CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBTQ Resources Expand at University of Notre Dame & Elsewhere

September 14, 2013

Classes are underway at over two hundred Catholic colleges and universities in the US, and with the new academic year comes expanded awareness of and resources for LGBT students at these schools, including celebrated developments at the University of Notre Dame.

Already, leading Catholic schools like Georgetown University, DePaul University, and Loyola Marymount University host LGBT resources and programming led by full-time staff, reports USA Today. Many others allow gay-straight alliances and other supportive student-run initiatives, especially colleges rooted in the Jesuit tradition. New Ways Ministry lists more than half of the US’ Catholic colleges and universities on their Gay-Friendly listing, and Catholic campuses become better on LGBT issues every year.

Staff members point out that merely allowing a resource center or student group is not an end though, given the Catholic context they work within, and tensions remain that require greater resolution. Several staff people spoke with USA Today on this matter, saying:

“Although Georgetown’s center has the largest endowment of any LGBTQ resource center in the country, director Sivagami Subbaraman says the programming’s legitimacy in a Catholic university is constantly questioned…

“Since moving into her new position, Maureen Doyle is still determining what her role will be as Notre Dame’s first assistant director of LGBTQ concerns. She plans to improve perceived tensions between Catholic teachings and sexual orientation through campus education.

” ‘I think a lot of it comes in with a misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church’s teachings are…What we’re doing actually doesn’t counter or go against any of the Catholic Church’s teachings. ‘

“Georgetown’s center aims to meet students where they are, rather than take theological positions or attempt to change Catholic teachings, Subbaraman says.”

At Notre Dame last week, over 140 students celebrated the launch of a new student group, PrismND, that was the culminating product of two decades of campus advocacy regarding a group for LGBTQ students. This fall will be a formative time for the group, and is a first step in implementing the University’s pastoral plan released in December 2012. Students and staff spoke with the campus newspaper, The Observer, about the group’s name and launch:

“Student body president Alex Coccia [who led the 4 to 5 Movement for an LGBTQ group] said…

“The fact that [the name] reflects quite a spectrum and a range of interests and passions and identities, I think is something that people will identify with and appreciate when the group gets off the ground’…

“Sophomore Connor Hayes, who helped to launch PrismND, said the name is intended to be all-inclusive, instead of specific to people who identify as LGBTQ.

“ ‘I think relating to the Catholic identity of [Notre Dame] and backgrounds of people coming from religious environments, [some] people don’t really want to identify as gay or lesbian, so … we were just going for a name that was very inclusive…We wanted this name to be one that can last and kind of become a brand.’ “

Christine Caron Gebhardt who heads up the University’s Gender Relations Center told The Observer:

“We realize this is about who we are as a community, and [PrismND is] one facet in which students can feel welcomed and loved and supported on this campus and that we will all work together to try to create the community that Notre Dame can be and I hope will be…“We want the student organization … to emerge from the ideas and the interests and the hopes and dreams of the students in collaboration with all of us across campus.’ “

Elsewhere this summer, members of the University of San Francisco’s LGBTQ Caucus joined in San Franciso’s Pride festivities with t-shirts sponsored by several campus departments (USF is a Jesuit school). In a piece discussing Christian higher education in Pennsylvania, that state’s Catholic colleges such as Villanova University, St. Joseph’s University, and Chestnut Hill College were depicted as  LGBT-friendly Christian campuses for not specifically targeting same-gender relationships in their student handbooks. Benedictine College in Kansas welcomed an openly gay student who was a star athlete, as well.

All of these moments are signs that Catholic higher education increasingly welcomes all students for who they are as God created them. However, challenges remain within Catholic higher education for LGBT students and their allies who will spend another semester this fall meeting with administrators, organizing students, and support one another on more hostile Catholic campuses. As the new academic year begins, it is a fitting moment to offer thanksgiving for advances made, prayers for those still needed, and a renewal by every Catholic to impact Catholic higher education in LGBT-positive ways.

For more information on PrismND, you can view their website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Gay Students’ Elections Signal Shift in Catholic Colleges’ Inclusivity

April 2, 2013

Nate Tisa of Georgetown University

Students at leading Catholic colleges continue electing openly gay peers to lead campus governing bodies, in a widening trend of greater LGBT acceptance in Catholic higher education.

The student body elected Nate Tisa as President of the Georgetown University Student Association in early March, marking the first election of an openly gay candidate at that Washington, DC school and the second at a Jesuit-sponsored institution following University of San Francisco’s lead in 2003. The Hoya, a Georgetown student newspaper, reported on the significance of Tisa’s election :

“[Tisa] was sworn in with the book ‘Taking a Chance on God’ by JohnMcNeill, a gay (resigned] Jesuit priest. He said he chose the book because it redefines Catholicism in a way that affirms LGBTQ Catholics and other groups.

