LGBT Employees Must Be Protected at Catholic Institutions

October 1, 2013
Jim Smith

Jim Smith

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 know the shameful trend of LGBT employees at Catholic schools and parishes being terminated for their sexual orientation, gender identity, and support for marriage equality.  Less known are the ways that Catholics are taking action against these discriminatory policies and other steps to make Catholic schools welcoming for LGBT people.  In today’s post, we have news of such actions from Minnesota, Washington State, and California.

Jim Smith, program manager of DignityUSA and a Minnesota resident, recently  authored an article on the trend in The Star Tribune. He begins the essay, written in the name of the Equally Blessed coalition:

“The list keeps getting longer.

“At an accelerating rate, Catholic schools and churches around the country are firing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees who have decided that they can no longer deny who they are and whom they love…

“At a time when even Pope Francis himself is urging the church to move beyond what he calls its ‘obsession’ with sexual issues, Catholic schools and parishes are intensifying the judgmental behavior that the pope urged Catholics to eschew in a recent interview with Jesuit publications.”

Equally Blessed LogoSmith references the dual departures at Totino-Grace High School of William Hudson and then Kristen Ostendorf in his home state as part of the ‘obsession.’ He then asks why the bishops and administrators so quickly terminate LGBT people if their aim is to defend teachings on marriage:

“Catholic parishes don’t fire heterosexual musicians who choose to get married at City Hall rather than in a Catholic Church. Catholic schools don’t check up on heterosexual teachers to determine whether they might have remarried without having their previous marriages annulled, or whether they are using artificial contraception. If the hierarchy were defending what it defines as Catholic principles, it would have to fire individuals in marriages that the church does not recognize as sacramental. But it does not.

“When gay, lesbian or transgender people attempt to live openly as the individuals that God created them to be, however, the hierarchy is suddenly zealous to defend its doctrine. This double standard is increasingly obvious both to lay Catholics…and the general public.”

While this hypocrisy is evident, there has been little recourse for terminated employees at religious institutions, although a recent ruling in favor of a transgender educator could be changing this reality. Regardless, Smith admits he cares less about the legality of discriminatory firings and more about Catholic teachings of dignity and equality, alongside the good that LGBT employees provide in the Church’s institutions.

Many who echo Smith’s beliefs are acting for change in Catholic institutions. Two examples come from the West Coast in September, and are only the latest in organizing efforts at schools and colleges nationwide to make campuses more LGBT-friendly.

In Seattle, Washington, LGBT and ally students in Catholic high schools are responding to hostile environments by requesting officially-recognized gay-straight alliances. Students have lobbied Archbishop Peter Sartain with a petition, letters, and calls to allow for the formation of these alliances, reports the Ballard News-Tribune.  The story quotes a lesbian student:

“ ‘It’s important to have that support and have that community of people you know you can always go to when you’re having a bad day,’ said Katie, a recent graduate of a high school where she helped found a GSA group. To avoid endangering the school’s accreditation, the Ballard News-Tribune is not naming the school.”

In Glendora, California, silent protesters tried to attend a school board meeting for St. Lucy’s Priory, a Catholic high school. The protesters were there to support fired gay educator of seventeen years Ken Bencomo, but were turned away and the school continues to deny Bencomo was fired for his sexual orientation. Their efforts gained 90,000-strong petition as well, as reported in the Glendora Patch

For full coverage of those employees fired from Catholic institutions, view Bondings 2.0‘s Labor Day post commemorating them.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Cancellation of Marriage Lecture Leads to Community Reflection

September 28, 2013

Providence College students at Thursday night’s forum

The decision by Providence College to cancel an event called “The Meaning of (Gay) Marriage” has ignited controversy and raised questions about academic freedom at the Catholic school located in the capital of Rhode Island. However, the cancellation became more than a typical controversy around Catholic higher education and LGBT issues when students organized a constructive forum to replace the event.

