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