The scheduled appearance of a retired priest involved in reparative therapy has turned Cardinal Spellman Catholic High School in the Bronx into a battleground between anti-gay activists posing as advocates for the ex-gay movement and gay activists led by Spellman alumnus, actor/drag artist Clinton Leupp aka Coco Peru.
According to the New York Daily News, the controversy began when school officials booked Father Donald Timone to speak to parents about the Catholic groups "Courage" and "EnCourage’" whose aim is to convince children "struggling with same-sex attraction" to live "chaste lives through participation in support groups." Announcement of the event caused outrage by a group of gay and lesbian alumni led by actor / drag artist Miss Coco Peru.
"It makes it look like it’s a support group, but once you really see what they are doing it’s disturbing" said Leupp of the Courage and EnCourage programs advocated by Timone. "They are trying to shame these kids!"
The decision to schedule the talk by Timone was supported by school president Father Trevor Nicholls, who said "Courage is an organization that simply tries to teach what the Catholic Church teaches on certain issues," Nicholls said. "It is a very caring and supportive group."
In a statement on the school’s website, Nicholls supported the decision to schedule the speech.
"Part of our outreach is to the parents of our students, whose education and overall welfare is our number one priority," the statement reads. "The talk to be given by Fr. Donald Timone is to be addressed to the parents NOT to the StudentsI know that any parents who may attend the meeting on Tuesday evening will find his presentation of great benefit."
According to a follow-up piece in the Daily News, after numerous complaints from school alumni and staffers who felt that the program treats homosexuals like addicts in a 12-step program, Timone’s speaking engagement, which was scheduled for Tuesday was postponed, but not cancelled.
"The idea that this is the end of the matter is incorrect," Father Nicholls said, adding that Timone would likely be invited back after a vote by the school’s board of trustees.
To further protest the speech, Leupp, who now identifies as Episcopalian produced and published a music video of the Nina Simone classic "Feeling Good" to YouTube and social media where she tells the school to "go f@#% themselves."
A 1983 graduate of Spellman High School, Leupp as drag persona Coco Peru has appeared in numerous films including "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar" and the cult classic "Girls will be Girls." Peru is probably best known for a memorable scene in the 1999 film "Trick."
On the other side of the argument is noted ex-gay Christopher Doyle, who is best known for promising a rally of thousands of ex-gays in Washington, D.C., this summer, but only delivering under ten participants.
Doyle, who is president and co-founder of purported ex-gay advocacy group Voice of the Voiceless (VoV), took to his organization’s website and Facebook page to petition against the gay rights activists protest regarding the Timone speech.
"Gay activists are champions of tolerance and anti-bullying, that is, until someone disagrees with their opinion. In that case, it’s hate speech and should not be tolerated!" reads the petition on the VoV website.
The VoV petition goes on to read: "Please sign this petition and tell Cardinal Spellman High School, Fr. Trevor Nicholls, and the Board of Trustees to stand strong against the bullying from these gay activists and that respected priests such as Fr. Timone, not drag queens like Coco Peru, should be educating the parents of Catholic children on homosexuality."
All of this comes at a time when the Catholic Church appears to be making moves to become more inclusive of its LGBT members. In July, newly installed Pope Francis made headlines by telling reporters "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" According to The New York Times, Francis told reporters, speaking in Italian but using the English word "gay." Although Francis has not changed church doctrine opposing homosexuality, his comment implied a more accepting tone than that of his predecessors, most of whom had largely avoided using the colloquial word "gay."
Across the river in neighboring state New Jersey, Governor and GOP rising star Chris Christie, who is a Catholic, caused an uproar among religious conservatives this summer by signing a bill banning the use of reparative therapy in his state.
In addition to Miss Coco Peru, Cardinal Spellman High School boasts U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor as one of its noted alumni.
See Miss Coco Peru’s music video protest here!