The New York Times reports that an administrator notified faculty members last Saturday that a lecture by John Corvino, a philosophy professor at Wayne State University, Michigan, was cancelled because it defied the school’s Catholic identity.  The Times report states:

“In his e-mail announcing the cancellation, Hugh F. Lena, the provost and senior vice president of Providence College, cited a document produced by the American bishops in 2004, ‘Catholics in Political Life,’ to support the decision. And he said that college policy ‘dictates that that both sides of a controversial issue are to be presented fairly and equally.’ “

John Corvino

John Corvino

Nine departments and programs at the College were co-hosting the event scheduled for last Thursday, September 26th, and Dr. Dana Dillon of the Philosophy Department was to present the bishops’ position on marriage equality during the event. Cancelling in light of these facts caused many faculty to question the College’s commitment to academic freedom. The local chapter of the American Association of University Professors released a statement yesterday condemning the decision, which you can read in full at The Providence Journal. For his part, Corvino released two statements, one about the initial cancellation and one after the rescheduling, writing in the former:

“As a fellow scholar I am offended on Dr. Dillon’s behalf…For her provost to declare her unprepared, however, is an affront to scholarly autonomy and academic freedom. It also does not speak well of Provost Lena’s confidence in his philosophy and theology departments that he believes that no one there can persuasively articulate the Catholic position on marriage with a week’s notice.”

Student reactions echoed faculty concerns, but also wondered what message Providence College sent to LGBT community members in so brusquely treating Corvino and the issue of marriage equality. The campus LGBT group, called SHEPHARD, released a statement emphasizing the progress being made on campus.

Other students launched “Fighting for Academic Freedom” a Facebook page, as a form of protest.

In place of the cancelled lecture on Thursday night, students organized an open forum to discuss the administration’s decision, LGBT issues, and marriage equality. The forum included testimonials from students , as well as small group discussions wrestling with questions like, “Why is open and honest dialogue about gay marriage important to you? To the broader Providence College community?” and “How do we stay true to Providence College’s identity as a Catholic, liberal arts institution?” It ended with a larger discussion aimed at creating constructive next steps. One professor who attended wrote in an email:

“I attended the event last night and was bowled over by what came forth from our students; they compelled me to look at this whole thing with new eyes. The hurt that was expressed by our students with same-sex attraction (forgive me for being ol’ fashioned) when confronted by the efforts their college would go to prevent a gay academic coming to campus filled 64 Hall. . . .[I]t would take a person with a stone-heart not to be moved by their sense of injury that the college they call ‘home’ would act this way. I could not but help of thinking about the question Pope Francis posed when explaining his famous “who am I to judge?” comment: When God looks at a gay person, does God see a gay person or just a person? I heard lots of persons last night, and it alerted me to the reality that this is not simply a question about policy, about who said what to whom and when, but also a question of how Catholics speak about the issue of homosexuality.”

Providence College has announced that John Corvino will debate Sherif Girgis, a well-known anti-equality activist, this coming spring. Yet, for many faculty and students at the school this incident has been an occasion to come up with ways that the campus could be more welcoming of LGBT people and issues.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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: LGBT Rankings Fail to Reveal Full Story

August 16, 2013

As college students return to campus for the fall, the Princeton Review released its annual listings of most- and least-friendly schools for LGBT students. Catholic schools fared as expected given public perceptions of Catholicism:  Catholic schools appear on the negative listing and are absent from the positive one. The three Catholic colleges listed under least-LGBT friendly were the University of Notre Dame (#5), University of Dallas (#10), and The Catholic University of America (#18). The Princeton Review’s rankings, though, fail to capture what is really happening in Catholic higher education around LGBT issues.

At The Catholic University of America, an LGBTQ student group was denied official recognition in December 2012 over concerns it would engage in political advocacy. Students organized for several years to create a safer space on a conservative campus, but without success and perhaps the Princeton Review’s rankings are correct for listing this school. in addition, questionable comments by the University of Portland’s president or the 2010 firing of a Marquette University administrator because of her sexual orientation are all reminders that not all is well in Catholic higher education.

Yet, the high-profile controversies and Princeton Review rankings cannot capture the good happening just below the firestorms. New Ways Ministry’s list of “Gay-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities” contains more than half of the Catholic campuses in the U.S.  for having student organizations, campus ministries, and other programs and policies that support LGBT students.

In a high-profile example,  University of Notre Dame administrators released a pastoral plan in December 2012 focused on LGBTQ students that would establish a staff position, student group, and other reforms to make the campus more inclusive. Student leaders and University staff worked closely leading up to the plan’s release to ensure it would make Notre Dame more-LGBT friendly and maintain the school’s Catholic identity.  The work of many students for many years had achieved a great success.

