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

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

Queer Peers

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

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

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

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

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

Creighton University to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages

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

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

‘Milk’ Screening Rescheduled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play Like a Champion Today

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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