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”

 

 

 

 

 

 


LGBTQ Children in Catholic Families: A Deacon’s View of Holy Family Sunday

December 28, 2014

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Today’s post is written by a guest blogger: Deacon Ray Dever of St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida.

On this first Sunday after Christmas, the Church observes the feast of the Holy Family.  And with that observance inevitably comes reflection on the nature and meaning of the Catholic family today.  Many within the Church still seem to hold an idealized and increasingly inaccurate vision of what a Catholic family looks like, in spite of the growing diversity of the families that comprise the people of God.  As one who would count my own family among that diversity, the topic of Catholic family holds considerable personal interest for me.

In the fall of 2013, at the beginning of our son’s sophomore year at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, he came out as transgender.  In doing so, she became one of only three openly trans* students at Georgetown at the time.  This happened just a few weeks after the now famous Pope Francis interview that made “Who am I to judge?” part of our vernacular.  And with those events, my family found ourselves plunged into all the questions and issues that Catholic families with LGBTQ children face. [Editor’s note:  The term “trans*” is used as a “catch-all” word for the diverse forms of gender identities (other than the traditional male/female binary) that exist in humanity.]

In our case, there was at least one notable difference.  Besides being a husband, father, and professional engineer, I’m a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church, having been ordained in 2009.  When the topic of married clergy comes up, many Catholics are taken aback when they’re told that the Church already has married clergy, mostly in the person of the approximately 18,000 permanent deacons in the US.  I can’t imagine what they would think if they realized there are Catholic clergy whose families include LGBTQ children!

Our journey has probably not been very different than the journey of any family with an LGBTQ child.  It really began with our daughter descending into a deep depression during high school.  We would learn more about depression and mental illness, about suicidal ideations and self-injurious behavior, about therapists and anti-depressant medications than we ever could have imagined or wanted.  That journey would eventually lead to questions of gender identity that were intimately connected with her mental health struggles.

When our daughter came out, my wife and I experienced the full range of thoughts and emotions that any parents do in that situation – shock at the news, a lack of understanding of gender issues, conflict with what the Church teaches about human sexuality, confusion and guilt about what we should do as parents, profound sadness at what felt like the loss of our son, fear and worry for what the future would hold for her.  There were arguments, sleepless nights, and prayers – lots of prayers.

We slowly came to the realization that we hadn’t lost the person who had been our son.  In fact, in many respects we got our child back, as she embraced her gender identity and emerged from the depths of depression.  All the creativity, humor, empathy, and intelligence that make her an exceptional person are still there and are shining through stronger than ever.  And I’d like to think that the acceptance of her immediate and extended Catholic family have played some part in that positive transformation.

However, family support for LGBTQ children is obviously not the rule, and is often problematic for Catholic families in particular, given the mixed and often confusing messages they hear from the Church regarding LGBTQ issues.  A few months ago I had the privilege of visiting with the LGBTQ Resource Center and the Catholic chaplain’s office at Georgetown.  While I was surprised and gratified by the warm welcome that I received as an interested, supportive parent of an LGBTQ student, I was saddened to hear that I was the exception and that there were far too many stories of families rejecting their LGBTQ children and of causing tremendous pain and family divisions.

While I am certainly not qualified or authorized to speak for the Church on LGBTQ issues, I have been commissioned by the Church through ordination to proclaim and to preach the Gospel.  And if one thing is crystal clear in the public ministry and teachings of our Lord, it is that everyone is included in His love and mercy and forgiveness, and that we are all called to do the same.  For those Catholic families with LGBTQ children that are struggling with what they should do, I would suggest that they look to the Holy Family.  Look to the love embodied in the Incarnation, a love like no other, and embrace your children.  As the Church calls us to do first and foremost, follow your conscience, love own another, and especially love your children.

–Deacon Ray Dever, St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa, Florida

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CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Catholic University Silences LGBT Awareness, While Georgetown University Raises Standard Again

October 6, 2014

The flyer which caused the film screening to be cancelled

The two largest Catholic colleges in Washington, DC, are making headlines over LGBT issues, but in differing directions. The Catholic University of America cancelled a film screening on the life gay advocate Harvey Milk over concerns that the film opposes Catholic teaching, while Georgetown University announced its plans to host an LGBT conference for Jesuit schools next year.

