CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Benedictine College Would Do Well to Queer Its ‘External Decor’ Policy

November 9, 2014

Jallen Messersmith with his (now banned) rainbow flag

Jallen Messersmith is the first openly gay college basketball player. Many commenters, including Bondings 2.0, applauded the athlete and his campus, Benedictine College, a Catholic school, for its support at the time. A recent incident calls into question if the school’s support for Messersmith has changed. decision to hang a rainbow flag in his dorm window?

Messersmith recently hung a rainbow flag from his dorm window. A day after doing so, he he received a call from Dean of Students Joe Wurtz who demanded the flag be removed because it had made someone “uncomfortable.” While the basketball star removed the flag, he has not remained silent about this incident which upset him greatly.

According to the campus newspaper, The Circuit, college president Stephen Minnis called the flag a “mess” on Second Street, where the dorm is located. He further added:

” ‘I saw this flag, and I thought, “Oh my gosh”…Saturday’s our big home football game, this is the opening to campus, people are going to be driving up Second Street and we got somebody hanging something in their window. I didn’t want [the flag] to be a distraction.’ “

Minnis, who was apparently unaware of the flag’s meaning before a student notified him, said its removal was a matter of “cleanliness.” He admits he could have communicated better about this policy because he said the flag’s removal is about appearances, not a political statement by the Benedictine administration.

Wurtz said the flag’s removal, though not elucidated in any policy, comes from the “president’s prerogative” against external decorations and is about consistency. He added that controversy may have ensued because people are simply “hypersensitive” about LGBT issues.

Messersmith’s roommate Luke Norville, who is notably not affirming of gay people, questioned whether this was really about consistency because he had seen other items hung on Second Street. Another roommate, Nick Hercules said he could “guarantee” an American flag or Benedictine flag would be allowed to stay.

For his part, Messersmith said the rainbow flag, a well known sign for the LGBT community, is “an acceptance thing” for those on campus who may struggle with their sexual orientation. The Circuit adds:

“Although Messersmith feels Benedictine College as a whole has been supportive of his sexual orientation, he says the way administration handled this particular situation is ‘interesting.’

” ‘I would have preferred to have had a black and white [statement]–”This is why you can’t do this, it says right here in the mission, right here in this handbook”, wherever it said I couldn’t do this…I still care for every administrator on campus, and have deep personal relationships with all of them; it is just interesting the way they handled it.’ “

Interesting indeed. By coming out, Messersmith has been a role model for LGBT youth and athletes of all ages. His intuition to put a supportive sign in his dorm window for others on the Kansas campus who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity is a most Catholic and pastoral one. Hanging the flag to create a more welcoming and inclusive campus community should be a move applauded by administrators.

Yet, if Benedictine administrators are to be believed, and the flag’s removal is truly about cleanliness and consistency in student housing, this is a case of mistaken priorities. Preserving aesthetic appearances at the cost of LGBT inclusion is not a good model for Catholic education. There is the possibility as well that administrators simply do not want LGBT-positive symbols seen at the school. Either way, Benedictine College would do well to queer its policies on external decor.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

OutSports, “Benedictine College forces gay athlete Jallen Messersmith to remove rainbow flag


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: ‘Queer Peers’ & ‘Play Like a Champion’ Programs Tackle Homophobia

November 1, 2014

Milk_FinalCatholic higher education in the US has often led on LGBT inclusion in the Church, acting as a positive example for the rest of the ecclesial institution. Today, Bondings 2.0 highlights positive steps made this fall at Catholic colleges and universities to ensure all are welcome.

Queer Peers

DePaul University in Chicago, the nation’s largest Catholic college, kicked off a new program this semester to help new LGBT students transition into college. Called “Queer Peers,” this program sponsored by DePaul’s LGBTQA Student Services establishes mentoring relationships and campus programming for students who are newly out. As student newspaper, The DePaulia, reports:

“The main goal of the Queer Peers mentor program is to go beyond the scope of a regular student organization.  Often times, students are unable to participate in student organization meetings because of distance or time conflicts. Since mentors in this program are responsible for coordinating meetings with their mentees, the added flexibility eliminates the intimidation that a newly out mentee may feel in a large group setting.”

