CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Jesuit Schools Gather to Discuss LGBT Issues on Campus

April 16, 2015

Students and campus personnel from Jesuit colleges and universities across the U.S. gathered at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, last month for a weekend conference about LGBT issues at their school.

Image from dotCommoweal.org

Entitled “IgnatianQ,” the meeting was organized by GU Pride, Georgetown’s LGBTQ student organization, but was also supported by the university’s administration, campus ministry, and LGBTQ Resource Center, the first of its kind on a Catholic campus.  In an interview with The Hoyathe campus newspaper, Thomas Lloyd, president of GU Pride, explained the need for such a meeting:

“IgnatianQ is a very unique space. There are very few people who understand what it means to do LGBTQ work in a Jesuit context and there are unique challenges, concerns but also rewards … for me personally doing LGBTQ work has been how I’ve made my meaning. . . .

““I’ve always said the most important part of LGBTQ work in this [Jesuit] context is to affirm that we have a duty to LGBTQ students because our context demands it. It’s part of supporting the whole person. It’s part of being a universal church and a universal community, and a university community,”

In another Hoya article, Fr. Greg Schenden, SJ, campus chaplain, echoed the Jesuit grounding of this conference:

“The purpose of this student-led conference is to help students from Jesuit universities grow in their faith and appreciate their worth as human beings. These values are central to the Jesuit commitment to cura personalis — care for each person in their uniqueness.”

Jesuit values were the focus of one of the keynote speakers, Dan Cardinali, who is an openly gay 1988 alumnus of Georgetown and now the director of Communities in Schools, the largest dropout prevention organization in the country.

According to a news report on the conference in The Hoya, Cardinali described his struggle with sexuality while a student, and then explained how, while he lived as a Jesuit for a while after graduation, he came to understand a positive Catholic approach to LGBT people:

“As a Jesuit, I was gifted with a set of opportunities to give back to the world. It prepared me for what I do now. I realized that being gay and being Catholic … can go together, as long as we believe in the dignity of [the] human person. Overtime, we would be able … to have the courage that [it] takes to make changes. . . .

“If you believe that God is in the world, and that he never abandons, it is our life journey to discover that. There are tools to discover that, and once we made that discovery, it will prepare us for the world in unimaginable ways.”

Elizabeth Donnelly

Other speakers included Elizabeth Donnelly, a Catholic philanthropist who offered her experience on speaking about women’s equality in the church as a model for speaking on LGBT issues; Deacon Ray Dever, a father of a transgender woman, who described his family’s experiences in a Bondings 2.0 blog post last December; and Lisbeth Melendez-Rivera, the director of Catholic and Latino/a Initiatives at the Human Rights Campaign.

Among the participants at the conference were a group from Santa Clara University, a California Jesuit school.  A news story in their campus newspaper,  The Santa Clara, summarized the experience of their delegation to the event:

“Students had the opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm ways to get more support, resources, visibility and acceptance for LGBTQ groups at their respective schools. This allowed representatives to network and share strategies for improving student engagement.

“ ‘It was cool to see how progressive some universities are and how some universities didn’t have any resources at all,’ said sophomore Adrian Chavez. ‘Santa Clara seemed to fall more in the middle of it, leaning progressive.’ ”

The Georgetown meeting was the 2nd annual gathering of its kind. The first meeting was held at Fordham University last year, under the theme, “Finding God in the LGBTQ Jesuit Campus Community.” The theme of the this year’s meeting was, ““Forming Contemplative Communities to Ignite Action.”

Georgetown sophomore Samuel Boyne, a participant at IgnatianQ, summed up his reaction to the meeting for the campus newspaper:

“I think that IgnatianQ was an essential event to host at Georgetown. As a school dedicated to educating its students on being men and women for others, the messages for which the conference stands for coincides with our Jesuit values. Specifically, as it is vital for students to come together in an environment like this to discuss the intersection of faith and the LGBTQ community. . . . Overall, the opportunity to speak openly about these issues is a definite step forward.”

