California’s SB 1146 Raises Tough Questions for Catholic Education

August 16, 2016
Ricardo Lara

Senator Ricardo Lara

Because of opposition from church leaders and others, a Catholic legislator in California withdrew portions of an education bill that would have eliminated religious exemptions from state non-discrimination laws.

Democratic State Senator Ricardo Lara will introduce SB 1146 this week without a clause eliminating non-discrimination exemptions for religious schools, reported Crux. Exemptions are currently in place, but if the bill had passed in its original form, all institutional recipients of Cal Grant funding, state education aid which helps low-income students, would have been required to have non-discrimination policies inclusive of LGBT people.

In its current form, the bill will still mandate reporting on whether institutions have received exemptions from federal Title IX protections and whether students had been expelled for violating morality codes.

Several religious leaders, including Catholic Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, had opposed the earlier version of SB 1146. Gomez authored a Crux op-ed with Pentecostal leader, Bishop Charles Blake,  suggesting the bill would violate religious liberty. A handful of Christian schools organized under the newly-formed Association of Faith-Based Institutions. These schools were primarily concerned with the Cal Grant funding provision. Conservative groups nationally have weighed in against the bill, too, fearful this type of legislation would spread nationally.

But opponents do not speak for all religious people in the state. Senator Lara, the bill’s sponsor, is himself an openly gay Catholic. He posted an explanation of his actions on Facebook:

“As a gay Catholic man, nobody has the right to dictate how I worship or observe my religion. And no university should have a license to discriminate, especially those receiving state funds. That’s why I will update my bill to ensure that Title [IX] universities disclose their exempt status publicly and require that universities notify the California Student Aid Commission if a student has been expelled due to their moral conduct clauses. These provisions represent critical first steps in the ongoing efforts to protect students from discrimination for living their truths or loving openly.

SB 1146 raises challenging questions about how to adjudicate the non-discrimination of LGBT people and the protection of religious liberty.  In The Atlantic, Alan Noble warned against absolutizing either of these values.  He called for a solution which allows a “thick diversity” in the United States so that all can flourish:

“No response to these scenarios [of LGBT students at religious schools] can erase all the conflicts and heartbreak between students, families, and academic communities, but through a model of communication, mutual respect, and dignity, schools can create a healthier environment for everyone.

“Both conservatives and liberals tend to approach the issue in absolute and uncompromising terms, but there ways to resolve this conflict that will allow for both religious freedom and protections for LGTB students while minimizing further litigation. By increasing transparency about Title IX exemptions and codes of conduct, easing the transfer process for students who cannot abide by the codes of conduct, and taking a strict stance on bullying and abuse, religious schools can retain their distinctive mission while protecting students.”

Noble made a point that cannot be forgotten in these debates. He noted that “[m]ost students voluntarily select . . . colleges because they want to be educated in a community that shares their values. . .they tend to be motivated by the centrality of their faith to their identity.”

Instead of legal battles, which may ensue anyway, religious institutions could reform themselves so they might better protect LGBT students. Noble said schools should clearly advertise what kind of community they uphold. He also wants the government to provide equal funding to students who choose religious schools which may have religious and exceptions.  His final hope was::

“. . . [R]eligious schools should help students who enroll and later decide they can no longer attend in good conscience. These students should be able to transfer to another school with the administrative, emotional, and practical support of the religious school. In addition, religious schools must be vigilant about dealing with bullying and abuse and create an environment in which students who have suffered feel safe to report these incidents without fear of expulsion or retribution. Many religious schools are working toward these kinds of practices; the challenge for all of them is to go beyond policies and rhetoric to ensure the safety of all students.”

This type of work has already been undertaken by many Catholic schools, particularly in higher education and particularly in California. Reading through the “Campus Chronicles” series on this blog, one sees the many efforts that students, staff, and administrators are making to not only welcome LGBT community members, but to support hem too. Though religious exemptions are available to them, many Catholic institutions have chosen freely to implement non-discrimination policies protective of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and/or marital status. More religious institutions should follow this model, appealing to faith values of inclusion and justice, rather than waiting for the State to impose inclusion.

SB 1146 may be voted on by the end of August. Whatever the outcome, the questions surrounding it are sure to continue in California and elsewhere.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


University of Notre Dame Reportedly Denies Safe Housing to Transgender Student

July 24, 2016
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Eve on Notre Dame’s campus

The University of Notre Dame reportedly failed to provide a transgender student with housing, the latest incident as many Catholic colleges and universities grapple with gender identity issues.

