National Coming Out Day and the Complexities of Catholic Higher Education

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 11, 2016

Today is National Coming Out Day, celebrating the ongoing process of coming out that is a part of many LGBT people’s journeys. Catholic colleges have in recent years marked this day with educational programs and celebrations, but recent events at Boston College reveal the challenges that still exist even at Catholic schools considered LGBT supportive.

Boston College students at the march

Nearly 200 students and faculty marched through Boston College’s campus last week, a move to “break the silence” that LGBTQ people alongside communities of color and people with disabilities experience on campus, reported campus newspaper The Heights. [Disclosure: I am a graduate student at Boston College, a Jesuit university.]

Graduate Pride Alliance president Dylan Lang explained in a statement, “We are here and we will not be silent, so it is time to make changes to better the lives of LGBTQ+ students at Boston College NOW.”

The march directly responded to a gay slur written on a campus sign and the perceived silence of administrators about the incident. It was also tied to larger issues identified by many students relating to LGBT identities, racial justice, and people with disabilities. Dean of Students Tom Mogan did release a statement saying the College “does not tolerate acts of hate, bias and prejudice on our campus such as this.”

Marchers ended with a rally near where the slur had appeared, and students shared their experiences on campus of being excluded. Zoe Mathison, an affiliate campus minister, attended the event and acknowledged Campus Ministry does not do enough on these issues, telling The Heights:

“There is this confusion that Jesus does not care about these issues and that he would not stand up for queer lives or black lives.”

There are, however, some positive developments at Boston College. This week, the GLBTQ Leadership Council (GLC) is hosting its first Pride Week that expands on National Coming Out Day to celebrate LGBT identities and educate allies. The focus this year is on intersectionality, explained GLC chair Anne Williams, and will address “how sexual orientation and gender identity intersect with race, class, ability, etc.”

Last week, the Episcopalian Chaplaincy hosted openly transgender priest Rev. Cameron Partridge for a lecture.  Additionally, the student government passed a resolution calling on College administrators to establish an LGBTQ center.

But the contrast between many students’ experience and some LGBT supports reveals how complex LGBT issues in Catholic higher education can be. An editorial in The Heights described this challenge well:

“The vandalized sign should stand as a reminder that issues of prejudice and LGBTQ rights have not been solved on this campus. There are still problems, and LGBTQ students deserve support from the administration. Queer Peers [a mentoring program], while it was shut down for a while, is back in a larger context, which is one step in the right direction. But to fully support LGBTQ students, the administration should support efforts that LGBTQ students have expressed the need for, like Ignatian Q and an LGBTQ resource center.”

Student Christian Cho forcefully appealed to the College’s Catholic identity as the basis for not only allowing existing programs, but intentionally enacting more supports:

“BC can and should fully support LGBT students and their allies in their journeys to live the gospels of love and justice by actively financing LGBT-led initiatives like Ignatian Q and Queer Peers. Homophobia that lurks within the minds of bigots can be replaced with love, but only if the environment encourages that kind of conversion. I have seen love manifest itself through that kind of enlightenment, but it will take courageous leadership from an administration not afraid to boldly follow Pope Francis into the new paradigm he has set for us.”

Catholic colleges and universities in the United States have been institutions at the forefront of promoting LGBT inclusion in the church, but as National Coming Out Day is celebrated, it should not be forgotten there is still much work to do.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Related Article

The Boston Globe, “Protest denounces BC’s response to gay slur on campus


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