Elsewhere in the last year, Stonehill College students won the inclusion of sexual orientation in non-discrimination policies and hosted New Ways Ministry co-founder, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, to speak. Georgetown University and Marquette University have extensive LGBTQ resource centers with professional staff and programming. The New York Times and USA Today reported on the prominence of gay student leaders in campus governance elected by their peers. In a comprehensive article, Michael O’Loughlin recently examined the positive things that Catholic campuses are doing for LGBT issues across the country. Then there are the numerous initiatives that do not gain media attention such as building up inclusive communities in dorm rooms, chapels, and meetings nationwide.

Is this a declaration that the struggle to make Catholic higher education more inclusive is over? No. However, as students and their allies strive for  Catholic campuses where LGBT community members feel safe and respected, it is essential to recall all the good happening too. Certainly, it is a dream at this time to think Catholic colleges would be the most progressive on LGBT issues, but there is too much good for the dominant theme to be just the anti-gay listing. The Princeton Review’s rankings cannot reflect nuanced reality within Catholic schools.

Is the University of Notre Dame’s plan perfect? Probably not, but for those following Catholic LGBT issues this was viewed as a positive and significant step for a high-profile Catholic school. The willingness of administrators to listen and engage LGBT student concerns should be applauded and this dialogue will only flourish into more steps forward. Is the rejection of Catholic University of America students a final chapter? Certainly not, as they reorganize for the coming academic year to ensure every student has a safe place on campus and a community where they are included.

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.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Jesuit Professor Hopeful About Catholic Future on LGBT Issues

July 1, 2013

Paul Crowley, SJ

Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 reported on Michael O’Loughlin’s article about “Being Gay at a Catholic University,” which dove into the cultures around LGBT issues present on a variety of campuses.

O’Loughlin has posted a longer version of his interview with Paul Crowley, a Jesuit priest and professor of systematics at Santa Clara University, who once wrote that being gay is “an invitation to a different way of looking at things, and toward a deeper embrace of the very gospel that threatens to subvert our most cherished notions about the God whose name is Love.” Below, Bondings 2.0 offers a few quotes from the interview that seem telling about the future of Catholicism in the US, and you can read the full interview at Religion News Service.

When asked about the students at Santa Clara University, Crowley identifies open minds as a prevailing attribute.  The majority support and are comfortable with the LGBT community on campus.  When he is asked about their response to the official teachings on homosexuality that Crowley presents in class, he responds with a telling example of how young adults view the hierarchy’s teachings:

“When I teach my human sexuality course, I give my students the official church documents, first without commentary, tell them to read them, and then to come back to class to discuss them. They come back and ask, ‘Is this serious? Do they really mean this?’ They just can’t believe it. That’s almost the universal reaction…As a matter of intellectual responsibility, I need to help them develop a critical mind and an informed critique, and not rest content with their a gut reaction that it just shouldn’t be taken seriously. I think it’s important to try to understand these teachings from the inside out, whether you agree with them or not.”

So what would an alternative message more salient to LGBT Catholics and younger Catholics be? Crowley believes messages of love are lacking, but this has not impeded Catholics from living their faith in LGBT-affirming ways:

“What the world really needs to hear, and what we so deeply need to hear, is a message of loving mercy and inclusion, rather than judgment.  The language of ‘objective disorder’ has proved to be very problematic, to say the least. On one level, all that LGBT people in the Catholic Church are asking for is an affirmation of who they are as human beings, people whom God loves. If you say anything like this in church, people come up to you and say, ‘Thank you Father for being so courageous!’ Well, it’s not courageous, it’s just the Gospel!…

“People are living their Catholic lives, in spite of what the church says about how to live their lives. I know several gays Catholic couples. One couple adopted two children.  They attend the local Catholic church with their children, both of whom have been baptized at the parish and attend the parish school.”

And how does Crowley think the future of the Church will be, based upon his students. He speaks in hope about a new reality in the world where LGBT equality is a given for younger generations, and in hope that the Catholic Church will adapt to this changed reality:

“So the church is going to have to do some deeper thinking about how to accommodate itself to new realities, which is what we’ve always done, after a few fits and starts. It takes a couple of hundred years, usually, but it will have to move faster than that now…

“For all of us, you never know what lies ahead, and you have to continue to live life, and be hopeful for the future. You want your students to leave your classroom in hope, and not in discouragement or despair. I have so much hope in them for the future. The church and the world need people like this. I think it’s so exciting. I see it in the younger generation, such great hope.”