“’I thought it had special significance at Georgetown, where our Catholic and Jesuit identity is a strong and crucial part of our heritage that can promote, rather than conflict with, our values of diversity, inclusion and the dignity of all members of our community,’ Tisa said.”

Anthony Alfano of DePaul University

Other Catholic colleges have also elected openly gay student leaders in recent years. Anthony Alfano presided over student government at the US’s largest Catholic college, DePaul University, Chicago, in 2011-12 as an out gay student. Ryan Fecteau was Speaker of the Student Association at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, last year, after co-leading CUAllies, the rejected LGBT student group. Fecteau spoke to Bondings 2.0 about his role within this broader trend of LGBT student leadership:

“There is much to be said about the call students are making to their administrators and their Chruch with my election as the first openly gay speaker at Catholic University, Anthony Alfano at DePaul, and now Nate [Tisa] at Georgetown. While there is much progress to be made, students are telling their peers that being LGBT does not prevent you from being an effective leader–even on a Catholic campus.”

At the University of Notre Dame, student newspaper The Observer reported on Alex Coccia’s election as president of the student body for this upcoming year after he was active as a straight ally in the successful 4 to 5 Movement that won greater LGBT student support from the South Bend, Indiana university in late 2012. Coccia also spoke to Bondings 2.0, saying:

Ryan Fecteau of The Catholic University of America

Ryan Fecteau of The Catholic University of America

“With the 4 to 5 Movement, we built a broad-base of support for initiatives aimed at creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment for LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff…I think we all recognize that this is an exciting time for Notre Dame.  As a University, we’ve made a commitment to become a more welcoming University through recognizing the gay-straight alliance organization.  There was a sense that Student Government has an important potential to take the lead on these larger issues that affect student well-being on campus…

“The trend of prominent LGBTQ and Ally individuals being elected to leadership positions shows an increase in passion and drive from our generation — a willingness to work together to ensure that each individual’s dignity is protected.”

Alex Coccia of the University of Notre Dame

Alex Coccia of the University of Notre Dame

While hopeful that their elections signal a groundswell of LGBT inclusion on Catholic campuses and planning to continue efforts, each of these leaders has and intends to focus on the good of students-at-large. As a member of student government, Fecteau battled the administration’s implementation of mandatory single-sex housing and worked to improve safety on campus grounds. Both upcoming presidents laid out plans that include the expansion of free-speech on campus and an attempt at gender-neutral housing by Tisa, and the implementation of Notre Dame’s LGBT pastoral plan and town halls with Student Affairs by Coccia

Clearly, these student leaders recognize the significance of their elections as openly gay students or publicly straight allies within Catholic higher education. After the elections though, they demonstrate that LGBT students on campus express similar concerns to college students nationwide about housing, safety, quality of their education, and the abundant topics filling student government meetings. New Ways Ministry applauds Anthony, Nate, Ryan, and Alex in leading their campuses and advocating for LGBT dignity within Catholicism.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Responses to LGBT Decisions at UND and CUA

January 8, 2013

Administrators at the University of Notre Dame (UND) and The Catholic University of America (CUA) arrived at opposite decisions in December about  supporting LGBT students on their campuses:  UND accepted a student-run gay-straight alliance as part of a comprehensive pastoral plan, while CUA rjected a proposal for a gay-straight alliance.  Bondings 2.0 previously covered the decisions here for CUA and here for Notre Dame.

Members of Notre Dame’s 4 to 5 Movement

Notre Dame’s release of the pastoral plan, Beloved Friends and Allies, received widespread praise from students and Catholics nationwide alike. Alex Coccia, student leader of the 4 to 5 Movement that had spearheaded the push for an LGBT group, wrote in the University’s student newspaper, The Observer:

“This plan is an enormous accomplishment for the entire Notre Dame family. We would like to thank the students, faculty, staff and administrators who have been an integral part of the 4 to 5 Movement through their involvement and support. Now, as students, we have the responsibility to remain dedicated through the implementation process in order to utilize the full potential of this pastoral plan. Though we remain fully committed to these efforts, today we celebrate this achievement for our community.”

National Catholic Reporter editorialized its support of the decision to recognize and support LGBT students, saying:

“Indeed, what is most noteworthy about the announcement is that it properly recognized that it is not contrary to Catholic teaching to engage in pastoral ministry to any group or to teach and promote tolerance, love and respect for the dignity of every individual. Yes, we all know what the church teaches about same-sex activity. But the church also teaches that all human beings have innate dignity and worth, that they are loved by God and are to be treated with respect. The church teaches that any human community, and any Catholic community worthy of the name, must enflesh this respect for human dignity in the way it treats all of its members.”