The cancellation occurred the day before the CUA College Democrats were set to host the screening, with University administrators citing concerns the event had moved from education to advocacy by including a rainbow flag and the words “LGBT awareness” on an event flyer.

Besides the film, the event included talks by politics professor John White and Montgomery County Democratic chair Kevin Walling, a 2007 alumus, about how gay rights affected the Democratic party. Michael O’Loughlin of Crux says Walling expressed his disappoint about:

” ‘…number one for how they treated their students, and number two, how they treated this topic…

” ‘This seems like a regression…The fact that the university canceled this event the day of is sparking an important conversation the university should have…and hopefully some good will come out of this.’ “

Students and alumni speaking with the campus newspaper, The Tower, echoed that disappointment. Alumnus Wesley Cocozello said:

” ‘CUA is morphing from a university into the propaganda arm of the Vatican…The administration has time and again silenced the voice of her students because they dare to ask questions or start conversations that don’t neatly and tidily follow the teachings of the church.’ “

Ryan Fecteau, a 2014 alumnus who led efforts for an LGBT student group, CUAllies, that was ultimately denied recognition [disclosure: I co-led the organization with Fecteau as an undergraduate], told The Tower:

” ‘As a CUA alum who is on the verge of being the youngest openly gay elected state representative in the country, I am disappointed to see CUA digress to a point where they once again send an unwelcoming message to LGBT students…In fact, the message that the University is sending students could very well impact emotional and psychological health, it is a message that really could impact someone’s life.’

” ‘This is not the kind of culture [we] should be trying to cultivate or even our Church…Everyone in the CUA community should be disappointed by this decision. I am.’ “

On a personal note, I attended the first iteration of this “Milk and Cookies” event in 2011 and remember the conversations that developed around the embattled life of Harvey Milk to be extremely generative. University administrators persist in their empty distinction about education and advocacy, which is, in my opinion, an easy way of disregarding this issue. Many Catholic institutions, educational and otherwise, have successfully entered into the complex realities of what sexual orientation and gender identity mean. By branding events such as this screening as “advocacy,” President John Garvey and his staff have written off the issue — and thus the real and present needs of LGBT community members — altogether.

I think the comments of gay sophomore, Steve Morris, who happens to be a College Republican, best summarize my own response to this pastorally-damaging situation:

” ‘I can’t help but think if Pope Francis — he of “Who am I to judge?” — were making this decision, there wouldn’t have been an issue about it at all.’ “

Following the pope’s welcoming and merciful tone, Georgetown University is choosing a different path than Catholic University. GUPride, along with Campus Ministry and Student Affairs, will be hosting the second IgnatianQ LGBTQ Catholic conference following up on a 2013 conference held at Fordham University in New York. The Georgetown Voice reports the conference of about 200 participants from Jesuit colleges will focus on forming Ignatian-inclined contemplative communities. GUPride president Thomas Lloyd says of the event, nicknamed “IggyQ”:

” ‘It’s really important that there is transparency among the LGBTQ communities on Jesuit campuses that allows the progress of one school to influence the actions and progress of another…It was sort of healing for students who felt as though there was no place for that part of their identity on a Jesuit campus.’

” ‘We recognized what Georgetown in particular could bring to this conversation…There are very few LGBTQ spaces that exist nationally to address this question … that’s why this conference is so important.’ “

This conference is the latest effort by Georgetown University’s students and staff members to deal positively with LGBT issues at a Catholic institution. However, this inclusiveness was not always the case as student Julie Tanaka points out in that same issue of The Georgetown Voice that announced the conference. She emphasizes a key point that the University is always a “living and learning community” that needs to be held accountable for growth, a lesson Catholic University students should keep in mind as they address the silencing of LGBT awareness on their own campus.

To lend your support to CUA students, consider signing the Change.org petition asking The Catholic University of America to follow Pope Francis’ lead and create a welcome for LGBT students. You can find it here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Jesuit Scholar Assesses Pope Francis’ Approach to LGBT Issues

March 1, 2014

John Langan, S.J.

Jesuit Professor John Langan has published an article in America magazine which examines the significance of  Pope Francis’ several positive statements about LGBT issues in 2013.  The article’s title “See the Person,” which references one of the pope’s remarks, sets out to answer the question, as the author phrases it: “So, what is the pope up to?”