This is the latest in DePaul’s precedent-setting efforts to welcome and affirm LGBT people, including becoming the first Catholic institution to offer an LGBTQ Studies minor and hosting workshops on transgender issues in the classroom. Queer Peers mentor and senior Brandon Jordan comments on this latest programs in light of past efforts, saying:

” ‘The primary outcome is just hoping to develop community and help LGBTQ students feel supported…No matter how you identify, we want everyone to feel like they can learn about these communities and feel well equipped to support others. This program will benefit both mentees and mentors in that way.’ “

This new program enacts the values of hospitality and of inclusion in a most Catholic way, and will hopefully be adopted at colleges and universities nationwide.

Creighton University to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages

Creighton University, a Jesuit school in Omaha, announced it will offer benefits to same-sex spouses employed whose partners are employed there–even though Nebraska has a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. The decision, announced by president Fr. Timothy Lannon, will consider out of state marriages as legally recognized for the purposes of healthcare and other employee benefits.

According to Religion News Service, it is the 21st Jesuit college to do so and follows the University of Notre Dame’s similar announcement last week. Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha expressed his disappointment, saying he was “dismayed” at the prospect of same-sex partners receiving employment benefits.

‘Milk’ Screening Rescheduled

College Democrats at The Catholic University of America will be allowed to screen the film Milk, which chronicles the life of gay icon Harvey Milk, after originally being told by the administration that they could not do so. University officials received widespread criticism for canceling the event, including from the film’s screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. Vox reports:

“The university explained its decision by claiming the event, which had originally been pitched to them as an educational activity, crossed the line to advocacy. As Michael O’Loughlin reported in Crux, this wasn’t the first time CUA has appealed to the education/advocacy distinction while disallowing an LGBT activity on campus.”

Though the film is now scheduled,  the event’s previous cancellation sparked conversations at CUA and neighboring Georgetown University about LGBT people and issues on Catholic campuses. LGBT writer Jay Michaelson says the controversy reflects a “church in transition,” writing on the delineation of education and advocacy for The Daily Beast:

“In the old days, these questions were easy. Everyone hated gays, and the Pope regularly denounced them. Popular prejudice, papal edict, and Catholic dogma were all perfectly aligned.

“Now, however, they are coming apart. An openly gay member of CUA’s College Republicans club [sic] rightly noted that the administration’s decision represents a ‘generational disconnect’ between students and administrators. It is also out of line with the temperament of Pope Francis’s remarks. But it’s right on the dogma.

“As is often the case when the letter and the spirit of the law begin to fray, legal creativity gets called upon to mend them.”

Bondings 2.0 writer and 2012 CUA alum Bob Shine spoke to the Brookland Bridge about the incident saying:

” ‘Branding everything as ‘advocacy’ is a cop out from doing the challenging work of Catholic education in our world today and disregards the value of each person’s life and flourishing so often preached about. Thankfully, Catholics in the United States (and students at CUA) overwhelmingly follow Jesus Christ who preached love and inclusion as the constitutive elements of God’s reign. President Garvey and his staff have a choice: will they walk with Jesus Christ, Pope Francis, and the People of God or increasingly abide by a gospel of exclusion and discrimination inconsistent with God’s love?’ “

Play Like a Champion Today

Meanwhile, the founder of Notre Dame’s Play Like a Champion Today program, Clark Power, spoke about the need to curtail campus homophobia, as part of anti-bullying efforts. The Play Like a Champion Today program helps create “a positive youth sports environment for all children,” according to US Catholic where the interview with Power was posted. Asked how Play Like a Champion tackles homophobia in sports contexts, Power responded:

“It’s interesting how we as a society are becoming more understanding about and accepting of homosexuality. It is clear to many committed Catholics that we still have to  work on this issue as a church. We have to listen to our gay sisters and brothers and support them…

“Play Like a Champion has focused a lot on bullying, and much of the bullying we see today is directed towards homosexuality and involves homosexual slurs. We want coaches to be aware of how vulnerable children and adolescents are as the grapple with their sexual identities. We are also making an effort to inform coaches about depression and the importance of establishing a compassionate and accepting team environment. We are trying to be as up front about this as possible: You’re working with kids who are still constructing their identities psychologically. You can’t allow other children to bully them or make fun of them.

