MHR Clarifies No-Drag Policy
Whether downplaying, clarifying, or backpedaling, parishioners and staff at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church are feeling the heat from the Bay Area Reporter’s story last week that revealed a drag-queen ban is in effect for the church’s social hall.
"Parishioners are upset that we cannot have events here," said Most Holy Redeemer’s business manager Michael Poma during a telephone interview earlier this week.
The 10-minute interview with Poma came just two days after the Sunday, August 12 church bulletin contained a letter addressed to parishioners. The letter is available on Most Holy Redeemer’s Facebook page.
The short four-paragraph letter is an attempt to provide additional information about "a decision to no longer rent Ellard Hall to outside groups for one-night venues," according to the letter.
"For lack of a better word," Poma said, no more "one-night stands" are permitted.
"The no-rental policy," includes "all outside one-night venues," he explained, such as "weddings and Sweet Sixteen" celebrations.
"It’s a blanket no-rental policy," Poma said.
Most Holy Redeemer’s letter to parishioners provides further background and attempts to explain that drag queens, per se, were not targeted for exclusion.
"Fr. Brian [Costello], as well all know, is new to MHR and the Castro. He’s learning every day, more and more, about the community in which he has now become a part," the letter states.
It adds, "With support of Parish Council, Fr. Brian was in the process of making it a policy to no longer rent out Ellard Hall for outside one-night functions.
"Fr. Brian had agreed to allow Founding Fellowship and the Castro Country Club to use Ellard Hall, but was instructed not to rent the hall to any outside group for one-night use, gay, straight, or otherwise. This is a blanket policy which will take place immediately." (Finding Fellowship is a crystal methamphetamine anonymous support group.)
The letter concludes by stating, "Some parishioners are planning to make donations to those organizations, to help defer the cost of relocating" and goes on to provide how to make contributions.
But that’s not how Costello portrayed the no-drag ban last week. "I am the new pastor," Costello said at the time. "There is a new archbishop. The archdiocese told me straight out, ’No drag queens.’"
The matter came to light when the Castro Country Club, a recovery group that primarily serves the gay community, was told it could not hold its annual fall fundraiser at the church if it was going to include drag entertainment, as it has in the past. The country club’s board issued a statement that said the group could not abide by the no-drag policy.
This week, Poma said, "The policy is not directed at Finding Fellowship or the Castro Country Club or drag queens."
Poma said that he and Costello attempted to persuade the San Francisco Archdiocese to allow Finding Fellowship and Castro Country Club to hold their events and then put the no-rental policy in place, but were told by archdiocesan officials the policy was to go into effect right away.
Poma pointed to reasons for the rental ban. "There were problems with some outside groups," he explained, citing "inappropriate behavior" that included an event held by a gay softball team with some people "practically doing live sex acts on stage."
In another instance, one outside group "trashed" the social hall, which, Poma said, "is precious to us here."
The swirling controversy surrounding Most Holy Redeemer has generated angry phone calls to the church. "So are you not going to let drag queens come to church either," said Poma, referring to one caller’s message.
"We’ve always had drag queens, transsexuals, transgender people, and gay couples holding hands" in church, Poma explained, and that will continue.
"There is no moratorium on drag queens. The church is predominately gay," he said, with many gays serving in ministry.
Most Holy Redeemer’s policy clarification comes in the wake of heightened mainstream media coverage as local print and broadcast media, even some national outlets, have given play to the story.
Unfortunately, the controversy is "dividing the community," said Poma, referring to the conservative California Catholic Daily blog, which, he said, "is having a field day over this."
"They are laughing down there. They are saying, ’we won. Go Cordileone,’" Poma said, referring to new San Francisco Archbishop-designate Salvatore Cordileone, who will be installed in October.
But for now, Poma said, "I don’t see the policy ending anytime soon. Again, it was on our radar even before [Castro Country Club] approached us."