Ronan Farrow of NBC’s “Today Show” reported in June about Eve, a transgender Notre Dame student, in a segment following up the show’s 2015 report about her.

Eve, who just finished her junior year at the South Bend, Indiana, school, began transitioning while in college. This positive step in her life has made campus life difficult for her when it comes to housing, restrooms, and other issues.

Regarding housing, Notre Dame has only single-sex dormitories. The news piece claimed the University has not supported Eve as she seeks to move from the all-male dorm in which she had lived to an all-female dorm.

Eve said in the 2015 report that, for the most part, other residents referred to her by her new name and “treated [her] exactly the same as before.” Still, the all-male dorm is not ideal for her. Her former Resident Assistant said compassion is many people’s priority.  Still some residents had come to him with questions about a woman living in their dorm.  Some saw Eve as simply a man dressing as a woman who was living in their dorm. As for the administration’s response, Eve told NBC:

“I expect, honestly, that the University is hoping that as soon as I leave, no one will ever try this again.”

Eve’s mother, Teresa, like many parents of LGBT children, said she simply wants “what’s best for” her child. And an all-female dorm would be significantly safer.

Safety is a question, too, when it comes to restroom use. Eve stated, “I am safer using a women’s restroom.” But beginning to use women’s restrooms has been”really scary,” she told NBC, because if she is reported, she could be expelled. But, Eve said, “people don’t even consider the safety of the [transgender] individuals.”

Eve said socializing is incredibly difficult, and, with no support system on campus, she has caused experienced depression. She told NBC in the 2015 report, “being trans is a small part of who I am” and there is far more to her life.

Eve will be entering her senior year this fall, finishing her degree in math and aspiring to be a teacher. After repeated requests for safer housing were ignored, she will be living off campus. According to NBC, officials at Notre Dame declined to comment,which host Matt Lauer said was a surprising response. But the University of Notre Dame is not the first, nor the only Catholic institution responding to increased transgender visibility and awareness.

A number of Catholic schools refuse to support LGBT students and even oppose protections for them. At least five Catholic schools have sought religious exemptions from federal Title IX protections which ban LGBT discrimination. Colleges approved for exemptions by the Department of Education are  Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, St. Gregory’s University, Oklahoma, and John Paul the Great Catholic University, California. The University of Dallas, Texas, has a pending application.

On the positive side, as Bondings 2.0 has reported in the past, many schools have proactively sought to support transgender students. Gender-neutral housing options have been implemented at some schools, such as the College of the Holy Cross , Massachusetts. Gender-neutral restrooms exist at some schools, such as Fordham University, New York. And transgender student Lexi Dever said that even though the Catholic Church nearly killed her, Georgetown University had saved her.

Greater awareness and more legal protections mean gender identity issues on Catholic campuses will not be going away any time soon. Education officials should not ignore or oppose the well-being of transgender students. All students in Catholic education deserve to feel safe, welcomed, and affirmed.

Know of more news happening for LGBT inclusion in Catholic higher education? Let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below or send a tip to info@newwaysministry.org.

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


Westboro Baptist Church Targets Catholic University; More LGBT Campus News

June 7, 2016
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Students gathered at Loyola University Maryland

Graduation ceremonies concluded and degrees conferred, it is time for the final “Campus Chronicles” of this spring semester.

Below are several of many LGBT-related happenings in Catholic higher education. These testify, once again, to the good work that ensures campuses are safer and more inclusive spaces for LGBTQ students and staff, and also serve as a model for the rest of our church.

Westboro Baptist Church Pickets Jesuit Campus

Protests by the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) led to unity at Loyola University Maryland, Baltimore, where community members rallied in support of LGBTQ members.  WBC is a Topeka, Kansas-based church, founded by Rev. Fred Phelps, whose members travel across the nation with vile messages on their signs to protest LGBTQ equality.

Only three WBC members were actually present at the April protest, reported the Baltimore Post-Examiner. They were met by many more counter-protesters, including alumni, and at least one hundred current students. University officials barred WBC from campus, with University spokesperson Nick Alexopulos saying the school celebrated diversity and would “remain united. . .as One Loyola.”

