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

October 6, 2014

The flyer which caused the film screening to be cancelled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Jesuit Scholar Assesses Pope Francis’ Approach to LGBT Issues

March 1, 2014

John Langan, S.J.

Jesuit Professor John Langan has published an article in America magazine which examines the significance of  Pope Francis’ several positive statements about LGBT issues in 2013.  The article’s title “See the Person,” which references one of the pope’s remarks, sets out to answer the question, as the author phrases it: “So, what is the pope up to?”

Langan, who is a world-respected scholar and is the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Professor of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University,  is positive about the pope’s comments, but cautions several times that while Pope Francis has made some remarkable statements, the pontiff has also noted that he is not changing church teaching and does not intend to.  Langan writes:

“Francis has declared on several occasions that he has no desire to challenge or change Catholic moral teaching on sexual matters or to innovate in church doctrine.”

Instead of changing church teaching, Langan states, Francis is changing the church’s “stance” or method of approaching the topic of homosexuality.   While Langan believes that church teaching should not change simply because social acceptance of lesbian and gay people is increasing, he does recognize that society is at a new juncture in regard to homosexuality, and the church needs to adapt to this new moment.  Instead of change, Langan calls for dialogue and reflection:

“What seems to be called for is a time of critical reflection on the tradition to clarify what strengths are to be preserved and what continuities are to be affirmed even while searching for the sources of limitations in the teaching and acknowledging the development of new questions and problems. Critical reflection also needs to be directed to public opinion and to those who would mold it in a new direction, who often harbor naïve, incoherent and immature views, even while they think of themselves as knowledgeable and progressive. Both kinds of critical reflection require time and support for research and careful dialogue that will assess what is known and what is not known, what is hoped and what is feared. There is an ongoing need to coordinate research and information across the fields of biology, medicine, social science and ethics as well as to look seriously at the development of Christian and other religious teaching on this topic down through the centuries.”

Langan sets out four guideposts for the kind of reflection that is needed on this topic that he has discerned in the pope’s new stance.  They are:

1. Humility:  “We must acknowledge what we do not know and what we do not understand about the contemporary situation of homosexuals.”

2. Respect: ” . . . we must show respect for the dignity of homosexual persons as creatures of the one God and Father of us all, as members of the community of the redeemed and as fellow citizens of the city and the world.”

3. Realism: “. . . all parties need to show realism in acknowledging the problems of perception and trust that complicate our efforts to understand and collaborate with one another.”

4. Patience: “. . . during this period of scrutiny and reassessment, we must be patient with ourselves, with each other and with the friends and allies of the contesting groups both in the public arena and in the life of the church.”

Langan concludes by looking at what might be possible if such a period of reflection took place.  He sees the greatest change not being doctrinal development, but a different approach toward pastoral care and outreach:

“Ministry would be carried on in a more tentative, inquiring spirit; it would be more intent on providing care and encouraging growth for persons, many of whom have known many sorrows, than in implementing policies within bureaucratic and legal frameworks.”

He offers the following guidance for pastoral ministers:

“They [pastoral ministers] would proceed from a genuine desire to understand the personal and spiritual aspirations of the persons in their care instead of simply repeating the equivalent of a fatal diagnosis, which is how repeated reliance on the notion of “intrinsic evil” will likely be perceived. This is not a proposal for adjudicating the numerous issues now under dispute, nor is it a theological program for resolving the problems of implementing change in this troubled area of the church’s theology and practice. But it may serve as a partial model for addressing similar problems in areas where Catholic Christians have been putting more energy into denunciation than into dialogue, where disjunctions and fractures have been growing in scale and lethality.”

Langan’s essay is worth reading in its entirety and can be accessed here.  I think his assessment of Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality is an accurate one.  As I’ve said before, I think that the pope’s greatest contributions to LGBT issues in the church will be indirect ones, that he is paving the way for future change rather than making the innovations himself.  Langan provides a very commonsense assessment of what effects Francis’ words can realistically have in the coming months and years.

I, however, may be more optimistic than Langan about the possibility of doctrinal change.  While he suggests that the hierarchy should not change the teaching simply because public opinion on lesbian and gay people has shifted, I think he misses the point that, at least for Catholics who support LGBT issues, the shift has occurred not because, as Cardinal Dolan once suggested, that pro-gay advocates have better marketing, but because they have applied their faith to this new reality, have prayed and examined their consciences, and they have discerned that LGBT equality is consonant with how they understand the Gospel.

I fear that Langan may be too cautious about the possibility for change. In noting the pope’s new stance vis-a-vis his two most recent predecessors, Langan states: “In taking a critical view of the previous stance, one need not abandon it.”  While that may be true, I don’t think that he recognizes that a change in stance can produce some unforeseen results.  As has happened so often in church history, practice often precedes a change in teaching.

