Transgender Support Growing in Catholic Higher Education

February 11, 2016

1375111113093Boston College students are advancing a trans-inclusive non-discrimination policy for their Jesuit-sponsored school. Below, Bondings 2.0 reports on this news and other LGBT developments, two of which reveal Catholic higher education’s growing commitment to support trans* community members.

Boston College May Include Trans* Nondiscrimination Protections

Boston College’s GLBTQ Leadership Council, a segment of student government, has prepared a report about adding gender identity and expression to the College’s non-discrimination policy. BC administrators will decide ultimately whether to insert new language or not, reported campus newspaper The Heights, which noted:

“Despite this, the proposal still remains a good first step toward its goals and, even if rejected, acts as a symbolic gesture declaring UGBC’s [Undergraduate Government of Boston College] stance when it comes to this issue.”

Widespread support among college students for more expansive LGBTQ protections will hopefully weigh on administrators’ response. Existing BC policies already include sexual orientation as a protected class. Among Catholic colleges, Georgetown University (GU)  has been the first to explicitly protect trans* students, faculty, and staff from discrimination, and the school has made some of the most progressive strides in this regard. The Heights article concluded that Boston College could, along with GU, help set a precedent for Catholic schools on trans* inclusion.

Georgetown University Hospital Dispute

A news story from The Georgetown Voice, the campus newspaper of the Washington, DC Jesuit university, highlighted difficulties that trans* students often face in receiving quality healthcare. Willem Miller, a trans junior, waited a week before going to the University’s health services because he felt uncomfortable seeking treatment there. About his hesitation, The Voice reported:

“This trepidation toward Georgetown’s health care institutions is common among the members of the small population of out transgender and gender nonconforming students. One member of this community, Lexi Dever (COL ‘16), a transgender woman and a Student Assistant for the LGBTQ Center, initially expressed her apprehension about these services in absolute terms “[I have] never [visited]the Student Health Center, I’ve never called GERMS, and I have no intention of those things changing,” she said. Dever, like Miller, attributes this steadfast hesitance to a belief that these institutions are not suited to meet the specific needs of transgender students.”

These students identified a lack of trans-specific resources or training as reasons why Georgetown University’s health services were inadequate. The article also noted a discrimination complaint against MedStar Georgetown University Hospital filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights by a trans woman, Alexa Rodriguez, who was allegedly denied surgery last year because of her gender identity.

Systemic issues about inadequate healthcare for trans* communities are widespread, Since Georgetown University has made strong efforts to welcome openly trans* students, hopefully the school will address these healthcare challenges as part of the Jesuit model of caring for the whole person.

Loyola Marymount Provides Safe Space for LGBT Mormons

A weekend conference for an organization of LGBT/SSA [Same Sex Attracted] Mormons and families was hosted  recently by Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. Entitled “Knit Together in Unity and Love,” the mid-January gathering aimed to support LGBT-affirming Mormons, provide an inclusive community, and encourage participants to “make valuable contributions” both inside and out of the Church of Latter Day Saints.

Catholics and Mormons can celebrate that this collaboration not only advances LGBT equality, but ecumenical relations too.

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.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Indonesian Catholics Defend LGBT Students’ Rights Against Education Minister

January 27, 2016
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Minister Muhammad Nasir

Catholics in Indonesia have rejected a government official’s call to ban counseling services to LGBT students in higher education.

According to Asian CorrespondentMuhammad Nasir, who serves as Minister of Research, Technology, and Higher Education, decried such programs at the University of Indonesia, stating:

” ‘The LGBT culture is not in accordance with the values and morals of Indonesia. I will not allow it.’ “

The Minister added that, as moral guardians, colleges and universities had a duty to exclude LGBT groups on campus and said sexuality is a choice by individuals.

Nasir attempted to walk back his comments yesterday, saying that while LGBT people should not be discriminated against by laws, this does not mean “the state legitimizes the LGBT culture.” He specified further that he was not against people, but their activity and wanted to disallow “members of the LGBT community openly displaying their sexuality on campus.” He admitted to lacking the power to enact such changes.

Nasir’s critics claim he is essentially trying to ban LGBT students from higher education, despite his clarifications. Alongside LGBT advocates, civil rights activists, and a Change.org petition, Nasir’s critics include officials in Catholic higher education, reported ucanews.com:

” ‘The minister distinguished between a psychosexual condition and sexual praxis as something against moral values,’ Franciscan Father Peter C. Aman, a professor of moral theology at the Jakarta-based , told ucanews.com on Jan. 25.