For more stories from Catholic universities that express this hope about the upcoming generation of Catholic students, visit our ‘Campus Chronicles‘ series on the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: ‘Being Gay at a Catholic University’

June 21, 2013

collegeIn the past decade, whenever people ask me where I see the most hopeful situations for LGBT people in the Catholic Church, I have consistently answered, “Catholic colleges and universities.”  More than any other sector in the Catholic world, these institutions have established solid practices, programs, and policies which recognize the equality of LGBT students, faculty and staff.  New Ways Ministry has tried to document the growth of this pro-LGBT movement on Catholic campuses by maintaining a list of gay-friendly Catholic schools.  We also try to update our supporters by the posts we run on this blog entitled “Campus Chronicles.”  Throughout the year, we are frequently in touch with personnel from Catholic campuses, offering them advice, resources, and information.

The movement for gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities received a major boost this week with the publication of an article entitled “Being Gay at a Catholic University” on ReligionandPolitics.org.   Authored by Michael O’Loughlin, himself a graduate of a Catholic college which wrestled with how to welcome LGBT people, the essay is a wonderful snapshot of the diversity of approaches that schools are taking to respond to the new needs.

Michael O'Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin

The essay is a wonderful read, and I recommend viewing the entire text.  Below I will provide some germane excerpts with commentary.

O’Loughlin’s  essay is more than just a survey of representative Catholic schools.  He delves into some of the more important questions that the presence of gay-friendly schools implies for the future of Catholicism.  In his introduction he lays out several:

 What do the future lay leaders of the Catholic Church, still one of the most politically potent institutions in the U.S., believe about gay rights? How do their schools shape their views? And how will they shape the Catholic Church?”

One of the school’s he visited was DePaul University, Chicago, the largest Catholic university in the nation, and the only one that has an LGBTQ Studies minor, in addition to many other supportive programs.  DePaul, like other gay-friendly schools, sometimes gets criticized for not being truly Catholic.  Religious Studies Professor and Chair James Halstead offered a pertinent answer:

“When I asked what he thought about the critics who questioned DePaul’s Catholic identity because of the minor and various LGBT student groups, Halstead lamented that Catholic universities are subjected to charges of being ‘un-Catholic’ or ‘not Catholic enough’ because of issues of sex and sexuality—a charge, he said, that comes from both the left and right. ‘To measure the Catholic identity of a university by asking if it has a LGBT program or not, Jesus, help us all. Do people really think that’s at the heart of Catholic Christianity? To me, it’s just not.’ Instead, he wishes that Catholic schools were judged on how well students answer the deep questions’ such as where they come from and what it means to be human, all in the search for truth. ‘Truth really is a process of emerging, in goodness and beauty, friendship and love,’ he said. ‘Rational people can figure this stuff out. Reason, enriched by faith, is going to reveal truth.’”

Indeed,  when O’Loughlin visited the Jesuit-run Santa Clara University, California, he discovered that far from diluting Catholic identity, being LGBT-friendly was an enhancement to the faith life of students.  He describes a conversation with Max Silva, a student:

“Silva, a rising junior, came out in high school in Santa Barbara. Raised nominally Catholic, he didn’t dive into his faith until he enrolled at Santa Clara, exploring what it meant to be gay and Catholic. He leads a group called GASPED (Gay and Straight People for the Education of Diversity), which he views as a sort of social justice ministry, offering diversity education to the campus community. Of being out at a Jesuit school, he said, ‘It really does come down to the school’s Jesuit philosophy and its Jesuit ideals. It focuses on Catholic social teaching, especially the social justice aspect, instead of focusing on the sexual ethics and homosexuality aspect.’ The school, he said, approaches these issues from the ‘very Jesuit idea of educating the whole person, discerning your experience of Catholicism in an educated way.’ ”

At St. Anselm College, New Hampshire, creating a welcoming environment for LGBT students provided an opportunity for religious renewal for the campus, as described by Sue Gabert, the director of campus ministry:

Gabert. . .explained that the college had conducted a community-wide survey about diversity and discrimination shortly after students organized back in 2005. The students, faculty, and staff who identified as gay reported the campus environment to be unwelcoming and even abusive. So the school hosted a forum to talk about the issues. ‘There was so much respect and care for people’s stories. It was one of my most graced moments at the college. What we heard most is that people were happy we were talking about these issues. It was something that some people felt was taboo, so the fact that we were talking about the challenges we face as a Catholic institution and welcoming all people in a fair and inclusive way was good,’ she said.