WBC had targeted Loyola Maryland in part because of its two LGBT student organizations, reported The Baltimore Sun. Student Kelly Mueller defended these organizations in advance of the protests, writing in The Odyssey:

“When you attacked the Jesuits, the Theology Club, Spectrum, and OUT Loyola, you attacked our entire community, and we will not stand for it. . .If you come to campus, I hope you can see past your bigotry and recognize the true spirit of God’s love present on our campus.”

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Sign used for WBC counter-protests

Spectrum, LGBT and Allies group,  said on Facebook that the counter-protest meant “the message of love prevailed.” WBC’s protests coincided with the University’s Sexual and Gender Diversity Awareness Week, which reports on social media said was quite successful. WBC had also planned to picket Archbishop Curley High School and Catholic High School of Baltimore, too, but there are no reports that they actually showed up at either school.

Other Notable Happenings

The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA will begin offering gender-neutral housing options next year to accommodate trans* students and those students seeking a more affirming LGBTQ living environment.

Marquette University, Milwaukee, announced the new LGBT+ Alumni Council which will expand development outreach to LGBT alumni and raise scholarship funds designated for LGBT students at the University.

Saint Francis University in Loretto, PA hosted its first LGBTQ Awareness Week in March, reported student newspaper The Troubador. Aimed at fostering a respect for everyone consistent with the school’s Franciscan mission, the week’s programming featured panel discussions, a film screening, and faculty lectures.

USA Today’s recent article exploring college athletics and Title IX religious exemptions positively featured the inclusive policies of two Catholic colleges: the University of Notre Dame and Fordham University. While a number of Catholic institutions have sought to exempt themselves from LGBT protections on religious grounds, this article reveals the positive steps which other Catholic schools have taken to protect all students in advance of new regulations.

Know more good news happening for LGBT inclusion in Catholic higher education? Let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below or send a tip to info@newwaysministry.org.

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


THIS MONTH IN CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Georgetown University President Calls Gay Expulsion “Obscene”

May 26, 2016

History-Option 1“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s new feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor:  Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Since this is a new experiment, we would appreciate hearing from you in the “Comments” section if you think an occasional feature such as this is helpful to you.  For other posts in this series, click here.

1990: Prelate’s order made priest wonder what has happened to the Church

After the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued its “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” in 1986, many U.S. bishops began expelling chapters of DignityUSA from the use of church property.  The ostensible reason was that the bishops believed that the groups did not follow church teaching on gay and lesbian sexual relationships.  One of the chapters which eventually was expelled from church property was Dignity/Washington in the nation’s capital, which had been meeting at the Dahlgren Chapel of the Jesuit-run Georgetown University.

Fr. Timothy Healy, SJ, was the president of the university at the time, and he personally delivered the expulsion notice to the Dignity community at a liturgy.  Fr. Healy, who has since passed away, was one of the leading college presidents and intellectuals of his day.  From Georgetown University, he went on to another prestigious position: the president of the New York Public Library system.  In 1990, Fr. Healy gave the John Courtney Murray Forum Lecture at Fordham University, New York.  During that talk, he said that he felt his expulsion of the Dignity chapter was “obscene” and made him wonder “what happened to my Church.”

Religion News Service story published in The Catholic Messenger, Davenport, Iowa, on May 31, 1990, with the headline “Prelate’s order made priest wonder what has happened to the Church,” reported on the lecture and the comment.  The story began:

“The Jesuit priest who formerly headed Georgetown University said he questioned what has happened to the Catholic Church the day he was forced to tell an organization of homosexuals that it could no longer have Mass on campus.”

Father Timothy Healy, SJ

The story continued:

“Fr. Healy said the university chapter of Dignity, an organization of homosexuals, had been holding Sunday Masses for 15 years when he received a formal order in 1987 from Archbishop James Hickey of Washington, D.C. that the Mass had to be discontinued.”

But delivering the news was not the end of the story for Fr. Healy:

“Although he obeyed the order, he said he was haunted by a contrasting memory of 30 years earlier.  As a young priest spending some time in Spain, he was asked to assist in hearing confessions for two nights in Valencia when ‘the cathedral was reserved for “las carteladas,” the city’s prostitutes. . . .

The memory of that confessional experience of listening to people who were outcast from society was with him the night he delivered Hickey’s order to the Dignity community. He said of that night:

“For the first time in my life as a priest I felt what I was doing at that altar was obscene, and with the Spanish memory strong in my mind I wondered what had happened to my Church.”