Langan, who is a world-respected scholar and is the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Professor of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University,  is positive about the pope’s comments, but cautions several times that while Pope Francis has made some remarkable statements, the pontiff has also noted that he is not changing church teaching and does not intend to.  Langan writes:

“Francis has declared on several occasions that he has no desire to challenge or change Catholic moral teaching on sexual matters or to innovate in church doctrine.”

Instead of changing church teaching, Langan states, Francis is changing the church’s “stance” or method of approaching the topic of homosexuality.   While Langan believes that church teaching should not change simply because social acceptance of lesbian and gay people is increasing, he does recognize that society is at a new juncture in regard to homosexuality, and the church needs to adapt to this new moment.  Instead of change, Langan calls for dialogue and reflection:

“What seems to be called for is a time of critical reflection on the tradition to clarify what strengths are to be preserved and what continuities are to be affirmed even while searching for the sources of limitations in the teaching and acknowledging the development of new questions and problems. Critical reflection also needs to be directed to public opinion and to those who would mold it in a new direction, who often harbor naïve, incoherent and immature views, even while they think of themselves as knowledgeable and progressive. Both kinds of critical reflection require time and support for research and careful dialogue that will assess what is known and what is not known, what is hoped and what is feared. There is an ongoing need to coordinate research and information across the fields of biology, medicine, social science and ethics as well as to look seriously at the development of Christian and other religious teaching on this topic down through the centuries.”

Langan sets out four guideposts for the kind of reflection that is needed on this topic that he has discerned in the pope’s new stance.  They are:

1. Humility:  “We must acknowledge what we do not know and what we do not understand about the contemporary situation of homosexuals.”

2. Respect: ” . . . we must show respect for the dignity of homosexual persons as creatures of the one God and Father of us all, as members of the community of the redeemed and as fellow citizens of the city and the world.”

3. Realism: “. . . all parties need to show realism in acknowledging the problems of perception and trust that complicate our efforts to understand and collaborate with one another.”

4. Patience: “. . . during this period of scrutiny and reassessment, we must be patient with ourselves, with each other and with the friends and allies of the contesting groups both in the public arena and in the life of the church.”

Langan concludes by looking at what might be possible if such a period of reflection took place.  He sees the greatest change not being doctrinal development, but a different approach toward pastoral care and outreach:

“Ministry would be carried on in a more tentative, inquiring spirit; it would be more intent on providing care and encouraging growth for persons, many of whom have known many sorrows, than in implementing policies within bureaucratic and legal frameworks.”

He offers the following guidance for pastoral ministers:

“They [pastoral ministers] would proceed from a genuine desire to understand the personal and spiritual aspirations of the persons in their care instead of simply repeating the equivalent of a fatal diagnosis, which is how repeated reliance on the notion of “intrinsic evil” will likely be perceived. This is not a proposal for adjudicating the numerous issues now under dispute, nor is it a theological program for resolving the problems of implementing change in this troubled area of the church’s theology and practice. But it may serve as a partial model for addressing similar problems in areas where Catholic Christians have been putting more energy into denunciation than into dialogue, where disjunctions and fractures have been growing in scale and lethality.”

Langan’s essay is worth reading in its entirety and can be accessed here.  I think his assessment of Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality is an accurate one.  As I’ve said before, I think that the pope’s greatest contributions to LGBT issues in the church will be indirect ones, that he is paving the way for future change rather than making the innovations himself.  Langan provides a very commonsense assessment of what effects Francis’ words can realistically have in the coming months and years.

I, however, may be more optimistic than Langan about the possibility of doctrinal change.  While he suggests that the hierarchy should not change the teaching simply because public opinion on lesbian and gay people has shifted, I think he misses the point that, at least for Catholics who support LGBT issues, the shift has occurred not because, as Cardinal Dolan once suggested, that pro-gay advocates have better marketing, but because they have applied their faith to this new reality, have prayed and examined their consciences, and they have discerned that LGBT equality is consonant with how they understand the Gospel.

I fear that Langan may be too cautious about the possibility for change. In noting the pope’s new stance vis-a-vis his two most recent predecessors, Langan states: “In taking a critical view of the previous stance, one need not abandon it.”  While that may be true, I don’t think that he recognizes that a change in stance can produce some unforeseen results.  As has happened so often in church history, practice often precedes a change in teaching.