At New Ways Ministry, we have heard similar things from parishes who welcome LGBT people.  The experience turns out to be a re-evangelization of the entire parish community, not just an outreach to LGBT people.

Not all the Catholic schools O’Loughlin visited were gay-friendly.  One notable exception was Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, for which O’Loughlin lists a series of repealed gay-friendly policies over the past three decades, and which this year, once again, rejected a student proposal to establish a gay-straight alliance.   The juxtaposition of Catholic University’s retrograde policies with other campuses’ more progressive experiences offers an important example:

“The contrast of resources available to students at DePaul and CUA is exemplary of a polarized U.S. Catholic Church, especially as it grapples with LGBT issues. By some estimations, nearly a quarter of the funding used to campaign against marriage equality efforts in the 2012 election came from official Catholic sources, including various dioceses, Catholic state conferences and lobbying groups, as well as the Knights of Columbus. . . .

“Just like the generational divide in the general population on issues of LGBT rights, the laity and the bishops appear to be separated by an expanding chasm, one that one that seems poised to widen in years to come.”

In other words, what is happening on campuses mirrors the experience of the entire American church generally.

For those who strive for equality and justice for LGBT people in the Catholic Church, the concluding paragraph of the essay offers amazing hope:

“The future laity of the Catholic Church is still being educated at Catholic colleges and universities. The Catholic laity as a whole is already in favor of same-sex marriage and is accepting of their gay family and friends. It seems this trend will only accelerate further as graduates of Catholic schools mature into adults. Some say that bishops, by leading the fight against same-sex marriage, are widening the gap between themselves and their flock. But on Catholic campuses, gay students are carving out spaces for themselves, and finding allies not only among their peers, but also in professors and priests alike.”

O’Loughlin, who blogs at Religion News Service, added a post on the day his article was published which contains the entire text of his interview with Systematic Theology Professor Paul Crowley, SJ.  It’s definitely worth a read, too.    Both the essay and the extended interview are wonderful contributions to the ever-growing conversation on LGBT issues and the Catholic Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, 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: Sr. Jeannine Gramick Speaks of Hope at Stonehill College

March 6, 2013

Sr. Jeannine speaking at Stonehill College (Credit: Daniel Gardiner)

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, spoke with the Stonehill College community recently about her experiences in LGBT ministry and hopes for the future.  This event came at a critical juncture for colleges run by the  Holy Cross Fathers, whose campuses have seen signs of progress and regression in the last year around LGBT issues.

Over a hundred students and faculty filled the lecture hall, warmly receiving Sr. Jeannine for nearly two hours of dialogue. The event’s co-sponsors included PRIDE, the Moreau Honors Program, the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, the Moore Center for Gender Equity, and faculty members from the Religious Studies Department. Reviews from those in attendance extolled not only the importance of discussing LGBT issues within Catholic higher education, but of doing so in the hope-filled way Sr. Jeannine demonstrated.

An article in the campus newspaper, The Summit, captured faculty reactions for those who participated in the evening, including that of Fr. George Piggford who teaches English:

“I think that Sister Jeannine Gramick’s witness and her ministry is incredibly powerful…I have a great deal of respect for her willingness to live according to her conscience, and to discern, not just on her own, but in conversation with other people, how she feels God is leading her to minister to other people.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Students also responded positively over social media. Daniel Gardiner wrote a blog post titled “I am the vine; you are the branches” based on his reflections from the evening with Sr. Jeannine. He lauded the event for exposing students to new perspectives, writing about Sr. Jeannine’s lecture:

“Her message was strong and her passion was palpable…

“The bulk of her presentation was centered on ‘signs of hope’ which demonstrate what she believes to be a changing attitude in the Catholic Church toward the LGBT community. She speaks of the church in terms of the masses of people rather than the men who make up the hierarchy and cites polling that indicates a growing sense of support among Catholic people for LGBT individuals and even same-sex marriage. This was her first sign of hope.

“Her second sign of hope came through the success of the ministry which she founded. Gramick insisted that New Ways Ministry is not advocating for a triumph of new ideas over old, but rather, the simple idea that God loves all his children just the way they are. While this ministry has faced significant scrutiny since its inception during the seventies, there has also been tremendous support for the mission of New Ways and for Sister Jeannine herself.