One wonders what Fr. Healy would think about the last few decades of the Church, where under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, we have witnessed an even tighter closing of the doors and shunning of anyone whose thinking might differ one iota from official doctrine.  How rare it was in 1990 for a church leader to admit that he had been wrong about a negative policy regarding lesbian and gay people.

Fr. Healy’s comments were made  in his lecture titled “Probity and Freedom on the Border,” which the news story described as a talk which

“. . . discussed the function of the Jesuit university as a meetingplace of Church and world.  As a forum, the university, he said, ‘is full fed and draws upon the best of science, the humanities, the social sciences and the arts.”

The story continued to expand on Healy’s opinion:

“But some Church officials, like those in Galileo’s time, ‘solemnly refused to look through the telescopes for fear of what they might see,’ he said.  In two recent cases the document on in vitro fertilization [a CDF instruction condemning artificial means of conception] and the first draft of a universal catechism, officials in charge of those efforts ignored Church-related academic institutions.

“Referring to the in vitro fertilization document, Fr. Healy said, ‘With five major Catholic medical centers at its disposal, Rome consulted none of them.  The result is, of course, a faulty document.’ “

Healy’s comments about Catholic campuses are extremely relevant today.  As Bondings 2.0 reports in our “Campus Chronicles” series, Catholic colleges and universities are often leading the way in terms of policies and programs which support LGBT students, faculty, and staff.

And despite the expulsions in the late 1980s, Dignity chapters and DignityUSA continue to thrive, bringing justice and pastoral care to those still considered outcasts.

Catholics in the future will look back on the days of struggle for Catholic LGBT equality in the 1980s and 1990s, and even up to today, and ask a similar question to Healy’s:  “What happened to our Church?”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: IgnatianQ Again Gathers Jesuit Students for LGBTQ Solidarity–And Other Campus News

May 5, 2016

12771924_1081553981909058_7175108364027864592_oIt should be surprising to regular readers of Bondings 2.0 to learn that Catholic higher education is leading our church towards more supportive and affirming LGBT practices. Today’s post highlights several developments concerning LGBTQ issues which happened this spring across the U.S.

Jesuit Students Again Gather for LGBT Conference

Students, faculty, and staff from Jesuit colleges gathered in April for the third annual IgnatianQ conference, organized under the theme “Celebrating Identities: Queer Solidarity at Jesuit Schools.”

The conference, facilitated this year by students at Seattle University, received support from many offices and organizations on campus including Campus Ministry, reported student newspaper The Spectator. Keynote speaker Kathy Talvacchia, a religion scholar who is Associate Dean of Academic and Student Affairs at New York University Graduate School of Arts and Science, spoke about the influence Ignatian spirituality has had in her life as a lesbian Catholic woman. Workshop presenters included staff members at Jesuit institutions and outside LGBT organizations.

The annual conference aims to “promote LGBTQ solidarity, leadership & advocacy among US Jesuit institutions and the larger church. This year’s conference included more programming related to transgender issues and intersectional identities.  The 2015 conference took place at Georgetown University, Washington, DC.

Lavender Graduations Increase at Catholic Campuses

Lavender graduation ceremonies, which celebrate LGBTQ graduates and their allies, are happening at Catholic colleges across the U.S. this spring. Ceremonies will be held at:

The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY; DePaul University in Chicago, IL; Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.; Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA; Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, CA; Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, CA; Seattle University in Seattle, WA; University of San Francisco in San Francisco, CA.   If you know of a Catholic campus that is hosting a lavendr graduation ceremony, please share that information in the “Comments” section of this post.

Drag Shows Premiere on More Campuses

Drag performances hosted on Catholic campuses are increasing, too. Gonzaga University in Washington State hosted its first ever drag performance as part of LGBT+ Pride Week festivities. Other Catholic schools continued performances, including the fifth annual show at the University of San Diego, the seventh annual show at DePaul University in Chicago, and the tenth annual show at Seattle University.

Ending Commencement Controversies

Finally, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese questions whether controversies about commencement speakers and honorees at Catholic colleges are finally ending. Many times these controversies are tied to a speaker’s support for LGBT equality and provoked by forces in the church which seek to ban free inquiry and dissent. Reese wrote in the National Catholic Reporter:

“It is time to admit that these policies were foolish from the beginning and ought to be a dead letter today. Colleges and universities in good conscience can ignore these failed rules and use their own judgment in the selection of commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients. If their judgment is faulty, they can certainly be criticized, but not simply because they broke an inappropriate rule.”

