received on their very own pages. As a result, the message of love, welcome and acceptance isn't confined to the paper's editors; it's now out there for the entire El Paso community to see and experience for themselves.