Student leaders of CUAllies with Fr. Peter Daly

Student leaders of CUAllies with Fr. Peter Daly

In contrast, The Catholic University of America denied an application for CUAllies, an LGBTQ and Ally student organization, after nearly ten months of dialogue under claims it could too easily become an advocacy group for the “homosexual lifestyle.” In a column in National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Peter Daly described just how troubling  the situation for LGBTQ students is at CUA:

“I had been asked to speak to them because of an article I wrote for Catholic News Service recounting my experiences in dealing with gay young people who were suicidal. I concluded the article with the simple observation that no one should ever feel excluded from God’s love and no one should be driven to despair. Evidently, they were surprised to hear that from a Catholic priest, so they asked me to speak to their group.

“CUAllies is not an officially recognized student group at Catholic University…Lack of university recognition means the group cannot reserve rooms, publicize their meetings, receive student funds or be listed in the student directory. They still manage to meet, however. Students use social media, like Twitter, to communicate, just like the pope.”

Bondings 2.o spoke with the student leadership of CUAllies, who stated their re-commitment to establishing a “safe, welcoming, and affirming” campus and identified 2013 as a crucial year for their movement. On January 14th, the first day of classes, students will be launching a 30 Days of Action campaign to build support as further dialogue begins with the administration in the wake of a harsh denial.

Additionally, concerned alumni, parents, and Catholic LGBT supporters nationwide began organizing under the title “Friends of CUAllies” with a solidarity pledge campaign that has gained nearly 650 signatures in an effort to pressure the administration to listen to students.

New Ways Ministry encourages all to assist these students at CUA in their ongoing struggle to provide a safe and welcoming campus for LGBTQ students by signing the pledge here and ‘Liking’ their Facebook group here.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Students and Faculty at University of Notre Dame Push for Inclusion

October 16, 2012

Members of the University of Notre Dame’s academic community continue to seek greater recognition of and protection for LGBT students on campus in the new academic year. In recent weeks, 391 faculty released an open letter in campus newspaper, The Observer, and students in the ‘4 to 5 Movement’ keep the issue alive with several public initiatives.

Under the leadership of sociology professor Richard Williams, the faculty letter affirms the value of LGBTQ persons at Notre Dame and notes the faculty’s commitment to providing safe spaces in offices and classrooms, as they simultaneously work for a more inclusive environment campus-wide. It implicitly endorses the pending application for AllianceND’s recognition as a campus GSA as well.

Professor Williams spoke to The Observer about the aims for releasing this letter, which sought institutional change and personal commitment:

“‘We aren’t just trying to influence the University. … We can’t control what other people do, but we can control what we do ourselves,’ he said. ‘We wanted to show the members of the LGBTQ community that we support them, that we will not discriminate against them.’”

As reported in The Observer, the letter follows up on a statement from faculty released last May in response to the University administration’s public refusal to include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination clause. Since then, the number of faculty signers tripled and continues to expand after this most recent publication.

Faculty support bolsters the student activism present this fall due to optimism that the proposed GSA, AllianceND, will be approved by the administration soon.

Alex Coccia

Bondings 2.0 spoke with Alex Coccia, a junior leading the ‘4 to 5 Movment,’ about the faculty letter and coinciding student efforts this semester. Regarding the faculty’s efforts, Coccia said:

“We’ve really been keeping in touch with faculty and getting faculty involved. Faculty are in an extremely unique position. They’re not just professors, they act as mentors outside the classroom and this recent letter in particular is extremely good because they make the commitment that their classrooms are safe spaces and they will not discriminate based on sexual orientation.”

Coccia said the student aspect of the ‘4 to 5 Movement’ was in limbo as the academic year commenced because the Student Affairs Office (SAO) postponed its decision on AllianceND until this fall when a broad review of LGBTQ resources at Notre Dame concluded. Amidst that climate, student leadership is hopeful and Coccia told Bondings 2.0:

“At Notre Dame, there’s a sense that it is time…there’s no legitimate reason to reject the GSA, especially this application.  We simply need to stress to the Student Affairs officers how important the GSA decision itself is.”

However hopeful they are, students continue to organize and publicize the issue with vigor. Over summer break, they collected 192 testimonies from the Notre Dame community, including alumni and family members, to help those in SAO understand why a gay-straight alliance is necessary for Notre Dame. An “I’m an Athlete, I’m an Ally” photo campaign will include photos from all varsity teams expressing their support and the addition of a high school mentoring program for youth who may be questioning as a service component.

These sentiments reflect wider student opinions, evident in the campus newspaper, including a Letter to the Editor from senior Julia Kohne:

“Last May, you stated that a decision about AllianceND’s application for official club status would be decided at the beginning of this academic year…It is now October…Please know that we have not forgotten AllianceND’s still-pending application for official club status.”

According to Alex Coccia, the Catholic faith is extremely important for many supporters and was clear in the 192 testimonials collected from Notre Dame community members, where about half claimed that their Catholicism causes them to write for justice. Coccia also added that the ‘4 to 5 Movement’ posits itself as enhancing the University’s Catholic identity:

“…because students deserve a place where it is open and very welcoming and people who do struggle to find a relationship between faith and sexuality can have peer-to-peer support…The peer-to-peer support is much more effective than the structures on campus now.”