Reese noted that “censorship is an admission of failure” that church leaders have not convinced Catholics of their positions. Regardless, he continued, the era of banning persons who question church teaching or advocate positions at odds with the bishops is dead. Whether this will be true is unknown, but the University of Notre Dame’s decision to honor Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner with minimal criticism is certainly progress for LGBT advocates and for the church.

Know more good news happening for LGBT inclusion in Catholic higher education? Let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below or send a tip to info@newwaysministry.org.

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


Australian Students Demand Greater LGBT Respect from Catholic Institutions

May 4, 2016
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Advocates rally in defense of Australia’s Safe Schools Program

College students in Australia are protesting an upcoming lecture by a of a Catholic man who claims “reparative therapy” successfully changed his sexuality, the latest dispute about LGBT issues as they relate to Catholic education  in that nation.

The University of Sydney’s Catholic Society will host James Parker tonight to speak about his experiences with “reparative therapy.” Parker is linked to People Can Change, a UK group which administers gay “conversion” programs, and he authored a 2014 piece about his own experience, reported Buzzfeed.

Georg Tamm, a gay Catholic student, said student objections were not to discussions about divergent views on sexuality, but specifically about the harm reparative therapy has caused. Tamm said:

” ‘I would have been OK with them inviting a priest, discussing why men and women are made for each other according to the Catholic scripture. . .But I don’t see the pertinence of inviting someone who is supposedly a patient of successful ex-gay therapy, when it has no scientific merit and is actually quite dangerous.’ “

Tamm said the Catholic Society’s invitation to Parker did not seem “to care about the welfare of those students” who are LGBT or questioning. Such talks, he added, defeat evangelical efforts “at a time when we need people to take the religion seriously and do good things with it.” The Catholic Society denied claims the event promoted prejudice against LGBT people.

Concerned students have appealed to the Student Union to prohibit, or at least refuse to fund, future events promoting reparative therapy. University of Sydney administrators are inquiring into whether restrictions can be placed on campus speakers, too.

Such LGBT controversies in Australian education are increasingly frequent. Last month, St. Francis Xavier College in Melbourne censored a sexual health workbook by requiring students to rip out a page about homosexuality and premarital sex. The Age reported:

“[Y]ear 9 students were called into the hall and told they could not leave until they had thrown a page of the textbook in the bin. . .

“[The [page] included a photo of two men hugging and smiling, and listed different sexual preferences including heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality.”

The workbook asked students age-appropriate questions about sexuality and relationships, but Principal Vincent Feeney explained such questions should be addressed in religious education classes rather than health classes. He defended St. Francis Xavier College further by saying it was inclusive of LGBT students and even allowed same-gender couples to attend formal dances. Students remained critical, however, with one calling the ripping of pages a “medieval weak response.” Others refused to tear the page out.

In another story, the Safe Schools Program in Australia, which educates against bullying, has come under fire after four successful years. Conservative politicians have attacked the Program, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic, has conceded to their demands. Following a government review, Safe Schools Programs, will be limited to high schools and have their content curtailed. A coalition under the name Save Safe Schools has organized rallies and campaigning to ensure funding is sustained and the Program keeps expanding.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Catholic, described the Program as “social engineering” in his call for its defunding, reported Buzzfeed. Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, herself a lesbian Catholic, said such comments were “negative and unconstructive” because you cannot engineer a person’s lived reality.

Just two Catholic schools participate in the Safe Schools Program: St. Joseph’s College, a Christian Brothers school; and St. Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre, both in Victoria. St. Joseph’s College Head Paul Tobias said the Safe Schools debate “put people like me in a particularly difficult position” because of conservative attacks then lodged against the schools. Those pressures do not mean he or the school would be less supportive, however. He told The Age:

” ‘But I don’t believe there is anything in the Catholic faith that should stop us from promoting inclusiveness, diversity, and tolerance. . .