“For the psychosexual condition, he said, the community cannot be regarded as violators of the moral values. ‘It’s like heterosexual condition. It doesn’t come out by itself even though it has potential to violate moral values.’

“Catholic universities had a moral obligation to oppose the minister’s remarks: ‘The church must defend the community (in this case),’ he said.”

It is unclear whether Nasir was actually making such a distinction or if Fr. Aman is projecting a distinction, but his assertion that the church “must defend” LGBT people is noteworthy.

Matheus Beny Mite, charged with Catholic education at Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia, said that if the minister’s goals “are against human rights,” they would be rejected by the University.

While it is problematic that these two Catholic officials felt the need to condemn sexual activity, their rejection of Nasir’s uninformed remarks is a positive development. Furthermore, Fr. Aman affirmed that the church has an obligation to be in solidarity with LGBT communities facing discrimination,and Professor Mite rightly categorized this issue under human rights, not sexual ethics. Though Catholics constitute less than 4% of Indonesia’s population, these two Catholics by their acts of solidarity provide an outsized witness for the church — and advance LGBT justice.

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.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Concerns Included in University of San Diego Student Demands

January 10, 2016

usdAs the new year gets underway,  college campuses will soon be in full swing.  Here are stories from three Catholic schools that are working for greater LGBT equality for their students.

USD Students’ Demand LGBTQ Justice

University of San Diego (USD) students have released a list of equality demands for marginalized students–including LGBTQ students–to kick off the spring semester. Uniting under “Concerned Students @ USD” and led by the Black Student Union, student groups and activists at the school are seeking a number of critic al campus reforms.

The 22 demands ask “that the university stand by its professed values now” to critically examine and change those aspects of campus life which are “exclusionary, alienating, and invalidating to its marginalized students.”

Though primarily focused on matters of racial justice, the intersectional approach means Concerned Students @ USD forcefully includes queer and transgender communities in their efforts. Related demands include:

  • Gender-neutral restrooms in every campus building;
  • Greater representation in administration and student leadership of “people of color, queer-identified people and women”;
  • Creation of a new Gender and Queer Studies department with a minimum of 12 full-time faculty;
  • A mandatory orientation program comprehensive of race, gender, and sexual identity;
  • Intentional inclusion of “cultural, LGBT and feminist student organizations” in campus programming;
  • A ban on Yik Yak, an anonymous social media application, where hate speech, including homophobic and transphobic remarks, are quite prominent.

USD President James Harris responded to the students’ demands in the campus newspaper The Vista at last semester’s end, calling upon all students to become involved with a newly begun strategic planning process where matters of justice and equality could be taken up.

University spokesperson Peter Marlow confirmed that Harris had met with involved students to help them participate in the planning process, though he added that “any fringe ideas that may be contrary to our Catholic identity would be vetted by a broad audience and even broader perspectives and priorities.”

DePaul University Considering Preferred Name Policy

Officials at Chicago’s DePaul University, the U.S.’ largest Catholic college, are considering a Student Preferred Name and Gender Policy. This proposed policy would allow students to identify their “preferred name” rather than legal name in university systems, as well as leave their gender “unspecified.” Katy Weseman, who coordinates LGBTQA Student Services, told campus newspaper The DePaulia this change is:

“Very much in line with DePaul’s mission, part of honoring a person’s human dignity is honoring and respecting how they identify and how they refer to themselves. . .this is very much a social justice issue.”

Marquette University Implements Gender-Neutral Restrooms

Students returning to Marquette University in Milwaukee this semester will have access to gender-neutral restrooms on the ground floor of all residence halls, reported campus newspaper Marquette Wire. The restrooms, labeled “All Gender,” are being welcomed by students. Marquette becomes the eighth Jesuit college in the U.S. to offer more transgender-inclusive restrooms.

      *      *      *      *      *

What is particularly impressive in all three stories is that it is both students and staff have been working, independently and in collaboration, for LGBT justice. Radical efforts from the grassroots, like Concerned Students @ USD, continue pushing already inclusive schools even further. Institutionalized reforms, like at DePaul and Marquette, ensure that students’ efforts become protected and permanent.

As another semester begins, Catholic higher education in the U.S. continues to lead the broader church in how we can improve LGBT acceptance and inclusion in our communities.

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.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Fordham Student’s Coming Out Sparked by Nun’s Anti-Gay Lecture

January 7, 2016

 

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Connor Griffin

A new column in OutSports reveals the silver lining in one nun’s homophobic remarks, as well as the contrasts that remain in Catholic education when it comes to LGBT issues.