Catholic college campuses are among the most important leaders of LGBT equality in the Catholic Church.  The IgnatianQ conference is just one more example of how they are paving the way for a brighter future.

To read more about news of LGBT issues on Catholic campuses, click on “Campus Chronicles” in the “Categories” box in the right hand column of this page, or you can click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

dotCommonweal: “Ignatian LGBTQ & Ally conference turns two”

The Hoya: Georgetown to Host IgnatianQ

The Georgetown Voice: “Georgetown to host allied Catholic universities at second annual IgnationQ conference”

 

 

 

 

 

 


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Chipotle Celebration Follows Catholic Teammate’s Coming Out

February 21, 2015

Ryan Murtha

The spring semester has brought many positive developments for LGBT inclusion at Catholic colleges and universities in the United States. Below, Bondings 2.0 features some of the highlights with links provided to read more.

Villanova University

A member of Villanova Unitiversity’s swim team came out as gay to applause — and Chipotle — in January, in yet another positive moment of LGBT college athletes being welcomed in Catholic higher education.

After winter break, Ryan Murtha told his teammates at the suburban Philadelphia school about his sexual orientation.  OutSports reported:

“When he was done speaking, Murtha looked up at his teammates. Some stared back at him, others looked down. The room was silent. No response…

“One teammate broke the silence with clapping. Then another. It was like a scene from a movie, with the entire team eventually joining in the celebration, cheering. They circled around Murtha and hugged him, assuring him that he was the same guy they’ve loved since he arrived on the team, and this wouldn’t change a thing.”

To celebrate, the team headed to Chipotle, Mexican fast-food chain restaurant. Hurdles remain for Murtha whose Catholic parents are struggling to accept him as a gay son .  Additionally, he is now barred from serving the Boy Scouts, an organization he has been dedicated to for most of his life. However, Murtha’s coming out will help the atmosphere at the more conservative Villanova where LGBT inclusion is a positive, but ongoing effort according to an article in student newspaper, The Villanovan , .which reported:

“At first glance, the University might not seem like the ideal place for an organization like the Gay-Straight Coalition. It’s small, with only around 6,500 undergraduate students. It is religious, with prominent Augustinian and Catholic roots. And it is conservative, or at least more so than the average public university. But nevertheless, the GSC has been operating at the University with the help of Kathleen Byrnes, the Associate Vice President of Student Life, since 2003. The group has around 40 active members, more than 100 on its email list and hosts several prominent events each semester. These events range from the ‘That’s So Gay’ student-led panel, where Villanovans discuss what it’s like to be openly gay on campus, to LGBT Awareness Week, where members raise awareness about homophobia and violence against those in the LGBT community. “

Georgetown University

The Washington Blade reports that an openly gay Republican is running as one of six candidates for student president at Georgetown University, in the District of Columbia. Tim Rosenberger would become the school’s second gay president in two years, following Nate Tisa’s election in 2013. He is running on a platform of fairness, saying in an interview:

“I think I can make Georgetown more supportive and fairer for all students…I want to see everyone, even people who don’t fit the very traditional Catholic mold, do well here and succeed.”

In a related story, Georgetown students also rallied for transgender rights as part of a student coalition in Washington, D.C. acting in response to the suicide of Leelah Alcorn. Campbell James of GU Pride told The Hoya:

“What we as Georgetown students can do to help counter the high rates of trans suicide is to make sure that we are supportive of our friends, family and fellow students who may identify as trans by making sure we use appropriate language choices and by allowing these individuals to feel comfortable being themselves.”

Marquette University

Marquette University administrators are seeking to  fire tenured Professor John McAdams for harassing a graduate student. Bondings 2.0 reported in December about a graduate student who came under fire for passing over a student’s comments about same-sex marriage because she felt they were irrelevant to the course material. McAdams harshly criticized the teacher on his personal blog, which led to her leaving the university after tremendous harassment. The incident is making waves in higher education as some defend Marquette’s decision while others claim it attacks academic freedom.