” ‘Every student who attends this school, irrespective of their sexuality, is entitled to be part of a safe environment. We need to accept that there are some kids who are heterosexual and there are some that are LGBTI.’ “

St. Joseph’s College under Tobias’ leadership established a homophobia task force as early as 1997 in response to an alum’s letter about anti-gay bullying. Tobias wrote to federal and state officials supporting the program, but he questioned whether the focused had shifted from promoting diversity and acceptance to focusing on the minutiae of gender and sexuality issues, which he felt would be detrimental to the Safe Schools Program’s mission.

Elsewhere in Australia, students in Catholic schools have challenged their institutions to participate. A gay student at St. Joseph’s College in Queensland asked Principal Michael Carroll for support, but the student’s testimony of intense bullying, but was met with a curt “no.” The student felt betrayed by administrators and teachers whom he admired, reported The Brisbane Times, and he added:

” ‘I hope that it is not the will of the Catholic Church that this group of young Australians, which are 14 times more likely to end their own lives, are not protected. . .All I can do is hope that they do not want to see me being abused, being made to feel uncomfortable and being separated from society, made to feel like a second-rate citizen.’ “

There is nothing in Catholic teaching which endorses marginalization of or discrimination towards LGBT people, particularly youth who are vulnerable and entrusted to the church for their education. Each of these controversies is rooted in flawed Catholic understandings of gender and of sexuality. These understandings refuse to prioritize social justice teachings about LGBT people’s rights and dignity, instead relying upon pseudo-science to validate outdated, but ideologically convenient ideas. As Australian Catholics reckon with how to protect LGBT people and expand their rights, including the question of marriage equality, a dose of honesty and an attentiviness to reality would be most healthy.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Univ. of San Francisco President Congratulates Lesbian Coach on Marriage

April 27, 2016
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Fr. Paul Fitzgerald

Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 posted about the University of San Francisco’s (USF) acceptance of two women’s athletics staff who had come out and announced their marriage to one another. The president of this Jesuit university has now added his own welcome.

Fr. Paul Fitzgerald, SJ, in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, welcomed news that women’s basketball coach Jennifer Azzi and assistant coach Blair Hardiek were married to each other. He had not previously known about their relationship, but said:

“Coach Azzi has entered into a civil marriage according to the laws of the land. . .We will afford her every benefit and legal protection which she is due. The university is a Catholic Jesuit institution that is purposefully diverse and dedicated to inclusivity.”

The Chronicle reported that Fr. Fitzgerald said he received just a single negative response after Azzi’s coming out, while also receiving “a flood of more positive feedback from the USF community.” Athletic Director Scott Sidwell, the first USF official to welcome Azzi’s coming out, said there had been  “a tremendous outpouring of support,” including members of the women’s basketball team. Rachel Howard, a junior, said:

“They are the two most professional women I know. . .If someone loses interest in our program because they hear that two of our coaches are married to one another, they are clearly missing the point.”

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Jennifer Azzi

The Chronicle article also shed light into both coaches’ experiences growing up and coming out in accepting Catholic families:

“Both Azzi and Hardiek were raised Catholic. . .They still pray before every meal and every evening.

“When Azzi came out to her mother in her early 20s, she asked her if ‘God would love me differently.’ Her mother assured her that God’s love was nonjudgmental, like a parent’s love.

“Azzi and Hardiek have always had the support of their families. When Azzi told her father she was gay, he took her hands and told her, ‘you’re just as beautiful to me now as you’ve always been.’ “

In July 2015, Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York City, publicly congratulated the head of the school’s theology department, J. Patrick Hornbeck, on the occasion of his marriage to Patrick Berquist, which had been announced in The New York Times.

Azzi’s coming out can have many positive effects. The coach herself hopes she might give “other people courage to be free and live truthfully,” if they desire to do so.

Golden State Warriors President Rick Welts, the first openly gay executive in the National Basketball Association, said young people “will read about her and get closer to believing they can be open about who they are.” Azzi made the announcement of her orientation and marriage at a ceremony during where Welts was being honored.

And in the church, it is now a reality that a Catholic college employs the only openly gay head coach of a Division I basketball program. Based on the excellent performance of USF’s women’s basketball last season, Azzi seems to be working out quite well. The public support of the university’s president hopefully ensures that Azzi and Hardiek will not join the 60+ church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related disputes since 2008.

Hopefully, the combination of Azzi’s coming out and USF’s welcoming acceptance, will inspire more church officials to make statements and, more importantly, implement policies, as a handful of institutions have already done, that allow LGBT employees to live and to work freely.

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


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