Langan’s real contribution is that he has laid out a road map for how we can get to future doctrinal development by providing those four “guideposts” mentioned above.  We’ve seen amazingly rapid change in American society and law over the past 15 years, due mainly to the fact that people started talking with LGBT people about the issues that concern their lives.  Dialogue is a powerful force, and now that Pope Francis has initiated such a period of dialogue in the church, explicated so well by Langan, who knows where the discussion and reflection will lead?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Comparing Universities Minimizes the Extent of LGBT Welcome

November 11, 2013

Georgetown U. Students during “Coming Out Day”

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly,  a PBS show, recently produced a segment with the provocative title “What does it mean for a school to be Catholic?” Heavily focusing on LGBT issues as a means of discussing religious identity, the segment contrasts Georgetown University, Washington, DC,  and Ave Maria University, Florida. However, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly ultimately portrays a false image of how Catholic higher education is integrating LGBT matters as part of their Catholic identities today by comparing the institutions.

The segment begins with Georgetown, showing students celebrating “Coming Out Day” and interviews Kevin O’Brien, SJ, vice president for Mission and Ministry. Of the University’s religious identity when welcoming LGBTQ students with extensive resources, O’Brien says:

Kevin O’Brien

“To quote something Father Hesburgh from Notre Dame would often say, ‘The Catholic university is a place where the church does its thinking.’ And if that is to be the case, then we have to permit this free exchange of ideas.

“The purpose of the [LGBTQ] center is not to undermine the church’s teaching. It is a center for education. We try to teach our students and faculty and our alumni about issues of sexuality, of sexual identity and gender. That’s an expression of our Jesuit tradition of cura personalis, caring for each person mind, body, and spirit, in their unique individuality.”

This pastoral concern for the well-being and success of LGBT students at Georgetown, which this year has openly welcomed two transgender students, is sharply contrasted by the president of Ave Maria University, Jim Towey. Bordering on fundamentalism, Towey attacks institutions like Georgetown for being accepting of students’ varying sexual orientations and gender identities. Joining Towey are two students from Georgetown displeased with their university’s LGBT outreach.

Thomas Lloyd

Also speaking out for Georgetown students is Thomas Lloyd, president of the campuses’ LGBT organization. Lloyd speaks to the convergence of Jesuit and Catholic traditions meeting LGBT equality:

“By recognizing pride, Georgetown has become more true to its Jesuit values. Commitments to social justice are some of the most important and historically grounded parts of Catholic doctrine.

“I wouldn’t even think about how to reconcile my queer identity with my Catholic faith identity if I hadn’t come to Georgetown. What does it mean to be gay and Catholic? Can those two go together? And my experience at Georgetown with Jesuits and with other people who are Catholic and identify as queer on campus show me that you can.”

Where Religion and Ethics Newsweekly ultimately falls short is in equalizing the voices of those who support LGBT people and those who seek Catholic institutions which shun such topics. Of nearly 220 Catholic colleges and universities in the US alone, more than half are listed by New Ways Ministry as gay-friendly campuses for allowing gay-straight alliances, staff resources devoted to LGBT students, and/or  policies or programming which educates and affirms on issues of gender and sexuality.  It makes it seem that there is an even split of pro-gay and anti-gay Catholic campuses, when the reality is that more and more Catholic campuses are, in fact, becoming more pro-gay.

In short, Ave Maria’s president and students interviewed are not indicative of where Catholic higher education stands on equality. Progress remains, but each week there are advances made as students, faculty, and staff advocate for and implement changes to make campuses more inclusive. Perhaps more telling than this contrast is the piece reported on earlier this fall that said: “Forget the Pope: Catholic Universities are the Future of the Church.”