University of Notre Dame

The Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s has announced the creation of the  first LGBTQ scholarship, awarding two out undergraduates $2,500. The deadline to apply is March 1, 2015.  The scholarship would be awarded to a student at one of the two South Bend, Indiana, institutions, which are closely connected academically.

Thus far into 2015, it seems LGBT inclusion is hitting a very positive note in Catholic higher education. To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of Catholic higher education, see the “Campus Chronicles” category to the right or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


The Best Catholic LGBT News of 2014

December 31, 2014

thumbs upAs the year 2014 comes to a close, Bondings 2.0 takes a look back at the worst and the best news in the Catholic LGBT world.  If  you want to keep up-to-date on the latest news about the ups and downs of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community, please consider subscribing to this blog.  To do so, enter your email address in the “Follow blog via email” box at the top of the column on the right-hand side of this page, and press “Follow.”  You will then receive an email every time the blog is updated, usually once a day.  You’ll never miss out on the latest news and opinion in the Catholic LGBT world! 

Yesterday, we surveyed the worst Catholic LGBT news of 2014, and today we end the year looking at the best news:  all the good things that have occurred and the advances that have been made.

Yesterday, we also commented on the news story that Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny became the first bishop in known history to explicitly call for the Catholic Church to bless committed lesbian and gay couples.  While in my mind, that could easily take the prize as the BEST Catholic LGBT news of 2014, unfortunately, it came after we had already polled our readers, and so it was not considered in the voting.  I can’t speak for the entire readership of Bondings 2.0, but I don’t think I would be too far off to say that this story certainly deserves an “honorable mention.”

A few days ago, we asked our readers to choose five stories in the “worst” category and five in the “best” category.  Each category had 15 items, and there was an option to “write in” other topics that we might have missed.  The following is the ranking of the top ten items from the “best” category, in descending order,  with the percentage of votes each item received:

1. Both lay guests and bishop participants speak positively about lesbian and gay lives and ministry at the Synod of Bishops in October, revealing a previously unknown progressive school of thought among church leaders. Throughout the year, more and more Catholic leaders support legal rights for same-gender couples.  17.59%

2. Pope Francis appoints Archbishop Blase Cupich to the Archdiocese of Chicago, signaling a new type of more pastorally-oriented “Francis bishops.” Other U.S. bishops soften their rhetoric on LGBT issues, in a seeming emulation of the pontiff. 15.86%

3. The heavily Catholic Republic of Ireland emerges as a leader in supporting LGBT rights. Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmid Martin says: “Anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that—they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people. 12.07%

4.  In an interview with a New Ways Ministry staffer, Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley acknowledges that the trend of firing LGBT and ally personnel from Catholic institutions is a situation “that needs to be rectified.”  10.34%

5. Catholic students, parents, and supporters demonstrate in response to the continuing trend of LGBT and ally personnel being fired from Catholic institutions.  8.97%

6.  San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, holds two meetings with representatives of New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA.  5.52%

7. LGBT organizations are given permission to march in both New York City’s and Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parades in 2015.  5.17%

Three-way tie

8.  A Catholic parish in New York City honors the 44-year long commitment of a lesbian couple who are parishioners by featuring a profile about them in the parish bulletin. 4.48%

9.  The School Sisters of Notre Dame reverse an earlier decision and decide to allow lesbian couples to announce their weddings in the alumni newsletter. The Sisters of Mercy re-name a high school soccer field after a married lesbian alumna. 4.48%

10.   Catholic high schools and colleges begin to implement policies which support transgender students. 4.48%

As for analyzing, the results of the poll, I think it is easy to see the “Francis effect” in these events and numbers.  Almost all the responses had to do with something Pope Francis either directly or indirectly affected.  I think his example is inspiring Catholics at all levels to be more courageous in their support of LGBT people.  As one Bondings 2.0 reader and commenter, Casey Lopata, stated with his poll ballot:

“With Pope Francis leading the way by example, the positive remarks about gay people by bishops at the Synod together with more Catholic leaders supporting legal rights for gay people demonstrates that the grassroots supportive efforts of ordinary Catholics have been seen and taken seriously by institutional leaders within the Catholic community. At the same time grassroots supporters, emboldened by the words and actions of Francis, are increasingly becoming more active and in their public advocacy for justice for LGBT people within Catholic structures. As a result, opponents are squeezed between these two movements and find less and less support for their negative positions. May the Spirit lead us to make the most of this momentum in 2015!”

Although no one added any “write-in” suggestions, several other readers also added comments to their poll responses:

Chet Thompson:  “The five that I marked seem to me to be the most important and need DAILY Prayer. BUT we need to continually work to turn around the Homophobia that we have endured ESPECIALLY over the last 30 years!!!”

Brian Kneeland: “There were some real positives – but there certainly needs to be many more in the coming year!”

Diane Rapozo: “All of the above mentioned are important. Thank you.”

Alice Zachmann, SSND: “Thanks for the opportunity to share. I chose the ones that took courage to carry out…my personal opinion! Keep up your great ministry!”

2014 has been quite a year!  It’s been a pleasure and a blessing to share it with all our readers and commenters!  2015 is already sure to be another exciting 12 months, with the already scheduled World Meeting of Families in September, the second Synod in November, and Pope Francis appointing cardinals in February.  And who knows what else the Holy Spirit has in store!  Whatever it is, we look forward to the opportunity to share it with you in the coming year.  Stay tuned!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Taiwanese Catholic University Worried LGBT Event “Will Turn Everyone Gay”

December 29, 2014

Miao Po-ya

Taiwan’s only Catholic university removed posters advertising a gay speaker amid fears that students would become gay by attending the event. The cancellation decision comes amidst a national debate about expanding LGBT equality.

The Good Club and the Gender Studies Group at Fu Jen Catholic University hosted Miao Po-ya last month for a talk titled “My Coming Out Experience.” Po-ya heads the Alliance to End the Death Penalty, but is also an openly gay man.

According to Gay Star News, students were originally told the poster was removed because of flaws in their event application, but later they learned:

” ‘The section’s teaching assistant then admitted that someone had complained about the poster and he had sent someone to take it down…After further inquiries, he said, “The title of this poster is too provocative and made school authorities and conservative people discontent and uncomfortable.” ‘ “

An administrator said further, “Traditional people are afraid that this lecture will turn everyone gay” and banned controversial activities. However, Good Club president Chan Ting-qi questioned the school’s action and said the institution should defend students against discrimination.

This decision comes as national debate over LGBT rights is heating up, even though Taiwan stands out among East Asian nations as already having taken steps for LGBT equality. Legislators are currently considering a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, the first legislature to do so in East Asia. The bill proposes to insert gender-neutral language in existing law to remove references to husband and wife or mother and father. As expected, there is staunch religious opposition to the proposed bill. In addition, the Ministry of the Interior recently announced transgender Taiwanese citizens can change their registered identity without proof of gender-confirmation surgery.

Though less than 2% of the population, Taiwanese Catholics, including Fu Jen University administrators, should help lead efforts against discrimination rather than perpetuating false and harmful anti-gay beliefs evident in the incident over Miao Po-ya’s lecture.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: The Naughty and the Nice on LGBT Issues

December 23, 2014

As college students return home for winter break at the end of another semester, Bondings 2.0 offers several updates and items of interest related to LGBT inclusion in Catholic higher education.

Marquette University Suspension

Cheryl Abbate

Milwaukee’s Marquette University has suspended a political science professor and is investigating him for criticizing a graduate student on his personal blog. John McAdams wrote disparagingly about philosophy instructor Cheryl Abbate, whose decision to limit anti-gay remarks she deemed not germane was the source of a recent controversy. According to Reuters, McAdams claimed that Abbate:

“…challenged a student’s opposition to gay rights and told the student ‘homophobic comments’ would not be allowed in the class. She also suggested the student drop the class if he did not like it, according to McAdams. McAdams wrote Abbate was using a liberal tactic to dismiss any opinion that does not fit into their views.”