“Another sign of hope has been the changes Gramick has seen in the institutional structures of the church…After citing scripture, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches,’ Gramick explained that we are all rooted in God’s love, there are individuals who comprise the right branches, like Pope Benedict, and individuals who comprise the left, like Sister Jeannine, but it is in our common point of origin that we can move the conversation forward.”

Stonehill’s invitation to Sr. Jeannine came in the midst of Holy Cross-run campuses across the country engaging LGBTQ issues due to growing student advocacy. The University of Notre Dame recently released a pastoral plan to address sexual orientation and gender issues in the wake of students agitating for fifteen years, while the University of Portland witnesses renewed controversy of disparaging comments by their president recently. Stonehill College itself just recently listened to student input by beginning to implement sexual orientation into College non-discrimination policies. In the midst of all this, student Gardiner blogged:

“Our institution was founded by the Congregation of the Holy Cross and our Catholic identity is something of which we are very cognizant. By bringing Sister Jeannine to our campus and welcoming her discussion among our students, faculty and staff, we are sending a very clear signal that not only are we an open minded community but a community which fosters rich discussion on the topics that may be marked as controversial but we deem as important and worthwhile. Bravo, Stonehill.”

New Ways Ministry echoes Daniel’s applause and continues to support LGBT students and their allies at Catholic universities and colleges. For a full listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc. For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved or seek support, contact me at youngadults@newwaysministry.org.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: University of Portland President Stokes Outcry After Anti-LGBT Remark

March 1, 2013

Students at three Congregation of the Holy Cross colleges continue to advocate for more LGBT-inclusive campuses, facing setbacks and steps forward intermittently. Bondings 2.0 highlights the University of Portland (Oregon) today, with Stonehill College (Massachusetts) and the University of Notre Dame (Indiana) to come.

University of Portland President Fr. Bill Beauchamp, CSC, ignited controversy after comments made during an annual question and answer session last Monday. In response to a question about the lack of sexual orientation in the university’s non-discrimination policy, Fr. Beauchamp affirmed University support for the LGBT community without the legally-binding impositions of a policy. As reported in student newspaper The Beacon, the president made a further comment about LGBT employees:

“‘We know that there are faculty and staff in same-sex relationships on campus,’ Beauchamp said. ‘They are not public about it and we don’t ask them. But if someone were to go very public about it and make an issue then we would have trouble’”

Bondings 2.0 spoke to Andrea Merrill, a junior who holds a leadership position in the campus Gay Straight Partnership, about Fr. Beauchamp’s comments and the campus atmosphere. She highlighted two positive initiatives: a Statement of Inclusion released in 2011 and the Gay Straight Partnership founded in 2008. Both help foster a safe community and educate the wider campus. Ms. Merrill credits these initiatives with helping many students identify more openly on campus, but she also cautions against too much optimism:

“There is much to be done. These steps have been great but many students agree that there is a lot more to be done on the campus. The president’s words highlight the fact that while the university has provided many resources, there is still a fear for students and faculty members to be out with a part of their identity. Everything is unspoken and under the rug…the subtle atmosphere of campus is one of fear for many people of various minorities.”

The president responded to the controversy through two letters to the The Beacon, but Ms. Merrill believed they were not adequate. However, she quickly noted this current controversy should not eliminate a supportive record by Fr. Beauchamp who oversaw the drafting of the Statement of Inclusion and the founding of the Gay Straight Partnership:

“He has done a lot of work to push this movement forward, but a lot of trouble students are having is the fact that what he said [the comment about about LGBT employees] still instills that fear on campus.”

An article in the Willamette Weekly,  a regional newspaper, reports that a growing student movement called “Redefine Purple Pride” is pressuring the administration, and Fr. Beauchamp specifically, to be more proactive in correcting the harm his comments caused:

“Within days of Beauchamp’s chat, a new ‘Redefine Purple Pride’ group gained 820 members on Facebook, a change.org petition advocating LGBTQ inclusion at UP reached its 1,000-signature goal and the University’s mailbox received an influx of sharp correspondence…

“Student responses have included a photography campaign of undergraduates, mouths taped over, standing before an equality flag. Senior Casey Anderson opened his house to volunteer models last weekend; the result is about 70 faces staring at Beauchamp and the administration. YouTube videos, one collecting dozens of statements beginning “I am standing up because…” appeared. That one ends with: ‘We the students of the University of Portland hold these truths to be self-evident that…all Pilots are created equal.’ On Facebook, hundreds of students have changed their profile photos to a purple equal sign.”