For more information on what is happening in regard to LGBT issue at Catholic colleges and universities, go to the “Categories” tab in the right-hand column of this page and search “Campus Chronicles,”  our blog’s series which follows the news on these developments.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Beyond Pope Francis: Georgetown U. Welcoming Trans Students

September 22, 2013
Pope Francis’ interview with America Magazine has captured Catholic, and global, attention since last Thursday, and yet one columnist has said “Forget the Pope, Catholic Universities are the Future of the Church.” Bondings 2.0 recently commended Catholic campuses for welcoming gay, lesbian, and bisexual students as a new academic year begins.  Now the news is even better: Georgetown University, Washington, DC, has begin actively welcoming transgender students, as well.
Slate.com columnist Mark Joseph Stern is a graduate of Georgetown , thus it serves as his reference point for Catholic higher education. Sterns opens by writing:
“It’s impossible to deny the importance of the pope’s words, especially on the issue of gay rights. But it’s also easy to overpraise them. His newfound tolerance didn’t develop in a vacuum, and it’s probably not shared by many in the upper echelons of the Vatican hierarchy. Rather, Pope Francis’ remarks seem more or less ripped from the playbook of certain Catholic universities in the United States—and, more specifically, the Jesuits who run them.”
Sterns recounts the emergence of an LGBT-positive attitude at the school after a series of neighborhood and campus hate crimes, and general homophobic culture, led students to organize in 2007. Students petitioned the University to act and, with the aid of Jesuits who advocated for the students, the administration opened an LGBT resource center that was the first of its kind on Catholic campuses. Today, Georgetown is an accepting campus and you can read below on Bondings 2.0’s past coverage of the campus’ progress, with Sterns concluding:
“On the whole, however, the university has managed a comfortable equilibrium between social progressivism and Catholic devotion, thanks in large part to its very Jesuit tradition of questioning, discussing, and, eventually, reforming.

“Was Pope Francis influenced by the kind of Catholic tolerance that developed at colleges like Georgetown? No one can say for sure—but it seems likely. In fact, given that Francis is a Jesuit himself, the most surprising facet of his ‘creeping tolerance’  is that it took so long to develop. For many prominent and pious Catholics, gay acceptance is virtually a nonissue. It’s about time the Vatican caught up.”

Last week, this blog highlighted the positive steps Catholic campuses are making for their LGBT students in the coming academic year. Georgetown University already provides professional staff, support groups, and the LGBTQ Resource Center, but is making headlines this year for actively welcoming transgender students. A lengthy piece in The Guide, a weekly campus magazine, examines the issue through the lens of two students:
“This year, for the first time in recent memory, Georgetown has two openly transgender students — [Lexi] Dever and Celeste Chisholm (COL ’15) — and one gender non-conforming student, who could not be reached for this article. And last week, GU Pride named Chisholm its first ever trans* representative.

“ ‘We are definitely on the right track,’ Chisholm said of Georgetown’s readiness to accept trans* students. ‘At their very best, the people here will understand, and at the very least, people are respectful enough to know when not to say anything.’

“But despite these gains, Chisholm and Dever feel the near-invisibility of trans* students on campus acutely. ‘People aren’t as educated about it as they could be because they just don’t know anyone who is transgender,’ Dever said.”
The article provides an in-depth look at the two students’ stories about being transgender and transitioning, which you can read here. As for the University, Dever and Chisholm applaud Georgetown for accepting different gender identities and admit wherever students are coming out as transgender and transitioning is difficult. Shiva Subbaraman, who heads up the LGBTQ Resource Center, says there has been tremendous progress on transgender issues in her five years on campus.
As it has previously done, Georgteown University is now listening to students and leading the way on issues of sexual and gender diversity. A proposed student support group for transgender and questioning students is planned, as are educational programs. More questionable are the logistical issues, like housing and healthcare, that are often a flashpoints:
“Chisholm acknowledges that Georgetown’s position as a Catholic university means it will be difficult to push for the kinds of policies that have been implemented at other schools — The George Washington University’s gender-neutral housing or American University health insurance’s coverage of transition surgery, for example. But she aims to push back.
“ ‘As a private, Catholic university, I know that Georgetown can’t do anything we want…But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to fight as hard as I can for these things. Being Catholic doesn’t hold us back from being the people that we’re meant to be, from being the understanding Hoyas that we are, being the respectable and respectful community that we are.’ “
What do you think: Are the Church’s colleges and universities the future of Catholicism on LGBT issues? Are American Catholics ahead of the pope in terms of LGBT issues? What does Georgetown University’s welcome mean for transgender issues in the Church overall? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the ‘Comments’ section below.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
Related Articles on Georgetown University
August 16, 2013: LGBT Rankings Fail to Reveal Full Story
August 5, 2013: CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Georgetown U. Continues as Gay-Friendly Campus Despite Pressure
April 2, 2013: CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Gay Students’ Elections Signal Shift in Catholic Colleges’ Inclusivity
February 1, 2013: Raising LGBT Standards in Catholic Schools
October 25, 2012: CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Georgetown U. Celebrates Coming Out Month
October 12, 2012: New Organization of LGBT Students on Catholic Campuses Launched
July 6, 2012: On Being a Lesbian at Georgetown University

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBTQ Resources Expand at University of Notre Dame & Elsewhere

September 14, 2013

Classes are underway at over two hundred Catholic colleges and universities in the US, and with the new academic year comes expanded awareness of and resources for LGBT students at these schools, including celebrated developments at the University of Notre Dame.