Neither McAdams nor Abbate commented on this most recent development, but McAdams has recently been critical of Marquette administrators for, as he perceives it, limiting academic freedom. As Bondings 2.0 reported in a previous post on the Abbate incident, many commenters believe Abbate’s judgment call for classroom discussion was appropriate. Abbate has received hate mail as a result of McAdams making this case public.

CUA Students Interrupt Anti-Gay Speakers

Catholic University of America students affiliated with two unofficial campus organizations, LIFT CUA and CUAllies, challenged anti-gay speakers who appeared at an event on children’s rights which was held at the Washington, DC school. The program, hosted by a campus group working against LGBT equality, featured Robert Oscar Lopez who has called the LGBT rights movement “an engine of world-historical evil” and an “international war on black people” tied to a modern form of slavery. It also featured self-identified advocate for children, Stella Morabito, who has written against marriage equality by claiming “Abolishing all civil marriage is the primary goal of the elites who have been pushing same sex marriage.”  LIFT CUA is a student group working for campus reform, and CUAllies is the campus’ unofficial LGBT student group.

The event was held in collaboration with the annual Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. CUAllies noted a bizarre twist:

“Today, it is a well-known fact that the most important aspect a family must provide for a child to thrive is love! LGBT Youth make up 1/5 of all homeless youth, and are twice as likely to fall into homelessness due to a families intolerance or non-acceptance. Mr. Lopez carries a message of hate and discrimination where ever he speaks, guised in an idea of children’s rights. He should not be allowed to speak on campus ever, let alone during a week dedicated to bringing awareness to hunger and homelessness as well as offer solutions to prevent it.”

Pro-LGBT students interrupted the event by chanting “Racist, sexist, anti-gay. Free speech fascists go away.”  You can view the protest below or by clicking here.

Notre Dame’s Pastoral Plan at Two

In December 2012, University of Notre Dame administrators listened to more than two decades of pressure from LGBT and ally community members at the Indiana school by releasing a pastoral plan for greater LGBT acceptance and inclusion. Two years later, students reflected on the campus’ progress in student newspaper The Observer. Writing about the ongoing challenges, Lillian Crawford and Bryan Ricketts draw on the recent Synod:

“[The synod] challenges us to look at others not as deficient, but as containing a whole person, bringing with them their own valuable perspective and personal experiences…As a community, we have the ability to come together and manifest our love into a true family, welcoming to all people. On this two year anniversary, we invite you to join us in committing to fully supporting, loving and accepting all LGBTQ students.”

Meanwhile, gay Catholic Christopher Damian challenges those who, like himself, adhere to the magisterial articulation of the teaching on homosexuality to see beyond this teaching to the human beings it impacts. In his own essay, Damian asks:

“I love the Church, and I believe Her teachings are true, even those about marriage. But I think Tyler London is right. In our arguments over marriage, ‘we forget about the human consequences of these arguments when or if they are carried out.’…

“We have to change. What may be needed is less of a focus on defending teachings and more of a focus on touching the lives of others. Talk about love will always carry less power than being loved. And we have to ask harder questions. Even if gay people accept the Church and Her teachings, what happens to us after we do? Where do we live? How do we love? Who do we rely on?”

As Christmas celebrations commence, this question of how to truly welcome, care for, and be nourished by LGBT people is a point of reflection coming from Catholic colleges that impacts all of our lives. To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of Catholic higher education, see the “Campus Chronicles” category to the right or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: There is Much to Be Grateful For in Catholic Higher Ed This November

November 29, 2014

It is becoming a mantra for me: Catholic higher education in the US is a bright light for the church and the world when it comes to LGBT justice. Bondings 2.0‘s “Campus Chronicles” series often reports on the positive developments taking place on these campuses, or at a minimum, the way students and faculty are challenging anti-gay elements.