“Play Like a Champion is about sports; it’s physical. Our sexuality is part of who we are physically. I hope we can try to understand all of this in a more loving and sensitive way…This is who we are and this is what we’re supposed to be a church. We’re called to be a loving community.  We should be setting an example of how to support and affirm all persons, particularly in the most formative stages of their development.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Notre Dame Offers Benefits to Same-Sex Couples, While Set to Host “Gay in Christ” Conference

October 25, 2014

University of Notre Dame’s campus

The University of Notre Dame’s progress on LGBT issues has been a gradual process, but one that is making headway since the unveiling of the University’s pastoral plan in 2012. Still, recent incidents show a campus in tension on this path to full inclusion.

Last week, Notre Dame and its sister school, Saint Mary’s College, notified employees that benefits would now be available to same-gender spouses as marriage equality becomes law in Indiana. A university email obtained by the South Bend Tribune, said in part:

“This means that the law in Indiana now recognizes same-sex marriages and the University will extend benefits to all legally married spouses, including same-sex spouses…

“Notre Dame is a Catholic university and endorses a Catholic view of marriage. However, it will follow the relevant civil law and begin to implement this change immediately.”

Notre Dame is one of the first religiously-affiliated colleges to observe the new law, as other Christian universities are refusing to comply with the latest court rulings. One staff member who is openly gay, Aaron Nichols, said of the announcement:

” ‘Being an out staff member, I feel a lot more confident that my concerns are being heard and responded to…The university is no longer acting in a vacuum…That makes me proud to be ND.’ “

However, not all members of the Notre Dame community are reacting positively. Aleteia reports that Holy Cross Father Wison D. Miscamble, a history professor, spoke with young alumni in Washington, DC on the topic: “For Notre Dame: Battling for the Heart and Soul of a Catholic University.” He gave out Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins’ personal email and encouraged alumni to write negatively of the decision.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend added his criticism, saying Notre Dame should have waited for a “study of what the law requires” so that Catholic institutions are not “compelled to cooperate in the application of the law redefining marriage.” In response, President Jenkins said Rhoades was consulted before and after the decision’s announcement, and a University spokesperson defended Notre Dame’s decision.

Additionally, the University is set to host a traditionally inclined conference titled “Gay in Christ.” The conference, hosted by the Institute for Church Life and the Gender Relations Center, will “explore how Catholic institutions can coexist comfortable with gay Catholics” and focus on pastoral outreach, according to Indiana Public Radio.

Institute director John Cavadini said the conference has been a point of controversy on campus, adding:

” ‘I feel like our imaginations get cramped. . . We get caught in ways of thinking and don’t allow ourselves to think a little bit farther and this conference is meant to help us think a little bit farther.’ “

However, the conference is not as open ended as Cavadini portrays it. “Gay in Christ” focuses on outreach to “self-identified gay Catholics who accept Church teaching,” and speakers are predominantly Catholics advocating celibacy as the only option for lesbian and gay people. In fact, a writer for Slate recently highlighted the conference and torturously argued that the path of celibacy could be a path for acceptance of lesbian and gay people in the Church.

Bondings 2.0 has previously covered how dangerous and damaging mandatory celibacy can be for LGBT persons, the majority of whom do not discern that God is inviting them to such a lifestyle.

While Notre Dame is to be commended for the several initiatives it has made in enacting the pastoral plan, “Beloved Friends and Allies,” the presence of such a conference on campus proves there is still work to be done.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Catholic University Silences LGBT Awareness, While Georgetown University Raises Standard Again

October 6, 2014

The flyer which caused the film screening to be cancelled

The two largest Catholic colleges in Washington, DC, are making headlines over LGBT issues, but in differing directions. The Catholic University of America cancelled a film screening on the life gay advocate Harvey Milk over concerns that the film opposes Catholic teaching, while Georgetown University announced its plans to host an LGBT conference for Jesuit schools next year.