Fr. Beauchamp maintains that student reactions resulted from misunderstanding his comments, but how credibly his words will be received after last Monday is an open question. New Ways Ministry encourages all to support students at the University of Portland through the various means listed above.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Formation of Gay-Straight Alliances Should Be Top Priority at Catholic Schools

February 6, 2013

National Gay-Straight Alliance DayToday is National Gay-Straight Alliance Day.  February 6th has been marked by a coalition of youth advocacy organizations to raise awareness for the need of such organizations in our schools. Catholic schools are no exception.

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network highlights the challenges posed to gay, lesbian, and transgender students:

  • “More than 85 percent of LGBT students have been verbally harassed;
  • Nearly 20 percent of LGBT students were physically assaulted by their peers at school;
  • Almost 40 percent of LGBT students reported that faculty and staff never intervene when homophobic language is used in their presence;
  • Nearly 30 percent of LGBT students reported missing at least one entire school day because they felt unsafe.”

Those behind National Gay-Straight Alliance Day propose expanding the presence of GSAs at schools to combat negative experiences and provide greater safety:

“Violence and discrimination against LGBT students is the rule, not the exception, in American schools. It is a national disgrace that students feel threatened in school simply because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.  While Americans need to know that thousands of students each day go to school or college and endure LGBT violence and harassment, they must also know that GSAs are a tool in helping end violence and that these student groups save lives.”

Nearly half of Catholic colleges in the United States offer gay-friendly resources (here is a full listing by New Ways Ministry) and there are many GSA-style groups in Catholic high schools,  but the establishment of support groups remains a conflict for many schools.

In Canada, the province of Ontario passed legislation in mid-2012 mandating that all schools allow student clubs focused upon sexual orientation or gender identity. Catholic schools, which are funded by the government, were included in the law, but critics claim they have failed to provide anti-bullying or school spirit groups with an explicit LGBT focus. The Hamilton Spectator reports on this criticism and the government’s firm enforcement of the law:

“But according to local activist Deirdre Pike, [not naming the support clubs "gay-straight alliances"] could leave students feeling excluded and without the support they need…

“‘Until they get intentional about naming these groups, the silence will continue.’

“The education minister’s office, meanwhile, says the legislation is “clear” about the government’s commitment to safe, inclusive and accepting schools for all students, including those who are LGBT.”

In Australia, Daniel Torcasio is speaking about his troubling experiences teaching at an all-male Catholic high school where homophobic speech, bullying, and discriminatory employment practices were commonplace. The former teacher details one incident in 2009 for The Star Observer:

“‘A 13-year old kid came to me and told me he was gay. He’d only told his family and a few close friends, and told me so that if he was ever bullied at school someone would understand the situation and be able to help,’ Torcasio said.

“‘Naturally I took it to the school leadership, who then went to the Catholic Education Office…’

“‘The reply back from them was that we were never to mention matters like this again. That kid could’ve come to me as a cry for help – if he’d said he was suicidal or that he was being bullied, we would’ve been told to help him in any way we could, but because he was gay, we weren’t ever to discuss it,’ he said.”

Torcasio also left that position because of policies against gay staff that created a culture of silence for fear of termination:

“‘I was fairly open about my sexuality in the staff room, but I couldn’t let one detail of my private life slip to my students. If I’d mentioned my sexuality to someone or a parent had complained, I would have lost my job,’ he said.

“Torcasio claimed the ‘Catholic ethos’ stipulation in teacher’s contracts was only enforced on gay teachers.”

Torcasio, an alumnus of the high school, had returned to teach at the school after fifteen years expecting students would be more accepting than when he was a student and experienced severe bullying. He was disturbed by a continued culture of homophobia. The Catholic school district officially has no policy on LGBT students other than bland language regarding Catholic values.

Clearly, the common thread in these stories is the desperate need for students, educators, and parents to speak up. In Catholic schools, the establishment of gay-straight alliances that provide safe spaces for LGBT and questioning students, allow peer support to emerge, and create respectful atmospheres should be a top priority.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related recent post

February 1: Raising LGBT Standards in Catholic Schools


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