In the column, Connor Griffin explained his coming out during as a high school junior. His personal process was sparked by a homophobic lecture, given by Dominican Sister Jane Dominic Laurel at Charlotte Catholic High School, North Carolina.  Sr. Laurel’s talk, which you can read about here, relied upon pseudo-science and prejudice. It understandably drew strong protests from the school community; nearly 1,000 parents attended a town hall to discuss the incident. The nun is a member of the Nashville Dominicans, a community of traditionalist members.

For Griffin, the talk had a personal effect.  He said that it forced him “to realize things about myself I was not ready to accept.” Griffin’s attention drifted during the lecture, but when he listened, what he heard was cruel:

 “Being gay was completely a choice, she said, and no one was born that wayYou have decided to be a victim of your parents’ abandonment and that is the reason you have made the conscious decision to be gay.

Distressed, Griffin recalled thinking “Could I be gay?” and realized:

“Yes. Yes, I could. It was in that moment, sitting in that assembly listening to that speaker, that I realized my own truth. I quietly got up from my seat, not to draw any attention, and walked out of the gym. I felt a rush of emotions hit me as if the gym was suffocating me.

“I erupted in tears. What made me cry that day I still don’t know. Maybe it was the fact that I believed what this woman was saying, or maybe it could have been the fear that I had after finally realizing that I am gay.”

The following days were, in Griffin’s word, the toughest of his life as he came out to friends and family while “not yet ready to accept being gay.” Eventually, he wrote:

” It became so empowering to share my truth with people in my life. I felt I was caged for so long, and every time I told someone I felt as if I was breaking a link in the chain that was holding me down.”

Griffin, then on his high school’s swim team, decided to remain closeted to his team and even considered not swimming in college. But after visiting New York’s  Fordham University, Griffin found a campus – and a swim team – that not only welcomed him but respected and support him. He even cited a recent comment by University President, Fr. Joseph McShane, in the Outsports essay:

” ‘I make no apologies for…homophobia, nor indeed any kind of bigotry nor act that devalues another person or group.’ “

Charlotte Catholic High School officials–and indeed all Catholic school administrators–should take follow Fr. McShane’s lead.

Thankfully, Connor Griffin has now found a Catholic campus that welcomes him as a gay student and athlete. He is no longer subjected to homophobia sanctioned by administrators, but many students in Catholic high schools still suffer. It should be a baseline principle in Catholic education that every student at every school feel safe and respected concerning their sexual and/or gender identity. While there is now a silver lining to celebrate regarding Sr. Laurel’s anti-gay address, the reality is it should have never happened in the first place.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Belmont Abbey College Misrepresents Church Teaching to Discriminate Against Trans Students

December 19, 2015

3877664057_2320d1c5f6_zLGBT groups are criticizing Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina, for attaining a religious exemption which allows the school to discriminate against transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex-based discrimination, has been interpreted recently to include LGBT protections. While religious exemptions are not new, application of these provisions has risen sharply as civil rights based on sexual and gender identity have expanded.

In a January 2015 letter to the U.S. Department of Education, Belmont Abbey’s president, Dr. William Theirfelder sought an exemption for the school. Citing a California legal case affording a transgender student equal rights, Theirfelder said the College “would not be able to make similar accommodations consistent with our Catholic beliefs.” College spokesperson Rolando Rivas concurred, saying the exemption was necessary to operate “in congruence with the teachings of the church.”

Belmont Abbey College, a Benedictine school, is now able to discriminate on the basis of gender identity in ten areas including “employment, the admission of students, housing and the provision of facilities like restrooms and locker rooms.” Abbot Placid Solari, Chancellor, said students will be treated based on assigned sex rather than gender identity. The president explained further, telling The New York Times:

“Among those beliefs, [Theirfelder] said, was a rejection of the idea that the ‘resolution of tension between one’s biological sex and the experience of gender’ can be found through gender reassignment surgery or the ‘adoption of a psychological identity’ typically associated with the opposite sex.”

Advocates, which include Campus Pride and the Human Rights Campaign, are calling attention to nearly three dozen colleges which have sought religious exemptions to LGBT protections from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The New York Times explained:

“The exemptions are in some cases wide-reaching and exempt schools from abiding by provisions of the law that they feel are inconsistent with their religious beliefs on a range of topics, including gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status and whether a person has had an abortion.”

Critics are questioning these exemptions because recipient institutions, like Belmont Abbey College, still receive government funding. Victoria M. Rodriguez-Roldan of the National LGBTQ Task Force said:

“What these universities are seeking is a license to discriminate while still receiving taxpayer money, and they are doing it out of an animus toward transgender people. . .It is what it is: discrimination and the unfair treatment of transgender people.”