Langan’s real contribution is that he has laid out a road map for how we can get to future doctrinal development by providing those four “guideposts” mentioned above.  We’ve seen amazingly rapid change in American society and law over the past 15 years, due mainly to the fact that people started talking with LGBT people about the issues that concern their lives.  Dialogue is a powerful force, and now that Pope Francis has initiated such a period of dialogue in the church, explicated so well by Langan, who knows where the discussion and reflection will lead?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Comparing Universities Minimizes the Extent of LGBT Welcome

November 11, 2013

Georgetown U. Students during “Coming Out Day”

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly,  a PBS show, recently produced a segment with the provocative title “What does it mean for a school to be Catholic?” Heavily focusing on LGBT issues as a means of discussing religious identity, the segment contrasts Georgetown University, Washington, DC,  and Ave Maria University, Florida. However, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly ultimately portrays a false image of how Catholic higher education is integrating LGBT matters as part of their Catholic identities today by comparing the institutions.

The segment begins with Georgetown, showing students celebrating “Coming Out Day” and interviews Kevin O’Brien, SJ, vice president for Mission and Ministry. Of the University’s religious identity when welcoming LGBTQ students with extensive resources, O’Brien says:

Kevin O’Brien

“To quote something Father Hesburgh from Notre Dame would often say, ‘The Catholic university is a place where the church does its thinking.’ And if that is to be the case, then we have to permit this free exchange of ideas.

“The purpose of the [LGBTQ] center is not to undermine the church’s teaching. It is a center for education. We try to teach our students and faculty and our alumni about issues of sexuality, of sexual identity and gender. That’s an expression of our Jesuit tradition of cura personalis, caring for each person mind, body, and spirit, in their unique individuality.”

This pastoral concern for the well-being and success of LGBT students at Georgetown, which this year has openly welcomed two transgender students, is sharply contrasted by the president of Ave Maria University, Jim Towey. Bordering on fundamentalism, Towey attacks institutions like Georgetown for being accepting of students’ varying sexual orientations and gender identities. Joining Towey are two students from Georgetown displeased with their university’s LGBT outreach.

Thomas Lloyd

Also speaking out for Georgetown students is Thomas Lloyd, president of the campuses’ LGBT organization. Lloyd speaks to the convergence of Jesuit and Catholic traditions meeting LGBT equality:

“By recognizing pride, Georgetown has become more true to its Jesuit values. Commitments to social justice are some of the most important and historically grounded parts of Catholic doctrine.

“I wouldn’t even think about how to reconcile my queer identity with my Catholic faith identity if I hadn’t come to Georgetown. What does it mean to be gay and Catholic? Can those two go together? And my experience at Georgetown with Jesuits and with other people who are Catholic and identify as queer on campus show me that you can.”

Where Religion and Ethics Newsweekly ultimately falls short is in equalizing the voices of those who support LGBT people and those who seek Catholic institutions which shun such topics. Of nearly 220 Catholic colleges and universities in the US alone, more than half are listed by New Ways Ministry as gay-friendly campuses for allowing gay-straight alliances, staff resources devoted to LGBT students, and/or  policies or programming which educates and affirms on issues of gender and sexuality.  It makes it seem that there is an even split of pro-gay and anti-gay Catholic campuses, when the reality is that more and more Catholic campuses are, in fact, becoming more pro-gay.

In short, Ave Maria’s president and students interviewed are not indicative of where Catholic higher education stands on equality. Progress remains, but each week there are advances made as students, faculty, and staff advocate for and implement changes to make campuses more inclusive. Perhaps more telling than this contrast is the piece reported on earlier this fall that said: “Forget the Pope: Catholic Universities are the Future of the Church.”

For more information on what is happening in regard to LGBT issue at Catholic colleges and universities, go to the “Categories” tab in the right-hand column of this page and search “Campus Chronicles,”  our blog’s series which follows the news on these developments.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Beyond Pope Francis: Georgetown U. Welcoming Trans Students