The cancellation occurred the day before the CUA College Democrats were set to host the screening, with University administrators citing concerns the event had moved from education to advocacy by including a rainbow flag and the words “LGBT awareness” on an event flyer.

Besides the film, the event included talks by politics professor John White and Montgomery County Democratic chair Kevin Walling, a 2007 alumus, about how gay rights affected the Democratic party. Michael O’Loughlin of Crux says Walling expressed his disappoint about:

” ‘…number one for how they treated their students, and number two, how they treated this topic…

” ‘This seems like a regression…The fact that the university canceled this event the day of is sparking an important conversation the university should have…and hopefully some good will come out of this.’ “

Students and alumni speaking with the campus newspaper, The Tower, echoed that disappointment. Alumnus Wesley Cocozello said:

” ‘CUA is morphing from a university into the propaganda arm of the Vatican…The administration has time and again silenced the voice of her students because they dare to ask questions or start conversations that don’t neatly and tidily follow the teachings of the church.’ “

Ryan Fecteau, a 2014 alumnus who led efforts for an LGBT student group, CUAllies, that was ultimately denied recognition [disclosure: I co-led the organization with Fecteau as an undergraduate], told The Tower:

” ‘As a CUA alum who is on the verge of being the youngest openly gay elected state representative in the country, I am disappointed to see CUA digress to a point where they once again send an unwelcoming message to LGBT students…In fact, the message that the University is sending students could very well impact emotional and psychological health, it is a message that really could impact someone’s life.’

” ‘This is not the kind of culture [we] should be trying to cultivate or even our Church…Everyone in the CUA community should be disappointed by this decision. I am.’ “

On a personal note, I attended the first iteration of this “Milk and Cookies” event in 2011 and remember the conversations that developed around the embattled life of Harvey Milk to be extremely generative. University administrators persist in their empty distinction about education and advocacy, which is, in my opinion, an easy way of disregarding this issue. Many Catholic institutions, educational and otherwise, have successfully entered into the complex realities of what sexual orientation and gender identity mean. By branding events such as this screening as “advocacy,” President John Garvey and his staff have written off the issue — and thus the real and present needs of LGBT community members — altogether.

I think the comments of gay sophomore, Steve Morris, who happens to be a College Republican, best summarize my own response to this pastorally-damaging situation:

” ‘I can’t help but think if Pope Francis — he of “Who am I to judge?” — were making this decision, there wouldn’t have been an issue about it at all.’ “

Following the pope’s welcoming and merciful tone, Georgetown University is choosing a different path than Catholic University. GUPride, along with Campus Ministry and Student Affairs, will be hosting the second IgnatianQ LGBTQ Catholic conference following up on a 2013 conference held at Fordham University in New York. The Georgetown Voice reports the conference of about 200 participants from Jesuit colleges will focus on forming Ignatian-inclined contemplative communities. GUPride president Thomas Lloyd says of the event, nicknamed “IggyQ”:

” ‘It’s really important that there is transparency among the LGBTQ communities on Jesuit campuses that allows the progress of one school to influence the actions and progress of another…It was sort of healing for students who felt as though there was no place for that part of their identity on a Jesuit campus.’

” ‘We recognized what Georgetown in particular could bring to this conversation…There are very few LGBTQ spaces that exist nationally to address this question … that’s why this conference is so important.’ “

This conference is the latest effort by Georgetown University’s students and staff members to deal positively with LGBT issues at a Catholic institution. However, this inclusiveness was not always the case as student Julie Tanaka points out in that same issue of The Georgetown Voice that announced the conference. She emphasizes a key point that the University is always a “living and learning community” that needs to be held accountable for growth, a lesson Catholic University students should keep in mind as they address the silencing of LGBT awareness on their own campus.