Just last week, a dozen Notre Dame students opined in The Observer on National Coming Out Day again restating their mission and seeking even greater support:

“Today is National Coming Out Day…The Notre Dame LGBT community certainly remains in this struggle. Current structures and the general campus climate both continue to discourage students from coming out.

“AllianceND itself has come out time and time again over the past two decades, fighting for the right to exist. Today, we write to you all encouraging you to come out in support of our struggle to improve campus climate, and ask administrators of this campus to come out with substantial plans for doing so.”

As the struggle for recognition, protection, and equality at the University of Notre Dame continues through the devoted efforts of students and faculty, New Ways Ministry commends the progress already made by these visionary young adults and their older mentors.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Bondings 2.0 Post:

September 1, 2o12:   Notre Dame’s President on LGBT Issues on Campus

Notre Dame’s President on LGBT Issues on Campus

September 1, 2012


It’s the time of year when students across the nation are returning to college campuses.     At the University of Notre Dame, that means the revival of the major debate on LGBT issues that took place at their school during the past academic year.

Students in the campus’ 4 to 5 Movement, led by sophomore Alex Coccia, had made great strides last year in gathering support from a variety of university groups to support their quest for an officially recognized student-run gay-straight  alliance (GSA), as well as trying to have sexual orientation added to the university’s non-discrimination policy.  At the end of the school year in May,  the university postponed the GSA decision until the fall, which has now arrived.

In one of the first issues of this The Observer, the student newspaper, Fr. John Jenkins, Notre Dame president discussed the  possibility of amending the university’s non-discrimination policy as well as the possibility of establishing a GSA.

On the latter issue, Jenkins offered some hope to the students who want a GSA.  He stated:

“Are there better structures to achieve our ends? I think it’s time for a fresh look.”

On the issue of adding sexual orientation to the university’s non-discrimination policy, Jenkins defended the current policy of not including the category:

“ ‘At Notre Dame, we do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,” Jenkins said. ‘That’s a fundamental thing, but that’s not the only thing. The Spirit of Inclusion, which was approved by the Board of Fellows, higher than me, the highest level of the University, says that not only don’t we discriminate, but we want to be a place, an environment, where people feel — of same-sex orientation, anything else — feel respected, supported, fully involved in this community.’ . . .

“ ‘If Notre Dame voluntarily took this on, our fear is that it would be seen as a broader and stronger commitment with regard to same-sex orientation that may undermine our ability to live in accordance with the Catholic teaching because we distinguish between orientation and action.’ ”

Jenkins explained that he feared that adopting such a policy would make the university vulnerable to law suits and that he didn’t think such a policy would end discrimination:

“I don’t believe that step [of including sexual orientation in the non-discrimination clause] would achieve the goal of creating an environment of welcome, of support. I fear that it would tend to be divisive. So I am absolutely committed to try to create that environment, but I think there are other ways to do that.”

Jenkins offered that the university will continue to work in other ways towards non-discrimination:

“I think so much of this is about climate, and it’s not what I’m, what the president, is doing in his office. It’s about what all of us are doing on campus. I think that’s extremely important, and that’s something we work on with hall staff, that’s something we work on with our Student Affairs personnel. … We just have to keep working on it.”

Fr. Jenkins is correct that adopting a policy is not a guarantee that discrimination will end.  What he fails to recognize, however, is that adopting such a policy would send a strong and important message that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is unacceptable.  While it may not guarantee an end to discrimination, it would surely be a giant step towards achieving that end.

Adopting such a policy does not mean that the university’s work stops there.  Other measures, such as recognizing an official GSA on campus, would also be an important step towards achieving a fully inclusive community.  While these steps may not guarantee a fully inclusive campus community, not having them certainly guarantees that the movement towards inclusion will be hampered and less likely to be achieved.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Message of Hope: ‘No one should feel excluded from God’s love. . . .Ever.’

May 30, 2012

Vigil honoring LGBT victims of suicide.

Intrepid United Kingdom blogger Terence Weldon of alerted me to a column with a positive Catholic LGBT message which appeared in the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s newspaper, Catholic San Francisco.

The column, entitled “Reminding those in despair of God’s love,” is written by Fr. Peter J. Daly.  While the message in this essay is powerful, important, and newsworthy, the source of the message is equally noteworthy:  Fr. Peter J. Daly is a syndicated columnist with Catholic News Service, which is run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  (Clicking on the column’s title in the first sentence of this paragraph will bring you to a PDF of the entire issue in which the column appeared;  this particular column can be found by scrolling down to page 16.)

Daly’s column is a plea to church leaders and people to assist LGBT youth who are at risk of suicide, often as the result of bullying.  He begins by describing a ministry experience he had:

“The young man began to cry. I asked him why he was so unhappy. He said it was because his family would not accept him. I asked why they would not accept him. He answered, ‘Because I am gay. They are very Catholic.’ I started to cry, too.