Though a few days after Thanksgiving, there is still much to be grateful for at America’s more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities. Below is a brief sampling of what has happened this November.

Controversy at Marquette U.

A class discussion at Marquette University in Milwaukee has attracted national attention after a student’s challenge to a teaching assistant’s handling of an ethics debate.

The teacher, Cheryl Abbate, passed over the topic of same-sex marriage to focus on other examples related to the philosophy of John Rawls which was being discussed. After class, a student recorded a conversation with Abbate, without her permission, in which he challenged her decision not to discuss same-sex marriage. Inside Higher Ed reports on the details of the conversation, but in can be summarize by saying that Abbate decided the student’s desired debate over same-sex marriage and LGBT parenting was irrelevant to the topic and grounded in questionable data.

Conservative outlets claim the incident reveals just how heavily academia inhibits free thought on LGBT issues, though Abbate denies a key quote they attribute to her and there is no recording of the class itself. University of South Carolina professor Justin Weinberg offers a different and more helpful perspective on the incident:

“There are certainly interesting pedagogical questions about how to discuss potentially offensive topics without violating harassment policies…However, the event at the center of this controversy does not appear to be one of speech being shut down because it is offensive. Rather, the [student’s] comment was off-topic and based on false claims, and the instructor needed to make a decision about how to use limited class time, especially given the topic of the lesson and the subject of the course (which is ethical theory, not applied ethics).”

For her part, Abbate hopes the incident will lead Marquette administrators to reconsider their policy on cyberbullying and harassment, given that the secret recording of her conversation was posted by a faculty member posted on his personal blog. Saying such practices lead to a “toxic environment,” she added:

” ‘I would hope that Marquette would do everything in its power to cultivate a climate where Marquette employees, especially students, are not publicly demeaned by tenured faculty.’ “

A spokesperson for Marquette University said administrators are reviewing the incident, which has prompted complaints from both students and faculty.

Holy Cross to Build Digital Transgender Archive

A faculty member at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, has won a fellowship to develop a Digital Transgender Archive (DTA) which would document “information on the works, studies and experiences of transgender individuals and the social movement to advance their rights.”

The archive, an idea of English professor K.J. Rawson, is the first of its kind, according to Holy Cross Magazine and involves ten collaborating analog archives. Rawson describes it as: “a collaborative project with a robust search engine that virtually merges disparate collections of materials.” The purpose is to quickly and easily connect researchers to appropriate materials, in part as a way to correct a harmful historical narrative on trans identities.

Though the article notes many challenges ahead for the archive, it appears Holy Cross’ Catholic identity is proving to be an asset. Rawson explains he “could not imagine a more welcoming environment for the DTA,” including laudatory administrators and thankful alumni who reached out to the professor. He added:

” ‘The core Jesuit qualities that distinguish Holy Cross also inspire this project; as the mission statement successfully captures, Holy Cross encourages every member of our community to be passionate about truth, promote social justice and foster dialog in order to more deeply understand and respect diverse experiences. The DTA will further these qualities by counteracting negative and hurtful stereotypes of transgender people with more truthful and historically informed representations.’ “

Loyola Communities Press for Change

The faculty Senate at Loyola University New Orleans voted to expand fringe benefits to same-sex partners of employees, whether legally married or in domestic partnerships. The Maroon, the campus newspaper, reports that a faculty committee proposed the change before it was overwhelmingly approved in a vote, despite opposition from the Catholic Studies department head.

Meanwhile, Loyola University Chicago’s student government is exploring how the campus could implement gender-neutral restrooms. A coalition of student groups and administrative departments is researching the change and has already received an anonymous financial contribution to help fund replacement signs, according to campus newspaper Loyola Phoenix.

