Labor Group Chooses LGBT Inclusion Over Catholic Grant Money

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com July 17 2014 3:42 PM ET

An Oregon nonprofit that helps immigrants and day laborers find work was disqualified from receiving a substantial grant from the Roman Catholic Church after the nonprofit refused to disavow its affiliation with another group that supports marriage equality. 

The Portland-based Voz Workers' Rights Education Project reports it was a finalist for a $75,000 community development grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a project of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. But in the final stages of the decision-making progress, Voz officials say, the Catholic group demanded that the nonprofit cut ties with the National Council of La Raza, a powerful Latino rights organization that has supported marriage equality since 2012. The Oregonian reports that Voz has received 10 similar grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development since 1996. 

But the leaders of Voz refused to give in to the Catholic Campaign's threat, telling the religious organization the nonprofit would rather "lose its grant than lose its principles," according to a petition launched by Voz supporters to fill the funding gap left by the Campaign's absence.

Citing its mission as a "worker-led organization that empowers immigrants and day laborers to gain control over their working conditions," Voz told the Catholic Campaign that it could not do its work without the assistance of allies from various sectors — including the LGBT community. 

"The philosophy of building borders between friends and allies has long been a debilitating instrument to slow the advancement of social justice and equality," reads Voz's statement to the Catholic Campaign. "Alone we cannot achieve anything. Martin Luther King Jr., the namesake of our Worker Center once said: ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’

"We stand with our friends at [the National Council of La Raza]," concluded Voz's statement to the Catholic Campaign. "We stand with their values."

As a result of that decision, Voz did not receive the $75,000 grant, which would have provided a substantial portion of the group's estimated $310,000 annual budget. In the wake of the funding gap, individual supporters and activist groups — including Basic Rights Oregon and the Oregon AFL-CIO — have called for their others to join them in supporting Voz by providing supplemental funds. Thus far, those allies have raised roughly $20,000 for Voz, according to the nonprofit's development director. 

That development director, Ranfis Villatoro, tells The Advocate that the cuts in funding will likely require Voz to cut back staffers' hours and the total number on staff, and possibly to rescind some health care benefits. 

Nevertheless, he says the group stands confident in its decision not to compromise its values. Although it does not take a formal position on marriage equality, "Voz stands in solidarity with the LGBT movement for equal rights," Villatoro tells The Advocate. "Many of us know people who are gay, lesbian, and transgender. They are our aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. They are part of the fabric of our community in the day labor and immigrant community, and we cannot do effective meaningful work if we cast aside members of our community."

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' headquarters in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to The Advocate's requests for comment. 

"GLAAD and so many others celebrated the National Council of La Raza's support of marriage equality several years ago, and it's disheartening that Voz would now be punished this way," GLAAD's director of Spanish-speaking media Monica Trasandes tells The Advocate. "Charities should not punish a day laborer's organization, or any other organization, for supporting equality or for simply standing with organizations that do so. Poll after poll shows that Catholics support their LGBT family members. It's hard to imagine that parishioners would agree with their money used as a tool to punish groups."