“Three times in 25 years of ministry I have sat across the room from young men who have attempted suicide because they were gay or feared they were gay. Several other times, especially when I was in campus ministry at The Catholic University of America, I talked with young people despondent over their gay sexual identity.

“I have talked with people who cut or disfigured themselves because they had such a deep self-loathing because they were gay. According to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was released last year, gay and lesbian youth are much more likely than their heterosexual peers to have thought about suicide or to have attempted suicide.”

Bravo to Fr. Daly for writing so personally about this issue.  Much too much silence–which is literally deadly–exists in our church about this issue.  Two years ago, when LGBT teen suicide made national headlines because of the publicized trend that was erupting, religious leaders across the country were speaking out in support of youth, yet the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not breathe a word.  Another example is that New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan has yet to respond to the plea of a young N.Y. Catholic man who publicly asked the cardinal to meet with LGBT youth.  Let’s hope that Cardinal Dolan and all U.S. bishops read Fr. Daly’s column in their own news service and take heed of his message.

Another group that should heed Fr. Daly’s message are his former employers: the administrators of Catholic University of America.  Bondings 2.0 has been reporting about the efforts this year by students to get official recognition for a gay-straight alliance, CUAllies.  Led by sophomore Ryan Fecteau, the efforts have been strong and respectful, yet the administration has been curiously silent.

Indeed, all Catholic college administrators should heed Fr. Daly’s message.  Readers of this blog will remember that the University of Notre Dame has also been seeking recognition of AllianceND, a gay-straight support group.  Led by sophomore Alex Coccia, their efforts ended in an “incomplete” in the spring, when a decision was  deferred until the fall.

What is the message that Fr. Daly’s column offers?  It is one of the most basic principles of Catholic theology which he presents in three simple sentences of the closing paragraph:

” No one should feel excluded from God’s love. No one should ever be driven to despair. Ever.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Movement Toward Equality on Two Catholic Campuses

May 4, 2012

Some movement occurred this week on getting gay-straight alliances recognized on two of the nation’s premier Catholic campuses: University of Notre Dame (UND) and Catholic University of America (CUA).

At UND in South Bend, Indiana, the campus administration announced that it would postpone a decision about official recognition for AllianceND until the fall semester.  According to an article in the student newspaper, The Observer :

“Director of Student Activities for Programming Peggy Hnatusko sent an email to the co-presidents of AllianceND, the gay-straight alliance that applied for club status, notifying them of the deferral.

“ ‘The University intends to review the breadth of structures and services currently provided to LGBTQ students and their allies by the University in the hopes of making the best decisions possible to support our students and the University community, all within the context of Catholic teaching,’  she stated in the email. ‘I will review AllianceND’s application in the course of those discussions.’

“In her 15 years as director, Hnatusko said this is the first year she has deferred a decision about a club’s status.

“ ‘I just wanted a little bit more time to look at the proposal, look at what the University offered,’ she said. ‘There has been a lot going on and I wanted to give everyone the fairest chance possible.’ “

Bondings 2.0 was able to get reaction to the deferral decision from Alex Coccia, a UND sophomore who is a co-president of AllianceND:

“I am encouraged because the dialogue surrounding the GSA and inclusion generally has become much more honest and open.  The commitment to a broader examination, I believe, reflects the student voices that have been expressed in the last week and over the whole semester.  All of the students must be very proud of the work that they have done.
“We have begun to collect personal testimonials that are reflections on personal experiences as well as reactions about the events of the past week.  We hope that this collection of testimonials, as well as the voices that have been expressed in the last week, will be the guiding influences for the ultimate decision regarding the GSA.  We also encourage that students start the conversation in their own hometowns with friends and alumni/ae.
“In the past two days, faculty and alumni have written in support, and over 2000 students have signed a commitment statement to inclusion.
“Students will certainly be involved in the conversation directly with Student Activities when the fall semester begins and throughout the summer. “
On CUA’s campus in Washington, DC, the campus community has been celebrating the school’s 125th anniversary.  Two leaders from CUAllies, the gay-straight alliance seeking official recognition, took the occasion to publicly reflect in the student newspaper on the campus’ approach to LGBT issues.
In op-ed piece entitled “Reaffirming CUA’s Mission at 125 Years,” students Robert Shine and Ryan Fecteau recount the many achievements the campus has witnessed, but also note a glaring omission:

“At present, this campus does not present a safe, welcoming, and affirming environment for LGBTQ students and their allies. There is hostility de jure in the policies (or lack thereof) of the University and de facto in the opinions and actions of many at this University concerning gay and lesbian community members.