Villanova U. Moves Beyond Gender Binary

Villanova University hosted its second annual LGBT Awareness Week in late October, during which a faculty member gave a lecture entitled “Moving Beyond the Gender Binary: What We Need to Know About Gender Expression.” Professor Katina Sawyer spoke about how different people associate with and express a particular gender identity, according to campus newspaper The Villanovan.

Speaking about the week generally, Kathy Byrnes, associate vice president for student life, said:

” ‘It’s really important to acknowledge, but more important celebrate our LGBTQ students because we love them, they’re valuable…

” ‘Villanova can maybe be a beacon of light in modeling of how people can stay faithful, be faithful and still celebrate whether they’re LGBT themselves, or celebrate their LGBT brothers and sisters.’ “

To read about more positive changes and developments related to Catholic higher education, check out the “Campus Chronicles” category in the right hand column on this page or click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Benedictine College Would Do Well to Queer Its ‘External Decor’ Policy

November 9, 2014

Jallen Messersmith with his (now banned) rainbow flag

Jallen Messersmith is the first openly gay college basketball player. Many commenters, including Bondings 2.0, applauded the athlete and his campus, Benedictine College, a Catholic school, for its support at the time. A recent incident calls into question if the school’s support for Messersmith has changed. decision to hang a rainbow flag in his dorm window?

Messersmith recently hung a rainbow flag from his dorm window. A day after doing so, he he received a call from Dean of Students Joe Wurtz who demanded the flag be removed because it had made someone “uncomfortable.” While the basketball star removed the flag, he has not remained silent about this incident which upset him greatly.

According to the campus newspaper, The Circuit, college president Stephen Minnis called the flag a “mess” on Second Street, where the dorm is located. He further added:

” ‘I saw this flag, and I thought, “Oh my gosh”…Saturday’s our big home football game, this is the opening to campus, people are going to be driving up Second Street and we got somebody hanging something in their window. I didn’t want [the flag] to be a distraction.’ “

Minnis, who was apparently unaware of the flag’s meaning before a student notified him, said its removal was a matter of “cleanliness.” He admits he could have communicated better about this policy because he said the flag’s removal is about appearances, not a political statement by the Benedictine administration.

Wurtz said the flag’s removal, though not elucidated in any policy, comes from the “president’s prerogative” against external decorations and is about consistency. He added that controversy may have ensued because people are simply “hypersensitive” about LGBT issues.

Messersmith’s roommate Luke Norville, who is notably not affirming of gay people, questioned whether this was really about consistency because he had seen other items hung on Second Street. Another roommate, Nick Hercules said he could “guarantee” an American flag or Benedictine flag would be allowed to stay.

For his part, Messersmith said the rainbow flag, a well known sign for the LGBT community, is “an acceptance thing” for those on campus who may struggle with their sexual orientation. The Circuit adds:

“Although Messersmith feels Benedictine College as a whole has been supportive of his sexual orientation, he says the way administration handled this particular situation is ‘interesting.’

” ‘I would have preferred to have had a black and white [statement]–”This is why you can’t do this, it says right here in the mission, right here in this handbook”, wherever it said I couldn’t do this…I still care for every administrator on campus, and have deep personal relationships with all of them; it is just interesting the way they handled it.’ “

Interesting indeed. By coming out, Messersmith has been a role model for LGBT youth and athletes of all ages. His intuition to put a supportive sign in his dorm window for others on the Kansas campus who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity is a most Catholic and pastoral one. Hanging the flag to create a more welcoming and inclusive campus community should be a move applauded by administrators.

Yet, if Benedictine administrators are to be believed, and the flag’s removal is truly about cleanliness and consistency in student housing, this is a case of mistaken priorities. Preserving aesthetic appearances at the cost of LGBT inclusion is not a good model for Catholic education. There is the possibility as well that administrators simply do not want LGBT-positive symbols seen at the school. Either way, Benedictine College would do well to queer its policies on external decor.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

OutSports, “Benedictine College forces gay athlete Jallen Messersmith to remove rainbow flag


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