To lend your support to CUA students, consider signing the Change.org petition asking The Catholic University of America to follow Pope Francis’ lead and create a welcome for LGBT students. You can find it here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: College LGBT Rankings Rooted in Misperceptions

August 21, 2014

Writing the “Campus Chronicles” series for this blog, I frequently report on the good works being done at Catholic colleges to promote acceptance and inclusion of LGBT community members. That is why I was again disappointed at the absence of Catholic schools on a couple of 2014 listings of the most LGBT-friendly campuses nationwide.

The Princeton Review failed to include any Catholic schools on its most LGBT-friendly ranking, but did include two on the twenty least LGBT-friendly listing, those being the University of Notre Dame (#9) and The Catholic University of America (#12).

Campus Pride, a national LGBT organization, claims its listing of most LGBT-friendly schools is more comprehensive than the Princeton Review listings because it is conducted “for and by LGBT experts in the field of higher education” without a profit motive. Though the organization makes this claim and also expanded its list from top 25 to top 50 this year, noting more than 80% of participating schools improved their rankings, Campus Pride failed to include any Catholic colleges as well.

Last year at this time, I claimed such rankings fail to reveal the full story about Catholic higher education. Now, I wonder why this absence exists in the first place. Are Catholic colleges failing to welcome LGBT students and employees? Are they inherently excluded because of their religious identity? Are there too few Catholic schools to be considered?

First, let’s look at the question of whether Catholic colleges are just not LGBT-friendly. I do not believe this to be true. As with any large field of members, Catholic colleges’ and universities’ responses to accepting diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are varied. I admit problems remain within the church’s higher education efforts. Traditional campuses like my alma mater, Catholic University, have a ways to go regarding LGBT acceptance. More progressive schools have also encountered obstacles, like Loyola Chicago’s decision to ban same-sex alumni from marrying in the campus’ chapel after marriage equality was legalized in Illinois.

However, there are numerous examples where schools are making progress and I would like to highlight a few from the past year:

  • DePaul University, Chicago, which regularly hosts LGBT workshops and student groups, celebrated its longtime and s successful LGBTQ Minor program.
  •  Georgetown University’s LGBTQ student group teamed up with Campus Ministry at the Washington, D.C. school to help students synthesize their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with their faith.
  • Stonehill College, Massachusetts, warmly welcomed Sr. Jeannine Gramick who dialogued with students and faculty at the Holy Cross Fathers-administered school about inclusion.
  • Boston College Law School students applauded the administration’s rapid and supportive response to anti-gay vandalism, transforming the damage into a moment of healing and education.
  • The University of Notre Dame, Indiana began implementing its new pastoral plan, forming a successful student group and hiring staff for its new LGBT resource office.
  • One of the first college athletes to come out did so with the full support of coaches and peers at Benedictine College in Kansas.
  • Gonzaga University in Washington State announced new policies regarding housing, bathrooms, records changes, and medical care that are more trans-inclusive.
  • Georgetown University in Washington, DC, welcomed its first openly transgender students last fall and they spoke highly of how students and staff alike have affirmed their presence.
  • The University of San Diego stood by students organizing an annual drag show that came under fire from conservative Catholic groups.

These instances are those which made news headlines, and yhey do not include the countless daily efforts being made by thousands throughout Catholic higher education to ensure all are welcome.

Second  is the question of whether there are just two few Catholic colleges to choose from and highlight. Again this seems far fetched. There are more than 220 Catholic institutions of higher education in the US, according to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Of these, New Ways Ministry lists more than half on its listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges. Though the level of LGBT inclusion varies, the examples above and these numbers broken down seem to show there are Catholic campuses to choose from for the Princeton Review and Campus Pride rankings.

So why are Catholic schools absent? I think the reason comes down to a specific misconception about Catholicism and how educational institutions function within the church. A common narrative is that the Catholic Church is anti-LGBT because of the bishops’ views, thus when conflicts in Catholic education arise it is easy to dismiss all those involved in the Church as anti-gay. Nuanced understandings of church as the People of God, teachings on conscience and social justice, and the reality that most US Catholics support LGBT justice are lost in broader public discourse.