“Now, members are seeking to change that in the finest of the Catholic tradition that celebrates dignity and justice. CUAllies, the unofficial LGBTQ/Ally student organization, has a proposal for official recognition in the Office of Campus Activities that has gone unanswered for months now.

“We must look forward as a University to the type of community we wish to establish for the future. In the tradition of Jesus’ table ministry, we must invite all members of The Catholic University of America community who wish to join the conversation and respond effectively.

“To quote a submission CUAllies received from a student on campus: ‘Love, simply love; above all else, love. That is what Christ instructed us to do…I cannot consciously tell someone that they have no place in the Church and have nothing to contribute to the community. If CUAllies were to be rejected as an organization, the University would essentially be doing just that. They would refuse to recognize a group of persons, with inherent dignity, to formally assemble as an organization and therefore effectively conclude that these people have nothing to contribute to the CUA community as an organization.’

“Reading the signs of our times, cognizant of the historical moment in which we participate in the University’s life, we now echo the voices of hundreds in calling for the recognition of CUAllies, by the administration.

“If we are to go forward in improving CUA, we must ensure that the community represents and values each person, according to his or her divinely granted dignity.”

The faith and persistence of these Catholic students on both campuses offers bright hope for the future of the acceptance of LGBT issues within Catholic institutions.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Notre Dame Fails to Adopt Non-Discrimination Policy for Sexual Orientation; Progress Made on Other LGBT Issues

April 27, 2012

The University of Notre Dame has announced that it will not add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy, following at least a semester’s worth of organizing by students and faculty on the Indiana campus to get the administration to adopt the category.

The campus administration released a statement on April 25th outlining a number of ways that the university plans to expand its inclusive welcome to LGBT students.  The actions listed are:

  • Notre Dame continues to be committed to non-discrimination and inclusion, as articulated in the “Spirit of Inclusion” statement and the University’s discriminatory harassment policy. While the wording of the University’s non-discrimination clause will remain in its current form, Notre Dame will strive to enhance awareness of existing practices and protections among students, faculty and staff. The avenues for reporting harassment and discrimination will be clarified, strengthened, and better publicized.
  • The University will seek further opportunities for ongoing dialogue between the Office of the President, the University’s chief diversity officer, the Office of Student Affairs, and student leaders.
  • The University, working through Student Affairs, is committed to supporting and improving the structure and functioning of the University’s Core Council. More information on Core Council is available at
  • The University has acted upon several recommendations made by students to improve support for gay, lesbian and bisexual students and will explore others. These will include making ally training more widely available, offering education to First-Year Orientation commissioners, expanding the Safe Space initiative, and improving hall staff training.
  • Notre Dame will consider ways of making the “Spirit of Inclusion” statement more explicit and effective. The statement is available on line at:

Though the second bullet point offers the opportunity for further dialogue, the university, in announcing this plan, has already twice opted for silence.  In an article the student newspaper, The Observer, the second paragraph reads:

“University Spokesman Dennis Brown declined to provide an explanation for why sexual orientation would not be added [to the non-discrimination policy] and would not say who made the final decision.”

In the same article, the fourth and fifth paragraphs read:

“Student and Faculty Senates recently passed resolutions asking for sexual orientation to be included in the non-discrimination clause. The Student Senate resolution also asked that the University publicly address why the phrase is not included.

“When asked when and if the University would provide such a public response, Brown declined to comment.”

Declining to comment and provide explanations do not bode well for future dialogue.

Alex Coccia

From the student point of view, the announcement of new initiatives was some welcome progress.  Sophomore Alex Coccia, co-president of the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) who has adroitly led the “4 to 5 Movement” to get  campus club status for AllianceND, the unofficial, student-run gay-straight alliance (GSA), commented:

“ ‘With such a statement from the University, it is important that each individual respond according to his or her own vantage point,’ he said. ‘I believe that it is important to acknowledge the initiative of the administration both to release a public statement regarding first steps for inclusive and to recognize expressed student suggestions.’ ”

The university will announce on May 1st whether or not AllianceND will be officially recognized.

Coccia’s leadership was recently interviewed for a Windy City Times article by Chuck Colbert, in which he explained the origin of the name “4 to 5 Movement,” and also the need for students to be public about their positive views on LGBT issues:

Last year, Brian Sims—a former college football team captain who is openly gay—gave them the idea of 4 to 5 when progressive students hosted him as a speaker on campus, Whitfield explained. . . .
In his talk, Sims pointed to overwhelming majority support for gay rights among young people.
” ‘Statistics supported by the Pew Forum from a national youth survey found that among 18-to-30 year-olds with a college education, four out of five support the general package of gay civil rights,’ explained Coccia.
” ‘When they are polled,; however, he continued, ‘only one-third think their peers agree.’
” ‘So an 80-percent majority thinks it’s a 30-percent minority,’ Coccia said.
” ‘That’s the same dynamic at Notre Dame,’ he said, explaining, ‘Those allies who are the majority are either overwhelmed by the voices of opposition or structures in place make it seem as though they are not the majority.’
‘For Coccia and Whitfield, the in-the-minority mentality is simply unacceptable.
” ‘It keeps allies from getting involved. It hinders people from coming out. It hinders people from speaking what they believe,’ he said.
“Worse yet, ‘it breeds a culture of silence,’ said Coccia.”

