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: ‘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


New Organization of LGBT Students on Catholic Campuses Is Launched

October 12, 2012

A new student organization for LGBT equality and justice on Catholic campuses was launched yesterday, October 11th, National Coming Out day.   Thomas A. Lloyd, a Georgetown University student  and organizer of the new group announced the launch on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog:

Today the leaders of several lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) student groups based on Catholic college campuses sent a joint letter to the Catholic world announcing the founding of CASE, the Catholic Association of Students for Equality. CASE is a national network for all of our groups to share resources and to trade experiences. CASE’s central goal, however, is to raise awareness of the positive impact that recognition and empowerment of the LGBT community has had on our campuses. Our experiences reveal a pro-LGBT rights position grounded in Catholic values. In other words, we hope to “out” a uniquely Catholic argument for LGBT inclusion.

Lloyd identifies Catholic social teaching and Scriptural principles as the basis for his own acceptance of his sexual identity and the desire to help others achieve the same level of self-acceptance:

“As a practicing Catholic, someone who delivers a rehearsed response to ‘What’s that black stuff on your forehead?’ every Lenten season, I was raised surrounded by Catholic social teaching. I value the life and dignity of every human person, and I believe their dignity comes from ‘the persons they are’ (Centesimus annus., #11). I know that we are called to stand in solidarity with those who are suffering (Corinthians 12:12-26). And finally, I believe that we have a duty to love, and that it is the ‘fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.’ (Catechism 2392).

“These building blocks of Catholic social teaching are integral parts of how I have engaged my LGBT identity. Identifying as gay first required me to reflect on who I truly was. It helps me stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed, as I have faced threats in the street, and taunts from schoolmates. And one day, I will be able to love someone because I have acknowledged who it is I can really fall in love with.”

Similarly, CASE is designed to help LGBT students on Catholic campuses to organize themselves for better lives at their schools:

“Today, Georgetown along with the other colleges that recognize their LGBT groups, including Loyola University Maryland, DePaul University and Loyola Marymount are in a privileged position. We live on campuses that acknowledge the value in exploring the intersection of LGBT and Catholic identities. We have a duty to “out” all the good that we have done in order to change the national conversation. We need to change the minds of those in the church who would argue that LGBT groups have no place on Catholic campuses and to encourage those in schools affected by this position to “come out” and to start forming their own LGBT network on campus. We can help promote the respect you deserve, we will stand in solidarity with you, and want to help people understand our love. That is why we formed CASE.”

Kudos and best wishes to Lloyd and his fellow organizers! New Ways Ministry has been compiling a list of gay-friendly Catholic colleges for many years now, which includes almost half of the Catholic campuses in the U.S.  It will be a gift to the church for students to help each other support and strengthen their programs and policies on these campuses and spread the message of acceptance and inclusion to other Catholic schools as well.

–Francis DeBernardo


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


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