What these rankings fail to account for is this disparity between the hierarchy’s teaching and the lived reality of most Catholics. The rankings do not acknowledge the attempts to heal and divide communities, like at Providence College, where a poor decision to cancel a pro-gay lecture became a teaching moment and led to growth. They do not consider cases, like at Creighton University, where school officials stood up to conservative critics within the church about a music concert by a pro-gay performer. Ultimately, they fail to consider how passionately and firmly students and staff have stood up for LGBT inclusion — and have succeeded in so many instances.

I doubt Catholic higher education is alone in being incorrectly understood, as other religiously-affiliated schools from officially anti-LGBT denominations are also absent. However, as I wrote last year, Catholic schools can have a tremendous impact on the lives of the more than one million students they serve:

“Instead of condemning the Church’s higher education where problems remain, every Catholic might ask themselves at the start of a new academic year how to support students and schools in becoming friendlier for LGBT students and educators. With over one million students in approximately 220 Catholic campuses nationwide, this is certainly an important area for all in our church to be considering.”

I do not expect the Princeton Review or Campus Pride to change their listings this year, but in the future a nod to the many and varied efforts being made to create Catholic campuses where all are welcome would do the cause of LGBT equality a lot of good.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


If You Can Teach, You Can Teach

May 14, 2014

Is the University of Notre Dame’s approach to inclusion instructive for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and other dioceses which have released teacher contracts targeting LGBT people and their allies?

One alumnus says yes, and the University’s example would strengthen Catholic schools, too. Josh Pichler, class of 1996, writes in The Enquirer“If you want to see how a Catholic institution makes the gay community feel welcome without violating its principles, check out a recent video produced by the University of Notre Dame.”

Pichler is referring to a newly released campaign by the school’s athletics department to end homophobia and transphobia, launched via a video last week and reported on by Religion News Service. The video includes athletes from each team at Notre Dame affirming the central theme, “If you can play, you can play,” and has athletic director Jack Swarbrick saying,

“Because the university values LGBTQ students in the Notre Dame community, as indeed it values all of its students, the university is committed to fostering an environment of welcome and mutual respect that is grounded in its Catholic mission.”

The video also features tennis player Matt Dooley, a Catholic student who came out earlier this spring. It was made in partnership with You Can Play, an organization dedicated to more inclusive athletics and founded by a 2006 alum of Notre Dame who has also worked with Jason Collins and Michael Sam. You can view it below or by clicking here.

So how can this campaign at Notre Dame impact diocesan teaching contracts?

According to Pichler, the University is an example of how Catholic institutions promote acceptance for LGBT people and, indeed, bolster their Catholic identity. He points out that Notre Dame’s video is, in part, an advertisement in the school’s efforts to capture top athletic talent. This is no different than employers recruiting high quality professionals, and Pichler writes further:

“The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is not a Fortune 500 company, but it has to attract talent and take care of its staff like any other organization. The archdiocese’s new contract for its teachers – which forbids public support of gays in any manner – puts many of its employees who have gay friends or relatives in a horrible position…

“Imagine you’re an archdiocesan teacher and one of your loved ones is gay, getting married and invites you to the wedding. Even if there’s ultimately no risk to your job for attending, how would you feel about signing that contract? How would you feel about your employer?”

Pichler believes that the new contracts, and any efforts which go against the acceptance of LGBT people and their allies, will deeply damage Catholic schools by turning away top talent, both teachers and students. To conclude, Pichler notes the irony that Notre Dame’s athletic director would not be welcome in Cincinnati’s Catholic schools simply for his participation in the “You Can Play” video.

As Bondings reported yesterday, one teacher, Molly Shumate, has already publicly resigned from teaching in Cincinnati over the contract and others have begun organizing. The archdiocese, as well as Honolulu, Cleveland, and Oakland, should follow Notre Dame’s lead and make their education policy: If you can teach, you can teach.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Students Question Notre Dame’s Commitment to LGBT Inclusion

April 24, 2014

University of Notre Dame

For decades, University of Notre Dame students and alumni advocated to implement more inclusive campus policies towards LGBTQ people at the school. Many believed the 2012 pastoral plan, “Beloved Friends and Allies,” was a step forward, but now the University’s commitment is being called into question as a new, constroversial student organization, Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP), has emerged.