Mary Rose D'Angelo

Providing a supportive faculty perspective in the Windy City Times article was Mary Rose D’Angelo,  associate professor of New Testament theology. The article quotes her recent letter to the editor of the student newspaper:

” ‘Catholic teaching does not preclude measures like the GSA and the non-discrimination clause; indeed, it would seem to require them.’
” ‘According to its mission statement, the GSA would, if approved, “serve as a peer-to-peer interaction-based student club/gay-straight alliance, where GLBTQ students and allies can work together to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good” as outlined in Notre Dame’s mission statement. . . .
“. . . ‘A GSA would provide social support for GLBTQ students without isolating them, as well as a significant complement to classroom learning, and would be a venue for student-led effort to assure that GLBTQ students are, in the words of the Catechism [of the Catholic Church] “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,”  D’Angelo explained.
” ‘Equally important is the Catechism’s stipulation that “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,” she added.
” ‘Endorsing the capacity of gay and straight students (and associated faculty) to organize around sexual identity and adding sexual orientation to the non- discrimination are two essential steps toward fulfilling the moral mandate the Catechism articulates,’ D’Angelo’s letter concluded.”
Highlighting the absence of a GSA at the University of Notre Dame is that its traditional sister school, St. Mary’s College, which has an adjoining campus, does indeed have such a group that is officially recognized, Colbert’s article  notes:
“Advocates for change at Notre Dame point to St. Mary’s College,’where policies, practices, and procedures are administered in a manner consistent with our Catholic identity,’ according to the school’s policy on equal employment opportunity.
“The policy also states, ‘With the foregoing understanding, Saint Mary’s College will not engage in discrimination based on gender, race, national origin, religion, age, mental or physical disability, all as provided by law. Based on Catholic values, the College also commits to avoiding discrimination based on sexual or political orientation.’
“Gwen O’Brien, the school’s media relations director, said in e-mail correspondence, ‘The Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA) is one of the college’s approved organizations. SAGA’s purpose is to provide students opportunities to openly discuss and question how they may best live their lives as sexual beings within the framework of Catholic teaching.’
“SAGA is self-governing, is open to all students, has a constitution and elects officers—the same as any other student organization—with one caveat, said O’Brien: ‘SAGA cannot serve as an advocacy group.’ “
For previous Bondings 2.0 posts on the 4 to 5 Movement at Notre Dame, see:
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

CUA and UND Students Making Great Strides Toward Official Recognition

March 9, 2012

Catholic college campuses are one sector of our church where there has been tremendous discussion, growth, and development on LGBT topics.  New Ways Ministry’s “Gay-Friendly Catholic College List” contains about half of the Catholic colleges in the country (our definition of “gay-friendly” is that they have some visible program, policy, or organization that is supportive of LGBT people).

Noticeably absent from this list are two of the premier Catholic campuses in the country:  The Catholic University of America (CUA), Washington, DC, and the University of Notre Dame (UND), South Bend, Indiana.  However, I’m betting those absences won’t last much longer thanks to the efforts of two very effective campus leaders at these schools.

UND's Alex Coccia

CUA's Ryan Fecteau

CUA’s Ryan Fecteau and UND’s Alex Coccia, both sophomores, have been working patiently and steadfastly with other students and the administrations to have their schools officially recognize student-run gay-straight alliances on each campus. At CUA, Fecteau is working with other students in CUAllies, and at UND, Coccia’s efforts have been through the 4 to 5 Movement. Bondings 2.0 has already reported on the partnership that these two schools have formed to strengthen each effort.   Since then, both campuses have had some successful steps toward gaining official recognition.

The Tower, CUA’s student newspaper reported recently that

“. . . a resolution sponsored by senior Robert Shine was brought before the Student Association General Assembly (SAGA) in support of making CUAllies an official student organization. When SAGA voted on the resolution on February 22, CUAllies won the assembly’s support 20 to 3.

“Opposing votes were due to conflict of politics and concerns why the organization was previously denied official recognition.

“ ‘SAGA voted to support the creation of the student organization CUAllies as they create and foster a safe, welcoming, and affirming environment for all students on campus,’ said Leslie Martin, SAGA speaker.

The Observer, UND’s student newspaper reported

“In a push for improved inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) members of the Notre Dame community, the Faculty Senate passed two resolutions Tuesday, one supporting a gay-straight alliance and the other proposing adding sexual orientation to the University’s non-discrimination clause. . . .

“Faculty Senate chair Morten Eskildsen said the group decided to address the two resolutions due to outside support of the measures. . . .