September 22, 2013
Pope Francis’ interview with America Magazine has captured Catholic, and global, attention since last Thursday, and yet one columnist has said “Forget the Pope, Catholic Universities are the Future of the Church.” Bondings 2.0 recently commended Catholic campuses for welcoming gay, lesbian, and bisexual students as a new academic year begins.  Now the news is even better: Georgetown University, Washington, DC, has begin actively welcoming transgender students, as well.
Slate.com columnist Mark Joseph Stern is a graduate of Georgetown , thus it serves as his reference point for Catholic higher education. Sterns opens by writing:
“It’s impossible to deny the importance of the pope’s words, especially on the issue of gay rights. But it’s also easy to overpraise them. His newfound tolerance didn’t develop in a vacuum, and it’s probably not shared by many in the upper echelons of the Vatican hierarchy. Rather, Pope Francis’ remarks seem more or less ripped from the playbook of certain Catholic universities in the United States—and, more specifically, the Jesuits who run them.”
Sterns recounts the emergence of an LGBT-positive attitude at the school after a series of neighborhood and campus hate crimes, and general homophobic culture, led students to organize in 2007. Students petitioned the University to act and, with the aid of Jesuits who advocated for the students, the administration opened an LGBT resource center that was the first of its kind on Catholic campuses. Today, Georgetown is an accepting campus and you can read below on Bondings 2.0’s past coverage of the campus’ progress, with Sterns concluding:
“On the whole, however, the university has managed a comfortable equilibrium between social progressivism and Catholic devotion, thanks in large part to its very Jesuit tradition of questioning, discussing, and, eventually, reforming.

“Was Pope Francis influenced by the kind of Catholic tolerance that developed at colleges like Georgetown? No one can say for sure—but it seems likely. In fact, given that Francis is a Jesuit himself, the most surprising facet of his ‘creeping tolerance’  is that it took so long to develop. For many prominent and pious Catholics, gay acceptance is virtually a nonissue. It’s about time the Vatican caught up.”

Last week, this blog highlighted the positive steps Catholic campuses are making for their LGBT students in the coming academic year. Georgetown University already provides professional staff, support groups, and the LGBTQ Resource Center, but is making headlines this year for actively welcoming transgender students. A lengthy piece in The Guide, a weekly campus magazine, examines the issue through the lens of two students:
“This year, for the first time in recent memory, Georgetown has two openly transgender students — [Lexi] Dever and Celeste Chisholm (COL ’15) — and one gender non-conforming student, who could not be reached for this article. And last week, GU Pride named Chisholm its first ever trans* representative.

“ ‘We are definitely on the right track,’ Chisholm said of Georgetown’s readiness to accept trans* students. ‘At their very best, the people here will understand, and at the very least, people are respectful enough to know when not to say anything.’

“But despite these gains, Chisholm and Dever feel the near-invisibility of trans* students on campus acutely. ‘People aren’t as educated about it as they could be because they just don’t know anyone who is transgender,’ Dever said.”
The article provides an in-depth look at the two students’ stories about being transgender and transitioning, which you can read here. As for the University, Dever and Chisholm applaud Georgetown for accepting different gender identities and admit wherever students are coming out as transgender and transitioning is difficult. Shiva Subbaraman, who heads up the LGBTQ Resource Center, says there has been tremendous progress on transgender issues in her five years on campus.
As it has previously done, Georgteown University is now listening to students and leading the way on issues of sexual and gender diversity. A proposed student support group for transgender and questioning students is planned, as are educational programs. More questionable are the logistical issues, like housing and healthcare, that are often a flashpoints:
“Chisholm acknowledges that Georgetown’s position as a Catholic university means it will be difficult to push for the kinds of policies that have been implemented at other schools — The George Washington University’s gender-neutral housing or American University health insurance’s coverage of transition surgery, for example. But she aims to push back.
“ ‘As a private, Catholic university, I know that Georgetown can’t do anything we want…But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to fight as hard as I can for these things. Being Catholic doesn’t hold us back from being the people that we’re meant to be, from being the understanding Hoyas that we are, being the respectable and respectful community that we are.’ “
What do you think: Are the Church’s colleges and universities the future of Catholicism on LGBT issues? Are American Catholics ahead of the pope in terms of LGBT issues? What does Georgetown University’s welcome mean for transgender issues in the Church overall? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the ‘Comments’ section below.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
Related Articles on Georgetown University
August 16, 2013: LGBT Rankings Fail to Reveal Full Story
August 5, 2013: CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Georgetown U. Continues as Gay-Friendly Campus Despite Pressure
April 2, 2013: CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Gay Students’ Elections Signal Shift in Catholic Colleges’ Inclusivity
February 1, 2013: Raising LGBT Standards in Catholic Schools
October 25, 2012: CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Georgetown U. Celebrates Coming Out Month
October 12, 2012: New Organization of LGBT Students on Catholic Campuses Launched
July 6, 2012: On Being a Lesbian at Georgetown University

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


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Georgetown U. Continues as Gay-Friendly Campus Despite Pressure

August 5, 2013

At the risk of boasting, I have to admit that it is a sweet feeling when The New York Times catches up to a message that New Ways Ministry has been saying for over a decade now:  many Catholic colleges and universities are places where LGBT students, faculty, and staff are extremely welcome.

