Tulsa Catholic diocese drops out of OCCJ over Pride parade participation

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Posted: Tuesday, June 9, 2015 12:00 am

The Catholic Diocese of Tulsa has resigned from membership in the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice because of the organization’s involvement in last Saturday’s Tulsa Pride parade, according to a letter from the Rev. Msgr. Patrick Gaalaas to OCCJ President and Chief Executive Officer Jayme Cox and Board of Directors Chairman Russ Florence.

Tulsa Pride is billed as the longest-running gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender festival in Oklahoma. It is the first such festival since various court decisions made same-sex marriage legal in Oklahoma.

“The executive committee’s decision to join officially in Saturday’s ‘Tulsa Pride’ parade, inviting board members to celebrate the event by marching behind the OCCJ banner, was, we are fairly certain, not made without careful thought,” Gaalaas wrote.

“To march in such a parade seems to us to be a deliberate and full-throttled expression of support for the so-called gay agenda, a central component of which is same-sex marriage. Unless a clear statement can be made by OCCJ that its participation does not imply support for same-sex marriage or be seen to condone sexual acts outside of marriage, we have no option but to withdraw from membership.”

The letter is dated June 6, the same day as the parade.

Gaalaas could not be reached Monday, but Bishop Edward Slattery said the OCCJ’s involvement in the Tulsa Pride parade left him and the diocese little choice.

“If we were not to do anything, we would either be saying it’s not that important of an issue or that we don’t agree with the church directive,” Slattery said by telephone Monday.

“We hope no one misunderstands,” Slattery said. “We respect every single human being.”

But, he said, “The Catholic Church has made a very strong statement on the definition of marriage. … No one can redefine marriage except God.”

OCCJ leaders “knew the possible reverberations, … the dissension within the ranks” of participating in the parade, Slattery said.

Florence, reached by phone, said the OCCJ has no position on same-sex marriage.

“We don’t endorse specific religions or lifestyles,” he said. “What we do endorse is respect and understanding for all people.”

Florence said Gaalaas called him Wednesday “to confirm that (OCCJ) was going to participate. He asked if this was the first time, and I said I thought it was, but I later found out it was the second.”

Toby Jenkins, executive director of Oklahomans for Equality, which produces the Tulsa Pride parade and festival, issued a statement late Monday, saying that “Oklahomans for Equality is grateful for OCCJ’s decade of support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender individuals and their families.”

“To our knowledge they have not taken an official position on marriage equality but have been up front and center on issues that impact the LGBT community disproportionately such as anti-bullying legislation, youth suicide prevention, the danger of conversion therapy, employment and housing discrimination.”

Jenkins said OkEq is “dismayed that OCCJ’s participation in our annual Tulsa Pride celebration has caused a rift in the OCCJ family. Most of the membership of Oklahomans for Equality are personally familiar with the pain, conflict and the damaged family relationships associated with faith and sexuality. But we will not allow the critics or resentful to stifle our happiness or sour our celebration for marriage equality in Oklahoma.

“We worked for over a decade and prevailed in the courts. We would hope our neighbors could be happy for love having expanded, but their disapproval will not diminish our joy this pride season.”

OCCJ was founded in 1934 as the Tulsa Chapter of the National Council of Christians and Jews. The NCCJ began in 1927, primarily to combat anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic prejudice.

Over time the mission broadened to other forms of discrimination. The name was changed to the National Conference for Community and Justice in the 1990s, and in 2005 the Tulsa office broke from the national organization.

Florence said he knows of no other OCCJ members contemplating withdrawal from the organization because of its Tulsa Pride participation.

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