A local nonprofit that works on behalf of immigrant workers said Tuesday it refused to cut ties to another Latino group that supports same-sex marriage, cost it a $75,000 grant from a Roman Catholic organization.
The Voz Workers' Rights Education Project, a Northeast Portland group that connects Latino immigrants with jobs, said it was a finalist for a top grant from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. But last month, the group said, the conference told it to sever ties with the National Council of La Raza, one of the nation's leading Latino rights groups, because the council advocates same-sex marriage.
"Our board felt like what they were asking us to do was take a position on marriage equality," said Ranfis Villatoro, Voz's development director. Voz has never taken a public stance on the issue, he said, although it does offer services to gay and lesbian couples. Therefore, the board voted last month to reject the grant.
The grant would have been a significant chunk of the nonprofit's $310,000 annual budget.
"By making this decision, we run the risk of decreasing staff size and decreasing hours," Villatoro said.
The group mostly helps male Latino immigrants who are struggling to find work in Portland, Villatoro said, including some who are undocumented or have criminal backgrounds.
An official in the Conference of Catholic Bishops' Washington, D.C., office who said his name was Tony but declined to spell his last name, said he didn't have enough information to comment. Calls to the local office in Portland were not returned as of Tuesday evening.
The Catholic group is a leading proponent of national immigration reform and has urged Congress to adopt a new legal path to citizenship. Most recently, the group has called on President Barack Obama to allow a flood of unaccompanied minors to remain in the U.S.
Aside from same-sex marriage, La Raza has many of the same beliefs. The group routinely lobbies for a variety of national issues, including comprehensive immigration reform.
La Raza announced its support for same-sex marriage in 2012, around the same time as Obama and the NAACP. On the local level, it provides training and resources for nonprofits to help Latino immigrants.
"They're kind of multifaceted, technical assistants if you will," said Victor Merced, executive director of Hacienda, a Northeast Portland-based nonprofit that helps provide housing for low-income Latino families. "They're very powerful."
( http://www.archdpdx.org/newsrel/2013/jun13/CCHD_grants.html VOCAL notes Hacienda CDC was also apast recipient of CCHD part of the Office of Justice and Peace. )
Hacienda also receives grant money from the Catholic Bishops group, Merced said, and leaders from the local chapter recently questioned him on Hacienda's relationship with La Raza. Once he explained that La Raza does not require affiliates to agree with its political ideology, the questions stopped.
Leaders from the local chapter seemed embarrassed that they had to ask in the first place, he said.
Voz, on the other hand, was dealing with leaders at the national level.
Now, Voz plans to hold a news conference at its work center on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on Wednesday with leaders of Oregon AFL-CIO, Basic Rights Oregon and other civil and immigrant rights' groups who have come out in support of Voz.
"They have made a really tough decision to uphold their values of justice and equality," said Jeana Frazzini, the executive director of Basic Rights Oregon. So far, Basic Rights has received nearly $10,000 in pledges from LGBT groups to support Voz.
"We're very concerned," said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain. "That work center is about some of the lowest-paid workers in the state that, for a number of reasons, can be taken advantage of."
Voz, founded in 2000, has received two grants from the Catholic organization before. It was unclear what led to the conference's decision.
"I just don't see how this litmus test is going to be helpful going forward," Merced said. "It's just kind of ridiculous."
-- Ian K. Kullgren