 

Shane Windmeyer of Campus Pride, who is Catholic himself, told Gaston Gazette:

“Families and young people deserve to know that this list of schools are not loving, welcoming, safe spaces to live, learn and grow — and taxpayers should definitely not have to pay for a private college to openly discriminate against anyone.”

Windmeyer added that failure to support LGBT youth and young adults, particularly in religious communities, is linked strongly to higher rates of mental health issues, self-harm, and suicide.

For all Belmont Abbey College’s claims about Catholic identity, it misrepresents church teaching on gender identity.

There is no clearly articulated teaching on gender transition or on the gender norms the College seeks to enforce. While a clear doctrinal affirmation may not yet exist regarding gender identity questions, there are no clear prohibitions either. London’s Monsignor Keith Barltrop, tasked with LGBTQI outreach by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has even said gender identity issues are a pastoral, not doctrinal, issue and the church should support those individuals who decided to transition. Other Catholic colleges, such as Georgetown University or Fordham University, have established supports for trans students consistent with a Catholic identity. One student, Lexi Dever, claimed Georgetown saved her life because it welcomed and nourished her as a trans student.

Belmont Abbey officials are obviously unaware that their policy is not supported by Catholic teaching, as they claim. In fact, their policy is undermining Catholic education and an approach to gender that is rooted in the Gospel and seeks the good for each and every student. Students at Belmont Abbey College deserve an apology. The Catholic faith, in whose name this exemption was claimed, demands better.

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.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Colleges Advance on Trans* Inclusion, Including Restrooms

December 3, 2015
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Fordham University students behind the gender neutral restroom campaign

As frequent readers of our “Campus Chronicles” series know, Catholic higher education frequently leads the wider church when it comes to LGBT inclusion. Lately, more and more colleges are acting for trans* inclusion along with existing welcomes of LGB community members.

Below, Bondings 2.0 provides details on some steps made for trans* inclusion, alongside other campus happenings this fall. You can read more using the provided links.

Fordham University Introduces All Gender Restrooms

Prompted by student demands, Fordham University has introduced new transgender inclusive restrooms on its Lincoln Center campus, reported student newspaper The Observer.

Though not labelled “All Gender Restroom,” as requested by student advocates with the organization The Positive, there are no gender markers on the new signage. Dean of Students Keith Eldredge said other restroom changes at Fordham’s campuses would be considered when requested by students.

Fordham’s Pride group also had a vigil for the Transgender Day of Remembrance last month, reported campus newspaper The Ramas part of the group’s “proactive and conscious effort” to promote gender inclusion.

Marquette University Begins LGBT Masses

Fr. Bryan Massingale celebrated the first of Marquette University’s monthly Masses for LGBTQ community members. Massingale, who teaches theology, told those gathered:

” ‘Many of the LGBTQ community members have heard stories that they are not welcome in the church. . .It is important to have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them and no one is excluded.’ “

The Masses emerged from ongoing evening prayer and small group discussion opportunities offered by Campus Ministry. The next celebration is December 10, reported The Marquette Wire.

Laverne Cox Speaks at SLU

Transgender actor and advocate Laverne Cox spoke at Saint Louis University in early November, describing her personal journey and understandings of womanhood.

Georgetown University Hosts Several Events

Georgetown University launched a new bi-weekly forum for LGBT athletes, its latest peer-led discussion group facilitated by the LGBTQ Resource Center reported The Georgetown Voice.

Sophomore Lauren Gros of the Women’s Golf Team, who had trouble finding an openly LGBT student-athlete to consult with before her own coming out, will lead the group. She described it as a

“safe place for student-athletes to discuss their experiences and what it means to be gay and a student-athlete at Georgetown, what challenges we might face, what experiences we’ve had. . .”

Georgetown students also gathered earlier this month for an event marking Transgender Day of Remembrance, consisting of a memorial service and dialogue according to The Georgetown Voice.

A news story in The Georgetown Voice reflected on tensions over LGBT inclusion at the school.  The story noted conflicts in the 1980s which led to progress and today, a transgender student currently said Georgetown actually saved her.

“Dear Queer” Letter Highlights Young Catholics Welcome

Finally, a few words from a Catholic college student at Syracuse University responding to the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage equality explained the reasons behind many young adult Catholics’ support for inclusion. Julia Mannino wrote in The Odyssey:
“I think that we, as Christians, need you; I need you, because I feel lost in my own faith. The perseverance and acceptance that I’ve seen thus far brings nothing but joy to my heart, and I cannot wait for you to experience all of the wonderful things that marriage promises us. Today is certainly a Sunday to celebrate, because in the eyes of the Lord, and finally the eyes of the law, we are all equal.”
Trans* visibility is more prominent than ever and, as they have done with lesbian/gay issues, Catholic campuses are once again leading the church at large to be more just and inclusive. The only question for the spring semester is which school will be next and, if they are not acting, why?