“During Tuesday’s meeting, Eskildsen said there was a ‘clear majority’ in favor of passing the resolutions. He said there seems to be strong support among Notre Dame faculty for advancing LGBTQ rights on campus.

” ‘The documents brought forward show really that this was the right thing to do. Overall, people felt that gays and lesbians who were feeling sort of left out or marginalized, there was a desire to try and improve their situation,’ he said. ‘That was the main sentiment of those arguing in favor of the resolutions.’ “

On, Shane Windmeyer reported on a new campaign that UND’s 4 to 5 Coalition has instituted:

“On Tuesday, Feb. 28, campus community members of the University of Notre Dame released a video on YouTube called ‘It Needs to Get Better – A Message from the 4 to 5 Movement.’ Emboldened by the It Gets Better Project, the message is part of a campus initiative encouraging college students to speak out that is based on the notion that four out of five college-age students (18 to 30 years old) support the general civil rights package for LGBT people.”

The South Bend Tribune story on the UND activity noted that the YouTube video has already received 18,000 views. You can watch it here:

To help spread the news of their efforts beyond their campuses,both CUAllies and the 4 to 5 Movement will have an exhibit table at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, March 15-17, Baltimore.  In addition, Fecteau will be leading a Symposium “Open Space” session for those under 30, entitled “Dorms, Lectures, and All-Nighters.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Catholic U. and Notre Dame Unite to Work for Gay-Straight Alliances

February 22, 2012

Two of the country’s most visible Catholic colleges–the University of Notre Dame and The Catholic University of America–have joined forces to work towards getting official recognition for a gay-straight alliance on each campus.

Notre Dame’s Alex Coccia and Catholic’s Ryan Fecteau, leaders on their respective campuses, issued a joint statement on February 21st on behalf of  Notre Dame’s 4 to 5 Movement and Catholic U’s CUAllies.  They announced that the two schools

“stand in solidarity as they move forward with gay-straight alliance proposals. Together, they share one message: ‘Let’s make it official.’ “

The statement offers stark statistics for why institutional support and recognition are needed:

‘Now more than ever before, the gravity of gay-straight alliances on college campuses is unequivocal. Among 15 to 24-year-olds, suicide remains the third leading cause of death (National Adolescent Health Information 2006). In addition, suicide stands as the second leading cause of death on college campuses (CDC 2008). An overwhelming 86.2% of LGBT students experienced harassment at school (GLSEN National School Climate Survey). Tragic stories of discrimination, harassment, and suicide run weekly on front pages and evening newscasts. The University of Notre Dame and The Catholic University of America face these same troubles.”

The statement grounds the call for gay-straight alliances on clear Catholic teaching:

“While both universities incorporate a Catholic mission and tradition, this coalition believes that a gay-straight alliance fits hand-in-hand with Catholic principles. Both universities can remain grounded in their faith and at the same time offer protection and acceptance for LGBT students. More than half of Catholic universities and colleges in the United States agree and have instituted LGBT student groups. This includes DePaul University, the largest Catholic university in the country. An important testament to the Catholic identity of these universities would be the recognition of gay-straight alliances focused on embodying a necessary spirit of inclusion in accordance with the Catholic Church’s social teaching of universal acceptance, and addressing aversive homophobia towards gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning persons and their Allies.”

Last week, the Student Senate at the University of Notre Dame passed a resolution in support of a gay-straight alliance on campus, with 21 students voting in favor, none opposed, and two abstaining.  The Observer, the campus student newspaper reported that:

“Joanna Whitfield, vice president of the Progressive Student Alliance, said after the meeting she was glad Senate took time to discuss the resolution and the effects it would have on the student body.

” ‘I think that this resolution affirms that Notre Dame really is inclusive to all its students,’ Whitfield said. ‘Students really want to further inclusion and they really want to help out GLBT students on this campus … We’re also really happy that it’s the Student Senate, so it does show that the students really do support this movement.’ “

On CUA’s campus, student leader Fecteau sent a February 10th letter to Catholic University’s president, John Garvey, requesting official recognition for a gay-straight alliance, in which he summed up what such a group can do for college students:

‘A LGBT organization that promotes affirmation and safety is a clear and succinct expression of promoting the dignity of everyone at The Catholic University of America. Mr. President, we are not asking for an organization with politically charged motivations. We are not asking for an organization that receives a dime of University funds. We are not asking for an organization that undermines the teachings of the Church that many of us attend.

“We are asking for the recognition of love and acceptance as persons, and as members of this University. We are asking for an organization that brings together LGBT and ally students. We are asking for hope.”

Individually. each campus had been doing great work towards gay-straight alliance recognition, under the highly effective leadership of both Coccia and Fecteau.  Working together, their call for such recognition becomes all the more powerful.  This model of working together is one that could be replicated not only on college campuses, but in parishes that seek to develop ministry programs for LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 991 other followers