An email being passed around by Latino activists and obtained by BuzzFeed outlines how VOZ, a Portland-based nonprofit that empowers immigrants and day laborers to gain control over their working conditions, was denied $75,000 in funding from a longtime partner for refusing to disaffiliate with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) because it supports marriage equality.
VOZ and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) have had a relationship for years, one in which CCHD has often provided it funding. When VOZ applied this year, it was told by CCHD it needed to get a letter from NCLR that stated its affiliates don't necessarily take the same stances VOZ does.
But soon thereafter, VOZ was told it would have to altogether disassociate from NCLR as an ally because of the powerful national organization's support for marriage equality.
VOZ director Romeo Sosa tells BuzzFeed that request went too far for his organization.
"For us it was a hard decision, but we needed to think about our values. We don't discriminate, we work with everyone, so we decided not to do it," he said. "We may lose a grant, but we have kept our principles intact."
The CCHD did not directly address the marriage equality issue in a statement to BuzzFeed, but did say "a long-time grantee of ours recently entered into a public relationship of support with an organization that has taken public policy positions at odds with Catholic moral teaching." The statement continued:
"We were proud to support the work of that group in the past to promote leaders in the immigrant community, support day laborers and work for justice for immigrants. Because of the public commitment into which the organization has now entered, CCHD was notified by the group that they henceforth would not be seeking additional funding. Although saddening, we respect the conscientious decision of a grantee to take stances that don't square with the mission of CCHD. But we expect others to respect our commitment to Catholic values. We continue to engage the group in dialogue."
The notification CCHD received was a letter from VOZ, which said it would be unable to comply with the request:
"We are a worker-led organization that empowers immigrants and day laborers to gain control over their working conditions. At the root of that mission, is the pursuit of justice and equality for all immigrants and day laborers. We have always found that to do this, we need all allies, day laborers, and immigrants to stand together in unity. The philosophy of building borders between friends and allies has long been a debilitating instrument to slow the advancement of social justice and equality. 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 NCLR. We stand with their values."
This is not the first time CCHD has made a decision along these lines. In October, nine groups in Chicago gave up grants totaling nearly $300,000 because of a CCHD ultimatum.
VOZ has an annual operating budget of $310,000, so the retraction of $75,000 was a substantial financial blow. The email being shared by activists was part of an online fundraising effort to make up for the lost money, which has raised $2,600 along with $15,000 pledged by local organizations.
Sosa said the full amount is needed to pay staff, provide them health benefits and do organizing work, like workshops with day laborers to develop their leadership skills, as well as help with its campaigns like pushing state legislation to stop wage theft. The organization says it has helped people in need of work get more than 22,000 jobs and recover over $500,000 in stolen wages since it was founded.
While NCLR has said it supports marriage equality, the organization has not signed on to any of the letters recently sent to the president asking him to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion, nor has the NCLR cosigned an earlier letter calling on Obama to reverse a Bush-era opinion that expanded religious protections.
The CCHD noted that it has distributed nearly $5.5 million in support of immigration reform and nearly $1 million after the surge of unaccompanied minors at the border to "empower the residents of the border to promote genuine reform that welcomes the immigrant, creates jobs and builds community."
The organization added that it's confident their work is squarely in the "pastoral vision of Pope Francis, who has reminded us that 'the need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed.'"