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.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Transgender Student: Catholic Church Nearly Killed Me. Georgetown Saved Me.’

November 8, 2015

Lexi Dever, center, taking part in Georgetown’s National Coming Out Day celebrations

Much of Catholic higher education in the U.S. is fairly supportive of LGBTQ students. Many colleges offer supports as is evident in New Ways Ministry’s gay-friendly colleges listing, though these supports vary in quality and intensity.

Schools often face conservative critics who wrongly claim such supports contradict church teaching and endanger ecclesial affiliation. Common to all such schools, however, is a refusal to let more restrictive interpretations of Catholic identity interfere with meeting students’ needs.

A recent essay from Georgetown University student Lexi Dever, who is transgender, makes clear why, in her words, these supports are “of fundamental importance” on Catholic campuses.

Writing in Georgetown’s campus newspaper, The Hoya, Dever describes a Catholic upbringing riddled with suicide attempts and deep pain about her gender identity:

“I was raised a Catholic. My father is an ordained deacon. I was an altar server for my entire youth. . .I know Catholic teaching inside and out. I was never told that the LGBTQ community had anything positive to offer to the world. Catholicism was everything.”

Coming to college, Dever still suffered deeply thinking she was an “abomination” and a “freak” but the University’s queer community helped her see “a world where I could exist and not hate myself.” Dever, an employee of the LGBTQ Resource Center, wrote positively of the University community:

“Georgetown does go against the Catholic Church in its acceptance of the queer community. In the ideal that we should respect each other, Georgetown embodies Catholicism better than the Vatican itself.

“Georgetown has made a space for me and for the queer community. Some Palestinian guy once said that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves and when asked for clarification, he used a story about a Samaritan to illustrate that our neighbor is anyone in need. You may know the story. . .

“The Catholic Church nearly killed me. Georgetown’s refusal to go along with all of its teachings saved me.”

Georgetown University’s manifold LGBTQ initiatives saved Dever’s life, she stated. To critics who would eliminate such supports, Dever said she would not be here if such programs did not exist: “I would very literally be dead.” Indeed, as she pointed out, transgender individuals suffer abhorrent rates of suicide and violence far surpassing societal averages. She continued:

“Have I told you yet that the average lifespan of a transgender person is 31 years? Let me clarify that: my lifespan is 31 years. If I am ‘average,’ I will be dead within the decade. Let that sink in for a second. There’s a reason I’m not thinking about marriage, children or even long-term career plans. I do not want to plan for a life I probably will not get to live.”

When it comes to Catholicism, or even religion generally, Dever expressed no plans to return to church membership, saying the scars inflicted “will never heal.” She did appeal to Catholic students though, particularly those of a more conservative bent who would undermine LGBTQ supports. Noting that October was Respect Life Month, she wrote:

“I would like to make a request as you celebrate this. Lead by example. Respect life. Respect queer lives. Respect mine.”

Lexi Dever’s column (which you can and should read in full by clicking here) establishes plainly why Catholic campuses must, as a moral imperative, provide adequate resources and supports for LGBT community members. Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will recall numerous posts about how Georgetown University has previously led the way for LGBT inclusion in Catholic education. Other posts in our “Campus Chronicles” series reveal just how far Catholic higher education in the U.S. and elsewhere has to go before all are welcomed, safe, and affirmed.

Readers who have followed this blog regularly will also recognize Dever’s name, as her father, Deacon Ray Dever, has written two moving reflections about family life for Bondings 2.0. You can read his reflection for the Feast of the Holy Family at the end of 2014 by clicking here, and you can read his call for a World Meeting of All Families by clicking here.

Georgetown’s neighbors at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, should take note. Though repeatedly denied, the school’s unofficial LGBTQ student group called CUAllies is once again pushing for equal rights on campus and university recognition. Recent changes in Washington, D.C.’s human rights laws mean the University is no longer legally protected in denying LGBT students equal access, reported campus newspaper The Tower. Students will be gathering off campus tonight for a meeting to discuss next steps.

Administrators at Catholic University and other church-related institutions should take note of Lexi Dever’s story, and those of  their own LGBTQ community members, so they can be moved to make the Gospel choice and ensure all students’ needs are being met.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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