Dignity/New York and the national organization to which it belongs, DignityUSA, endorse and participate in a wide variety of programs and actions promoting the civil rights of LGBT people.
The chapter speaks out in all forms of media on timely issues such as marriage equality. Dignity/New York spokespeople have also appeared in the media on many occasions to represent the chapter's views on such subjects as the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church and the 2005 Vatican decision to restrict the entry of gay men to the priesthood.
Dignity/New York's social action began early in the chapter's history in the 1970s, as an outgrowth of its participation in the LGBT Pride March. In the early 1980s, the chapter took legal action to be allowed to stand on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral during the March in order to speak out for LGBT Catholics – a right that was eventually affirmed by a 1983 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.
After the expulsion of Dignity/New York from its longtime home at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Francis Xavier in 1987, chapter members entered the very nave of St. Patrick's through the Cathedral Project, which protested the expulsion and took issue with Cardinal John J. O’Connor’s refusal to dialog with gay Catholics about their place within the Church. Ultimately, eleven members of the chapter were arrested for standing silently during Cardinal O'Connor's homilies, and Dignity was legally banned from the Cathedral. Nevertheless, the Cathedral project continued to hold monthly liturgies on the Fifth Avenue sidewalk across from St. Patrick’s for more than two years.
In the 1990s, members of the chapter held talks with Cardinal O'Connor that resulted in a reduced police presence at the Cathedral during the LGBT Pride March. In part because of these talks, Cardinal O'Connor also spoke out publicly in favor of pending hate crimes legislation in New York State, helping to bring about its passage. In 2005 and 2006, the chapter signed on as a friend of the court in three legal cases filed in New York State seeking to establish the right of same-sex couples to marry.
Many members of the chapter participated in the making of the 2003 documentary film Saints and Sinners, about the marriage of chapter members Edward DeBonis and Vincent Maniscalco – the first Catholic same-sex couple to have their marriage announced in The New York Times. Chapter members also supported the making of Saint of 9/11, a documentary film about the life and death of New York Fire Department chaplain and gay man Fr. Mychal Judge, which had its world premiere in April 2006 at the Tribeca Film Festival. Co-produced by chapter member Brendan Fay, it provided another opportunity for Dignity/New York chapter members to help depict the lives of LGBT Catholics in a positive manner.
In 2011, Fay released another documentary film supported by chapter members, Taking a Chance on God, about chapter co-founder Fr. John McNeill, a pioneering theologian, author, and leader of the modern gay liberation movement since its beginnings more than four decades ago. The film had its world premiere in June 2011 at the EuroPride festival in Rome, and its U.S. premiere in July 2011 at DignityUSA’s biennial convention in Washington, D.C.
In these and many other ways, Dignity/New York has contributed to the legal and social advances won by LGBT people over the past four decades, and the chapter intends to continue its vigorous activities in this area.