Already, leading Catholic schools like Georgetown University, DePaul University, and Loyola Marymount University host LGBT resources and programming led by full-time staff, reports USA Today. Many others allow gay-straight alliances and other supportive student-run initiatives, especially colleges rooted in the Jesuit tradition. New Ways Ministry lists more than half of the US’ Catholic colleges and universities on their Gay-Friendly listing, and Catholic campuses become better on LGBT issues every year.

Staff members point out that merely allowing a resource center or student group is not an end though, given the Catholic context they work within, and tensions remain that require greater resolution. Several staff people spoke with USA Today on this matter, saying:

“Although Georgetown’s center has the largest endowment of any LGBTQ resource center in the country, director Sivagami Subbaraman says the programming’s legitimacy in a Catholic university is constantly questioned…

“Since moving into her new position, Maureen Doyle is still determining what her role will be as Notre Dame’s first assistant director of LGBTQ concerns. She plans to improve perceived tensions between Catholic teachings and sexual orientation through campus education.

” ‘I think a lot of it comes in with a misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church’s teachings are…What we’re doing actually doesn’t counter or go against any of the Catholic Church’s teachings. ‘

“Georgetown’s center aims to meet students where they are, rather than take theological positions or attempt to change Catholic teachings, Subbaraman says.”

At Notre Dame last week, over 140 students celebrated the launch of a new student group, PrismND, that was the culminating product of two decades of campus advocacy regarding a group for LGBTQ students. This fall will be a formative time for the group, and is a first step in implementing the University’s pastoral plan released in December 2012. Students and staff spoke with the campus newspaper, The Observer, about the group’s name and launch:

“Student body president Alex Coccia [who led the 4 to 5 Movement for an LGBTQ group] said…

“The fact that [the name] reflects quite a spectrum and a range of interests and passions and identities, I think is something that people will identify with and appreciate when the group gets off the ground’…

“Sophomore Connor Hayes, who helped to launch PrismND, said the name is intended to be all-inclusive, instead of specific to people who identify as LGBTQ.

“ ‘I think relating to the Catholic identity of [Notre Dame] and backgrounds of people coming from religious environments, [some] people don’t really want to identify as gay or lesbian, so … we were just going for a name that was very inclusive…We wanted this name to be one that can last and kind of become a brand.’ “

Christine Caron Gebhardt who heads up the University’s Gender Relations Center told The Observer:

“We realize this is about who we are as a community, and [PrismND is] one facet in which students can feel welcomed and loved and supported on this campus and that we will all work together to try to create the community that Notre Dame can be and I hope will be…“We want the student organization … to emerge from the ideas and the interests and the hopes and dreams of the students in collaboration with all of us across campus.’ “

Elsewhere this summer, members of the University of San Francisco’s LGBTQ Caucus joined in San Franciso’s Pride festivities with t-shirts sponsored by several campus departments (USF is a Jesuit school). In a piece discussing Christian higher education in Pennsylvania, that state’s Catholic colleges such as Villanova University, St. Joseph’s University, and Chestnut Hill College were depicted as  LGBT-friendly Christian campuses for not specifically targeting same-gender relationships in their student handbooks. Benedictine College in Kansas welcomed an openly gay student who was a star athlete, as well.

All of these moments are signs that Catholic higher education increasingly welcomes all students for who they are as God created them. However, challenges remain within Catholic higher education for LGBT students and their allies who will spend another semester this fall meeting with administrators, organizing students, and support one another on more hostile Catholic campuses. As the new academic year begins, it is a fitting moment to offer thanksgiving for advances made, prayers for those still needed, and a renewal by every Catholic to impact Catholic higher education in LGBT-positive ways.

For more information on PrismND, you can view their website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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