Georgetown UniversityThe Times recently profiled Georgetown University, Washington, DC, the oldest Catholic college in the country, and how it has put out a welcome mat to LGBT people, though this welcome has not come without some controversy.  The school, which boasts probably the largest LGBT Resource Center on any Catholic campus, has a wide-range of activities and events celebrating the LGBT experience:

“ ‘Every month is a good month to be gay at Georgetown,’ said Thomas Lloyd, president of the campus pride group. Indeed, there’s a Gender Liberation Week, Gay Pride Month, a popular drag ball called Genderfunk and a Lavender graduation ceremony attended by the university president.”

But this open campus atmosphere did not come easy:

“Not so long ago, relations between the university and its gay students were strained. In 1980, the students had to sue for equal privileges for their organizations. In 2007, they stormed the steps of Healy Hall, protesting what they saw as an inadequate response to antigay incidents. And a 2008 survey found that 61 percent of students thought homophobia was an issue. That year, the administration began to address the problem, opening an L.G.B.T.Q. resource center with a full-time staff.”

Nate Tisa

Nate Tisa

And despite the current advances, such as electing its first openly gay student body president, Nate Tisa, there are still challenges to be overcome:

“Shortly after Mr. Tisa’s victory, William Peter Blatty, the octogenarian author of ‘The Exorcist,’ and Manuel A. Miranda, a fellow alumnus, circulated a petition and 198-page memorandum condemning Georgetown for promoting a culture of ‘moral relativism’ and an ideology of ‘radical autonomy.’ More than 2,000 alumni have signed the petition, which was sent in May to Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington. The petition calls on the archbishop to better regulate the university or strip it of its Catholic identity, an unlikely but technically possible outcome.”

Wisely, Cardinal Wuerl chose not to respond to the petition, and a Georgetown spokesperson defended the school’s Catholic identity:

“Cardinal Wuerl declined to comment, but Rachel Pugh, a Georgetown spokeswoman, pointed to the university’s two required theology classes and up to seven Sunday Masses at the main chapel as evidence that it is deeply connected to its Catholic identity. The university also organizes church retreats and regular Eucharistic adoration ceremonies. Dozens of priests live on campus and serve as spiritual mentors.

” ‘Our Catholic and Jesuit identity on campus has never been stronger,’ Ms. Pugh said. ‘Academically, we remain committed to the Catholic intellectual tradition.’ ”

The students seem undaunted by the criticism.  Student president Tisa, in fact, is advancing a bold agenda:

“During his sophomore year as vice speaker of the student senate and his junior year as speaker, Mr. Tisa helped produce a report on the challenges that incoming gay students face when they arrive. While students found a welcoming environment in the L.G.B.T.Q. Resource Center, with its beanbags, Diet Cokes and lots of students to share thoughts with, Georgetown was still a scary place to come out. Some complained of intolerant, sometimes verbally abusive roommates, and resident assistants unskilled at addressing altercations.

“The report proposed several initiatives — a gender-neutral dorm and a Safe Spaces program that would designate rooms on every dorm floor where gay and minority students could retreat if needed. Last spring, Mr. Tisa began vigorously pushing for both.”

And Tisa’s activism for LGBT equality is based in his Catholic faith:

“He attended a Jesuit high school, where, tall and broad-shouldered, he played football. Early on, he began to suspect he was gay. It was as tortuous internally as it was externally. Would he have to choose between God and a happy life?

“His faith had brought him strength as a child dealing with his parents’ divorce. Once again, he found solace in prayer, and in conversations with other Catholics. The first person he shared his story with was a layperson he had grown close to during weekend youth retreats. ‘She said, “I love you. God loves you. And I’m here for you,” ‘ he recalled. ‘Then we cried.’ That encounter, he said, reminded him that Catholic teachings were ‘based on love, not condemnation.’

“ ‘I really wanted to be part of that,’ he said.”

Catholic faith and identity are indeed at the heart of the work that those on campus are doing for LGBT students:

“Mr. Lloyd, the pride group president, says he is often tempted to join the more tolerant Episcopal Church. But for many young Catholics, particularly of Irish or Italian descent, Catholicism is interchangeable with identity. ‘You stay Catholic because you have a love of the institution and you want to change it,’ he said.

“It has taken Mr. Tisa years of reflection to work through how his sexual orientation and his Catholic faith can coexist. He refuses to accept that his relationship with another man is ‘intrinsically disordered,’ as described in church catechism. And he is quite sure of this: ‘God is not a child in a sandbox, making sculptures and throwing them away.’

“It is a message he is intent on spreading across campus with evangelical verve. As he often tells students: ‘We need to bring the Catholic identity into the 21st century.’ “

To learn about other gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, check out New Ways Ministry’s list of such places on its website.   A good recent examination of the Catholic gay-friendly college experience was written by Michael O’Loughlin and can be read here.  You can also search Bondings 2.0′s series “CAMPUS CHRONICLES.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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