The campus debate over SCOP began when the nascent student group launched a petition and hosted two events calling for the University to defend heterosexual marriage more explicitly.

In mid-March, SCOP co-hosted a panel discussion called “Marriage, the Church, and the Common Good.” It featured leading anti-marriage equality speakers, including Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute and Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation. In April, the student group held a daylong conference to organize student leaders who oppose LGBT rights in Indiana and again included speakers from institutions such as the Family Research Council and the Ruth Institute.

However, students from both sides of the marriage equality debate have reacted negatively to SCOP’s presence on campus.  These students launched a petition which explainins their nuanced opposition to SCOP.  In essence, they state that they are more against the organization’s attack on LGBT people, especially in terms of parenting, than SCOP’s beliefs about marriage. The petition authors write:

“As a Catholic university, we acknowledge and uphold the church’s teaching that is not in favor of same-sex marriage. However, SCOP does not reject same-sex marriage on moral or religious grounds in their club petition; rather, this petition takes issue with the University’s formal recognition of SCOP as a club due to the following: 1) SCOP’s incorrect implications that same-sex parenting is damaging to children – this blatantly ignores all empirical data in this field of the social sciences (summarized below) that actually indicates the opposite is true. 2) In ignoring this data, SCOP’s policy discriminates against all non-traditional family structures in a way that is in direct opposition of the university policy on diversity inclusion and message of love and acceptance…

By endorsing the SCOP as a club under it’s current specifications the University is sending the message that it is ignorant of the facts surrounding same-sex parenting and that it tolerates discrimination based on sexual orientation, not that we, as a community, embrace all people as created with dignity in the loving image of God.”

PrismND, the LGBT student organization started as part of the University’s pastoral plan, also opposes SCOP, and they released a letter which was published in campus newspaper, The Observer. Concurring with the petition that discussion over marriage is expected at a Catholic college, these students also object to SCOP’s perceived failure to respect the LGBT community.

About SCOP’s April conference, the PrismND letter noted that one speaker, Evangelical Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., commented that being gay is “becoming almost, if I can use the phrase, the flavor of the week.” He concurred with materials from sponsoring organizations that sexual orientation is a choice, one which he views as harmful. The Family Research Council’s materials insinuated that homosexuality is linked to child abuse, mental illness, and substance issues, and advocated reparative therapy, according to PrismND’s letter. PrismND leaders write:

“When the University of Notre Dame released its official statement ‘Beloved Friends and Allies’ more than a year ago…It called for ‘a safe and supportive environment for all members of the Notre Dame community’ and said that ‘the University deplores any offenses against that fundamental human dignity and calls for an abiding spirit of inclusion within the Notre Dame community.’…

“SCOP’s sponsorship of these [anti-gay] views during the conference stands in sharp contrast to the mission of the University and the Catholic Church to provide pastoral care to GLBTQ individuals. We maintain that the inclusion of these positions at the conference by SCOP is harmful to GLBTQ students and Notre Dame’s commitment to them.”

It is worth noting that SCOP’s introduction this spring came at the same time Indiana’s legislature was considering a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, and this assuredly will not be the final battle over LGBT rights there.

Having attended a Catholic university where monitoring of speakers limited academic freedom and free expression, I am always wary of any attempt to curtail campus initiatives. At dozens of Catholic colleges in the US, LGBT groups and events are denied recognition because they do not conform to a specific and selective view of Catholic teaching. As a Church and as educators, it seems prudent to move away from linking every speaker, group, and event as an endorsement from the hosting institution. The University should eliminate anything which is overtly violent or hateful, but allow that which is distasteful or even offensive to both sides of a debate. Doing so would enable freer thought from students, which could foster more fruitful and open dialogue overall on a range of issues. And in an open dialogue, PrismND and their allies would defeat opponents of LGBT justice with their ideas. For surely the ideals of love and justice, of human dignity and civil rights, are far more persuasive than those used to defend discrimination and denial.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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